Moses has already appointed Bezer, Ramoth and Golan on the wilderness side of the Jordan as cities of refuge for Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh (Deu 4:41-4341Then Moses set apart three cities across the Jordan to the east,42that a manslayer might flee there, who unintentionally slew his neighbor without having enmity toward him in time past; and by fleeing to one of these cities he might live:43Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau for the Reubenites, and Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan for the Manassites.). Anyone who kills his neighbor unintentionally can flee there. In accordance with God’s original instructions (Num 35:9-349Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,10“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan,11then you shall select for yourselves cities to be your cities of refuge, that the manslayer who has killed any person unintentionally may flee there.12The cities shall be to you as a refuge from the avenger, so that the manslayer will not die until he stands before the congregation for trial.13The cities which you are to give shall be your six cities of refuge.14You shall give three cities across the Jordan and three cities in the land of Canaan; they are to be cities of refuge.15These six cities shall be for refuge for the sons of Israel, and for the alien and for the sojourner among them; that anyone who kills a person unintentionally may flee there.16‘But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.17If he struck him down with a stone in the hand, by which he will die, and [as a result] he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.18Or if he struck him with a wooden object in the hand, by which he might die, and [as a result] he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.19The blood avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; he shall put him to death when he meets him.20If he pushed him of hatred, or threw something at him lying in wait and [as a result] he died,21or if he struck him down with his hand in enmity, and [as a result] he died, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death, he is a murderer; the blood avenger shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.22‘But if he pushed him suddenly without enmity, or threw something at him without lying in wait,23or with any deadly object of stone, and without seeing it dropped on him so that he died, while he was not his enemy nor seeking his injury,24then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the blood avenger according to these ordinances.25The 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; and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.26But if the manslayer at any time goes beyond the border of his city of refuge to which he may flee,27and the blood avenger finds him outside the border of his city of refuge, and the blood avenger kills the manslayer, he will not be guilty of blood28because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest the manslayer shall return to the land of his possession.29‘These things shall be for a statutory ordinance to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings.30‘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.31Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.32You shall not take ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to live in the land before the death of the priest.33So 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.34You 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.’”) he instructs Israel that when they have entered the land, they must also designate three cities of refuge there. The actual choice is made by Joshua (Jos 20:77So 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.).
Moses says in verse 33You 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.: “You shall prepare the roads for yourself.” Non-biblical history mentions that it was the duty of the Senate to annually check the roads to the cities of refuge. Decayed roads had to be repaired and obstacles removed. There should be no river over which there was no bridge. The road should not be too narrow, but should have a certain width. At intersections the direction had to be indicated by signs with the words ‘Refuge, Refuge’. It seems that Isaiah has borrowed this precept of ‘road maintenance’ when he says: “A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. “Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley”” (Isa 40:3-43A voice is calling,
“Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
4“Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Although any manslayer may flee to the city of refuge, this city only offers protection to someone who has accidentally killed someone else. The example of the man who wants to cut wood in the forest makes that clear. A forest is accessible to everyone and cutting wood is free for everyone. In the example it is assumed that someone unintendingly causes the death of his neighbor. It does not happen from drift or premeditation, but purely and simply by accident. With the example given here, any similar case can be compared for assessment.
The example also shows how human life is in danger on a daily basis. Death surrounds us and can strike at the most unimagined moment, without any reason. It is necessary to always be prepared. “Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them” (Ecc 9:1212Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them.).
However, it is not only for him who is killed “an evil time”, but also for the one who killed him. Even if it is by accident, God takes the termination of life so high, that the manslayer has to flee to a city of refuge. He must stay there until the death of the high priest (Num 35:3232You shall not take ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to live in the land before the death of the priest.). Thereby he is deprived of the enjoyment of his inheritance all this time.
The flights to the city of refuge can be applied to the sinner. The sinner must fear the wrath of God. In the gospel he can be pointed to Christ, of Whom the city of refuge can be seen as a picture. The city of refuge is a refuge given by God and thus a proof of His love and mercy, which indicates the escape route to man in his greatest need.
However, it applies not only to the sinner, but also to the people of God. And the latter is what we are talking about here in the first place. The special character of the cities of refuge is therefore that God can offer His people a solution in cases of great sin, but in ignorance, in His love and mercy. The free city for Israel is (still) the church (Acts 2:37-4137Now when they heard [this], they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”38Peter [said] to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.39For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”40And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”41So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.). Since the foundation of the church, every Jew who repents of his sins must separate himself from what has always been held as God’s people. That makes the step difficult, but it is the only outcome. The confession of sin to be complicit of the death of Christ is necessary. Peter tells this to the people in his speech on Pentecost (Acts 2:2323this [Man], delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put [Him] to death.).
In a subsequent speech he speaks of their acting in “ignorance” (Acts 3:1717“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.). Therefore repentance and forgiveness are possible for them and if they do, they can still receive the promised blessings (Acts 3:19-2119Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;20and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you,21whom heaven must receive until [the] period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.). This is completely in keeping with the prayer of the Lord Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:3434But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.). In this same sense mercy can be shown to Paul, who was such an ardent persecutor of the church and thus of the Lord Jesus (1Tim 1:1313even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;).
The same way of doing things we see in the laws on the sin offering, where forgiveness is for the sins that are unintentionally, unknowingly committed (Lev 4:1,13,22,271Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,13‘Now if the whole congregation of Israel commits error and the matter escapes the notice of the assembly, and they commit any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and they become guilty;22‘When a leader sins and unintentionally does any one of all the things which the LORD his God has commanded not to be done, and he becomes guilty,27‘Now if anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and becomes guilty,).There is no forgiveness for sin committed intentionally – which means sin of rebellion and apostacy from God (Num 15:3030But the person who does [anything] defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from among his people.).
There is an interesting connection to be noted between the Prophet announced by God in the last chapter (Deu 18:15-1915“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.16This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’17The LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well.18I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.19It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require [it] of him.) and the beaten to death neighbor in this chapter. In both cases we see here a picture of the Lord Jesus. In both cases, the relationship with Israel is paramount. This is shown by the fact that the section about the prophet of Deuteronomy 18 is quoted twice in the book of Acts. Peter applies the first quotation (Acts 3:2222Moses said, ‘THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you.) to the Lord Jesus. Moreover, in the verses before it (Acts 3:14-1714But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,15but put to death the Prince of life, [the one] whom God raised from the dead, [a fact] to which we are witnesses.16And on the basis of faith in His name, [it is] the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which [comes] through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.17“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.) Peter refers to the case of the killing of neighbor in Deuteronomy 19 when he says that his countrymen did it in ignorance.
The announcement of the Prophet in Deuteronomy 18 (Deu 18:1515“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.) is quoted a second time and applied to the Lord Jesus, by Stephen (Acts 7:3737This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN.’). Stephen, however, does not stand in front of an ignorant people, but in front of those who consciously rejected the Lord Jesus. He does not speak to them of ignorance. They are guilty murderers. They are no longer ignorant. That is why they are being overtaken by the blood avenger. They resist the Holy Spirit and have killed the Righteous of Whom they became murderers (Acts 7:51-5251“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.52Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;). The judgment will affect them and was also exercised in the year 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem.
But there is also an application for Christianity. We live in the same position in which Israel has been in the days of the Lord Jesus. What has Christianity done with what has been entrusted to it? Israel is entrusted with the truth of the one God and of the coming Messiah. The truth of Christ as the Glorified One in heaven is entrusted to the church. What is left of it? For the mass of confessing Christians, “they are enemies of the cross of Christ” and they think of “the earthly things” (Phil 3:18-1918For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, [that they are] enemies of the cross of Christ,19whose end is destruction, whose god is [their] appetite, and [whose] glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.) and not the things that are above (Col 3:1-21Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.2Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.).
The result is the great mistake of ignoring the Holy Spirit on earth. The sin against the Holy Spirit is that sin which is directed against the Person of the Holy Spirit, that He is set aside and ignored. Expressions of this are: Bible criticism with intellectual people, fanaticism with emotional people and legalism with strong-willed people. These are some great sins of Christianity that stand against the free working of the Holy Spirit and also of the Word.
We live in the time when we experience the downfall of Christianity, the post-Christian period. Characteristic of this period is the return to paganism (cf. Rom 1:22-3222Professing to be wise, they became fools,23and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.24Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.25For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.26For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,27and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.28And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,29being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; [they are] gossips,30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,31without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;32and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. with 2Tim 3:1-91But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.2For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,3unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,4treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,5holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.6For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses,7always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.8Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these [men] also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith.9But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.). In 2 Timothy 3 it is said of Christians: “Holding to a form of godliness” (2Tim 3:55holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.). These Christians are mentioned in the same breath as magicians and women’s performance in the character of Jezebel.
There is no way out for Christianity as a whole, but there is a way out for individuals. But to flee is necessary. We can think of what Gód gave in the Reformation. This work can be so depraved by man that it is necessary to flee to a place of refuge. This can be applied today to the place where you have always been, but where spiritual life has become suffocated, perhaps by ignorance.
The way of escape is shown: “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these [things], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love [and] peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2Tim 2:19-2219Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”20Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.21Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these [things], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.22Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love [and] peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.). This means to separate from the vessels to dishonor and go the way God indicates. Whoever doesn’t flee, will once fall into the hand of the blood avenger.
The cities of refuge are priestly cities and Levite cities. Whoever takes refuge there comes to a place of blessing. The manslayer leaves a lot behind, but gets more in turn. He may share in the blessings that are part of priests and Levites. He comes into a place where are people for whom the LORD Himself is their inheritance. These cities lie on the mountains, a picture of the heavenly things that are pondered there, the blessings of the church. [N.B. Many good orthodox churches still set their minds of earthly things. For example, they think they have to be busy in politics.]
In verses 8-108“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—9if 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.10So 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. there follows a separate instruction with regard to three extra cities of refuge. Those may be added by the Israelites to the six already assigned cities when the LORD has enlarged their territory in accordance with the promises to the fathers (Gen 15:1818On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying,
“To your descendants I have given this land,
From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:
). That enlargement of their area is again dependent on their obedience to the LORD. Because they have been unfaithful, they have not (yet) had the expansion of the area and therefore neither the cities.
Where are the priestly and Levite cities today that really serve as cities of refuge? As God’s people today, we have not done better than the Israelites did then. We too have become unfaithful. Therefore, the number of churches where the heavenly blessings are enjoyed is not really increasing. Because of our unfaithfulness, because the blessings do not really live for us, the road to the city of refuge, the local church, has become full of obstacles. Instead of cleaning them up, we are adding more obstacles. This prevents ‘manslayer’ from taking refuge there.