Numbers 35 While Israel was camped beside the Jordan on the plains of Moab across from Jericho, the Lord said to Moses, “Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites from their property certain towns to live in, along with the surrounding pasturelands. These towns will be for the Levites to live in, and the surrounding lands will provide pasture for their cattle, flocks, and other livestock… “Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, where a person who has accidentally killed someone can flee for safety… “When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, designate cities of refuge to which people can flee if they have killed someone accidentally. These cities will be places of protection from a dead person’s relatives who want to avenge the death. The slayer must not be put to death before being tried by the community… These cities are for the protection of Israelites, foreigners living among you, and traveling merchants. Anyone who accidentally kills someone may flee there for safety… The community must protect the slayer from the avenger and must escort the slayer back to live in the city of refuge to which he fled. There he must remain until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the sacred oil… “All murderers must be put to death, but only if evidence is presented by more than one witness. No one may be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. Also, you must never accept a ransom payment for the life of someone judged guilty of murder and subject to execution; murderers must always be put to death. And never accept a ransom payment from someone who has fled to a city of refuge, allowing a slayer to return to his property before the death of the high priest. This will ensure that the land where you live will not be polluted, for murder pollutes the land. And no sacrifice except the execution of the murderer can purify the land from murder. You must not defile the land where you live, for I live there myself. I am the Lord, who lives among the people of Israel.”
Why would a good and just God provide refuge to murderers and have all of Israel know that He has provided such an accommodation? What is behind all this provision for such grievous sin and how does it related to us today?
The chapter starts with the need to offer lands to the Levites who are designated as the priesthood of Israel. They were not to be allotted land like the 12 tribes were but were to live off the offerings made by Israel to God as prescribed. This provision showed how God cared for those who commit their lives to His service while also providing religious teachers to the Israelites wherever they lived.
Although the tabernacle was only in one place, the preaching of the word of God, prayer and praise were not restricted and therefore the Israelites had access to God. Each tribe was to give out land based on their size and allotment and this was their offering unto God. In return, they were blessed to receive the word of God and no one in the entire nation would be left in darkness. This giving to support the ministry of God's word was also explained by Paul:
Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them. Galatians 6:6 (NLT)
Now moving on to the contentious aspect of today's chapter, we address murder. Murder was abhorred to such an extent by God that He even provided for the nearest relative of the deceased victim to avenge the death and this person was given the title of avenger of blood! This was only for genuine cases where the deed was intentional and deserved severe punishment.
We must also note that there was a clear distinction between intentional and unintentional murder. The towns providing refuge only did so for those who committed unintentional murder and this was clarified by trial. It was known where these murderers would flee because there were only 6 designated towns near the big cities and the witnesses could be presented to the judge to convict or acquit the murderer. Only those acquitted would be permitted to live in that town and could only leave after the death of the ordained high priest.
Is it not interesting how God provided refuge for those who genuinely needed it and that their sins were only pardoned by the death of the high priest? There are mentions of such towns as also the provision God offers those of us fleeing in refuge both in the Old and New Testaments:
Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles. Zechariah 9:12 (NLT)
So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. Hebrews 6:18 (NLT)
Key points that we can remember from today's chapter are:
-Jesus Christ is the High Priest who was killed for our sinfulness and provides us freedom from our sins
-Does not the highway of salvation resemble the simple path to these cities of refuge? The only hurdle is our unbelief in this fortress called Jesus Christ
-There are signposts along the way to these cities of refuge just as we have ministers of the gospel who direct us to salvation through the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ
-The gates of the cities of refuge remained open day and night. Did not Jesus declare that those who seek Him, He will not cast out but love and provide for them?
-The cities of refuge offered support to everyone who entered its walls. This is the same as Jesus who provides those who live by faith in Him His flesh as bread to eat and His blood as drink thereby being our all-sufficiency
-The cities of refuge was for all who entered. Similarly the gospel is for all irrespective of any differences that might distinguish us
In His Loving Service,