The cities of refuge are for the manslayer. In the case of manslaughter we have the following to deal with:
1. The act, where it must distinguished between unintentionally and intentionally manslaughter.
2. The manslayer, who flees to the nearest city of refuge to stay out of the hands of the blood avenger – the blood avenger is the next of kin of the victim, who stands up for his interests.
3. The elders of the city of refuge investigate whether the manslaughter was accidental or deliberate.
4. If it turns out to be deliberate manslaughter, the manslayer is handed over to the blood avenger, who then kills the manslayer.
5. If the manslaughter is not intentional, the manslayer may remain in the city of refuge and is free from the vengeance of the blood avenger. However, he must remain in this city until the death of the high priest, for as soon as he leaves the city during the life of the high priest, the blood avenger is still entitled to kill him. Safety is only guaranteed in the city.
There are three free cities in the land and three in wilderness side of the Jordan. The three cities in the land are all situated in the heights, so that they can be seen from afar. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Mt 5:14b14“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;).
Assuming that there may be manslayers in the land, God points to abnormal conditions in the land. For the people, the land means living in abundance. But here God foresees the opposite.
In its application we can think of Israel, but also of Christianity. Israel killed the Messiah, but it did so ignorantly. Therefore there is hope for the people. The manslaughter of the Messiah is not attributed to the people as if it had been premeditated. We hear this in the words of the Lord Jesus 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.). About fifty days later Peter says something similar: “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also” (Acts 3:1717“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.).
In Acts 2 Peter opens the gates of the city of refuge in his call to conversion. Three thousand people listen to it and are added to the church (Acts 2:4141So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.). What is written in Hebrews 6 applies to those and to all who further from the Jews accepted the Lord Jesus as the land of Heaven: “who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us” (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 makes Christ the true city of refuge.
Not only the Jews are guilty of the death of the Lord Jesus. The Gentiles are too. They too did it in ignorance: “For if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor 2:6,86Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away;8[the wisdom] which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;). For repentant Jews and Gentiles, the church functions as a city of refuge.
The city of refuge is also a type of city of refuge for Gentiles, because the alien and the sojourner can also make use of the privilege of these cities of refuge (verse 1515These 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.). Thus in Christ Jesus no difference is made between Greek and Jew. Gentiles who by faith take refuge to Christ will be safe and saved in Him, because for both it is true: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
But not only the Jews and the Gentiles are guilty. The principle of manslaughter also applies to the church as responsible witness on earth. In a spiritual sense, the church, in the sense of Christianity, has also become a manslayer. She robbed the Lord Jesus of His headship and took it in her own hands. The assumption of the entering into the rights of Christ is most clearly visible in the papacy. The same applies to all human statutes that deny or limit the working of God’s Spirit in the church.
Those who become aware of this will feel the need for a city of refuge. He will seek a city of refuge where the rights and authority of the Lord Jesus are recognized by His Word and Spirit. In such a city of refuge the Spirit is not quenched (1Thes 5:1919Do not quench the Spirit;) by human rules and commandments. These rules may be laid down in confessional writings, but unwritten rules of tradition are also deadly for the experience of the work of God’s Spirit who wants to glorify Christ.
The church also has to do with “the blood avenger”, that is God Himself. He has not spared the branches of the olive tree, that is Israel. He has set aside His people for a time. Nor will he spare the church, seen as the professing Christianity, if it does not remain in the knowledge that it is entirely dependent on the mercy of God (Rom 11:21-2221for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.22Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.).
It is deeply about the people of God who live in the inheritance. There are the cities of Levi, some of which are also places of refuge for Christians who have become manslayers. Manslayers suffocate the true life of God. We recognize them in people who profess to be Christians, who claim the inheritance, while their true nature is that they proclaim false doctrine concerning the Lord Jesus. They deny for instance His virgin birth, His death on the cross and His resurrection. By doing so they kill the faith of many. If such people repent, they can go to city of refuge.
A local church should be a visible place, a city on a mountain that cannot be hidden. Then the many who are fleeing will be able to find a refuge there. Are we well known as such?