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<062001>JOSHUA 20:1-9 “The Lord also spake unto Joshua, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses: that the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood. 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. And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver the slayer up into his hand; because he smote his neighbor unwittingly, and hated him not beforetime. 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.” ( Joshua 20:1-6).
In that passage we are furnished with a condensed account of the statutes with regard to murder which the Lord gave to Israel for the maintenance of righteousness in their midst. On the one hand, there must be a strict enforcing of justice; on the other, the exercising of mercy. The guilty were not to be cleared; the innocent must not be executed. Due and orderly investigation must be made, and each case tried on its own merits before a court of law. Where guilt was established, malice aforethought being proved by witnesses, the death penalty was to be inflicted upon the murderer. But when a neighbor had been inadvertently killed extreme measures were not to be taken against the one occasioning his death. Nor was the next-of-kin to the one slain permitted to take matters into his own hands and wreak vengeance upon him who by misadventure had tragically terminated his life. Instead, there was a sanctuary provided for the innocent, to which he could fly, shelter afforded for one who had involuntarily committed homicide.
There is nothing whatever “Jewish” about that injunction, for it was given centuries before the nation of Israel had any existence. It needs emphasizing today that capital punishment as the penalty for murder was ordained by God Himself long before the giving of the Mosaic law, and, since it has never been repealed by Him, that precept is binding until the end of time. It is important to observe that the reason for this law is not here based upon the well-being of human society, but is grounded upon the fact that man is made “in the image of God.” That expression has a twofold significance; a natural and a moral — the moral image of God (inherent holiness) was lost at the fall, but the natural still exists, as is clear from 1 Corinthians 11:7, and James 3:9. Thus, the primary reason why it is sinful to slay a man is because he is made in the image of God. “To deface the king’s image is a sort of treason among men, implying a hatred against him, and that if he himself were within reach, he would be served in the same manner. How much more heinous, then, must it be to destroy, curse, oppress, or in any way abuse the image of the King of kings!” (A. Fuller).
Whereas that original statute of God has never yet been repealed, it has been more fully explained, amplified, and safeguarded in later passages; and to them we now turn. The first one having a direct bearing upon our present subject is found in Exodus 21:12-14: “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.” There is the general principle, but it is qualified thus: “And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand, then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from Mine altar, that he may die.” A sharp distinction was thus drawn between deliberate murder and involuntary manslaughter. In the former instance, when one smote his fellow intentionally, whether from premeditated malice or in the heat of sudden passion, so that he expired from the injury, then the deed must be regarded as murder, and the death penalty be enforced. But where one unwittingly and unwillingly inflicted an injury upon another, even though it proved to be a fatal one, he was not to be executed for the act. Instead, there was a place appointed by God to which he might flee, and where he could be sheltered from any who sought vengeance upon him.
We have been much impressed by the fact that the above passage is found in the very next chapter after the one which records the Ten Commandments. Let those who have such a penchant for drawing invidious and odious comparisons between that which obtained under the old covenant and that which pertains to the new take careful note that this gracious provision was made by God under that very economy which dispensationalists are so fond of terming “a forbidding and unrelieved regime of stern law.” It was nothing of the kind, as any impartial student of the Word is aware. In all ages God has tempered His justice with mercy and caused His grace to reign through righteousness. Let it not be overlooked that such declarations as the following are found in the Old Testament scriptures. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” ( <19A313> Psalm 103:13). “Great are Thy tender mercies, O Lord” ( <19B9156> Psalm 119:156). The putting forth of His wrath is spoken of as His “strange work” ( Isaiah 28:21). “Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” ( Nehemiah 9:17). “He restraineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy” ( Micah 7:18), and most evidently did the cities of refuge testify to that fact.
Ere passing on from Exodus 21:13,14, let us also duly attend to the wording of verse 13. It is not “And if a man lie not in wait, but accidentally slay another,” but instead, “And if a man lie not in wait [having no intention to injure his neighbor], but God deliver him into his hand.” In full accord with the uniform teaching of Holy Writ concerning the Divine superintendence of all events, such a calamity as is here supposed is not ascribed to “chance” or “ill fortune” (for there is nothing fortuitous in a world governed by God), but instead is attributed to an act of God — i.e., the Lord being pleased to take away in that manner the life which He had given. “Unto God the Lord belong the issues from death” ( Psalm 68:20). The gates of the grave open unto none except at the command of the Most High, and when He gives the word none can withstand it. “My times [to be born and to die: Ecclesiastes 3:2] are in Thy hand” ( Psalm 31:15), and not in my own. “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with Thee, Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass” ( Job 14:5). Not only is the hour of death Divinely decreed, but the form in which it comes. “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him” ( John 10:31), but in vain, for God had ordained that He should be crucified. No matter in what manner death comes, it is the Lord who kills and “bringeth down to the grave” ( Samuel 2:6). “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan; then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares” ( Numbers 35:9-11).
That which is mentioned in Exodus 21 had reference to God’s merciful provision for Israel during the time they remained in the wilderness. There was, even then, “a place” appointed by the Lord to which the manslayer might turn for sanctuary. We are not told where that place was. Some of the ancient Jewish writers suppose that it was located “outside the camp,” but, since all the cities of refuge were cities which pertained to the Levites, we consider it more in keeping with the Analogy of Faith to conclude that the “place” was within that part of the camp assigned to the priests. That temporal provision wag to give way to a more permanent arrangement after the children of Israel became settled in their inheritance. “And of these cities which ye shall give six cities shall ye have for refuge. Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge” ( Numbers 35:13,14).
Two and a half of the tribes, namely the children of Gad, the children of Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh, had been assigned their place and portion on the eastern side of the Jordan ( Numbers 32:33), in the fertile valley which had been occupied by Sihon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan, who, refusing Israel’s request to pass through that country, had been slain in battle and their territory seized by the conquerors ( Numbers 21:21-31). The remaining three were to be situated in convenient sections in Palestine, where they would be accessible at short notice unto those who might have need of the same. Nor was their use restricted to those who were of the natural seed of Abraham: “These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither” (verse 15).
Thus, even under the Mosaic economy, Divine mercy was extended unto those who threw in their lot with the people of God!
In the verses that follow various cases are described in detail, so that there might be no miscarriage of justice when the magistrates were adjudicating thereon: “And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him he shall slay him. But [or “and”] if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die; or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die: he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him” (verses 17-21).
Thus those cities of refuge were not meant to afford shelter for murderers as such. Therein they differed noticeably from the sacred precincts of the heathen gods, which provided a safe asylum for any violent or wicked man.
Equally express were the instructions on the other side. “But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him any thing without laying of wait; or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm: then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments. And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil” (verses 22-25).
Shelter and security were provided only for one who had brought about the death of another without deliberate design, yea, with no intention of inflicting any injury upon him. Murder, strictly speaking, involves more than the overt act: it includes the spirit behind the act, the motive prompting it. If the act be performed “without enmity” and with no desire to harm another, then it is a case of involuntary manslaughter and not of murder.
To prevent any guilty one taking advantage of this provision for the innocent, the accused must “stand before the congregation in judgment” ( Numbers 35:12): that is, he was to be brought before a court of justice, where the magistrates were to give him a fair trial. Full and formal investigation was to be made, so that the accused had every opportunity to prove his innocence. “Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments.” Once the manslayer had been received into the city of refuge, the avenger of blood could act only as prosecutor (previously he had the right to be the executioner — verse 19), and his case had to be determined by the rules God had specified. If it were proved that death had ensued where no malicious attempt upon life had been made, but, instead, the injury had been inflicted casually, “unawares,” then the death penalty was not to be visited upon him.
It is highly important in the administration of law that that no innocent person should be made to suffer, and equally so that the guilty should not be exempted from the due reward of his iniquities. In the case of murder, the Divine law required proof of previous malice, a laying in wait to slay the victim, deliberate measures taken to encompass his death, an assault with some weapon of violence to accomplish the fell deed. “Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die. Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death” ( Numbers 35:30,31).
Thereby did the Lord manifest His abhorrence of this crime: no atoning sacrifice was available for it, nor could any ransom be accepted for its perpetrator. Justice must be administered impartially, the law strictly enforced without fear or favor. Very solemn and impressive is it to note what follows. “So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel” ( Numbers 35:33,34).
Such shedding of blood not only defiles the conscience of the murderer, who is thereby proved not to have eternal life abiding in him ( 1 John 3:15), but also pollutes the land in which the crime was committed, being abominable to God and to all good men. Nor can that land be cleansed from the blood of murder but by executing condign judgment upon the murderer himself. Thus we are informed that there was far more involved in the enforcing of these statutes than the maintenance of righteousness between man and man. As another has pointed out, “the glory of God, the purity of His land, and the integrity of His government, had to be duly maintained. If those were touched, there could be no security for anyone.”
The same things are taught, substantially, in the New Testament, particularly in Romans 13:1-4. There the civil ruler or magistrate is twice denominated “the minister of God”: first, in protecting the lawabiding; second, in penalizing the law-defiant. He is Divinely appointed to maintain civic righteousness, for if the restraints of government be removed, a state of anarchy and bedlam at once ensues. The “sword” is the symbol of the ultimate power of life and death ( Genesis 3:24; Zechariah 13:7), and the “he beareth not the sword in vain” signifies that God has invested him with the authority to inflict capital punishment — the common method of which in olden times was by decapitating with the sword. It is an essential part of the governor’s office to be “a revenger, to execute [God’s] wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Nothing is said about its being his duty to reform criminals, rather is it his business to redress wrongs and to instill fear into those who contemplate doing wrong. Romans 13:1-4, is silent upon any efforts being required to reclaim the refractory, the emphasis being placed upon his alarming them and imposing the full penalty of the law: compare 1 Peter 2:14. It is a sure sign of a nation’s moral degeneracy, and a dishonoring and incurring of God’s displeasure, when capital punishment is abolished, or magistrates become lax and yield to sentimentality.
Reverting to the case of the one who is not guilty of deliberate murder, there are four other details which require to be noticed.
Fourth , it was required that he remain within the city of refuge until the death of the high priest, and then he was free to return to his home and reside there unmolested (verse 28). By limiting the time of his banishment by the high priest’s death, honor was put upon the priesthood — as it had been in selecting those cities, for they all belonged to the Levites. “The high priest was to be looked upon as so great a blessing to his country, that when he died their sorrow upon that occasion should swallow up all other resentments” (Matthew Henry).
Further reference is made to our subject in Deuteronomy 4:41-43, wherein we see illustrated the law of progressive development. First, bare mention of an unspecified “place” is referred to ( Exodus 21:13). Next, instructions are given for the appointing of six cities of refuge, without stating more than that three of them are to be on the wilderness side of the Jordan, and three within Canaan ( Numbers 35:14,15). Then the first three are actually named ( Deuteronomy 4:43), while in Joshua 20:7,8, the locations of all six are given. In Deuteronomy 19, more definite instructions were communicated as to the precise situations of those cities; the land was to be divided into three parts, so that one of them would be the more readily accessible for those in any particular section (verses 2, 3).
A “way” which led to each city was to be prepared (verse 3) so as to guide the fugitive who was fleeing unto it. Joshua 20:4, supplies the additional information that when the manslayer arrived at the gate of the city of refuge he received a preliminary hearing from the elders ere he was admitted, which was followed by a fuller and more formal investigation of his case in a court of justice (verse 6).
In his comments upon Numbers 35, T. Scott well remarked, “This remarkable law, expressive of the deepest detestation of murder, yet providing most effectually against the innocent being punished with the guilty, is likewise an instructive typical representation of the salvation of the Gospel. ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men ( Romans 1:18). If it is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment, with the eternal consequences, in the meanwhile a Refuge is provided and revealed in Christ Jesus. His ministers warn sinners to flee from the wrath to come, and instruct and exhort them to ‘flee for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them.’ All things are prepared for the reception of those who obey this call. By faith they discern both their danger and refuge. Then fear warns and hope animates. Should death, like the avenger of blood, find them without, destruction is inevitable.” The fact that the cities of refuge are described at more or less length in no fewer than four of the Old Testament books — Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua — denotes the importance of them, as well as adumbrating the delineation which we have of the antitypical Refuge in the four Gospels.
When we bear in mind how much the Holy Spirit delighted in shadowing forth the Lord Jesus under the Old Testament, in type and figure, and when we observe how closely and strikingly the various things said of the cities of refuge point to the Savior, we must conclude that they were Divinely designed to foreshadow Him. In seeking to understand and interpret the types, two dangers need to be guarded against: first, the giving way to an unbridled imagination; second, ultra-caution and conservatism. On the one hand, we must not indulge in the fanciful allegorizing of Oregon; on the other, we must eschew the rationalizing of the Higher Critics. In the past, too many have been chargeable with the first: but today, when the Divine element is either denied or pushed into the background, the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme. To assume that we are unwarranted in regarding anything in the Old Testament as possessing a spiritual significance unless the New Testament expressly says so is as unjustifiable as to insist that there are no prophecies there except those specifically termed such in the New Testament — for instance, Genesis 3:15.
Concerning the subject now before us there are, in the judgment of this writer, at least two passages in the Epistles which confirm the view that the cities of refuge are to be regarded as having a spiritual meaning and reference. The first is in Philippians 3:9, where the apostle, after announcing and then renouncing all his natural advantages as a Hebrew, counting them but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord, expresses the desire that he might be “found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” There the proud Pharisee forsook his own righteousness, which was condemned by the law — as the manslayer fled from the avenger of blood — and he betook himself to the righteousness of Christ as the homicide did within the city of refuge from the sword of justice. The second passage is a still more manifest allusion to this Old Testament figure, for there the heirs of promise are assured that God has provided strong consolation unto those who have “fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” ( Hebrews 6:18), i.e. in the Gospel: reminding us of the prayer of David, “Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: I flee unto Thee to hide me” ( <19E309> Psalm 143:9) The manslayer is an apt representation of the sinner, who is a soul-slayer: “thou hast destroyed thyself” ( Hosea 13:9). But more particularly: he sets before us the awakened sinner. Previously, the man had lived in quietness and comfort, but when he slew another, though unintentionally, his peace was shattered. Everything was suddenly changed: there was danger without, and fear within. He now discovered himself to be in a very evil case. There lies the body of another, dead by his own carelessness.
Who can conceive the distress and dismay which overwhelm his mind? He knows that the next of kin has the right to take vengeance and slay him. He is no longer safe in his own home; he is unable to find security in any building of his own hands; he must perforce flee for his life. Thus it is with the unconverted. In his natural condition, a false serenity is his, and he finds contentment in the things of this world and the pleasures of sin. Then, unawares, the Holy Spirit arouses him from the sleep of spiritual death, convicts him of sin, makes him realize that the wrath of God is upon hint, and his soul exposed to eternal death. Oh, what unspeakable anguish is his as he now realizes himself to be a rebel against the Most High, lost and undone.
Intolerable dread now fills him as the fire of hell is felt in his spirit and the undying worm gnaws at his conscience. What must I do? How shall I escape? are his urgent inquiries. Proud reason can furnish no answer. His outlook appears to be hopeless, his case beyond the reach of mercy. Now it is that the message of the Gospel receives welcome attention. He has heard it, perhaps, many times before, but without any personal interest or deep concern. So with the manslayer. Hitherto he gave little or no thought at all to what he had read or heard about the cities of refuge: having no need of them, they possessed no special interest for him. But matters are very different with him now. Having become a homicide, those places become of the utmost importance in his esteem, and he is greatly relieved by the knowledge that a merciful provision has been made with God to meet his desperate case, that shelter is available from the avenger. Thus it is with the sinner. He may be informed about, God’s way of salvation, but he never sets his heart upon it, labors to understand it clearly, and appropriate it unto his own deep need, until he is made sensible of his ruined condition. “Men do not flee for refuge when they are in no distress. The vessel puts not into the harbor of refuge when winds and waves all favor her. A man does not escape out of a city, like Lot from Sodom, unless he be persuaded that the city is to be destroyed, and that he is likely to perish in it. Ah!
Indeed, we who are saved confess with gratitude to Him that has delivered us that we were once in danger. In danger, my brethren; is the word strong enough? In danger of eternal burnings! It was worse than that, for we are brands plucked out of the fire; we already burned with that fire of sin, which is the fire of hell” (Spurgeon). It is one thing to be in deadly danger — as are all who lie under the condemnation and curse of God’s broken law — but it is quite another to have a feeling sense of the same in our souls. A man is satisfied with his condition until he sees his vileness in the light of God’s holiness. He has a good opinion of his own character and righteousness until his eyes be Divinely opened to perceive that he is a moral leper. He is self-complacent and self-confident until he is given a terrifying sense of the wrath of God pursuing him for his sins, and that there is but a step between him and eternal death.
But mark it well, my reader: it is not sufficient for the manslayer to recognize his peril, nor to have the knowledge that God has provided relief for him: he must flee to the city of refuge and personally avail himself of its shelter. Not until he actually passed within the portals of that sanctuary was he safe from the avenger of blood. His case was so desperate that it admitted of no delay. If he valued his life he must flee in haste. A dilatory and trifling spirit would evince that he had no real sense of his peril. So it is with the sinner. No matter how deep or long-protracted be his convictions, until he really betakes himself to Christ and closes with His gracious offer he is a lost soul. He is either under the wrath of God or under the atoning blood of Christ. There is no middle place between the two. He is this very day “condemned already” ( John 3:18), waiting for execution, or he is absolved, so that vengeance cannot strike him. As it was something more than a momentary alarm, which could easily be shaken off, that seized the manslayer — deepening in its intensity the more he pondered it so something more than a temporary fright that soon passes away is required to make the sinner come to Christ. “The manslayer left his house, his wife, his children, everything, to flee away to the city of refuge. That is just what a man does when he resolves to be saved by grace: he leaves everything he calls his own, renounces all the rights and privileges which he thought he possessed by nature; yea, he confesses to having lost his own natural right to live, and he flees for life to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The manslayer had no right to live except that he was in the city of refuge, no right to anything except that he was God’s guest within those enclosing walls. And so we relinquish, heartily and thoroughly, once and forever, all ideas arising out of our supposed merits; we hasten away from self that Christ may be all in all to us. Fleeing for refuge implies that a man flees from his sin. He sees it and repents of it” (Spurgeon).
There has to be a complete break from the old self-pleasing life. Sin must be made bitter before Christ will be sweet. Fleeing for refuge implies earnestness, for the manslayer dared not dawdle or saunter: he ran for his life. It implied unwearied diligence, so that he loitered not till shelter and safety were reached.
It is just at this point that the convicted sinner needs to be most careful.
When Satan cannot prevail with a person to reject wholly the imperative duty of his fleeing to Christ, his next attempt for the ruination of his soul is to prevail with him at least to put off the performing of it. Many who have been shaken from their unconcern are easily persuaded to defer a wholehearted seeking of Christ until they have taken their fill of the things of this world, until they are warned by serious illness or the infirmities of old age that soon they must leave it, hoping that a season of repentance will be given them before they die. But such postponing shows they are unwilling to repent and believe until they be forced by necessity, and that they prefer the world to Christ. Thus they unfit themselves more and more for this urgent duty by continuing in sin and wasting the time which is now theirs. Others persuade themselves they are not yet sufficiently convicted of sin, and must wait till God assures them more fully that the Gospel is suited to their case; and thus those who are wrongly termed “seekers” misspend their day of grace.
It is quite evident from what has been before us that in this type there is an enforcing of the sinner’s responsibility. A merciful provision had been made to meet the dire need of the homicide, yet he was required to exert himself in order to benefit thereby. The city of refuge was graciously available for him, but he must flee thither and enter it if he would be safe. If under any pretext he failed to do so, and was slain by the next of kin, his blood was upon his own head. As another has stud, “It is not at all likely that anyone would be so blind or so infatuated as to fold his arms in cold indifference and say, If I am fated to escape, I shall escape: my efforts are not needed; for if I am not fated to escape, I cannot escape, my efforts are of no use. We cannot fancy a manslayer using such silly language, or being guilty of such blind fatuity as this. He knows too well that if the avenger could but lay his hand upon him all such notions would be of small account. There was but one thing to be done, and that was to escape for his life — to flee from impending judgment, to find his safe abode within the gates of the city of refuge.”
The cities of refuge were a manifest type of Christ as He is presented and offered to sinners in the Gospel. 1. They were appointed by God Himself. They were not of man’s devising, as the Gospel is no human invention. They were an expression of the Divine mercy: and how rich the grace thus evidenced, for it provided not merely one, but no less than six, of these cities! They anticipated the urgent situation. The Lord did not wait until an Israelite had unwittingly slain one of his fellows, and then arrange for his deliverance from the sword of justice. No, He is ever beforehand in supplying what we lack. Those cities were available ere they were made use of. In like manner, God’s appointing of Christ to be the Savior of sinners was no afterthought to meet an unlooked-for emergency: in the Divine purpose and plan Christ was the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world” ( Revelation 13:8). 2. Those cities were given to provide shelter from the avenger. That was the outstanding feature in this lovely evangelical picture. Sought by one who was determined to execute judgment upon him, the manslayer turned unto this haven of peace. To attempt to brazen things out was futile: equally so is it for the sinner to imagine he can successfully defy Him whose justice is even now pursuing him. Thus there was no other alternative but death. In like manner “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” ( Acts 4:12).
To delay was madness: “he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live” ( Deuteronomy 19:5) was the peremptory requirement. It was dangerous for Lot to linger in Sodom, lest fire and brimstone destroy him ( Genesis 19:17). So God bids us, “Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” ( Hebrews 3:7,8). 3. Those cities were placed on an eminence, being built upon hills or mountains, as several of their names and the locations of others plainly intimate. This made them the more readily seen and kept in sight by those who were fleeing to the same. As such they blessedly prefigured Him whom “God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” ( Acts 5:31).
So too when the Gospel is faithfully preached the antitypical Refuge is held forth, so that it may be said of the hearers, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently [plainly] set forth” ( Galatians 3:1). For the same reason, the ministers of Christ who lift Him before their congregations are likened to “a city that is set on an hill” ( Matthew 5:14). 4. The road to the city was plainly marked out. “Thou shalt prepare thee a way... that every slayer may flee thither ( Deuteronomy 19:3).
Jewish writers say it was a law in Israel that one day in every year there were persons sent to repair the roads leading to them, to remove all stumbling-stones which might by time have fallen in the way, and to see also that the signposts which were set up at every corner leading to the city were carefully preserved, and the name Miklac (that is, refuge) legible upon them. Whether or not that was the case, certain it is that in the Gospel God has fully and plainly made known the way of salvation, so that “wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein” ( Isaiah 35:8). See also Romans 10:6-8. 5. They were easy of access. Those cities were so situated that when a person had need of such, one was near at hand. Express instructions were given that they were to be “in the midst of the land” ( Deuteronomy 19:2,3), and not in remote corners which had been difficult to approach.
The land had to be divided “into three parts,” one city of refuge in each, so that it could be reached within a single day’s journey, no matter where the manslayer resided — what a touching proof of God’s tender mercy!
Everything was done to facilitate the homicide’s escape. The application is obvious: “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart” ( Psalm 34:18). Unto such He says, “My righteousness is near” ( Isaiah 51:5). The way to Christ is short: it is but a simple renunciation of self and a laying hold of Him to be our all in all. 6. The city of refuge provided protection only for the homicide from the revenger of blood. The deliberate murderer was excluded, to teach us that there is no salvation in Christ for presumptuous sinners who still go on deliberately in their trespasses. Those who persist in willful sin, and continue to defy God and trample upon His law, bar themselves from His mercy. There is no shelter in a holy Christ for those who are in love with sin, but unto those that flee to Him from their sins there is “plenteous redemption.” In Christ the penitent and believing sinner is secure from the curse of the broken law and the wrath of God, for the Lord Jesus endured them in his stead. In Christ he is safe also from the fury of a raging Devil and is delivered from the accusations of a guilty conscience. 7. Nevertheless, the one who took refuge in that city had to remain there.
If he was foolish enough at any time to forsake its bounds, the revenger of blood had the right to slay him ( Numbers 35:26,27). As it was his duty to flee into it, so he was obliged to continue therein. That imports the responsibility of the believer to make use of Christ not only at the time of his conversion, but all through his life. There is as much emphasis placed upon our abiding in Christ as there is upon our coming to Him ( John 8:31; Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 3:6,14; 1 John 2:28). 8. They were available for Gentiles as well as Jews ( Numbers 35:15).
How thankful we should be that “there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him” ( Romans 10:12). 9. It was the death of the high priest which secured full and final deliverance ( Joshua 20:6). It is indeed striking to observe how the procuring cause of the believer’s redemption was prefigured in this manysided type, though some expositors experience a self-created difficulty in connection therewith. All the days that Israel’s high priest lived and the manslayer abode within the city, no condemnation could come upon him; and since the Christian’s High Priest is “alive for evermore,” they are eternally secure. Still, it was upon the death of Aaron or his successor that the homicide was made free, as we owe our emancipation to the death of Christ — thus the double figure of the city (safety) and the high priest’s death (propitiation) was necessary to set forth both aspects, as were the two goats of Leviticus 16:7,8. There may also be a designed dispensational hint here: saints were saved of old, but not until the death of Christ was the full liberty of son-ship enjoyed ( Galatians 4:1-7). 10. The names of these cities ( Joshua 20:7,8) spoke of what the believer has in Christ. Kadesh signifies “holy,” and Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, is made unto the believer sanctification as well as righteousness ( 1 Corinthians 1:30) — how deeply suggestive that this is the first mentioned, that in the Redeemer we have a sanctuary of holiness.
Shechem means “shoulder,” which is ‘the place of strength ( Isaiah 9:7) and of safety ( Luke 15:5) — under the government of Christ the believer finds security. Hebron means “fellowship,” and through Christ His people are brought into communion with the Father and with the holy angels. Bezer means “a fortified place” and “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble” ( Nahum 1:7); therefore “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust” ( Psalm 91:2). Ramoth means “height” or “exaltation”: in Christ we are elevated above the world, made to sit in heavenly places ( Ephesians 2:6). Golan means “exultation” or “joy,” and “we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ” ( Romans 5:11).