It stuck out to me as I read through the Pentateuch, these cities of refuge. According to the law, if a person unintentionally killed another, the family of the slain individual had a legal right to kill that person to avenge the death. However, You made an interesting provision: if the person who committed manslaughter fled to one of six specified cities, they could find refuge. If the family reached the killer before he or she reached a city…well they died.
Once a person reached these cities of refuge, they would approach the gate and their cause would be heard. If the high priest and elders of the city determined that it was an accidental killing, he or she would gain admittance. However, if the deemed it premeditated, they had a legal responsibility to turn them over to the family for vengeance. Another little caveat–if the asylum seeker left that city of refuge before the death of that acting high priest, the protection was lifted and his blood was on his own head.
Why did You establish these cities? Some argue it is because Your justice is often tempered with mercy. Others suggest it was more practical–it transferred the dispute between families to involve non biased third parties. Otherwise, it is very likely blood feuds would erupt.
But that isn’t the most interesting part to me. The part that fascinates me is the use of the word “refuge” in light of all this. It occurs 46 times in Psalms alone. But for the majority, if not all, of those instances the word is referring to us taking refuge in You. Having just read through the Psalms, I noticed this but always pictured someone hiding from life’s trials or from heavy hail. But what if the use of “refuge” holds a bit more for us.
What kind of person flees to a city of refuge?: One guilty of a crime–the worst of crimes, though not premeditated. That is all of us. All humanity bears the guilt of being fallen, at birth inheriting sin nature.
Where do they flee?: The person flees to a designated place of safety. As Christians, where do You tell us to flee or take refuge? In You!
How fast did they go? Because their life was in imminent danger, we can assume that the fled as fast as they can. When we consider the weight of our sin, how fast should we run to go for refuge?
What happens to the high priest in the refuge?: The high priest had to die before one was absolved of guilt. How are we, as a guilty humanity freed from guilt? The death of our Great High Priest, Jesus.
What happens if they leave the refuge before the high priest dies?: They bear their guilt. What happens to us if we go to You but leave without accepting the death of our Great High Priest who bears our guilt? We bear the consequences of our sin.
What is the penalty of our sin?: The penalty for one seeking refuge was death. If we reject the high priest’s death, we too bear the penalty: death.
For me, this changes the way that I view “God is my refuge.” It reminds me that I am not just hiding from hard things. I am acknowledging that only the death of my High Priest grants me true safety and freedom. There is truly only one way to find refuge in You, the Father: the death of our High Priest, Jesus.