I’m sure that most of us at one time or another wished that we were either a policeman or a supreme court judge. We see someone breaking the law and we want to give them a ticket or better yet – ‘Throw the book at them!’ Well for just a moment, I’m going to give you a case to judge. Suppose a man was brought before you who is accused of murder. The first thing you would probably want to know is – “How did the crime happen?” It seems that he was driving to town and as he went around a sharp curve, he suddenly met another car coming towards him, driving on the wrong side of the road. The accused man tried to swerve and miss the other car, but they wound up hitting each other head-on and the other driver was tragically killed. Now here’s the question before you – “Is this man guilty of murder? Has he committed a crime? Should he be sent to the electric chair?” That’s a kind of strange question, but things like that happen.
The Bible gives a similar example. In Deuteronomy 19, two men are out in the woods, chopping down a tree with their axes and as they are chopping, the head of one man’s ax flies off the handle and accidentally hits the other man in the head, killing him. Is that man guilty of murder? Should he be sentenced to death for what happened?
I think that most of us would say – “no.” Though he may have been involved in the other man’s death and perhaps even somewhat responsible, it wasn’t something that he wanted to happen. It was an accident. We understand that, but try telling that to the other man’s family. From time to time we see something similar on the news where someone is involved in someone else’s death and 9 times out of 10, the family of the person who died, is upset and angry. Maybe so much so that someone in their family might be tempted to take the law into their own hands and seek revenge.
Rendering a correct verdict in a case is not always that easy. Sometimes there are a lot of circumstances and therefore it requires a third-party to become involved. In Joshua 20, we read about a part of God’s judicial system for His people –
Joshua 20:1 ‘The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying, 2 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses: 3 That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood. 4 And when he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of the gate of the city, and shall declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city unto them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them. 5 And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver the slayer up into his hand; because he smote his neighbour unwittingly, and hated him not beforetime. 6 And he shall dwell in that city, until he stand before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days: then shall the slayer return, and come unto his own city, and unto his own house, unto the city from whence he fled.’
I. The Provision of the Cities
In order to help protect someone accused of committing a crime from a revengeful relative, the accused was to flee to what was called a ‘City of Refuge.’ There the accused would be under the protection of the elders of the city until a fair trial could be held and a verdict determined. If he was found guilty of murder or what we might today call ‘Voluntary Manslaughter’ or ‘Manslaughter in the First Degree’, it was the duty of the ‘avenger of blood’ to see that the person who killed their relative was put to death. But if he was found innocent of any malicious intent, if it was an accident and not something that he premeditated or planned to happen, he was allowed to live; however, he was to remain in that city of refuge until the High Priest of that day died. That could be six months or six years, depending upon the age and health of the High Priest. If he left the city of refuge before the death of the High Priest, he was on his own and the angry relative could kill him. But as long as he remained in the city of refuge, he was to be under the protection of the elders of that city.
The part about him living in that city until the High Priest died seems pretty strange to me, yet as I was preparing for this message I read some interesting thoughts and comments. First of all, it helped to emphasize the sacredness of life. Though the man was not guilty of murder, he had been involved in the death of another individual which was serious in the sight of God. Secondly, according to some Jewish tradition, the wife of the High Priest was to help to provide food and clothing for the protected man for as long as he lived in that city so that by her generosity, he would not be quite so tempted to wish for the premature death of her husband.
II. The Proximity of the Cities
There were six cities that were established as Cities of Refuge. These cities were strategically located throughout the land so that they were easily and quickly accessible to anyone who needed them. Even the Gentiles living among the Jews were to be able to flee to them and find shelter until a fair trial could be held. Each of these six cities were chosen also because they were located on mountain tops where everyone could see them. In addition to this, the leaders of the nation were responsible to make sure that roads leading to them were built and well-maintained.
III. The Purpose of the Cities
There was obviously a very practical purpose for these cities. It’s easy to see how a grieving relative or friend might be tempted to take the law into their own hands and do something foolish. The Bible warns us about foolish and unjust anger. Jesus said in Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ [empty-headed idiot] shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.
But there was also a prophetic purpose for these cities. There were six cities of refuge and as many of you know, the number six, as it is found in the Bible, is often symbolic of mankind. Man was created on the sixth day and the book of Revelation tells us that the mark of the Anti-Christ will be the number 6-6-6. There were six human cities of refuge and the forgiveness of all of these cities was conditional. If a man was innocent, he could live. If he was guilty, he must die.
I’ve got good news for us. There is another city of refuge where forgiveness is ‘unconditional.’ It’s a place to where even the guilty can flee and find forgiveness.That place is Jesus Christ.
We read in Numbers 35:31 “Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death.” With the six cities of refuge in Israel, there was no ransom for a guilty person. He couldn’t buy his way out of trouble. Yet there is a ransom that applies to the eternal city of refuge. Jesus said of Himself that He had come to “give his life a ransom for many.” Only an innocent man could live in one of the human cities of refuge, yet even the guilty can live in God’s city of refuge. How? By faith accepting the death of Jesus Christ as a substitute for his own.
These six cities were selected because of their proximity or locations. But there was also another reason for their selection. It’s interesting to note their names and what each name means.
Joshua 20:7 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. 8 On the east side of the Jordan of Jericho they designated Bezer in the desert on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh. 9 Any of the Israelites or any alien living among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.
- Kedesh was in the northern part of the country and its name means ‘holiness.’ The Bible says, ‘without holiness no one will see the Lord.’ (Heb 12:14) To be holy means to be separated from sin. The holiness that is necessary to see God is absolute perfection. Who among us is holy this morning? Who could stand before God and declare, ‘I have never sinned?’ None of us can. Scripture says that we’ve all sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is none of us who are righteous, no not one. We’re all guilty. We all deserve to be punished. What can we do? We can flee to a place of refuge where someone else has died in our place and who can give back to us their holiness. Isaiah 61:10 says, ‘I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness…’
- The second city was Shechem. Shechem means ‘shoulder’. When we think of someone’s shoulder we think of what? – strength or support. We read in Deuteronomy 33:12 HCSB ‘The Lord’s beloved rests securely on Him. He shields him all day long, and he rests on His shoulders.‘ Can you imagine running for your life, trying to reach a city of refuge with an avenger of the blood hot on your heels? Your heart would be pounding in your chest and your side would be burning with pain, yet you couldn’t stop, for if you did, you would die. What will be your strength and support when you stand before the Lord? On whose shoulder will you lean when the books are opened and all of your sinful deeds are exposed. Who will save you from the penalty of your sins? Jesus came to this world to save sinners and we read in Matthew’s gospel – “28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11) I deserve to be punished for my sins and so do you. I have fled to a place of refuge found by accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Have you?
- The third city listed is Hebron. Hebron you will remember was the home of Caleb. It’s where the twelve spies saw the grapes growing and the milk and honey flowing and the name means ‘fellowship.’ It was a luscious, glorious, beautiful mountain and perhaps in that day, the most sacred place in the Promised Land. How can a guilty man have fellowship with the one he has sinned against? We read in 1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
- The fourth city was Bezer. Bezer means ‘fortress.’ Can you see how these cities teach us about a growing relationship with Jesus Christ? A man must first obtain holiness in Kedesh and then he finds security in Shechem. As he continues to grow, he discovers the joy of fellowship in Hebron and then security in the stronghold of Bezer. Jesus said, “28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and my Father are one.’ (John 10) Dear friend, I’m not going out of Bezer, are you? I’m not leaving my city of refuge.
- Then there was Ramoth. The name Ramoth means ‘exalted.’ It was a high place and it represents the place every true, born-again believer desires to be. We long for the day when we will be with the Lord Jesus Christ and will forever exalt His holy name. In addition, it’s a place where the believer himself is exalted.
- Lastly, there was Golan. Golan means ‘rejoicing.’ One day my beloved brethren, I am going to be rejoicing forever more in my eternal city of refuge.
The Bible says that it is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment. We read of that judgment at the end of the book of Revelation –
Revelation 20:11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
What will be the verdict when you stand before God? For all those who have not received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, the verdict will be ‘Guilty as charged!’ But it doesn’t have to be that way. Jesus took our punishment on the cross and He is able and willing to grant us complete forgiveness and pardon. Have you received Christ as your personal Savior? If not it as simple as A-B-C
- A – admit that you are sinner
- B – believe that Jesus died for your sins
- C – confess Him as your Lord and Savior
A simple prayer might be: “Dear God, I know that I have sinned. I know that when I die, I will go to hell. But I believe that You sent Your Son, the Lord Jesus, to this earth to die for my sins. I am asking You to forgive me of my sins and to give to me eternal life. I confess Jesus today as my Lord and Savior. In His name I pray these things. Amen”
If you prayed this prayer and meant it, you are now a child of God. Please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information. God bless you.