“. . . you shall separate three cities for yourself in the midst of your land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess.”
Deuteronomy is a compound word meaning “Second Law”, and is a recap of the instructions Moses gave to the first generation of believers who had been delivered from Egypt. Forty years have passed and a new generation has arisen in Israel. Consequently, it became necessary to rehearse the Law before the people entered the land of promise. Much of what is found in Deuteronomy is a recap of what was first presented in Exodus, Leviticus or Numbers. This is true of the law regarding cities of refuge. Numbers 35 gives us much greater detail regarding these cities. In it we find:
“They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment.”
God established a system in Israel to ensure the safety of a person who had accidentally caused the death of another. Instead of allowing vigilantes to run rampant, Moses was instructed to have six cities built where a person could flee, find protection, and await his day in court.
Four things stand out to me about the cities of refuge. First, we are told the cities were to be distributed throughout the land for easy access. Second, in Deuteronomy 19:3, we read that good roads were to be built and maintained so that nothing would hinder a person from reaching the city. Third, these cities were for all people wether they were natural born children, foreigners, or travelers. Fourth, the person must remain in the city until the High Priest dies, then their crime is forgiven and their guilt forever removed.
It is not difficult to see the parallels between the cities of refuge and the work of Christ. The death of Christ provides a way for all men to have their sins pardoned. No matter what our background might be, nothing hinders us from coming to Christ and being forgiven. Those who hide in Christ will never face the avenger of death. A person who had fled to the city of refuge was a marked man. All others knew he was only safe because of the provision of God. If he ever left the city he was no longer safe from the avenger. The same is true of us. Our hope is found in Christ, where we are constantly reminded to abide. As long as we sit under the shelter of the cross, there is no sin that can harm us. We are marked men and the whole world should know our hope is in Christ alone.
However, there is a contrast worth noting, the cities of refuge were only for the innocent, while the cross is designed for the guilty. There is no sin, no matter how great or how frequent, that cannot be forgiven at the cross.
“… we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.”