|Flee To Your CITY OF REFUGE|
When Moses and Joshua led God’s people out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land, cities of refuge were provided by God as asylums for any Jew or Gentile who accidentally or ignorantly killed another person. There he could find safety and security from the avenger of blood (Num. 35). These cities were dispersed throughout the land among the forty-eight cities of the Levites. When a person seeking refuge arrived, there would be an inquiry with the facts of the case laid out and the elders judging whether the slayer was indeed innocent of premeditated murder. A man found innocent could remain safely in the city of refuge for as long as necessary, but at the death of the high priest, he was free to return to his home. On the other hand, those who were found guilty of murder would be delivered back to the relatives of the victim for immediate punishment – death!
Three cities were appointed during Moses’ day on “this side of Jordan,” that is, east of the river (Dt. 4:41-43). Then during Joshua’s day, three more cities were appointed in the land of Canaan, west of the Jordan River (Josh. 20:1-9). If God’s people were obedient and loved the Lord their God, and if He “enlarged their borders,” they were to add three more cities of refuge, for a total of nine (Dt. 19:8-10).
The cities of refuge represent the work of God in people’s lives to bring them to a full understanding of life in Christ Jesus. Men and women, whose guilt is open and obvious before a holy God, can flee to a refuge far safer than any available from an avenging man. This refuge is in the very One who died for all sin; the “Prince of Life” who was delivered by man to be crucified (Acts 3:15, 17). We can flee to Him to be safe from judgment and be immediately and completely free. Our High Priest has died and He has risen again. Therefore, “having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus … and having an High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near” (Heb. 10:19-22 NKJV).
Let’s look at how each of these three sets of three cities may apply to us, so that we may praise “the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (Ps. 107:8).
“This Side of The Jordan”
The cities appointed and their locations on “this side of the Jordan” relate to our experiences of life in this world and deliverance from them. Our deliverance is secured by the Lord Jesus because He is the Son of Man, and His authority in this world as prophet, priest, and king gives us the opportunity to be free from any condemnation due to us from our former life. We see that, although “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 Jn. 2:16), in Him we can find refuge.
First, we have the city Bezer, located in the wilderness of the Reubenites. Reuben, that unrestrained firstborn son of Jacob who defiled his father’s marriage bed, speaks of the lust of flesh. What a wilderness it is when we are driven by our lusts! Fortunately, Bezer, meaning “fortification,” is provided. As a king would fortify his dominion against unwanted enemies, so Christ provides us with the whole armor of God to withstand the temptations of the evil days in which we live (Eph. 6:13).
Next, there is Ramoth in Gilead of the Gadites. Gilead was the place where Jacob and his father-in-law, Laban, in the pride of their lives, heaped up stones as a witness between them (Gen. 31). Similarly, we have an accuser, the devil, who heaps up “a troop” (Gad means “a troop”) of accusations against us. Our warfare is with principalities and powers, the spiritual wickedness in high places. Thankfully, we can flee to Ramoth, which means “heights.” This is representative of the throne of grace, where we may boldly come in time of need, and where Christ, as our great high priest and advocate, silences the accuser of the brethren, saying, “If [they have] wronged Thee, God, lay it to my account” (see Phile. 18). Ours is the security of heaven itself.
The third city on “this side of the Jordan” is Golan in Bashan, of the Manassites. Bashan was the location of the nine cubit (14 foot or 4.1 meter) bed of iron (Dt. 3:11) that Og, king of Bashan, surely used to fulfill the lust of his eyes. Bashan is mentioned more than any other worldly place in the Old Testament. Manasseh means “causing to forget.” In the pleasures of this world, we tend to forget our place in the Lord. By His grace, Golan, meaning “their captivity; their rejoicing,” is located here. We can certainly rejoice in the One who “led captivity captive and gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8). He bestowed upon His church the gifts of apostles and prophets, as well as pastors, teachers and evangelists, to stir up, to encourage and to exhort the saints not to leave their first love. How needful are these servants of the Lord for the spiritual Manassite who has forgotten the great and precious promises in Christ!
Thus, our life history, like that of Israel, affords us no material for boasting in ourselves. Rather, these cities of refuge fittingly remind us of the wonderful security and full resources we have in Christ.
As the cities east of Jordan emphasize Christ’s position as “Son of Man,” of whom it is written “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:18), so the cities of refuge in Canaan emphasize Christ’s heavenly character as Son of God. The names and places of these three cities were not known in the books of Moses; before the people passed over Jordan they were an unrevealed mystery. So too, “great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). It is not until we “pass over Jordan,” considering ourselves dead to sin but alive to God, that we can enjoy the place, portion and inheritance in this new life in Christ. Our place is seated together with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). Our portion is in the adoption of sons by the Father (Gal. 4:5). Our inheritance is the riches of Christ, guaranteed by the down payment of the Spirit of God (Eph. 1:13-14). All this is because our refuge and high priest, the Lord Jesus, died for us!
The names of the cities in Canaan are found in Joshua 20. First, there is Kedesh in Galilee in Mount Naphtali. Galilee is the place where the light of God’s Son was first seen in Israel (Isa. 9:1-2; Jn. 2:11; Acts 10:37) and it was there that the Lord met with the disciples after His resurrection (Mt. 28:7). Kedesh means “a sanctuary,” so we can easily see our Lord Jesus as our place of rest. No matter what we were before, we are now seated together with Him in heavenly places. We sometimes agonize over our past, sinful life, as Naphtali, which means “my wrestling,” would indicate. This hinders us from enjoying the sanctuary. But we flee to that place of safety and find sweet rest each week as we first examine ourselves and then remember Him with the emblems of His finished work – the bread and wine (1 Cor. 11:23-28; Acts 20:7). Are you eager to be there with Him, even where just two or three are gathered together in His name? Christ Himself promises to be in the midst (Mt. 18:20).
Then there is Shechem in Mount Ephraim. Ephraim means to be doubly fruitful, so the Lord Jesus said, “I am come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly,” and, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (Jn. 10:10, 15:1-2). Christ has secured for us the wondrous “portion” of everlasting life, which should lead to a more abundant life while we wait for His return. It takes diligence to continue in these things, and for that there is Shechem, which means “shoulder” (in the sense of rising early, being diligent to get to work). We must keep the shoulder to the grindstone, as the old saying goes, and continue in the things we have been taught from God’s word. Let’s flee to Shechem, knowing He has secured all our blessing, both now and forever.
Finally, we look to Hebron, or Kiriath-arba in Mount Judah, as our inheritance. Kiriath-arba was the city of the Canaanites where Abraham’s wife Sarah died (Gen. 23:2). It was named for Arba, a great man among the Anakims, who were giants. Arba means “four” and Kiriath-arba means “city of four.” Four in Scripture is a number which represents God’s works associated with the earth, as seen in the four rivers from Eden (Gen. 2:10), four corners of the earth (Rev. 7:1), four types of flesh (1 Cor. 15:39), four divisions of mankind (Rev. 5:9), and the four gospels. This “city of four,” a home of giants, could represent man’s efforts in opposition to God’s work in this world. When we see spiritual giants opposing God’s work, let us flee to Hebron, meaning “communion” with God. If we remember it is God’s work that gives victory over the giants, we can give Him praise and thanksgiving even in the midst of difficulty, for “He shall be praised” is Judah’s meaning. Is it not our inheritance to praise Him? Abraham did not inherit the land of Canaan in his lifetime (Acts 7:5); he had to buy a burying place for Sarah there. For us, as spiritual children of Abraham, the earnest (down payment) of our inheritance is the Spirit of God, unto the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:14). Will the trial of your faith be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:7)? When He returns, our communion with Him will be complete.
The Extra Three Cities
This brings us to the last three cities of refuge which would have been allocated if the children of Israel had continued to love the Lord and walk in His ways, so that He could enlarged their borders. Alas, those three were never appointed, for Israel’s obedience was short-lived. For us, the lesson of those extra three cities should encourage us to seek to know the things that God has prepared for them who love Him. We can know these things by His Spirit, “for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:9-10). Let us therefore study the word of God that we might be approved of God, workmen not ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves” (Jas. 1:22).
May we obediently press on through faith. If we fail to do so, we too will miss out on what more cities of refuge could hold for us.
By Tom Steere
Three Cities More
If their borders should be extended, according to the promise made conditional upon obedience, then they were to mark off three cities more. This repetition of the number 3 cannot be without meaning, as indeed these cities had a notable significance for Israel themselves, as we have seen. Surely in them was the very secret of their future told out, and how God shall manifest Himself for them at last. In the meanwhile, by this provision human life is made known as the object of God’s care, and cherished. The extension of the land waits their future possession of it.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org