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.

S.E.R.V.E God - P5 - Exemplify Jesus Christ

2 Timothy 4:12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.

It was almost five years since Paul had written the Book of Ephesians.  When he wrote that letter he was under house arrest in Rome.  In this second letter to the second generation pastor Timothy, Paul is writing from a Dungeon.  The ministry veteran Paul is writing what are most likely his final words.  Many of his ministry partners have come and gone.  Out of all of them, Tychicus was one of the very few who remained ready to go wherever Paul needed him.  For over a decade Tychicus has been the "faithful servant of God and beloved brother" to the Apostle Paul. (Ephesians 6:21)  Tychicus has been shown thus far to be a prime example of a servant of God in the following ways:

1. He Seeks God first.
2. He Emphesized Faithfulness.
3. He Reinforced the ministry.
4. He Validated God's people

In this final part of our blog series, we will consider the final letter of our acrostic S.E.R.V.E in defining what it means to serve God, namely: Exemplify Jesus Christ

How did Tychicus exemplify Jesus Christ and how are you and I to do the same?
If seeking God first represents the foundation of the servant of God, with faithfulness, reinforcement of the ministry and validation of God's people as the associated aims, then exemplifying Jesus Christ represents the servant's goal.  Tychicus without a doubt exemplified Jesus Christ, which explains why Paul was eager and confident in sending him in his place to the churches he had established.  As we briefly consider how Tychicus exemplified Christ, you and I can take note of what it means to be Christ-like in our service to God:

1. Humility - Humility is the greatest Christ-like trait in the realm of our mindset in ministry.  Paul writes in Philippians 2:5 "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus."  The word translated "attitude" could just as easily be translated "mindset".  Whatever our minds are set toward, our hearts will follow.  Just as Christ humbled Himself, so are we to be humble in our thoughts, which lead to humble actions.  Tychicus, as far as we can tell, never hesitated to go where he was being sent.  As long as it progressed another square inch for God's Kingdom, Tychicus was ever the eager servant, regardless of what it cost him. 

2. Love - If humility represents the most Christ-like trait of the mind, then love represents the most Christ-like trait of the heart.  Love is considered the greatest of the virtues which issue from the heart. (1 Corinthians 13:5)  Love was the center motivation for the cross. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) Love is to be the center motivation for obedience (John 14:21-23)  Tychicus was referred to as the "beloved brother".  He was much loved due to the fact that he showed much love.  As God's servants, our hearts need to be full of God's love in order to accomplish the work He has called us to perform. 

3. Diligence - A servant of God should be ready to labor for the Lord.  Tychicus was among the most hardest working ministry partners of the Apostle Paul. He was constantly encouraging and comforting God's people. (Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 4:7-8)  Even in Paul's final days, Tychicus was still at Ephesus, undoubtedly helping out Pastor Timothy, the recipient of Paul's final letter.  1 Corinthians 10:31 gives us one of the clearest exhorations concerning diligence -"Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."  

Conclusion - What it means to S.E.R.V.E God
As we close out this study, we can look back and understand what it means to S.E.R.V.E God:
1. Seek God first
2. Emphasize Faithfulness
3. Reinforce the Ministry
4. Validate God's people
5. Exemplify Jesus Christ

To be Christ-like means approaching our service with a humble mindset, a loving heart and a diligency to do the work.  May you and I be servants of God who bring pleasure to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.