Chapter 2 The Cities Of Refuge

There shall be six cities for refuge (Numbers 35:6).

Refuge has a sweet sound—especially to a believer. It is as a haven to a storm-tossed ship. The Lord Jesus stands as a believer’s refuge and a safe and lasting shelter through endless days. A refuge is an asylum for persons to have recourse unto when their lives are in danger. These six cities were given to men to which they could flee, and to them the apostle alludes when he speaks to those who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them in Christ Jesus our Lord (Hebrews 6:18).

The Hunted

The case here presented is that of a man who, without intent, might stain his hands with human blood. These cities were not for those who killed with intent and willful purpose through malice and envy, but for those who did it ignorantly, unawares, and without design. Accidents are always possible. But in these ancient times a kinsman of the slain could rise and claim the slayer’s life. He who had slain was open to be slain. Thus with such a man there could be no inward peace, happiness, or security. Every movement could startle him. In any travel an ambush could be laid for him. His life would be a continual terror.

God provided a means of rescue for such men. Six cities were to be set apart at various points in the land and were to be easily accessible. Nothing was to impede a fleeing man—neither a hill—a dale?—or a river. His way was to be made easy (Deuteronomy 19:3). These cities provided sanctuary for a man. In them the manslayer was secure. Here security enclosed him in its arms. Within these walls there was no alarm to frighten. The one condition was that he abide there while the high priest lived. The death of the high priest dissolved all claims. The slayer was then free from vengeance and could go forth and move from place to place.

The slayer may represent a sinner. We have slain God-given time—duties—talents—even our own souls. Our lifestyle has produced a good deal of guilt and we have often cast away God’s means of grace. Just as the manslayer did not plot his deed, so sinners have blindly committed offences against God through ignorance and unwatchful thought. Thus we are pursued by wrath. Vengeance presses hard upon our heels. At any moment we may fall—never to rise.

The Pursuers

First, God’s justice pursues the sinner. Justice has very strong claims. It has often been offended. It has a God-given right to execute vengeance. It is swift, strong, and terrible. This foe follows hard after us. It is always close to our heels. Its wrath is righteous, and we have no safeguard against it.

The law, too, pursues us. It demands absolute love to God and our neighbor from the cradle to the grave. There can be no exception—no matter what our station, rank, or talent may be. All who transgress the law are subject to the pursuit and vengeance of the law. And who has ever lived who has not transgressed the law? Thus it follows all men with its curse and condemnation. In the realm of the natural life there is no escape. We cannot hide from this inexorable pursuer.

Satan, too, pursues the sinner. He claims every sinning soul as his own property. His delight is to slaughter sinful men and drag them to his own bed of flames. His eye is keen for all who are sin-marked. He knows his victims. There is no fortress of earth’s making which is stronger than the arms of Satan.

The Refuge

But sinners need not die. There is a sure refuge in Christ Jesus our Lord, of whom these cities are a type. God has been pleased to set up for us in His Son a sanctuary of security. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Nothing could give the man-slayer liberty but the death of the high priest. He was to stay in the city until the high priest died. Only then was he free to return to his people, and possessions, and privileges.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the believer’s Refuge. He is Jehovah-Jesus so that none can pluck us from His covering hands. His finished work has built up the walls and towers and bulwarks of the city. “Christ died!”—and when justice sees those words it must turn back. It no longer has any claim since Christ our Surety has died for us. The law’s stern curse falls harmless to the ground. Our Lord has borne the curse of the law so that all in Him are safe and secure. Nor can Satan enter these gates. Within these walls believers are washed—cleansed—made fair and lovely. They are no longer Satan’s property. He cannot touch those whose sins are blotted out. Thus all awakened sinners flee to the Saviour for shelter, and in doing so, from the wrath to come. These cities were of God’s appointing. So also is His Son—the Rock and Refuge of all who believe.

As the cities of refuge were readily available, so also is the Lord Jesus as the refuge for sinners. His outstretched arms invite us. The open gates are near at hand. These cities were also gathering places, and thus we are reminded that in salvation we are gathered unto Him, which is another note of God’s grace. What a blessed Refuge our Lord Jesus is! And with what confidence we should flee to Him!

Unto the hills around do I lift up
My longing eyes,
O, whence for me shall my salvation come,
From whence arise?
From God the Lord doth come my certain aid,
From God the Lord who heaven and earth hath made.

Jehovah is Himself thy keeper true,
Thy changeless shade;
Jehovah thy defence on thy right hand
Himself hath made,
And thee, no sun by day shall ever smite,
No moon shall harm thee in the silent night.

From every evil shall He keep thy soul,
From every sin;
Jehovah shall preserve thy going out,
Thy coming in,
Above thee watching, He, whom we adore,
Shall keep thee henceforth, yea, forevermore.

-John Douglas Sutherland Campbell