The commandments and ordinances concerning the Cities of Refuge first appear to us in Numbers 35. The entire chapter is dedicated to this commandment. There are not many chapters in the bible where the entire chapter is dedicated to one subject. In the entire New Testament (260 chapters) there are only four chapters where one particular subject is dealt with the entire chapter; two can be found in John and two in Revelation.
We find this same phenomenon in the Old Testament that contains 929 chapters. There are only a few chapters that are solely dedicated to one particular subject; two of these can be found in Leviticus 13-14, a few more elsewhere and this one in Numbers 35. The point is this: when the Lord dedicates an entire chapter to one thought, then it must be a very important thought in His mind. In the whole of the bible, the two chapters in Leviticus deal with leprosy (which is symbolic of sin). So then, this too must be a very important subject on the Lord’s mind.
Numbers 35 can be easily overlooked at first glance. The Lord talks about six cities that must be built. We find the promise of the cities of refuge found in Exodus 21:13. We find the commandment of the six cities in Numbers 35. We find the ordinance of the six cities in Deuteronomy 19. And we find the appointment of the six cities in Joshua 20. Three of the cities were found on the east side of the Jordan and the other three on the other side of the river in the land of Canaan.
A few facts about the cities that you may find interesting:
- They were to be built on a hill so that the one fleeing may easily see it from afar and have it in sight as he ran. Joshua 20:7
- The road leading up to it was to be paved with stones to make it easier for the fleeing one to make it during any season. Deut. 19:3
- Jewish history and literature tells us that the road was 48 feet across, which was twice the regulation width for roads in Israel (to make the visual perception measurable to you: our average four-lane highway is this same distance across). The Jewish Senate allocated certain funds every year to the upkeep of the cities themselves, the roads, and the signs. There could be no river going over the road unless there was a bridge over the water. There could be no trees, bushes, or any other obstruction in its path. At every crossroads there was a sign that said Mekeleth – Mekeleth, which stands for Refuge – Refuge. The road could not be winding or hilly, but straight. Hmmmm…could this possibly be what Isaiah 40:3 is making reference to? I personally think it is. “The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
- The cities of refuge were to be built at Kedesh, Shechem, Hebron, Golan, Ramoth, and Bezer. A careful word study of these names would prove to be a blessing to the avid student. And by the way: studying out the meanings of the Old Testament names of people and cities, and rivers, and mountains, etc. is a New Testament practice and can be found endorsed by Paul in Hebrews 7:2.
- The Jewish mindset of these cities was NOT asylum, but expiation. Do you remember what the technical name for the mercy seat (the lid upon the golden ark of the covenant) was? The lid of expiation!!! In other words, it’s not really a “seat” – it was a lid of protection. A careful study of the Greek word ἱλαστήριον (found in Hebrews 9:5 & Romans 3:25) would greatly benefit you. When you read the Romans 3:25 verse, keep in mind the lid of expiation (the place of atonement) that had to have blood sprinkled upon it seven times by a certain finger, and from a certain geographical direction. And may the Lord give us all wisdom concerning these deep and moving truths; and their spiritual significance to us personally.
- And lastly, ask yourself this question: why did Moses in Deut. 4:43 only name off three of the cities and not the other three in Caanan? One of the reasons is that Christ has done His part on this side of the Jordan and now He wants you to cross over and do your part.
“That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” Hebrews 6:18 (the city is a city of Hope!!!)
Before we can comment on the second part of this verse, we must first have an understanding of the first part of it. What “two immutable [unchanging] things” are being spoken of here? 1) the oath, and 2) the promise. And both of these were given to Abraham in Genesis 22:16-18.
And in the Old Testament, God gave a promise that the innocent man who committed a capital crime by accident would not be killed, but would have a place that he could flee to until the death of the high priest serving. The spiritual ramifications of all of this are staggering to the mind when just meditated upon briefly. By the Spirit Paul draws these parallels together from the Old Testament.
God has also given us an oath and a promise!!! The oath is eternal life, and the promise is that He would be angry with us no longer and our sins and iniquities He would not impute to us; but that He would forgive us due to His own loving-kindness, and mercy…but all because of Christ (please see Hebrews 8:8-13 & Hebrews 10:15-17).
The second part of the verse reads, “who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” I find it very interesting that this particular word for “fled” in the Greek is the exact same word used in the LXX (The Septuaginta – which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and probably the same bible studied out of from our Lord Jesus Himself) in Deut. 4:42 where Moses speaks of the man who can “flee” to a city of refuge. Paul by the Holy Spirit uses the same Greek word in this Hebrews 6 passage where he concludes what? That Christ is our City of Refuge. He is the City that we can flee to. And why can we flee to Him? Because of two immutable things!! Because of the oath and because of the promise, set before us, and given by God, who cannot lie nor take back what He has promised.
Friend, have you fled to this City? I hope so. You can live there eternally…because the last High Priest has died. The man in the city was free to go at the death of the serving high priest (Numbers 35:28); and the Jewish Talmud teaches that the death of the high priest formed an atonement, and that all thoughts/feelings of vengeance were dropped and put away by the offended party. In other words, we have been set free. Can you see the crossroad signs pointing the way to the same City that Abraham was looking for? In Matthew 5:14 the Lord spoke of a city on a hill that cannot be hid – no doubt that He was referring to the cities of refuge.
And the city of refuge was not just for the Jew; it was for any that fell into this mistake. No matter where one lived in Israel, there was always a city of refuge close by and within sight. From where Jesus was standing while giving the sermon on the mount, He could see the city of refuge at Kedesh. I can just see Him now pointing it out to the disciples while He made the Matthew 5:14 statement…but yet knowing in His heart that He was making reference back to Joshua 20.
There is an endless list of spiritual parallels that can be drawn here between Christ and the cities of refuge; and it is not my intent to belabor the point.
Here is the only point I wish to bring out: Christ is our City of Refuge (it is my humble opinion that this is the same city Abraham was searching for in Hebrews 11:10). Can it really be a coincidence that God is called our “Refuge” 15 times in the book of Psalms alone? I think not!! Have you really fled into Him? The cities of refuge were for them who made a mistake. Believe me, we were all born making mistakes and living and doing things in ignorance. But the end of time is fast approaching. Are you and your family really in the ark? Is your family living in the City of Refuge? Were you able to see the signposts that were painted in red that read Refuge – Refuge? Have you taken that road up to the gates and cried out for mercy, as the avenger of blood is hot on your heels?
Dear reader, flee into Him today. Take no chances. It’s a hard, cold, lonely, cruel, black, sin-filled world out there. Come behind the walls where you will be loved, accepted; and most importantly, protected. No one was turned away at the gates. No one!! My heart yearns for all to run to this City. There are some of you reading this today who were living in this city, but you have chosen to leave. Friend, the avenger of blood is still lurking outside the walls and he wants to take out all of his anger that he has towards God upon you. Stay inside the walls where there is divine protection. Don’t be lulled out by his tricks and tactics.
Nehemiah was rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, and Sanballat wanted Nehemiah to come out from behind the walls and meet him out on the plain of Ono (Neh. 6:2). And the word tells us in the same verse that Sanballat was doing this so that he might do Nehemiah harm. And what did Nehemiah say to Sanballat who wanted him to come out to Ono? OH NO, I will not come out!! Nehemiah knew that his protection was within the walls and with his brethren.
I’ll see you at the City…I’m waiting and watching for you. The lights are on, and I’ll hold the door open for you. I love you.