THE CITIES OF REFUGE
T. PIERCE BROWN
Although it is not as certain that the cities of refuge mentioned in Num. 35 and Josh. 20:1-6 are set forth as a type of our refuge in Christ as some of the other types of the Old Testament, it seems highly probable that the Hebrew author had them in mind when he said in chapter 6, verse 18, “Who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” We remember that Ps. 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” But whether or not we may conclude that they are true types, there is no question that they illustrate some very significant lessons for us.
In the first place, they were placed three on each side of the riverJordanso they could be easily reached in one day from any part of the land. They were up on the hills where any one who wanted to could see them. The gates of the cities were always open to those who wanted to come. The plea of the Savior in Mt. 11:28, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” and “Whosoever will let him come and take of the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17) are surely illustrated, if not exactly pre-figured by those cities.
Even after having preached the good news for over half a century, my mind is still staggered, my heart touched deeply by the marvelous truth that there is no sin so black that it can not be forgiven if one can and will repent. I am frank to confess that I do not understand that kind of love and mercy. This, no doubt, is one reason Paul spoke in Eph. 3:8 of the unsearchable riches of Christ and in verse 18 of the love of Christ that passes knowledge.
The grace and mercy of the Lord had provided those cities long before they were needed or used, but they had to be used in accordance with the directions of God. It did not lessen the fact that it was the gracious provision of a loving God simply because the man had to obey certain rules to avail himself of the safety of the city of refuge. If he had killed a man and did not flee to that city before the avenger of blood reached him, his life was forfeit. If he wandered out of that city before the death of the high priest, he could be put to death. He was safe as long as he stayed where he was supposed to.
Theologians who teach the impossibility of apostasy point out that the redeemed in Christ are safe forever, and that there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). But they conveniently forget, neglect, overlook, or refuse to teach the fact that a person could abide in the city or go out. Jesus said, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6).
It seems to me that there are great lessons to be gained by considering the names of the cities and the relationship of the meaning of those names to our refuge in Christ. Kadesh means “sanctuary” or “righteousness.” Christ is made unto us righteousness (I Cor.1:30). All our righteousness is as filthy rags, but when we accept the redemption that is freely given us in Christ, we can begin to understand the expression, “But as He which hath called you is holy, be ye holy” (I Pet.1:15).
Shechem means, “shoulder.” We cannot but think of the picture of the Good Shepherd who searches for the lost sheep and when he finds it, he lays it on his shoulder, rejoicing (Luke 15:5). He yearns for us to cast our care upon Him, for He careth for us (I Pet. 5:7).
Hebronmeans “fellowship.” Remember the precious promise that “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses (continues to cleanse) us from all sin” (I John 1:7). But as in the city of refuge, we can walk out whenever we choose, and then are not under the protection and cleansing power of His blood. It is so sad that many persons can see so clearly the last part of John 10:27, “And I will give them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand,” but do not seem to be able to see at all the first part of the verse, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” A person who is hearing the voice of Jesus and following Him cannot be lost, just as a person who stayed in the city of refuge would be safe from the avenger.
Bezer means “fortress.” Christ is our Fortress. “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing” is an idea found several times in the Psalms. When I think of the promise in I Cor. 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it,” I am thrilled beyond expression at the fact that when we fly to the city of refuge, we have a fortress and an armor with which we can quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. The security of the believer is a wonderful truth, which we must not allow false teachers to take away from us as they teach the impossibility of apostasy. Bezer was a fortress and a refuge in which one was secure, but it was not impossible to leave and suffer vengeance.
Ramoth means “exaltation.” Christ was “made a little lower than the angels” (Heb. 1:7), but is now “at the right hand of God exalted” (Acts2:33). But that we can be “heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ” (Rom.8:17) if we find refuge in Him is a glorious truth beyond comprehension.
Golan means, “joy.” Jesus said in John 15:11, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” And in John17:13, as He prayed the Father, He said, “And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” It is doubtful that many of us have properly comprehended the meaning of Rom. 14:7, “For thekingdomofGodis not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” We probably think of joy primarily in terms of “having fun,” but Jesus, “for the joy that set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame and hath set down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 12:2). If we were able to sing songs atmidnightin the depth of a dark dungeon as Paul and Silas were, it might be that we would understand better the meaning of the expression, “that my joy might remain in you.”
As in all cases, when we consider with care the lessons of the Old Testament, with its types and shadows, we are struck with wonder and amazement at the unsearchable riches of the glory of God as He sets forth the various aspects of the blessings in Christ Jesus. It should help us to more humbly and gratefully accept those blessings on the terms by which they are offered, and more readily share them with those around us who need to flee to the city of refuge.