Place of Refuge

"Now tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed Moses. Anyone who kills another person accidentally and unintentionally can run to one of these cities; they will be places of refuge from relatives seeking revenge for the person who was killed. Upon reaching one of these cities, the one who caused the death will appear before the elders at the city gate and present his case. They must allow him to enter the city and give him a place to live among them. If the relatives of the victim come to avenge the killing, the leaders must not release the slayer to them, for he killed the other person unintentionally and without previous hostility. But the slayer must stay in that city and be tried by the local assembly, which will render a judgment. And he must continue to live in that city until the death of the high priest who was in office at the time of the accident. After that, he is free to return to his own home in the town from which he fled." Joshua 20:2-6

After many years of fighting and destroying the stronghold of inhabitants living in the land of promise, the tribes received their allotted land by the casting of sacred lot. Then the LORD reminded them to give the tribe of Levi their allotment among all the tribes in the land.

The Levites would receive no land, because the LORD was their inheritance (Numbers 18:20, Deuteronomy 10:9). However, they were to receive cities and the adjoining pasture lands to provide for them and the animals they raised for sacrifice. In this manner, the spiritual influence of the Levitical priests was spread throughout the nation.

Six of the cities were to be designated as "Cities of Refuge." Three would be on the east side of the Jordan (Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh) and three were on the west side. The Cities of Refuge were strategically placed in the northern third, middle third, and southern third of the land on both sides of the Jordan River. In this way, no one--Israelite or foreigner--who accidentally killed another person would be very far from a city of refuge. 

When someone died at the hand of another for any reason, the nearest relative was designated to mete out justice by taking the life of the person who had killed their family member. When the killing was accidental and unintentional, a place of mercy was readily available. The guilty party would head for the nearest refuge and be safe, as long as he remained within the boundaries of the city. Upon the death of the Levite who bore the seal of High Priest at the time of the infraction, the person could be free to return home. If he left the refuge before the high priest's death, he was fair game for the "kinsman avenger."

God knew the war-like nature of fallen man. In the Law, the LORD sets forth very exacting standards and penalties for those who treat life casually. He knew there needed to be a place of mercy.

Many times David referred to his need for mercy and a place of refuge. Read through the Psalms.

"The LORD is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble." Psalm 9:9
"God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble." Psalm 46:1
"The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." Psalm 46:7
"...You have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress." Psalm 59:16
"My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:7-8

And my personal favorite:

"This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him." Psalm 91:2

We have a place of refuge when we commit murder. We haven't killed anyone, we protest. But God says:

"You have heard that our ancestors were told, 'You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment. But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell." Matthew 5:21-22

God is concerned about the condition of our hearts, for it's from the heart that our actions spring forth. So, if our thoughts lead to words or actions that would hurt someone, it pains God's heart. Instead of reflecting well on Him (aka brings Him glory), our actions give cause for others to mock Him. 

Oh, how we need to flee to His place of mercy...and stay there. Jesus gave His life to buy mercy for us. He will never die again. Just as the murderer needed to remain in the City of Refuge as long as the High Priest lived, so we need to stay firmly in our Refuge, Jesus Christ.

"But our High Priest offered Himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then He sat down in the place of honor at God's right hand. There He waits until His enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet. For by that one offering He forever made perfect those who are being made holy. And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For He says, 'This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day,' says the LORD: 'I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their mind. Then He says, 'I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds." Hebrews 10:12-17

Oh, the mercy, grace, refuge, protection and hope we receive through our Savior. May we be "glued" to Him from this day forever.

by Marilyn Allison