Cities of Refuge

Consider Numbers 35:10-28.  How do the Cities of Refuge reflect Christ and relate to us?

This gets a little convoluted.  Ready?

First, you’ll need some historical background on ancient Israel.  A great deal of responsibility was placed on the next nearest male kin.  This person was called the Goel or Kinsman Redeemer.  The Goel had the job of redeeming land for the family if they lost it somehow.  He also had the responsibility of raising up offspring if his dead kinsman had no heir.  Some of these duties were required.  Some were voluntary.  If you give the book of Ruth a quick read, you’ll find Boaz.  He ends up being Naomi’s – and Ruth’s – Goel after a nearer kinsman bails out.

One thing Boaz doesn’t demonstrate when he acted as the Goel is vengeance.  When Israel first possessed Canaan, there were no policemen or prisons.  If someone was murdered, the Goel was expected to become the Avenger of Blood, go hunt down the murderer, and take him out.

Just like today, sometimes accidents happen, though.  A person might accidentally do something that results in another person’s death.  These days, we call that “manslaughter.”  This is where the Cities of Refuge come into play.

When Israel entered the land, God told them to set up 6 Cities of Refuge, three on each side of the Jordan.  The purpose of these cities was to provide a refuge for someone who killed another person accidentally.  Someone guilty of manslaughter had to race to a City of Refuge and get there before the Goel caught them.  Upon arrival, the person had to convince the city elders that the situation was really manslaughter rather than murder.  If the person succeeded, he had to stay in the City of Refuge to be safe from the vengeance of the Goel.  If person ever left the city, he was fair game if the Goel could catch him.  This situation remained until the High Priest in Jerusalem died.  After that, the person could go free and return to their previous adventures without fear of the Goel.

That’s an interesting process, though more than a little odd.  I mean, why would the death of the High Priest have any bearing on whether someone guilty of manslaughter could go free or not?

Believe it or not, the whole thing falls into place when you recall Psalm 40:7, John 5:39, and Hebrews 10:7.  The whole book is written about Jesus.  This includes the Cities of Refuge idea.

Consider this.  To take advantage of the Cities of Refuge, we would have to be guilty of manslaughter, unintentional murder.  Remember what Jesus said from the cross in Luke 23:34?  “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Well, if we humans didn’t know what we were doing, then it’s manslaughter, not murder.  We qualify to flee to the City of Refuge.

Who is our refuge?  At least 15 times in Psalms and Proverbs, God is said to be our refuge.  So we should flee to God to avoid the wrath of the Goel in his Avenger of Blood role.

How long do we have to stay in the City of Refuge?  Until the High Priest dies.  Well, who’s our High Priest?  That would be Jesus.  Hebrews says so several times.

Jesus died on the cross several years ago, making us free.

Pretty cool, huh?


Source: Chuck Missler.  Recurring explanation in several of his commentaries.


6 thoughts on “Cities of Refuge

  1. Really cool tie in. So you get this from Chuck Missler. I’ll have to remember that. Does he tend to do a lot of the cultural tie ins like this? Does he have books that tie in cultural stuff? Let me know please. Would be interested.


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