Deuteronomy 4:41-42 Then Moses set aside three cities east of the Jordan, to which anyone who had killed a person could flee if he had unintentionally killed his neighbour without malice aforethought. He could flee into one of these cities and save his life.
The Sovereign LORD’s settling of his Covenant People in the Promised Land was to be a ‘blueprint’ for his Covenant People in EVERY age, so the detailed requirements he transmitted to them through his servant Moses have a spiritual application for us today.
The provision of ‘Cities of Refuge’ is a good example. After the Flood, God gave Noah specific instructions, which included: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Genesis 9:6). Obedience to this was a matter of upholding God’s justice, so the concept of an ‘avenger of blood’ was instituted to ensure it was carried out in a just way (Numbers 35).
When Jesus came to establish the reality to which all this pointed, two things happened: Firstly, Jesus ‘raised the bar’ of what constituted ‘the shedding of blood’. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Secondly, Jesus himself became the ‘City of Refuge’ for his covenant people! “How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent Word. What more can he say than to you he has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?” Thus, while the requirements of the 6th Commandment are intensified, so the provision of a ‘refuge’ from God’s just wrath are also made more accessible. As the ‘sinner’ in the Old Testament had to AVAIL HIMSELF of God’s gracious provision, so we, who might ‘unintentionally’ hate our brother, have to ‘avail’ ourselves of God’s gracious provision, and take refuge in the One who stood in our place and bore God’s wrath as he died on the Cross. “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was SATISFIED; [for all MY] sin on him was laid – here in the death of Christ I live.” (Keith Getty). Why would we NOT flee to THIS ‘City of Refuge’?