We're making our way through Deuteronomy, as Moses reviews the Law to the people of Israel. Tonight, we pick up in chapter 19...
At this point in their history, the Israelites had established three cities of refuge east of the Jordan River: Go-LAWN, Raw-MOTH, and BEH-tser (Deut. 4:41-43). Now, when they enter the land, they are to designate three more cities of refuge inside the borders of Israel, to the west of the Jordan, for a total of six.
If they are obedient, their borders will be expanded to the extent which Abraham was promised, when God said,
Gen. 15:18 "...To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates"
If those borders would be expanded to those dimensions, then three more cities of refuge would be necessary. However, the additional three were never established, because of the Israelites' disobedience.
The purpose of the cities of refuge is a bit strange to our modern ears. But in ancient times, most societies practiced what is called "Goelism," which gives the right of vengeance to the nearest kinsman of someone who is murdered.
But there is a big problem with that kind of justice. Sometimes the person's death was the result of an accident. But the avenger of blood doesn't usually take the time to find out all the details before killing the manslayer. This resulted in the unjust death of a man, which God here says brings guilt upon the whole nation. The reason for building the cities of refuge was...
Deut. 19:10 "So innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and bloodguiltiness be on you."
So, the Lord gave the cities of refuge for this purpose - to have a place where someone could run for safety if he accidentally killed someone.
Just as the three cities east of the Jordan were chosen to be in each of three parts of the land, so too the three west of the Jordan needed to be. They had to be nearby the manslayer, regardless of which part of the nation he was in.
Accessibility is another issue which the Lord discusses. The roads to these cities had to be prepared and maintained.
If and when the manslayer made it to the city of refuge, he stood...
Josh. 20:4 "...at the entrance of the gate of the city and state his case in the hearing of the elders of that city; and they shall take him into the city to them and give him a place, so that he may dwell among them."
The elders would hear his preliminary statement - his version of what had happened. Then he would be kept safe from the avenger of blood until the case was tried before the people of the city.
Num. 35:12 "The cities shall be to you as a refuge from the avenger, so that the manslayer will not die until he stands before the congregation for trial."
If his case was determined to be an accident, he would be allowed to live there for the rest of his life, or until the death of the high priest (Num. 35:25; Josh. 20:6), when he would be allowed to return to his own land. If he left the city of refuge before the death of the high priest, then the avenger of blood could hunt him down and kill him (Num. 35:26-28).
If he was found to be a murderer, having hated the victim and premeditated the action, then there would be no refuge for him. He was to be put to death by the avenger of blood (Num. 35:19).
Now that we've gotten what seems to be a complete picture of the cities of refuge, our natural impulse would be to continue on to verse 14.
However, Jesus told the disciples on the road to Emmaus that there are things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures, including the writings of Moses (Luke 24:27), things which were foreshadowings of Christ (Col. 2:17).
And so, when we take a second look, a closer look, we see that the cities of refuge begin to clearly emerge as a prophetic picture of Jesus Christ.
For, you see, we are the manslayer. We have committed sin in ignorance, making us worthy of death:
Rom. 6:23 For the wages of sin is death...
And the blood avenger, the devil, is chasing after us, wanting to kill us:
1Pet. 5:8 ...Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
But we can run to Jesus for refuge. When we come to Him, we must truthfully confess what we have done and seek sanctuary. He welcomes us in and gives us a new place to live, a new life. We, like the manslayer, enter by the gate:
Matt. 7:14 "...The gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.
But we must not leave our city of refuge, Jesus Christ, because there is nowhere in the world safe for us apart from Him.
John 15:4 "Abide in Me, and I in you..."
We must stay in that place of refuge in Him until the death of the High Priest.
Who is the High Priest? Jesus.
Heb. 7:17 ...It is attested of Him, "YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK."
Jesus is our High Priest. And we know...
Rom. 6:9 ...that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again...
Why, even the six cities present Jesus to us in type. First of all, the number of them is six, the number of man, which Jesus had to become to be our refuge.
Phil. 2:8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And each of the cities' names show us an aspect of Him as well.
KEH-desh means "holy place."
Hebr. 10:19 ...Brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,
Shek-EM means "shoulder."
Isa. 9:6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
Kheb-RON means "fellowship."
1Cor. 1:9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
BEH-tser means "fortress."
Ps. 18:2 The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge...
Raw-MOTH means "exaltation."
Acts 5:31 "He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
Go-LAWN means "their rejoicing."
Ps. 5:11 But let all who take refuge in Thee be glad, Let them ever sing for joy; And mayest Thou shelter them, That those who love Thy name may exult in Thee.
You can see that Jesus is our perfect place of refuge.
When the tribes of Israel received their inheritance of land, it was divided up by Eleazar the priest and Joshua (Num. 34:17) and then apportioned out to each family by lot (Num. 34:13) by a leader from each tribe (Num. 34:18).
These men marked the territories so that each family received their fair share of the Promised Land. But as is so obvious in the human condition, some people aren't satisfied with what they have. They want more. And so they move the markers that indicate where their property's border ends and their neighbor's began.
Before the days of surveying transits and GPS systems, this was a real problem. After all, if your great-grandfather established the corner of your property by putting up a pile of stones, what was to prevent the neighbor from moving that pile a hundred yards in his favor? Only the fear of the Lord. And unfortunately, many people don't have enough sense to live in fear of God. Even King Solomon had to tell his sons,
Prov. 22:28 Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set.
In an agrigarian society, it really was the height of dishonesty to move a boundary marker. The Lord said through Hosea the prophet,
Hos. 5:10 The princes of Judah have become like those who move a boundary...
The moral of the story? Be satisfied with what you have. Paul reminded us that...
1Tim. 6:6-7 ...godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.
Let us get to where David was when he penned Psalm 16:
Psa. 16:6(NIV) The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.
The Law said in Numbers 35,
Num. 35:30 "If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness."
This was repeated back in chapter 17, when we read,
Deut. 17:6-7 "On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst."
Now, we are again reminded of this rule, and instructed as to why this rule is in place: there will always be malicious witnesses. A malicious witness is one who lies to see violence done to the one he is falsely accusing. This is clearly forbidden in the Law:
Ex. 23:1-2 "You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice"
Because there is always the possibility that justice will be perverted by a malicious witness, we must always apply this rule. Whether it is the law that confronts a criminal, or the church that confronts a sinner, we have to make sure that we're following this standard. Jesus said,
Matt. 18:15-16 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED."
And Paul held fast to this Law, instructing Timothy,
1Tim. 5:19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.
Here in Deuteronomy, we see the consequences of being a malicious witness: if you are found to be falsely accusing someone, whatever was going to be done to the accused is going to be done to you.
This is certainly one of the most oft-quoted verses in the Old Testament. But it is not as frequently understood. You see, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus defined the difference between society's responsibility to impart justice and individuals' responsibility to impart mercy:
Matt. 5:38-42 "You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you."
Our governments are called to be just. We are called to be merciful. The policeman, judge, and jury are called to administer justice. The Christian is called to forgive and be merciful. As Jesus taught in the Beatitudes,
Matt. 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."