One of the more ugly aspects of human existence (which this country has tried to avoid) is that of tribalism. Webster’s defines it as “exaltation of the tribe above other groups,” and all societies and cultures have been afflicted with it to some degree. For example, two men might get into an argument, which escalates into a fight, and one of them accidentally kills the other during the struggle. Under most traditions, the killed man’s family has the obligation to hunt down the first man and kill him in retribution. Then the first man’s family is obligated to hunt down the killers of their relative and kill them. The Hebrews even had a name for the one who does the retribution: the “avenger of blood", usually the slain person’s closest relative. Do you see how this could quickly escalate into an ongoing bloody feud between families?
God’s law sought to prevent this by instituting “cities of refuge.” These were set aside for anyone who had accidentally killed someone to flee. If the avenger managed to catch the killer before he made it to the city of refuge, the avenger had the right to kill him. If the killer made it, then he would be kept safe by the city’s authorities until his trial could be held. Because making it to the city could be the difference between life and death, the Lord even commanded them to centrally locate the cities to make them easier to reach.
There are at least three lessons we can draw from these cities. First, despite our history of mitigating the worst of it in comparison with other societies, there's a disturbing and growing trend in American society towards tribalism. It’s becoming more and more common for activists to defend a guilty offender simply because he's the same race or sex, regardless of his crimes. It’s also pretty obvious that one of God’s main purposes in establishing theses cities is to institute a system of central government and law and to discourage each family or tribe from taking the law into their own hands. It’s natural for someone to want revenge for the death of a family member, but God reserves the right of justice for himself and his designated government representatives.
Second, these cities provide a profound image of who Christ is. The Talmud--the main commentary on the Torah--says that they not only built roads to the Cities but even put up signposts so that a fugitive could get to the nearest one as easily as possible. As believers we’re like those sign-posts, pointing other people towards the only hope and safety which they can ever find. The Lord doesn’t want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance, and we're following his heart when we point others towards our Refuge.
Third, it is possible that someone is reading this who doesn’t know Christ as their Savior. Friend, time is running out. Just like the accused person in ancient Israel, Justice is pursuing you. You have an appointment with the Judgment seat of Christ, and you need to flee to him NOW and place your trust in him to save you and forgive you. You're either going to meet him now as your Savior, or you can meet him one day as your Judge. Please don’t wait.
Lord Jesus, you are my Refuge, my Salvation, my Defender. Help me to trust you, and you alone, for everything I need. Help me to be a clear signpost to you for others to find as quickly as possible.
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