When Wayne and I were younger, we took a road trip to Boston. In preparation for our trip, we asked AAA to make us a TripTik, which was a series of maps bound together that would help us navigate our way up the eastern coast. I wish I had a picture of our faces when we finally arrived in the downtown of Boston for the first time. We had no idea how to handle the intense traffic and horn blowing!
These days, maps seem a little irrelevant. With smartphones, we can map our trip in minutes and have access to information about all stopping points along the way. But, that wasn’t the case in 1998, and it definitely wasn’t the case in ancient Israel.
In this passage, God designates cities of refuge as safe places for people who have accidentally killed another person. If something tragic like this were to happen, the person who unintentionally killed another would have a place to run to for shelter. If we go back to verses 7-8 and track the names of the cities of refuge on a map, we can glean a little more from this passage.
We see that the safe places are evenly dispersed throughout the land. They are described from north to south on the west side of the Jordan River starting with Kedesh in the northern region of Galilee and going south to Shechem and then down to Hebron. Then, south to north on the eastern side of the Jordan River, starting with Bezer in the desert and moving north to Ramoth-gilead and on up to Golan. There were six cities of refuge, mentioned in a way that would provide an mental map for someone who might need help knowing which way to run. The point I don’t want us to miss is that if someone needed refuge, refuge could be found within a reasonable distance.
The concept of cities of refuge is applicable for our faith today. We need refuge from our sin and we find that sanctuary in Christ. God has made a provision for our sin, whether intentional or unintentional. We stand secure in Christ who provides safety from eternal punishment for sin. As it says in 1 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
We know that we are guilty of sin and we are called to confess our sin to the Lord. But, sometimes even after we’ve brought our faults to the Lord, the world continues to attacks us. At other times, our own minds constantly remind us of our past sins. On top of that, the evil one constantly seeks to remind us of our failures and berates us with accusations. The feeling can be overwhelming and the noise deafening.
In those moments, remember Scripture’s promises, which become a map for believers! The Bible teaches us that God has made a way for us to come to refuge in Him, through Christ who is our righteousness. Cling to Him and find hope that He has already declared you innocent by His blood. And then, help others find that same safe place in the arms of Jesus.
To help me prepare this week’s devotionals, I listened to Jen Wilkin’s teaching on Joshua. You can find the audio teaching series at www.jenwilkin.net.
Joshua 20 (ESV):
Then the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Say to the people of Israel, ‘Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, 3 that the manslayer who strikes any person without intent or unknowingly may flee there. They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood. 4 He shall flee to one of these cities and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and explain his case to the elders of that city. Then they shall take him into the city and give him a place, and he shall remain with them. 5 And if the avenger of blood pursues him, they shall not give up the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor unknowingly, and did not hate him in the past. 6 And he shall remain in that city until he has stood before the congregation for judgment, until the death of him who is high priest at the time. Then the manslayer may return to his own town and his own home, to the town from which he fled.’”
7 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. 8 And beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they appointed Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland, from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh. 9 These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation.