Friday, December 14, 2012

Saturday 12/15 Cities of Refuge and Christ the Divine Refuge

Numbers 35:6 “The cities which you shall give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, which you shall give for the manslayer to flee to; and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities."

The Law of Retribution - A Law built on Justice
It was not long after the Ark of Noah had landed atop Mount Ararat that God began to repeat to Noah in Genesis 9 some of the commands he had given to Adam back in Genesis 3.  The point of God's re-issuing of the commands was to recognize Noah as the new federal head of the human race.1  

God issued to Noah an addtional law - whereby a strict prohibition on murder and manslaughter would be set.  We find this law, the "Law of Retribution" spelled out in Genesis 9:5-6 “Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. 6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man."  

God is a God of Justice and Mercy
Psalm 89:14 states - "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You." Because God is a God of justice, He alone can perfectly distribute punishment on wrongdoing and mercy on the righteous. He does what He does based upon His internal standard of justice so that He can deal with His people and whomever he chooses in the rightness of lovingkindness and truth. 2

The Avenger and the Manslayer in ancient Israel
As time grew on, God gave His Law at Mount Sinai to the nation of Israel.  The one who had killed accidently was called a "manslayer" and the one carrying out the Law of retribution was termed "the avenger".  In that Law God had early on provided provision for the manyslayer who had accidently killed his neighbor to flee and find refuge from the avenger at the altar.  Later on however, as the time was coming for the nation to enter into the promised land, God gave a permanent provision for refuge to the manslayer in designated cities called "cities of refuge". 

Cities of Refuge - Putting on Display God's role as the Refuge for His people
At last Israel was camped just opposite of the Jordon River.  With time slipping rapidly from the now 120 year old Moses' life, God was relaying through him the strategy Israel was going to need to successfully occupy and live in the Promised Land.  One of those instructions had to do with Cities of Refuge. 

As we just learned, the law of Retribution given to Noah had developed over the centuries to where even in Israel, there were cases of people accidently killing one another.  According to this law, the relatives of the slayed victim had the right to pursue and avenge the death by killing the manslayer.  To gain a tighter rein on this well-known practice, God ordained there to be six cities that would be designated "cities of refuge".  The cities of refuge would be located close enough to one another so that if someone did commit involuntary manslaughter, they could flee to the appropriate city of refuge.

How Cities of refuge were to be used
In Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19 and Joshua 20 we see instructions given for these so-called cities of refuge.  In reading all three of these chapters, here is what we learn:
1. If I committed involuntary manslaughter, say I was chopping wood with a friend and my ax head would fly off the handle and mortally wound my friend, my only course of action would be to run, run, run

2. In that culture, the law of retribution took affect, meaning that my friend's nearest of kin, once hearing word of what took place, could legally pursue me and execute me

3. My goal would be to run to the nearest city of refuge.  Once there, I could appeal to the elders of that city, who would then grant me assylum away from the avenger

4. If I perchance left the city, the avenger could legally execute me

5. Once the elders determined my innocence, I could stay in the City of Refuge until the death of the High Priest of Israel

6. Once the High Priest died, in the eyes of God and the law, I was free to go back to my home city

The Jews over time came to view the death of the high priest as somehow atoning or "satisfying" the law of retribution, hence in some fashion the high priests death being viewed as taking the place of the manslayer. 

How cities of Refuge illustrate Christ the Ultimate Refuge
According to Hebrews 6:18-19 we read - "so 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. 19This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, 20where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."

Our problem born into this world was that were not merely guilty of unintentional sins, but also intentional ones.  The Law of God was the Avenger, pursuing after us.  The Law of God proclaimed my guilt and touted the need for my death at the bar of Divine Justice, since I had committed high Treason against God and His Son. (John 3:17-19)  However the Son of God, the Great High Priest died in my place.  This meant that I by faith could run to Him, my refuge, my Savior.  By His death, the law of God, the rightful avenger, could not lay claim.  Furthermore, any accusations from the Evil One would be invalidated.  Additionally, since Christ had risen from the dead, unlike the Old Testament manslayer, I would never have to worry about my past being brought up before God, since in Jesus Christ it has been erased. (Romans 5:1; 8:1)

Jesus Christ is the Divine Refuge for the sinner who flees to Him by faith and for the saint who abides in Him through faith.  Consider two passages as we close out today's blog.  First Romans 5:9-10 "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." And then secondly 1 Thessalonians 1:10 "and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come."

1 As the tenth generation from Adam, Noah was in the line of that title. With the human race destroyed in the flood, life was going to begin again in a sense. God commanded Noah, like Adam, to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:26-28 compared to Genesis 9:1,7) He also told Noah, like Adam, to take dominion, since all living plants were his. Clearly since these commands were being given to Noah in a Post-Fall setting, additional instructions about allowances for eating flesh were given to Noah. (Genesis 9:3-4)

2 This explains why He revealed to Noah the law of Retribution, followed by His Covenant of Grace to Noah to never again destroy the world with a flood. Justice establishes the grounds and reasons as to why He can perfectly be Merciful without violating who He is as the Holy God.

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