In biblical times, the Israelites were instructed by God to set up cities of refuge for a specific purpose. They offered protection to anyone who accidentally committed a crime, which normally carried the sentence of death. Intentionally committed crimes were settled using “an eye for an eye” principle. The sentence was carried out by the avenger of blood (nearest living relative).
Accidental killings were to be handled differently. The person responsible for the killing was to immediately flee to a city of refuge where he could present his case to the elders of the city. If his explanation was judged satisfactory, he would be admitted to the city and given provisions and a place to stay. He (or she) would be protected in the city from the avenger of blood. If he left the safety of the city for any reason, he was fair game to the avenger of blood. Under the instructions provided in the Torah (Numbers 35), the person had to remain in the city until the high priest died. The guilty person could then return home relieved of his guilt and be safe from any reprisals.
If we fast forward to the time of Jesus Christ, we can see how this ancient practice was instituted by God as a way of modeling the concept of salvation, which He would offer to the whole human race. Salvation from what? Romans 3:23 and 6::23 offer a sobering statements: everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of perfection and the wages for this sin is death. Romans 6:23 goes on to say, God offers a gift (a place of refuge) in the person of his son Jesus Christ. Anyone who accepts this gift will experience forgiveness and have eternal life.
Jesus Christ is a sinner’s city of refuge.
- Jesus was divinely appointed as were the cities of refuge
- Jesus, from the cross proclaimed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” ( Luke 23:34). This statement validates humanity’s guilt as accidental or involuntary manslaughter granting us access to a place of refuge.
- In Christ the guilty can find safe haven
- The way to Christ must be clearly revealed just as the roads were leading to the cities of refuge back in the time of Joshua.
- Jesus is our high priest (Hebrews 7, 8, 9). His death and resurrection have set us free from the penalty of our sin
- Since Jesus is God’s Son, then God will be the avenger of blood to all who have not found refuge in Jesus
There are two more points to be made found in Joshua chapter 21. After the cities of refuge were established by the Levites (Israel’s priests), God gave the Israelites rest on every side (v44). The second point: None of the Lord’s promises to Israel failed, every one was fulfilled (v45).
We can find refuge in the person of Jesus. When we enter his refuge we can experience rest on every side and begin to enjoy the promises of God; not one of them will ever fail.