Then the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'Designate the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who kills any person unintentionally, without premeditation, may flee there, and they shall become your refuge from the avenger of blood. He shall flee to one of these cities, and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and state his case in the hearing of the elders of that city; and they shall take him into the city to them and give him a place, so that he may dwell among them. Now if the avenger of blood pursues him, then they shall not deliver the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor without premeditation and did not hate him beforehand. He 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.'" So 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. Beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plain from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan from the tribe of Manasseh. These were the appointed cities for all the sons of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them, that whoever kills any person unintentionally may flee there, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until he stands before the congregation. (Joshua 20, NASB)
It was an accident ... I swear before all that is holy ... it was an accident. But even as the last breath of life ebbed from my friend, I knew I had to run. Accident or no, his hot-headed brother would come for me. He never liked me in the first place, despite the fact that we were from the same tribe. And now he had the excuse he had longed for to do me in. Weighing all this very quickly, I dropped my axe right there in the grove and ran. As I ran, I breathed a prayer of thanks to the God who had provided a nearby City of Refuge - the place that would be my home for many years to come.
It had started like any other day. My friend and I had been sent off by our fathers to continue clearing trees from the grove so we could expand our community farm. We weren't alone, either. Other young men were there doing exactly what we were assigned to do. It was a way of life for us and I was happy to be working side-by-side with my friend. But, accidents happen and this particular one was tragic indeed.
How the tree shifted and fell I may never know, but it did. And, as it fell in what seemed to be a pause in time, I could not reach my friend. The tree crushed him and he died. Others around could clearly see that something terrible had happened ... and that included my friend's brother. So, as I said before, I find myself running. I have no time to stop and grieve, for to stop is to die at the hands of the one who pursues me. Oh God! How could this have happened to me?
You can imagine a story such as this playing out in ancient times. The scared young man, out of breath and out of options, arrives at the gate of one of the six cities of refuge. He quickly tells his story and is taken in by the Levites who live there. God has provided a safe haven for him so that justice can be served, in this case meaning a second life isn't wasted in some rash judgment. There will be a death, a substitutionary one.
The young man will live among the Levites in the city of refuge until the High Priest dies. Perhaps this was meant as a way to appease the family who lost their own son. Surely, we see a picture of our gracious God and His provision for our refuge in the death of Christ. We see this again and again as David writes Psalms about the theme of God being his only refuge. And we see an example of what we can be to those around us who need it. We have come to God for our own refuge and, as a result, we can be a people of refuge for everyone we encounter, pointing them to Life!
The Crooked Path offers no promises other than its final destination and the assurance that I do not walk it alone. My Refuge is not only a destination, it is a very present help and encouragement. Just like the Israelite cities of refuge, God in Christ provides it without bias or barrier. We need only to accept that provision and enter the gates. They are always open and we can live there because it is a better place and our new home. At the center we will find our High Priest who will never die again ... that makes this Refuge permanent rather than temporary. I don't have to fear or feel insecure again.
- Are you running today, trying to find someplace to rest from somebody or something that is pursuing you?
- Can you trust the God who provides this refuge to keep you safe? Are you struggling to make your own refuge instead?
- What would it be like if you could find true rest from fear, even if things around you didn't change all that much? What is keeping you from coming in the "gate" and finding just that?