God looks ahead that it can happen that someone from the people makes himself unworthy of the land. Manslaughter defiles the land with blood. Such a person may be killed by the avenger of blood. He cannot live any longer in the inheritance. In His grace God provides in case someone accidentally kills another. That’s a big difference with someone who deliberately kills another person. In one case there is only a guilty hand, in the other case there is also a guilty heart. If it happens accidentally, the inheritance can still be enjoyed, but to a limited extent, namely in one of the cities of refuge.
We can apply this to the death of the Lord Jesus, by which the people has made themselves unworthy to live still longer in the inheritances. But God does not attribute to the people the killing of the Lord Jesus as consciously done. Therefore the Lord Jesus prays on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34a34But 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.; cf. Acts 3:1717“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.; 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 people had to leave their homes, just as any manslayer has to. Israel had to leave the wrong generation by repenting and being baptized (Acts 2:40-4140And 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.). Thereby those who do so take a new place. They resort to the church, their city of refuge (cf. Heb 6:1818so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.). This is still the case. We can also apply this to the local church, which will be a refuge for anyone fleeing from God’s judgment over their sins. There he can hear about confession and forgiveness.
The escape from the avenger of blood by entering the city of refuge begins with an honest confession in the city gate, the place where the administration of the city speaks justice (Rth 4:1,111Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down.11All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “[We are] witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem.). The congregation of Israel (verse 66He shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, 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.’”) must determine whether it happened accidentally. If the manslayer is not found guilty, he may enter the city. Stephen says to the elders of Israel that they are murderers of “the Righteous One”, that is the Lord Jesus (Acts 7:5252Which 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;). For them there is no city of refuge. Therefore, in the year 70 the judgment came upon them in the destruction of Jerusalem.