These chapters deal with the assigning of the inheritance, looking ahead to the time when the nation would possess Canaan. Each tribe is assigned its portion--the Levites their special cities, and, most important of all, the cities of refuge are defined in chapter 35. We can get additional information on the six cities of refuge by reading Deuteronomy 19 and Joshua 20.
The nation had no police force, and the elders of each city constituted a "court" to consider each case. If a man accidentally killed another man, he needed some kind of protection; for it was legal for a member of the slain man's family to try to avenge the blood of his slain relative.
Numbers 35:16-25 makes it clear that God considers murder and manslaughter two different things. Murder was deliberate, but manslaughter was by accident. The purpose of the cities of refuge was to protect the man who accidentally killed a person. The slayer had to flee to the nearest city of refuge, where the elders would meet him, hear his case, and hold a trial. If they decided he was guilty of murder, he would be turned over to the proper authorities and be slain (Deuteronomy 19:11-13). If it was clear that the slaying was accidental, then the man would be allowed to live in the city under their protection, not to be touched by the avenger. However, if the man left the city, he could be slain. When the high priest died, the man would be free to safely return to his own city.
The purpose of this law was to keep the land from being polluted by murderers. Murder defiles the land, and uncondemned murderers lead the land into greater sin. This law provided for the protection of the innocent and the condemnation of the guilty. It was a just law. It is too bad that our laws today often make it easy for the guilty to go free. No wonder our nation is defiled with blood and there is little respect for law and order!
These cities of refuge are beautiful types of Christ. Hebrews 6:18 tells us that He is our refuge. Because of sin, death has passed upon all men. God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, thus paying the price of sin (death for all mankind).
Today, He is the only refuge for mankind, the only way to life everlasting. Every sinner must come to Jesus for protection against the judgment of God. Repentance from sin and simple faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ is the only way sinners can escape the wrath of God. He is truly the Rock in a weary land, the Shelter in the time of storm, and the Perfect Refuge for all mankind.
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