The Cities of Refuge
By M. E. Cowan
Text: 1 Corinthians 10:6
“Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.”
Our text verse teaches New Testament Church members that as they study the Old Testament, they will find an abundance of history of Israel which may be used for our examples. There will be many types and shadows which will work as principles which will work in reference to our present Church Age.
Many times we are able to look at Israel in the Old Testament and find some physical applications to their lives which may be object lessons for spiritual principles which may apply to us as New Testament Covenant people. One of these interesting types is shown to us in the cities of refuge, which God had the people to establish in Israel at the time they settled in the land after coming out of Egypt. Remember these people were delivered from Egyptian bondage!
Let us look at some interesting facts regarding these cities of refuge. THE CITIES NAMED Look at the 21st chapter of Joshua and you will find forty-eight cities located throughout Israel. These were given to the Levites who were the priestly tribe of Israel. The Levites were not given a tribal inheritance as the others were given. Out of these forty-eight cities there were six which were designated as cities of refuge. Three of these cities were equally spaced in Israel on the west side of Jordan.
Three other cities were spaced equally on the east side of Jordan. Look at the 20th chapter of Joshua; we learn these cities were Kadesh in Napthtali, Shechem in Ephraim, and Hebron in Judah. All these were on the west side of Jordan. On the east side of Jordan thee were Bezer, in Reuben; Ramoth-Gilead, in Gad; and Golan in Mannasseh.
The Law Concerning the Cities of Refuge
Study the book of Numbers, chapter 35, in order to establish the rules concerning these cities. At least read (Numbers 35:11-34). The details here offer some most interesting details which we may use in a spiritual application later.
When a man in Israel killed another accidentally, he should flee immediately to the nearest city of refuge. The reason for this is rather simple. The avenger of blood would set out to kill the murderer as quickly as possible.
The Hebrew word for "avenger" is "goel.” It is usually translated as "the kinsman redeemer," when applied to Christ. The reason for this is because a kinsman was called on to redeem his brother (or near kinsman) in his difficult times and situations. The avenger of blood in this case is the near kinsman of the one who was murdered. He was to shed the blood of the one who murdered his brother or near kinsman. This was all to be done in the spirit of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," which is the real significance of the law of Moses.
When the Killer Arrived
He was received at the city of refuge; and there he received shelter until it could be proven he was, in fact, an accidental killer. When they determined this to be true, he was allowed to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. After the high priest died the accidental killer was allowed to return home without further fear of the avenger of blood, or of anyone else for that matter. He was completely absolved from any guilt or responsibility for his killing!
Remember, it was strictly specified that this willful murderer was not to have any haven in the city of refuge, if he were guilty of a premeditated murder. He was refused protection in the city of refuge. He was left outside to bear the full penalty of the law. Which law? It was Moses' Law. "He that sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." It is insisted that there could be no atonement, nor any other legal means of escape, for this willful murderer! The law has demanded, without any change of circumstances that this murderer will die for his crime .
How does this Teaching Benefit Us Today?
Those things that happened to Israel happened for our benefit! How do we apply this to a typical (type) or spiritual benefit to the New Testament Church member? What say the commentators? Beloved, please be leery of, "thus saith the commentaries..."
They have said the great type is of Christ shielding the sinner from judgment for sin. It all sounds good; but they fail to deal with the case of the willful sinner (killer by type) for whom there could be no salvation according to their typology. If this is a type of sinners fleeing to Jesus for salvation, there remains no protection for the willful sinner. The willful murderer has found no protection in the city of refuge.
We all know that many murderers along with other classes of great sinners have been saved down through the ages. Some of you will reject the idea that both Cain and Abel were saved. They both worshipped; and as such it indicates they were saved. After Cain had murdered Abel, it seems evident that God offered Cain forgiveness as well as service. There is little evidence of his accepting God's biddings (See: Genesis 4:7).
The City of Refuge
The city of refuge is a type of the Mosaic law, which was given as a rule of conduct to Israel. Remember, Israel is the SPECIAL PEOPLE OF GOD until Christ should come (Galatians 3:19);
"Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator."
Now, see (Galatians 4:4, 5);
"But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (See also: Matthew 1:18-23; Hebrews 1:1-3).
This idea of "until the seed (Christ) should come," must be considered in the light of (Hebrews 10:1-9);
"For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the corners thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sins thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, 0 God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt-offerings and offering for sin thou wouldst not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law. Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, 0 God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second."
If you dare to be honest with this scripture, you must admit that Christ has come to set aside the Old Testament in favor of the New Testament! When will Baptist brethren see that this is what Paul was speaking about in (2 Corinthians 5:17)?
"Therefore (consequently) if any man (anyone) be in (union) with Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new."
In order to be in union with Christ, you must have some common trait with Him. The union with Christ is the anointing! Jesus was anointed at His baptism; and this is where every saved person receives their anointing (See: Acts 10:38; 2 Corinthians 1:21).
We should pay close attention to the last verse. "Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God." Is this address to mere saved man? No, it is not. It is clearly an address to church members at Corinth. This union and anointing comes to the saved person after baptism.
The point we want to establish is that Jesus did not come to present a new plan of salvation; but He came to establish a new rule of conduct for the SPECIAL PEOPLE OF GOD IN THE WORLD. This does not in any way deny that Jesus also came into the world to purchase the salvation of every penitent sinner from Adam until He finally returns in the last day.
The Accidental Killer
It pictures any Israelite who sinned without willful premeditation. The law age allowed this kind of a sinner to escape the penalty of the law. Remember this remedy was for those who sinned without a deliberate will to sin.
The death of the high priest refers in type to the death of Christ. When He had fulfilled the law by His death, He took the people of God out from under the bondage (rule) and placed them under the grace rule of the New Testament Church. This is why the accidental killer could not safely leave the city of refuge until the death of the current high priest.
The law was added to the people of God because of transgression until the seed (Christ) should come (Galatians 3:16, 19; Colossians 2:14-17). When this law covenant was fulfilled it was “set aside” (taken away as a means of worship) and the grace covenant was put in its place. This is what 2 Corinthians 5:17 is about.
The Willful Murderer
The fact he found no safety in the city of refuge has its counterpart in a number of places in the New Testament. Hebrews 10:26, 27 gives a good example;
"For if we (New Testament Church Saints) sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of truth, there is no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries."
This Scripture does not even remotely hint that a saved person may fall from grace (or spirit salvation). It is a warning to the New Covenant Church members that they may suffer loss of blessings in this present life! They may also suffer the loss of the reward in the life to come! (See: 2 John 8; Hebrews 12:15, 16). Moses and thousands of Israelites died in the wilderness without receiving the promised inheritance as a result of their sinning willfully.
"Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand." 1 Corinthians 10:8
Moses appeared in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration hundreds of years later after he died. This proves he did not lose his salvation when he fell in the wilderness (See: Matthew 17:1-4).
Moses lost the blessings of the good land flowing with milk and honey. Since Moses lost these in his present tense life, we may also do the same thing! The fallen Israelites also lost the reward for things they may have accomplished for God if they had not died as a result of their disobedience.
When the Israelite willfully broke the law, which was aimed primarily at the purification of the flesh, they died the physical death as the penalty. This death did not change the face of their having been previously saved; nor of their continuing to be saved even after their death. They were still saved just as Moses was saved; and his death and later glorification clearly proves this argument.
The Aim of the New Covenant
The aim of this grace covenant is primarily and exclusively to purify a people in spiritual and religious matters so far as worship is concerned for His name's sake. This would not only include a remnant of Israel; but it would include the Gentiles;
"Simeon hath declared how God at first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name." Acts 15:14
This purified, special people is His people of Covenant, It is the Church —
"But ye (plural) are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:" 1 Peter 2:9
Christ seeks to keep a people correct on the doctrines of the Bible. When we sin willfully, we die a death of sorts in that our life is dead to acceptable service unto God (See: Mark 8:34-38; Hebrews 12:28; Romans 8:4-8). This in no wise teaches a death of the spirit of man which has been saved (See: 1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
What Happens in This?
The saved man does not become unsaved so far as spirit salvation is concerned! The Spirit that guides the Lord's Church may be removed from the Church (See: Revelation 2:5).
The Church of Ephesus was in danger of losing her candlestick which was symbolic of the Holy Spirit. If this Holy Spirit leadership is removed from the Church, the Church will be without leadership as the members seek to pursue their inheritance! Do you see the problem here? Does this not suggest to us that if we sin willfully in matters of covenant truth that we are in danger of having this Spirit leadership removed from us as a Church as well as members of that Church?
The pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day was leading Israel throughout their wilderness journey. They had to have this to come to or to receive their inheritance! Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit which came on the Church on Pentecost. That Holy Spirit is to remain with the Church until the end of the age (Matthew 28:19, 20; John 16:13, 14).
The cities of refuge simply teach us that the law was given to Israel to regulate their lives until Christ should come. There were certain benefits as God's Covenant People that the Gentiles did not have. The cities of refuge provided one of these benefits.
When Christ came, He gave His special people (Church) the grace rule whereby we do not stand constantly condemned for failing to live up to an impossible rule of conduct which God gave as His standard of righteousness.
The Church has been given love as the motivating force (See: 1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13). He has given us the New Testament as our rule of faith and guide (2 Timothy 3:16,17). He has placed the Holy Spirit in His Church to indwell and direct it into all truth (Ephesians 2:18-22).
The setting forth of these principles is the ultimate goal in the book of Hebrews (See: Hebrews 6:18-20). "That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who are fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek."
Friends, there are some things very precious in this message. I hope you will read it again and study the Scriptures which are not printed. Lay hold on this hope as a refuge for your soul.