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God’s New Testament City of Refuge, Part 1
Allen Webster

New Testament Applications

Since the Old Testament was "written for our learning" (Romans 15:4) and served as "a shadow of good things to come" (Hebrews 10:1), what lessons do the cities of refuge have for us? They are mentioned often in the Law of Moses, but we never read of any Old Testament character using a city of refuge (though, doubtless they were often used). Their primary purpose, then, must be in serving as a spiritual type of salvation and the church.

The cities of refuge typify the asylum which the Gospel provides for sinners in the church. Each of us is in the position of the man whose axe head killed his friend (Deuteronomy 19:5). The whole world is guilty of slaying Christ Jesus (Hebrews 6:6), although we did it by proxy and in ignorance (Acts 3:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:6, 8). Albert Barnes says the phrase "fled for refuge" in Hebrews 6:18 refers "to the fact that one charged with murder fled to the city of refuge . . . So we, guilty and deserving of death have fled to the hope of the gospel in the Redeemer."' Since each sinner contributed to the need for the Savior's death, God looks upon the whole world as manslayers in His Son's death. To put it bluntly, you are guilty of killing Jesus—and I am just as guilty.

Ironically, the Christ we killed is our ransom. The Son of man came to give his life "a ransom for all" (1 Timothy 2:6; cf. Mark 10:45). Paul wrote: "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7; cf. Colossians 1:14; 2 Timothy 2:10; Ephesians 1:3; Acts 4:12; John 14:6).

Christ is our refuge (John 14:6; 15:4-5). His sacrifice on the cross opened up a city of refuge so that all can be rescued from sin's consequences (Hebrews 6:17-19). Solomon observed, "In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have 4 place of refuge" (Proverbs 14:26). The Psalmist declared: "God is our refugee and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1, 7, 11; 62:7-8). "I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust" (Psalm 91:2; cf. Proverbs 14:26; 18:10).
We enjoy singing about this truth:

    Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee.
    There is a place of quiet rest, Near to the heart of God;
    A place where sin cannot molest, Near to the heart of God.
    How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
    What more can He say than to you He path said,
    To you who unto Jesus for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Just as the person who killed his neighbor unawares was sure of safety if he gained entrance into a city of refuge, likewise the person who is in Christ has a sure refuge from sin and condemnation (Romans 8:1). Those covered by the Lamb's blood are safe; all others are not (Exodus 12:13). So you could say that the church

is a sanctuary for the sanctified (Acts 20:32; Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 16:11; Hebrews 10:14). Satan's claws cannot drag us from God's hands (John 10:29).

"Accidental sins" expose us to God's wrath, but God provides an opportunity to escape it. A manslayer could not plead "accident" to the avenger of blood, and neither can a sinner do so at Judgment. Sins of ignorance today might be termed "accidental," at least inasmuch as the sinner did not deliberately set out to violate God's will (Psalm 19:12). Sins of momentary weakness (Hebrews 12:1; 2 Peter 2:20) are not in the same category as a blaspheming atheist who shakes his fist in God's face. Nonetheless, these sins cannot be overlooked by a holy God (Habakkuk 1:13). God's justice requires a "just recompense" (Hebrews 2:2ff)

At the same time, these sinners cannot be overlooked by a merciful God (Nehemiah 9:31; Romans 2:4). So He provides an opportunity to escape their sins' consequences. Both the cities of refuge and the church are evidence that the God of heaven majors in mercy and delights in averting punishment. Paul had been a persecutor, but he obtained mercy, because he did it ignorantly (1 Timothy 1:13, 16); Christ prayed for His crucifiers, "Father, forgive them,; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

The refuge city  was not Moses idea; neither was it something that the elders of Israel invented (Numbers 35:9-11). It did not come about after men pled with God for relief. Go vided it even before man knew he needed it. It wa a visible, tangible earthly evidence of an invisible, merciful, heavenly Father. So it is with the place of refuge today. The church is Christ-built (Matthew 16:18), God-approved (Matthew 28:18), and Spirit-filled (1 Corinthians 3:17). It was not a spur -of -the -moment decision by Christ, but the result of a millennia-long plan God's mercy provided (Ephesians 3:9-10).

Sinners can escape death ONLY by fleeing to the "city of refuge." In ancient Israel, a manslayer could not go to his town's civil authorities for help. He could not rush to the local synagogue and expect the avenger to be turned away. His only hope lay in getting to a city of refuge before the avenger of blood got to him.

Our only hope lies in Christ and His church. We flee to Him and are "found in him" (Philippians 3:9). In Him there is redemption and forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:14). Here we have immunity from arrest by the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10; cf. Job 1:9; 2:4-5; Zechariah 3:1-2; Luke 22:31).4 Our salvation cannot be found in a denomination, a cult, a world religion, spiritualism, government, riches, education, or our own hearts. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). All spiritual blessings are found in Christ, which is His body, which is the church (Ephesians 1:3, 22-23).

Commentary on Hebrews, p. 142.
Refuge, machaceh, refuge 15, shelter 2, hope 2, trust 1; 20; "shelter from rain or storm, from danger, or falsehood."
Another song with similar sentiment is: "Only in Thee."