The ancient practice of the cities of refuge was created to protect people who committed murder accidentally. And today, we reflect on how justice in the eyes of God works, and how when we are in Jesus Christ, God’s justice is covered by what Jesus did for each of us.
6 “Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee.
9 Then the Lord said to Moses: 10 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 11 select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. 12 They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand trial before the assembly. 13 These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge. 14 Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge. 15 These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.
22 “‘But if without enmity someone suddenly pushes another or throws something at them unintentionally 23 or, without seeing them, drops on them a stone heavy enough to kill them, and they die, then since that other person was not an enemy and no harm was intended, 24 the assembly must judge between the accused and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. 25 The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send the accused back to the city of refuge to which they fled. The accused must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil.
26 “‘But if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which they fled 27 and the avenger of blood finds them outside the city, the avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder. 28 The accused must stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may they return to their own property.
Numbers 35:6, 9-15, 22-28
Rather than being avenged with a life for a life, the offender could go to a city of refuge to live in safety until a trial could be held.
And if the death was ruled accidental with no harm intended, the accused would return to the city of refuge to live out their days until the Chief Priest died. Then they would be free from the avenger and could return home.
If they left the city, though, all bets were off. They would no longer be safe from justice, and the avenger could take their life as penalty for that accidental death if they were found outside the city walls.
As I was reading about this today, I was thinking about how being in Jesus is like being in the city of refuge. We are guilty of a wrong, whether we think it was intentional or not, and the justice for our wrong is death (Romans 6:23). God, however, has given us a place of protection from justice.
As long as we are in Jesus, relying on his death on the cross to cover us, we are safe from the justice of God. God issued the punishment on Jesus, his son, instead of holding us responsible.
I can say without hesitation that I don’t want to be found outside of Jesus. I don’t want to be found by God to not be trusting in the rescue and safety of Jesus’ atonement for me.
Where are you living? Are you covered by Jesus in the justice system of God, or are you living on the lam, hoping to not be found out?
God is our refuge. Find him today!