Cities of Refuge

“The cities that you give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the manslayer to flee, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities. All the cities that you give to the Levites shall be forty-eight, with their pasturelands. And as for the cities that you shall give from the possession of the people of Israel, from the larger tribes you shall take many, and from the smaller tribes you shall take few; each, in proportion to the inheritance that it inherits, shall give of its cities to the Levites.” Numbers 35:6-8.

The cities of refuge were the possessions of the Levites, and they were the place you could run to if you killed someone in an accidental fashion, and you could hide out from an avenging relative. They were not cities of lawlessness, where the murderer could get a pass. And even if cleared by the court, the manslayer had to stay there until the high priest died. It gave a chance for the family of the victim to cool off.

Today, the church is a kind of city of refuge. We take in the guilty, but not so they escape earthly justice. We save them from eternal consequences for sin, for the high priest has died for them, and has returned from death to give them life.

The Land

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders), your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin alongside Edom, and your southern border shall run from the end of the Salt Sea on the east. And your border shall turn south of the ascent of Akrabbim, and cross to Zin, and its limit shall be south of Kadesh-barnea. Then it shall go on to Hazar-addar, and pass along to Azmon. And the border shall turn from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt, and its limit shall be at the sea. Numbers 34:1-5.

The Lord did not just tell them to take all they could take. He also did not tell them to remove all the idols in the world. They were to purge the land that was theirs. It was carefully described and given borders.

We are also to be a holy people. We have not been given a land to purge. When we obtain political power, and can force our way of life on the unconverted, are we still a holy people? Or do we become concerned with the law? The law does not save anyone. We are here to win hearts to Christ. Then the law will take care of itself.

Every Idol Must Go

And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. You shall inherit the land by lot according to your clans. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. According to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.” Numbers 33:50-56.

It is not just in their best interest to get rid of the idols. They have been commanded to do it. And the idolators must go as well. After all, idolators are gonna idolize. And idols appeal to our flesh because they are earthly. God is spirit, and they who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth.

Not What God Promised

Now the people of Reuben and the people of Gad had a very great number of livestock. And they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock. So the people of Gad and the people of Reuben came and said to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the chiefs of the congregation, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the Lordstruck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.” Numbers 32:1-5.

At first, Moses will rebuke them for doing what their fathers did, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lordhas given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land.

But the Reubanites and Gadites offer to go with the rest of Israel to help them take the promised land after they build fortified cities for their families. Moses acquiesces, and they had a deal.

It all seems so sensible. This land east of the Jordan is perfect for our cattle. We’re already here. There will be more land for everyone else. But it still seems like disobedience and ungratefulness. God has promised us that, but we want this.

Are we really all that different? Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of God, take up our cross, preach the gospel to every creature, confess Him before men, treat the poor, hungry, naked, and incarcerated as we would treat Him. But we don’t want that life. We like this sensible one we already have.

The Terror of the Lord

Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the chiefs of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp. And Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves. Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work of goats’ hair, and every article of wood.” Numbers 31:13-20.

Today, these events in the Bible are pointed out as the evidence of how horrible our God is. The reason they cannot believe in Him and His love is because they have tried and found Him guilty in their minds. This is a lack of perspective on a cosmic level.

Our lives here are a vapor. We are here for a very short time. What really matters is what happens afterward. And this is something very few people care about at all. They don’t care about God, obeying Him, or what He thinks. If He comes up in conversation, they now judge Him. They discount His word. They despise His moral standards. Many who do believe He at least exists pick and choose what to believe and adjust it according to their own taste.

God, who knows everyone’s fate from the beginning, knows who will choose Him and who will hate Him. We don’t get to make that call about people, but He does. So, when he calls down judgment on an entire nation, even slaying the little ones, He is actually sparing the little ones the accountability of adulthood. He is saving them from the eternal judgment to come. They don’t know any better. But you do.