Introduction: After revealing the land allotments for the tribes, God revealed the specific cities that He would give to the Levites. To fulfill a prophecy that Jacob gave on his deathbed, they would be “scattered” throughout the land: “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” (Gen. 49:7). While this was originally meant as a curse for Levite’s sins, it became a blessing for Israel when the Levites gave up their lands to become servants to all the people. Joshua chapter 20 reveals the special responsibility given to the Levites in maintaining six “cities of refuge” throughout both the Promised Land and the lands east of the Jordan where Jews also dwelt. These cities were meant to be places of refuge where those accused of crimes could be given fair trials.
Because He is just, God required that mankind distinguish between premeditated murder and deaths that result from either accidental or negligent conduct. For those who had been falsely accused of first degree murder before the establishment of a civil court system, He promised at Mount Horeb to appoint places where the accused “could flee” to in order to receive a fair trial: “He who strikes a man so that he died shall surely be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee. If, however, a man acts presumptuously toward his neighbor, so as to kill him craftily, you are to take him even from My altar, that he may die.” (Ex. 21:12-14). God later revealed to Moses the first three of six “cities of refuge” where the priests could give the accused protection and a fair trial (Nu. 35:1-34; Dt. 4:41-43; 19:1-13). In Joshua Chapter 20, He revealed to Joshua the names of three additional cities (Josh. 20:8). If the Jews acted in faith to seize all of the lands promised to them, God promised to reveal three additional cities (Dt. 19:8-10).
The law written our hearts. The concept of a place of refuge is something that God imprinted onto the hearts of mankind throughout the world (Jer. 31:33; Ro. 2:15). For example, long before Westerners arrived on the large island of Hawaii, the indigenous peoples set up a city of refuge called “Pu`uhonua” where an islander could flee if he or she broke a law that carried the death penalty. There, the high priest could purify the refugee of any sin and later set the person free to begin a new life. As another example, many Christian countries have laws to grant asylum to those who are persecuted in their home countries for religious and other reasons.
Application today. With the modern development of courts and a civil and criminal justice system, it might be tempting to look at a city of refuge as an anachronism from a more primitive era. But the principles behind the cities of refuge can and should serve as a guiding force in society and in your personal life. In Old Testament times, the priests administered both the cities and the trials. Today, any believer in Jesus is part of His holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). As one of His priests, there are seven principles behind these cities that can and should apply to your life. First, the cities of refuge confirm God’s plan for crimes to be properly punished. Just as God cannot ignore sin, nor should society. Jesus clarified that vengeance is not a personal matter. Through civil institutions, believers should insist that crimes be punished in proportion to the wrongs committed. Second, like the cities of refuge, God reveals that Christian countries should be places of refuge and hope for the oppressed and persecuted. Third, the elders at the cities of refuge had to thoroughly investigate alleged wrongs. You likewise cannot turn a blind eye toward injustice in the world around you. The priests also protected the rights of the accused by requiring two or more witnesses and a fair trial to prove a charge. You should likewise protect the rights of the accused, especially when others accuse you. You must also protect the rights of victims, unless you are the victim. Fourth, the cities of refuge all foreshadowed Jesus. A person who committed a negligent homicide was forced to live within the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest. As your High Priest, Jesus’ death has freed you from the penalty of your sins. Fifth, the cities of refuge inside the Promised Land foreshadowed the protection that Jesus offers for all believers. Sixth, the cities of refuge outside the Promised Land foreshadowed the protection that Jesus offers to non-believers when they turn to Him. The cities were meant to be visible beacons of hope on the hills around the people. You should likewise fulfill your calling to be God’s light to others. You should also be a source of refuge and comfort for the oppressed, the depressed and the brokenhearted. Finally, the cities of refuge were open to all, including strangers. But those who delay in seeking His protection may not find it.
God’s cities of refuge were places of mercy, grace, and divine justice1
God requires capital punishment for first degree murder. After each tribe received its land inheritance, God reminded Joshua of His instructions to Moses to create cities of refuge to protect the rights of the accused: “1 Then the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, 2 ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘Designate the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, 3 that the manslayer who kills any person unintentionally, without premeditation, may flee there, and they shall become your refuge from the avenger of blood.” (Josh 20:1-3). These cities existed to ensure that justice was properly served within the lands until Israel grew to the point when it could develop a civil court system. But these cities protected only crimes committed through acts of negligence: “4 Now this is the case of the manslayer who may flee there and live: when he kills his friend unintentionally, not hating him previously 5 as when a man goes into the forest with his friend to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down the tree, and the iron head slips off the handle and strikes his friend so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live; 6 otherwise the avenger of blood might pursue the manslayer in the heat of his anger, and overtake him, because the way is long, and take his life, though he was not deserving of death, since he had not hated him previously. 7 Therefore, I command you, saying, ‘You shall set aside three cities for yourself.’” (Dt. 19:4-7). A person who killed another by accident or through negligence did not escape all consequences for their actions. If the person ever left the city of refuge, he or she did so at their own risk. No shelter existed outside the city. Thus, to stay safe, the person who committed manslaughter or second degree murder had to spend his or her life inside the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest (Nu. 35:25; Josh. 20:6).
A just God must punish wrongs. The cities of refuge did not create a refuge for those convicted of first degree murder. If properly convicted based upon the sworn testimony of at least two witnesses, God allowed an appointed member of the deceased person’s family to act as His “avenger” to execute His divine judgment: “11 But if there is a man who hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and rises up against him and strikes him so that he dies, and he flees to one of these cities, 12 then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. 13 You shall not pity him, but you shall purge the blood of the innocent from Israel, that it may go well with you.” (Dt. 19:11-13; Ro. 13:1-4). Throughout the Old Testament, He repeatedly commanded that properly convicted first degree murderers be put to death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” (Gen. 9:6). “So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. ‘And you shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the Lord am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel.’” (Nu. 35:33-34). The punishment that He required was not limited to murders (Ex. 21:12-14). Among other offenses, He required trials and the just punishment for: kidnappers (Ex. 21:16), batterers (Ex. 21:18), thieves (Ex. 22:1-4, 7-15), those who commit property crimes (21:28-36; 22), rapists (Ex. 22:16-17), sorcerers (Ex. 22:18), those who practice bestiality (Ex. 22:19), idolaters (Ex. 22:20), perjurers and slanderers (Ex. 23:1-3, 7), oppressors of foreigners (Ex. 22:21; 23:9), oppressors of borrowers (Ex. 22:25-27), oppressors of widows and orphans (Ex. 22:22-24), the disobedient and disrespectful (Ex. 21:15, 17; 22:28-31), the unkind (Ex. 23:4-5), and the corrupt (Ex. 23:8). Some believe that a loving God would never punish His own children. But He is also just (Jer. 9:24; Is. 30:18). He would not be just if He did not judge wrongs. If someone has trouble accepting this, ask if that person would want to live in a society where wrongdoers were not judged. Today, many Christians think that capital punishment is immoral. Yet, if someone is convicted in a fair trial with at least two witnesses, that view is not consistent with God’s Law. If we allow “blood to pollute the land” by failing to properly punish intentional murder, should we expect His blessings?
Laws of proportionality. For divine justice to exist, crimes that have been proven cannot be ignored by society. Crimes must be punished in proportion to the offense committed: “21 Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Dt. 19:21). “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Ex. 21:24-25). In addition to punishment, God always required that a tortfeasor or criminal pay restitution to the victim (Ex. 22:1-5; Lev. 7:1-10). If you have committed a wrong, divine justice requires that you make your victim whole. Saying that you are sorry to God does not restore your victim. Are there people that you have caused harm who still need to be made whole?
Punishments for wrongdoing must not be executed outside the criminal justice system. God allowed for punishment of a “life to a life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Ex. 21:24-25). Jesus, however, tells us not to resist evil and to instead turn cheek (Matt. 5:38-43). He was not dismissing the Old Testament law as an inferior standard of morality. Instead, He was distinguishing between the responsibility of the state and the individual. You are not allowed to avenge personal wrongs (Lev. 19:18; Ro. 12:19). Instead, He uses His appointed leaders in government as His “avengers” against evil in the world (Rom. 13:4). Thus, you are to let the government address any crime against you.
The right of the accused to a preliminary hearing before the Levite elders. If an accused person faced criminal charges, he or she was to present evidence to show probable cause for a trial regarding the allegations: “4 He shall flee to one of these cities, and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and state his case in the hearing of the elders of that city; and they shall take him into the city to them and give him a place, so that he may dwell among them.” (Josh 20:4). Only if the person admitted to an intentional murder or if the person’s guilt was clear would the trial be denied. If the person admitted to an intentional murder or if intent was clear, the elders handed the accused back to the manslayer for justice. If there was a doubt about the person’s guilt, the accused could live in the city until his or her trial.
The cities were lights of hope on hills for all to see. According to the Jewish interpretative texts, these cities had to be built on top of hills with white limestone that would reflect light for all to see. The rabbis also required that signposts point the way to each city with the Hebrew word “Miklat” for “Refuge”. The priests further kept the roads leading to the cities clear of any obstacles or debris. “3 You shall prepare the roads for yourself, and divide into three parts the territory of your land which the Lord your God will give you as a possession, so that any manslayer may flee there.” (Dt. 19:3). After some storms, the roads had to be rebuilt. The priests further had to build bridges across any ravines that might exist. The priests also made sure that the gates to these cities were never closed. Like believers today, these were cities on hills that were meant to be lights of hope or beacons to others in need.
Be a light and a source of God’s justice for those around you. God gave the Levites a total of 48 cities (Josh. 21:41; Nu. 35:7). The 42 general cities were spread throughout Canaan. They corresponded to the 42 stations in the wilderness between Egypt and Jordan (Nu. 33:3-49). They also corresponded to the 42 names in the genealogy from Abraham to Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17). But the Levites were not given their own territory within Israel. They were instead given cities within the regions controlled by the other tribes. They were spread out to live amongst the nine and one half tribes within Israel and the two and one half tribes that decided to live outside the Promised Land. They did not live in cities with other tribes. They needed to be a light to those around them. They also needed to be a source of protection for the rights of the accused. God also wants you to be an example and a light to others. He does not want you to be locked away in a monastery where no one can see you: “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” (Matt. 5:14(b)-15). He spread out the Levites to “teach [God’s] ordinances to Jacob.” (Dt. 33:10). If they were concentrated in their own territory they could not do this easily. Like the Levites, He scatters believers amongst non-believers in your neighborhood, your school, and your place of work. You are likewise commanded to teach the Word to those around you. You should also share the lessons from your own road to redemption, your road to Emmaus where you met Jesus (Lk. 24:13-35). Many people are still walking in circles in the wilderness looking for a way out. The six cities of refuge symbolize your duty to be a source of refuge and comfort to our fellow mankind. They symbolize your duty to be a source of light and refuge to people in distress wherever they are (Matt. 25:36).
Be a refuge for the oppressed and the imprisoned. The cities of refuge also became prisons for those convicted of manslaughter, which is murder without the element of premeditated intent. Unless you are someone like Paul (Eph. 3:1), a prison may not be where God intends for you to be. But there are people in prisons in need of comfort (Matt. 25:36). Jesus asks us: “And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt. 5:47). Are you reaching out and giving comfort to the oppressed and imprisoned? Or, do you focus only on your family, friends, and fellow believers?
Seek justice for others. In addition to being a refuge, you should advocate for the poor, the disadvantaged, and against social injustice (Prov. 28:5; Jer, 22:3; Eze. 18:21; Micah 6:8; Zeck. 7:9; Matt. 23:23). On the Day of Judgment, Jesus will ask each person what they did for the poor and the needy: “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40). In James 1:27, you are also told that “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Likewise, in Micah 6:8, you are told that God expects us to: “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” In Isaiah 1:17, you are further told to “learn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow.” This is not limited to public officials, law enforcement officials, and judges. How will you answer Jesus when asked what you have done with your talents to help the poor, the oppressed, and the disadvantaged?
Capital punishment requires a trial by jury. In cases involving potential capital punishment, God required that an impartial jury in a neutral city of refuge judge between the blood avenger and the accused: “ 5 Now if the avenger of blood pursues him, then they shall not deliver the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor without premeditation and did not hate him beforehand. 6 He shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, . . .” (Josh. 20:5-6(a)). “[T]hen the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the blood avenger according to these ordinances. The congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the blood avenger, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he fled. . .” (Nu. 35:24-35). The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, like the Sixth Commandment, requires the right to an impartial jury for a criminal offense. People celebrate this as a great achievement of secular mankind. But where is true credit due?
Laws regarding confirming witnesses. Because the cities of refuge were also meant to be places where trials would be held, Moses restated God’s Law regarding the type of proof needed to confirm a crime of premeditated murder: “If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.” (Nu. 35:30). “On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.” (Dt. 17:6). “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” (Dt. 19:15). Without a formal court system to ensure uniform standards of justice, many tribal families in that time period took upon themselves the role of avenging wrongs against their own. As one might expect, this system became abused over time. No one applied the same standards. Some would kill based upon one person’s mere allegation. Some would also kill based upon an accidental death. God created the six cities of refuge to ensure fair trials for those accused of murder. The requirement for two or witnesses was to ensure that the innocent were not falsely convicted. Capital punishment is today criticized because innocent people die based upon the testimony of one witness. Would these problems exist if governments used God’s standards of due process for capital crimes?
Laws regarding false testimony. In addition to requiring the testimony of more than one witness and a fair trial to convict someone in a city of refuge, God’s due process required protections to guard against perjury: “16 If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, 17 then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. 18 The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you.” (Dt. 19:16-20). Perjury violates the Ninth Commandment (Ex. 20:16; Dt. 5:20). Divine justice does not exist when authorities ignore and fail to prosecute perjury. If a perjurer faced the same penalty as the falsely accused, a perjurer might think twice before giving false testimony. Today, perjury is rampant in government forms, insurance claims, civil litigation, and in trials. Few perjurers are ever prosecuted because of scarce time and resources of prosecutors. Have you been honest on your tax returns and in other documents requiring your signature under penalty of perjury?
If you confirm a wrong against you, forgive your enemy. Jesus tells us that if you hate someone, you have committed an act of “murder.” (Matt. 5:21-22; 1 Jo. 3:15). One who speaks ill or slanders others, also has a “depraved heart”. (Mk. 7:22-32). Your flesh may prompt you to defend yourself when others make accusations against you. Yet, before you react, you should first confirm an alleged wrong against you with two witnesses: “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Prov. 29:11). Only after confirming a matter with the alleged accuser or through two witnesses, can you address the alleged wrong in kindness with the goal of restoring the brother or sister by following the steps in the Bible (Matt. 18:15; Gal. 6:1). After confronting a brother or sister in love, you should then forgive the person who caused you harm. If you do not forgive others for their wrongs against you, God cannot forgive you (Matt. 6:15; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). Are you holding grudges against others? Are you judging others based upon gossip and rumors?
The release of the accused upon the death of the High Priest. The accused lived as refugees within the cities of refuge until the death of the High Priest. At that time, those serving sentences for accidental or negligent homicides were released to live within their towns: “ .. . until the death of the one who is high priest in those days. Then the manslayer shall return to his own city and to his own house, to the city from which he fled.’” (Josh 20:6(b); Nu. 35:25, 32). These rules foreshadowed Jesus’ death on the cross.
Through Jesus’ death you are no longer restricted to a place of refuge. Jesus is the High Priest of every believer (Heb. 8:1). If you have “taken refuge” in Him (Heb. 6:18), His death released you from your punishment before God: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:1-2). “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (Jo. 8:36). Furthermore, God is not limited in what He can do with a murderer. Moses committed first degree murder against an Egyptian (Ex. 2:11-12). David sent Uriah to his death to have his wife Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11). Paul also committed first degree murder against Christians (Acts 7:23-28, 9:1). These leaders were not limited in their ability to serve God. Knowing their crimes and the punishment for their crimes, they appreciated God’s mercy and grace that much more. If there is anything in your past that keeps you from serving, it is not from God. What are you doing to show your gratitude? If you are openly sinning, how grateful are you?
The three cities of refuge within the Promised Land. As He had previously revealed to Moses, the Levities were to maintain three cities of refuge within the Promised Land: “7 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah.” (Josh. 20:7). “1 When the Lord your God cuts off the nations, whose land the Lord your God gives you, and you dispossess them and settle in their cities and in their houses, 2 you shall set aside three cities for yourself in the midst of your land, which the Lord your God gives you to possess.” (Dt. 19:1-2). These three cities in the Promised Land all pointed to Jesus.
Jesus is our refuge. All six cities of refuge foreshadow Jesus. It is to Jesus that we “have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” (Heb. 6:18). “The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble;” (Ps. 9:9). “Each will be like a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry country, like the shade of a huge rock in a parched land.” (Is. 32:2). The three cities on each side of the Jordan river symbolized the full presence of God (the Trinity) whether a person seeking refuge was a believer or not. God does not want any to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Are you looking to help people find their refuge in God’s eternal city? (Ps. 46:1; 91:2). Are you seeking refuge in Jesus in your times of trial and tribulation?
Jesus in the location and characteristics of each city. Jesus is the light of the world (Jo. 8:12). For the weary traveler looking for freedom from the yoke of sin, He burns as a beacon of hope. Like the roads to the cities of refuge, the roads to Jesus are always clear. God’s Word is a light to keep you on the path to Jesus (Ps. 119:105). Likewise, just as the city gates were never closed, Jesus is always available. The names of the six cities of refuge also individually symbolize what Jesus provides when you seek refuge in Him:
Kadesh – “Righteousness” (Josh. 20:7). – When you take refuge in Jesus, He invites you to form a personal relationship with Him. Like the Psalmist, you can personally call Him “my redeemer” (Job 19:25), “my deliverer” or “my savior” (2 Sam. 22:3; Ps. 144:2; Na. 1:7). He is Jehovah-Maccaddeshem, “the Lord who sanctifies” (Ex. 31:13; Lev. 20:8). He is also Jehovah-Tsidkenu, “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6; 33:16). When you take refuge in Jesus, His blood will make you righteous.
Shechem – “Shoulder” (Josh. 20:7). The shoulder is one of the strongest muscles in the body. Jesus is likewise “the rock of our salvation” (Ps. 95:1; Dt. 32:3-4; Isa. 26:4). You can call Him “my rock . . . my salvation” (Ps. 18:2), “my strength” (Ps. 28:7; Jer. 16:19), my “fortress” (Jer. 16:19), or my “refuge” (Jer. 16:19). When you take refuge in Jesus, His strength gives you the power to do all things (Phil. 4:13). Are you turning to Him when you need strength to overcome your challenges?
Hebron - Fellowship (Josh. 20:7). “[I]f we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another.” (1 Jo. 1:7). You can personally call God “our Father” (Matt. 6:9) and “Abba” (Ro. 8:15). He is your “living God” (Dan. 6:20), your “portion” (Ps. 73:26; 119:57), and your “Shiloh” (Gen 49:10). To show His fellowship with the Jews, He also called Himself “Yahweh Elohim Israel,” “The Lord, the God of Israel.” (Jdgs. 5:3; Isa. 17:6). He knocks at the door of your heart, looking to find fellowship with you when you take refuge in Him (Rev. 3:20). Jesus further offers a refuge from all your trials and suffering and misery: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28). Are you seeking out His fellowship when you are feeling oppressed or in need of help?
The locations of the three cities of refuge outside the Promised Land. God then listed the names of three cities of refuge outside the Promised Land: “8 Beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plain from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan from the tribe of Manasseh.” (Josh. 20:8). Before Moses died, God had previously revealed to him the first three cities for the Jewish settlers to be to the east and north of the Jordan River: “three cities across the Jordan to the east . . . Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau for the Reubenites, and Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan for the Manassites.” (Dt. 4:41-43). These were all elevated places. People today will know one of these places as the “Golan Heights.” God required that the “cities of refuge” be (1) spread throughout the populated areas; (2) have roads leading to the cities so that all could easily reach them; and (3) be built on hills for all to easily see them (Dt. 19:1-7).
Jesus in the location and characteristics of each city. Like the first three cities, each of the three cities of refuge outside the Promised Land also symbolized Jesus:
Bezer - Fortress (Josh. 20:8). Jesus is also a shield from all your enemies and trials when you take refuge in Him: “He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.” (Ps. 18:30; Prov. 30:5; 2 Sam. 22:3, 31). You can call Him “my shield” (Ps. 28:7; Gen. 15:1), my “shade” (Ps. 121:5), my “hiding place” (Ps. 32:7), or my “song” (Ex. 15:2; Is. 12:2). When you take refuge in Christ, you have this promise: ‘“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me,’ declares the LORD.” (Is. 54:17). Are you turning to Him when you feel attacked by your enemies?
Ramoth – Heights (Josh. 20:8). This name symbolizes not just refuge from the enemy, but power through God over your enemy: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe.” (Prov. 18:10). “They will say of Me, ‘Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.’” (Is. 45:24). Jesus is also Jehovah Sabbaoth, the Lord of Hosts or Lord of Armies. He towers over all as the king of all heaven and earth (e.g., Ps. 24:9-10; 84:3; Is. 6:5; Hag. 1:5). He is also called El Shaddai, the God of the mountains, the Lord God Almighty, or the All-Sufficient One (Gen. 17:1; 28:3; 43:14; 48:3; Ps. 91:1). From His high and mighty place, He is also the light of the world and a beacon of hope (Jo. 8:12). Are you turning to Him when you need protection?
Golan - Joy (Josh. 20:9). Jesus’ refuge provides more than just protection. His refuge is also a place of great joy: “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10). “[I]n Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Ps. 16:11). “[F]or the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Ro. 14:17). “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Ro. 15:13). If joy is missing in your life, are you turning to Him to have His joy poured into your life?
God’s appointed cities of refuge2
The yet to be fulfilled promise of three additional cities of refuge. God also promised that He would create three additional cities of refuge if the Jews acted in faith and seized all the lands that God had promised, which stretched all the way to the Euphrates River in modern day Iraq. “8 If the Lord your God enlarges your territory, just as He has sworn to your fathers, and gives you all the land which He promised to give your fathers— 9 if you carefully observe all this commandment which I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in His ways always—then you shall add three more cities for yourself, besides these three. 10 So innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, and bloodguiltiness be on you.” (Dt. 19:8-10). The Jews, however, never acted on faith to seize all the lands that God offered. But His promises never go unfulfilled. He will identify these three cities during Jesus’ Millennial Reign. The number six symbolizes mankind. It was on the sixth day that God created mankind (Gen 1:26-31). The number nine symbolizes the fullness of the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). The fullness of the Holy Spirit will shine forth as a beacon to all the nations when Jesus dwells in the Promised Land during the Millennial Reign.
Application of the cities of refuge today. In most countries, the development of modern courts eliminates the need for a city of refuge to hold a fair trial. But these protections do not exist throughout the world. Many people live in lands where the court systems are neither fair nor impartial. Many also live in lands where they are persecuted and killed for their religious beliefs. A nation has a right to set limits on the number of immigrants who come seeking economic opportunity. A nation also has the right to punish those who break immigration laws. But Judeo-Christian nations can fulfill the principles behind these laws by being a refuge for those who are persecuted and in need of asylum.
The cities were available to all, just like Jesus. God strategically placed the six cities throughout the lands on hills with open roads so that no one would need to travel far to find refuge. The cities were also available for Jews, gentiles, and foreigners: “9 These were the appointed cities for all the sons of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them, that whoever kills any person unintentionally may flee there, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until he stands before the congregation.” (Josh. 20:9). Jesus is also ready to accept anyone who will believe in Him. He died for even the worst of sinners (Jo. 3:16). Through the Bible, the path to Him is also clear and easy to find. “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth.” (Lk. 3:5).
The cities symbolized the power of Jesus to save all from judgment. We are all sinners (Ro. 3:23; 5:12; Ps. 58:3). The wages of our sin is death (Ro. 6:23). Just as the city of refuge allowed for the innocent or those who committed unintentional murder to escape death, Jesus also offers a refuge from death (Ro. 10:9-10, 13; Jo. 5:24; 10:28-29). If you have ever been angry with your brother or called someone a fool, you have also committed an act of murder (Matt. 5:21-26; 1 Jo. 3:15-16). Likewise, if you have broken one of the laws, you are guilty of having broken them all (Jam. 2:10-11). The cities, however, protected only those people who were innocent of murder or those who had killed through acts of negligence or by accident. By contrast, Jesus is a refuge for any sinner, including murders. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo. 1:9). Thus, unlike the Jews, you are protected from even your intentional crimes. If you are grateful, what are you doing with your life to thank Jesus? (Ro. 12:1-2).
A person who delayed in entering the city might face death. Although the cities of refuge were available to all, a person who failed to quickly avail himself of God’s means of protection might face death. For example, Saul’s commander Abner went to the refuge city of Hebron after killing a man named Asahel in self-defense in battle (2 Sam. 2:18-24). But because he stepped outside the city, Joab, Asahel’s older brother and David’s commander, killed Abner at the city gate before he could return (2 Sam. 3:27). David later remarked that Abner died as a fool for failing to stay with God’s protections that were available to him (2 Sam. 3:32-34). The same warning could be given to everyone. A person like Abner could only be saved by staying within the sanctuary of a city of refuge. There was no way for a convicted murderer to pay a ransom for his or her own murder (Nu. 35:31-32). Like the cities of refuge, Jesus offers the exclusive means of salvation. Jesus came to offer the ransom that people could not pay for their acts of murder (1 Tim. 2:5-6). “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). “For, ‘everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Ro. 10:12-3). As noted by one commentator, there are multiple parallels between Jesus and the cities of refuge: “Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are within easy reach of the needy person; they were of no use unless someone could get to the place of refuge. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are open to all, not just the Israelite; no one needs to fear that they would be turned away from their place of refuge in their time of need. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge became a place where the one in need would live; you didn't come to a city of refuge in time of need just to look around. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are the only alternative for the one in need; without this specific protection, they will be destroyed. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge provide protection only within their boundaries; to go outside means death. With both Jesus and the cities of refuge, full freedom comes with the death of the High Priest.” (David Guzik on Joshua Chapter 20).3 (italics in original). Your friends and family could die any day in an accident. If they have put off accepting Jesus as their refuge, they could die like Abner at the gates of the eternal city and be denied entry. If you fail to warn them of the need to rush without hesitation to Jesus’ refuge, they might die when it is too late. This means that you might have to subject yourself to ridicule or discomfort to try to save others. Do you know the Gospel well enough to explain it to others? If you do, what are you going to do to warn your unsaved friends, family, co-workers, and others?
Don’t delay in seeking refuge in Jesus4