Today's Reading: Joshua 19-21
I am fascinated by the concept of cities of refuge, a safe hiding place for those who have committed an unintentional yet horrible sin--manslaughter. The Hebrew word translated "refuge" gets it roots in the concept of "deformed" or "handicapped," the sorry state of all humanity. Each one of us under the power of sin carries "dysfunction" around with us daily--unintentionally, I might add.
Six cities (6 being the number meaning less than God or perfection, the day humans were created) were set aside. Each city name carries an insight into the understanding of refuge.
Kadesh--a place of sanctification
Shechem--a place where the burden is "shouldered," where people have your "back"
Kiriath-arba--city of the "fourth," the number of creation
Ramoth--"stone heap," reminiscent of stones dropped and judgment withheld
Golan--"their captivity, their rejoicing"
You see, legally, a blood kin could avenge the death due to the compensatory code: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. But the LORD devised an option for the sinner--flee to the city of refuge, stand before the judges and state your case. Sounds a lot like the spiritual discipline of confession where we flee to the righteousness of Christ, stand before him and confess, "I am a sinner." The city of refuge must take the one fleeing in to the city, give him or her a place of refuge and allow that person a dwelling place. The Psalmist (in Psalm 32) calls God "my hiding place."
The one causing the accidental death must stay "captive" in the city, captive in a place of safety, until the death of the High Priest. Hebrews 5 speaks of Jesus being our High Priest who "deals with us gently." His death set all the captives free from the punishment of death.
As we enter Holy Week, let us rejoice in the one who took us in, gave us a place of refuge and sets us free by his death.
There is a Balm in Gilead.
Steal away to Jesus.