God is Our Refuge
Numbers 35:6-15 NASB
Here we are with Israel. They are on the other side of the Jordan. They're getting ready to enter into the Promised Land. God is giving them instructions for what to do once they get there, and He's telling them about portioning the land according to the tribes. Every tribe is going to get a portion of the land according to their size, except for the tribe of Levi. They are given the privilege of being the priests that minister to the Lord, minister to the people. They do not get an apportionment of land.
The reason for that is because God himself will be their inheritance. The idea is that the Levites are actually getting the better inheritance because the presence of God is more valuable, more precious than anything that this world has to offer. Moses understood that. He said to the Lord, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not take us to that place." He understood the value, the treasure of God's presence.
Now here's the thing. We live today in a very materialistic culture. Is this not true? We live in a very materialistic time. Therefore, the treasure of God's presence is not valued in a materialistic mindset. We have to understand the power of God's presence in order to appreciate the treasure and the preciousness of what it is. He did, however, for the Levites, give them 48 cities, Levitical cities that would be separated, divided out amongst all the tribes.
Here's what I want us to look at today, and that is that six of these cities were special. Six of these cities were designated as cities of refuge. They were Levitical cities in every sense, but they were given the designation as cities of refuge so that if anyone accidentally, in other words, unintentionally killed another person, they could run to a City of Refuge and be safe. They would get a fair hearing, a fair trial. It's really a key understanding.
These six cities of refuge were to be evenly distributed throughout the land of Israel so that they were never more than one day's journey if a person ran. There were three cities on one side of the Jordan, three cities on the other side. I tell you what's interesting, we've been seeing over and over in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, these pictures of Jesus Christ, Leviticus, we've been seeing, Numbers, and here we're seeing this as well.
These cities of refuge represent many spiritual promises. If anyone is in trouble, let him run, run to get the help of the Lord, the refuge that is the Lord, a very present help in times of trouble. In fact, it tells us in the Book of Deuteronomy, that the roads to the City of Refuge must always be well maintained, always be built so that nothing would hinder anyone who needed the help of the Lord. There's a lot for us in these verses to apply to our lives.
Let's go to Chapter 35. Let's start actually begin in verse one, just to get a backdrop to it. "The Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, opposite Jericho. He said this, "Now command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites from the inheritance of their possessions, cities, and you shall give to the Levites pasturelands around the cities." Now jump to verse six, "The cities which you shall give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, which you shall give for the manslayer."
That is the person who accidentally killed another person. Let's say you're out in the woods, you're chopping wood, and the head of the ax flew off and they hit another person, and you accidentally hurt them, kill them. Then that person has to flee or run to a City of Refuge. Now, in addition, give them 42 other cities. All the cities which you shall give the Levites shall be 48, together with their pasturelands around the city.
As for the cities which you shall give from the possession of the sons of Israel, you shall take more from the larger, take less from the smaller. Each shall give some of his cities to the Levites in proportion to his possession, which he narrates. Then the Lord said this to Moses, "Now speak to the sons of Israel and say, when you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall select for yourselves cities to be your cities of refuge."
These six cities, we know their names, we know their locations, that the manslayer, a person who has killed someone unintentionally may flee, literally run there. "The cities shall be to you as the refuge from the avenger." We're going to look at the meaning of what that does and applies to our lives, so that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for trial, fair hearing.
"The cities which you are to give shall be six cities of refuge. You shall give three cities across the Jordan and three cities in the land of Canaan." Hebrews would say, Canaan. "They are to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall be for refuge for the sons of Israel and for the alien and for the sojourner." Everyone has the protection of the Lord. It doesn't matter who you are. Anyone who kills a person unintentionally may flee there.
Now move if you would over to verse 26. If the manslayer shall, however, at any time, go beyond the border of the city, if he leaves this protection, if he leaves the place of refuge to which he has fled, and a blood avenger finds them outside of the border of the City of Refuge and the blood avenger kills the manslayer, he's not guilty of blood, because he should have remained in the City of Refuge.
Notice this because it's really fascinating. He should remain there until the death of the high priest, one high priest over all the land. When that high priest died, it says, the manslayer, it's said he's forgiven, charges are dropped, and the manslayer may return to the land of his possession. Fascinating verses and they apply to our lives today because we see the provision of Christ through these cities of refuge, and so I want us to apply them.
I. Death Pursues You
Starting with this understanding, death pursues you. The cities of refuge provided for those who needed protection because death was pursuing them. Now, you might not have accidentally killed anyone and you wonder how these apply, but they do. I want to show you why, spiritually speaking. Romans 3:23 says, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
Then it says Romans 6:21 and 23, "What benefit did you gain from the things of which you are now ashamed, for the outcome of those things is death and the wages of sin is death?" Everyone is worthy. Everyone deserves because of the consequences of sin, death is pursuing, the Scripture would say. Therefore, we see this in the Scripture and apply. Beware the avenger.
A. Beware the avenger
What does this mean? Well, the concept of an avenger didn't begin with Israel. It was a common practice in the culture of that time. If anyone died through the actions of another person, then the nearest relative of that person who was killed would be designated as the avenger. The responsibility of the avenger was to pursue and to track down and to meet out vengeance, justice, you might say. Now, the reason for this is because the cultures of that day did not have, let's say, what we would today. They did not have a sheriff, for example, and this is not because someone shot the sheriff.
Anybody recognize that song? You're old.
No, in those days, they didn't have police force. They didn't have a sheriff. They didn’t have a court system like we'd have today. This system of an avenger had a tremendous weakness because the avenger didn't care if it was intentional or not intentional. He just wanted vengeance. He'd track him down, "Well, what if it was unintentional? What if it was an accident? What if an ax flew off the handle?"
Then he took this vengeance and the person died. Well, then that family would feel, "Hey, that was wrong." Then they go and get an avenger, and then they go after the avenger, and then the avenger's family says, "Now that's right." They get an avenger, and what is happening? Blood feud. This is actually a beautiful provision here in the sense that it not only protected the person from the avenger, it protected the avenger from wrongfully taking vengeance, because it's not right to take vengeance like this.
It's very interesting because in many parts of the world, even today, vengeance is the rule of the day. It is the way that many places in the world work today. In fact, they tell you, if you feel like traveling to a place, a country in the world that they do not have what we would consider in the modern legal system, the protections that come with that. You're traveling around and you are driving, let's say and accidentally hit someone and kill them, you drive to the airport and leave because the rule of the day is vengeance.
They will form a mob and kill you immediately. I remember hearing about this in Africa. When I traveled there, for example, I remember one time I was in the DRC, the Congo. I was doing a Pastors' Conference, so I was in this place where we had a bunch of pastors and we were waiting. We were all going to go to this big evangelistic meeting, I was going to speak and all this. We're waiting for a phone call like, "Okay, now, everybody come down to the conference thing."
We're waiting, finally, we get this call, "Everybody, come on down." Then someone comes up to me and he says, "You're driving all of us to the meeting." I said, "Why am I driving? "Well, because we have so many pastors. We don't have room for the driver. We know that you're an American, so you know how to drive, so you're driving." I go, "Oh boy."
I go out there and I look at this vehicle, it's like a world war two surplus extended Jeep or something. The lights barely work. The steering is terrible. You got to pump the brakes to get any action. I'm thinking, "Oh Lord, have mercy." We're driving down, we're not just even a few blocks away from where we left. This is in the evening. It's dark, lights barely work, and an old woman starts crossing the road.
I'm pumping the brakes and turn into right, but then I go this way and she senses the danger and she goes the other way. I turn the other way, then she goes the other way and all the pastors in the car are screaming like, "Aaah," I guess. I barely, barely missed her. There could have been threads of her dress on the bumper. Then I pull over. Anybody else want to drive?
They go, "Nope, nope, nope." I vowed I would never drive in Africa again because all it takes is one time. They will surround your car and they will immediately take vengeance. Whether right or wrong, it doesn't matter, you hurt. That's the rule of the day. Vengeance is the common way that the world works. In fact, in the history of America, that was common in America. For some time, in fact, you probably know the most famous family feud in history of America is Hatfields and McCoys.
One thing led to another thing. One family's in Kentucky, the other family is in West Virginia, some dispute arises and then someone accuses another of stealing a hog, and then lives are lost, vendettas are passed to the children. At one point the Governors of Kentucky and West Virginia getting involved, threatening to call the National Guard out. It actually goes all the way to the Supreme Court. Such was this, it was infamous.
Although, in the year 2000, the McCoys decided to have a family reunion, and they decided to invite the Hatfields. It actually became national news and is on the cover of many magazines because finally the feud has been resolved. Although, I think wasn't there a Family Feud Television-- There was a game show called The Family Feud. The McCoys and the Hatfields actually played on that, the real families played on that for a week. The McCoys won but the Hatfields made more money. They had a big dispute about who should get the hog. Just kidding.
The untold story is that the real end of the family feud came when one of the patriarchs, Devil Anse Hatfield went forward at a revival meeting when he was 72 years old and received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and was baptized in Island Creek. Amen. See, it's the transformation of the soul that makes the person different. This is important for us to recognize, we're not in the world anymore.
The world has principles and we're not in the world anymore. In fact, this is what the Scripture says Romans 12:18-21, "If possible," because it certainly recognizes there are people who are impossible, "But if possible, so far as it depends on you be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge. Beloved, leave room for the wrath of God. It is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay."
B. Run to the place of refuge
In other words, God settles all accounts. "If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he's thirsty, give him a drink. In so doing, you heap burning coals on his head, do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good." We're different, He's calling us to different principles. He gives this City of Refuge, protection that vengeance not be the rule of the day. The principles that come out of this are to be applied in our lives.
If you need help, if you're the one who needs the help of the Lord, what does He tell you? He says, "Run." Run to the place of refuge because if the avenger got to you first, you would have no protection. It's a picture of the help of the Lord. Psalm 46:1, 10, 11, "God is our refuge, God is our strength. He is a very present help in times of trouble." If you need to help with the Lord, trouble comes, something you did, some bad decision, whatever it was, you need the help of the Lord, what does He say? Run. You run.
He's the very present help in times of trouble. Then I love where He says, "And then you be still and know I am the Lord." I'm your helper. The Lord of Hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our stronghold, is our help in times of trouble, is our help in time of need." There's a lot of troubles that people experience in their lives. Many people in this room would have many testimonies of troubles, whether it's decisions you made or something that happened or something unintentional.
Help comes from the Lord. He's a very present help that you run. You get to the presence of the Lord. Psalm 91:2-4, "I will say to the Lord, you are my refuge, you are my fortress, you are my God in whom I trust, for it is He who will deliver you from the snare of the chopper, from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, His wings, a beautiful picture. Protection, covering your help, and under His wings, you may seek refuge."
II. Christ is Your Refuge; Your Help
I remember the church was very, very young. I don't remember now what it was, some turbulence, some kind of things, some trouble of some kind, I don't remember. I remember this sense of urgency in my heart. I just sense we as a church, we need to run. As a body, as a people together, we need to run to the presence of the Lord. I just felt compelled.
I want every child in this building, I want every youth, I want every person in this building, we're going to come, we're going to worship, we're going to commune, we're going to be in the presence of the Lord because we're going to seek God. Run. If you have turbulence, you have trouble in your life, you run because here's why, it's a picture of Christ. Christ is your refuge. He's your help.
There are many aspects of the cities of refuge that points to Jesus Christ, our help in times of trouble, our refuge, our fortress. One of the examples, one of the best examples of faith and trusting God, it's got to be David. I love Psalm 27 because it's one of those powerful declarations, Psalms, and I want to use read to you that just the first few verses from Psalm 27, one of my favorite verses are Psalms, "The Lord is my light and my salvation so whom shall I fear?"
David understood the strength of God. The Lord is the defense of my life so whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. David understood the confidence of the Lord, but he also understood this, when trouble comes, David knew trouble. David knew trouble of his own making, but he knew this, you run.
Psalm 27:5, "In the day of trouble, you will conceal me in your tabernacle, in the secret place of His tent, you will hide me, He will lift me up." He is the one who will lift me up. He is the one who will take my case. He is the one who will intervene on my behalf, run.
A. Refuge is always near
You look at the rules concerning the cities of refuge and you see the aspects of Christ revealed in it. For example, the cities of refuge were all placed to be near. Refuge is always near. It's always close. They were strategically placed in such locations, so that a person would not have to cross the river, nor have to climb a mountain. You could get there in one day if you ran. I love that picture because many people have this sense that they have to do some great thing to get God's approval, God's help.
You got to climb some mountain, you got to do some penance, you got to pay some great price." It's been the understanding of many people. "I got to do some penance. I got to get God to be on my side. I got to do something to harm myself to get penance." No. Romans 10:8-13 gives this beautiful, beautiful picture. No, the word is nearer. Help is near. It's in your mouth. It's in your heart, this word of faith.
This word of faith means I believe. I believe my God is my help in time of trouble. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. You know the names of the cities of refuge, are given to us in Joshua 20. We know all the cities. We know their locations, and every one of them was given a name. I love this because every one of these names is a picture of Christ and some aspects of His blessing and ministry to our lives.
Kadesh, this is starting on the west side of the Jordan, all the way to the north, up by Dan. In fact, we were just there a couple of months ago, and we were driving on the plains in that area. The guy said, "This is the ancient Kadesh." It's quite a modern city today. Kadesh means to cleanse, to bring holiness. Then, coming down into the center, Shechem, to shoulder a burden. What a picture of Christ? Then into the South, Hebron, to have fellowship.
That's what He does. He brings fellowship back to the Lord. Then moving to the other side of Bezer, we drove in that area, a strong fortress. He's your help. Ramah, moving up the other side, He will lift you up. Then finally, Golan, He will encircle you. I love the names because they picture Christ in every one of them.
B. The life and death of the High Priest saves
The key is to run as fast as you can. It tells us that the roads were always to be maintained, and there were to be signposted every crossroads, pointing to the City of Refuge, so that if anyone was running, the signs were always right there. You knew how to get the help of the Lord. There's then another interesting aspect, quite fascinating to me. That protection that would be given, you stay, you remain there, but here's the thing, upon the death of the high priest, something happened.
I want to see this because this a picture of Christ, the life and the death of the high priest saves. That's what He shows us. From the life where the high priest lives, you have protection, you have safety, you have covering, you have a help in times of trouble, but when the high priest dies, all charges are dropped. I just love that. All charges are dropped.
The high priest dies, all charges are dropped.
You know what it's a picture of? It's a picture of the death of Jesus Christ. Because He's our high priest, the Scripture tells us. Hebrews 6:18-20, listen to these verses. These are such good verses. "We, who have taken refuge," so He's speaking to you and me here. Have you taken refuge in Christ? Is He your help in time of need? "We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of this hope that is set before us."
Take hold of this. He says this hope we have is an anchor for the soul. You need an anchor. You need a foundation. You need a rock to stand on. You need to help. Take hold of this anchor. It's a hope, both sure and steadfast. You can count on His help. You can count on this anchor, this refuge. "The one which enters within the veil," He's speaking of Jesus, "has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever. He's our high priest according to the Order of Melchizedek.
What happens then when the high priest dies? Because we know that from the death of Christ, we have been forgiven. Of the relationship that we have with God because of His death is made possible because He gives that to you as a gift. In fact, it says 1st Peter 2:24, "He Himself bore our sins." He Himself, in other words, carried our burdens, in His body, on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. For by his wounds, you were healed." Very powerful thing.
C. Stay in the place of refuge
Then we see this in this City of Refuge, you run, and you run as fast as you can get there, but then he tells us this, then you stay there. You stay in the place of refuge. It's a powerful, powerful picture, great spiritual insight. It's given to anyone, whether you're a visitor or even just a traveler. Everyone is afforded the protection and the help of the Lord. Here's what's interesting.
Because we know, the Scripture tells us what's applied to our lives, whether the sin is intentional or unintentional. Say what? God would give help even for intentional sin? Yes, he will, but here's the key, repentance. Repentance is not a popular word today, but I'll tell you what, it's a very important word. Because of the result that comes.
Notice Acts 3:19, "Therefore he says, repent and return," repent and return, "so that your sins may be wiped away in order," I love this part, "in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." What a great word? Repent is a good word. Any day that a sinner turns toward the Lord, it's a good day. "Repent and return so that your sins may be wiped away, in order the times of refreshing may come in the presence of the Lord. Because that's what he wants to do. It's all about that.
I remember in my own life, when I was in high school, I actually led, I led worship in our little tiny country church when I was in high school, and then I left for college. I don't think my story's unique. I think other people understand. Left for college, and I was away from my parents, away from the past, away from the church, and I didn't go to church. I left my refuge, you might say, I went into the world. I joined a fraternity, which I would never recommend.
It was alcohol and parties and all that goes with that, and my soul started to get very sick. I think anybody who's ever done the world thing, would add their own "Amen, I know you're right." I started to get so sick in my soul, so empty. Just it really troubled my soul. When you've tasted the good of the Lord, when you've been under His shadow, when you've been in the nearness of God and then you leave, your soul just gets sick. I just felt just so troubled.
I remember one day, Sunday morning, we had a party the night before, but I just I was troubled. I got up Sunday morning, and I remember very clearly walking to go to the front door, having to step through the beer bottles and the sticky floor, my feet sticking. I opened the door. It was a Sunday morning. It was sunny outside. If you've ever felt the Holy Spirit, just speak to your heart, I just felt the Lord saying to me, "I missed you."
Something happened to me like, "I got to go to church. This has got to stop." I went to my room and found my Bible. I'm sorry to say it took me a little while to find it. I got in my car, drove, found a church. I went in there, they were worshiping, and I just started crying. It felt so good to be go home. Times of refreshing will come in the presence of the Lord, but here's the thing. It's important you run there but you stay there and here's why.
John 15:4-5 Jesus says, "You abide in me and I will abide in you." The presence of God is everything. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit for apart from Me, you can do nothing.
You want spiritual strength, you want spiritual power, want the fruit of a Godly life, here's the key, abide, you stay there. You run in times of trouble and then you stay in the presence of the Lord, you abide there. The help of the Lord is yours, but the fruit of the Spirit moving the Power of God, the fruit of a godly life is when you stay there. It's when you dwell there. When the presence of the God moves upon your soul and there is an overflowing presence of God, stay in the presence of God.
Father, thank you so much for how you call us to Yourself. Show us the promises that you pour out to us. Lord, I want to pray over the church this morning. If anyone is here in this place today and needs the help of the Lord. Church, would you hear the word that God is speaking this morning? Run. Don't delay. You run to the present of the Lord. You run to the tower of the Lord. He is a very present help in time of trouble.
Do you need the help of the Lord today? He is a very present help. Do you need to run to the tower? You need to be in the presence of the Lord. Would you ask God today for-- would you say to the Lord, "You be my help? You be my fortress. You be my refuge. I need you and I'm coming home. Lord, I need you to be my help. To be my very present help in time of trouble." Do you need the Lord?
Would you just raise your hand and say to the Lord today, "God I'm opening my heart. I'm asking, be my help today. Fill me with Your Spirit. Your life." Times of refreshing will come in the presence of the Lord. Maybe you're here today and you need to say to the Lord, I want to dwell, I want to stay in the shadow of the Almighty. That's where I want to abide. I want to be in that place where Your Spirit dwells in power.
Church, is that your heart? Would you raise your hand to the Lord and say, "God, I want to be in that place. I want to be in the shadow of the Almighty." Father, thank you for stirring us. Thank you for drawing us. We give you thanks, we give you honor for all that You're doing. Move in power upon us today. In Jesus' name and everyone said. Can we give the Lord praise?