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The Cities of Refuge

The Bible Study Hour / James Boice
The Truth Network Radio
June 14, 2021 8:00 am

The Cities of Refuge

The Bible Study Hour / James Boice

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June 14, 2021 8:00 am

Men and women are made directly by God in His own image. And human life in the image of God mustn't be wantonly destroyed. Today on The Bible Study Hour, Dr. James Boice discusses the cities of refuge and the tremendous value of human life revealed in the law of God.

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Men and women are created by God in his own image and human life in the image of God mustn't be wantonly destroyed today on the Bible study our Dr. James Boyce discusses the cities of refuge and the tremendous value of human life revealed in the law of God welcome to Bible study our radio and Internet broadcast with Dr. James Boyce preparing you to think and act quickly. As Christians we find refuge in Jesus Christ and refuge in Jesus can be found at any moment the way to Christ is always open. Much like the gates of the ancient cities of refuge from Joshua 20, Dr. Boyce explains God's provision for safety both past and present. I suppose it's true to say that in some way or another everyone is proud of the city or town in which he or she was born or grew up in, which is only a way of saying that from our point of view of the native every place is special in some way I grew up in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. That's Milltown out of Western part of the state on the junction of the Monongahela Dr. Gainey Rivers wasn't a whole lot to be proud of where McKeesport was concerned that we had our football team. I was a big thing every fall. Everybody used to go over to the football games if I could afford it. Those of us who couldn't the kids had a hold of the fence that we went to road we used to climb up on the light towers of light of the stadium games were always on Friday night and while I was just a very big thing. We were also helped by the fact that we were just up river a few miles from Pittsburgh.

Now I didn't help a whole lot but Pittsburgh was the home of US steel Alcoa H.J. Heinz company with its 57 varieties, and if we were boasting about our hometown that didn't quite get through.

We can always remind people that there was a song about Pittsburgh began. There's a pawnshop on the corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and we memorize that we would sing it on demand, and we consider that to be part of our heritage. I have very good feeling for the way Garrison Keillor feels when he finds that he has to make up lies about his mythical hometown of Lake Wobegon. The little town where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average. Everybody knows that that's not part of American Lord. Sometimes cities try to capture their special flavor and slogan analysis is the big D, New York is a Big Apple. Chicago is the Windy City which I can vouch for, because it certainly is. Every time I go there.

Boston is being town way out in the middle of Kansas is a place called Mid-America everybody has a way of being proud about their own place. While the Israelites had special cities to only their cities were special or very lofty and spiritual reasons. I'm sure that in the sense I've already been speaking all these towns of Israel were special to the people who live there. As a matter fact I I sense that as I read over these middle chapters of the book of Joshua that describe in detail which cities were given to which tribes and which tribes occupied which areas of the country set title deed. Of course it's like a listing of the boundaries of the property and so it's important in the legal sense, but it was more than that.

We already know from the patient, Caleb, for example, how he got his mindset on that town of Hebron and Judah in the south, and how when his role in the conquest was over, he asked if he could just have one more opportunity to prove the power of God and he said I want Hebron give me that place. I want that mountain so by the grace of God, he took it. Joshua was certainly proud of the time to Serra that had been given to him in the country of Ephraim, and so on will always other cities people fought for the cities. After all, it was a matter of conquest. They drove out the inhabitants taking the cities one by one. When I looked over the cities they would've said well this is my city and this is an important city and I'll tell you why they could've explained why all the cities that we read about page after page after page of them were importantly from their point of view that as I say there were some special cities even among these very special cities described in the 20th chapter of Joshua. In chapter 21 chapter 21 tells about that towns were given to the Levites, the Levites didn't have any land of their own. No tribal territory there with the priests on scattered the priests throughout Israel is a blessing to the whole people, and they were given these priestly cities in which they lived. There were 48 of chapter 21 list the men at the very end of the summation it says the towns of the Levites in the territory held by the Israelites were 48 and all together with their pasture lands, and so on and then from those 48 cities. There were sex that were picked out and were made cities of refuge and the kind of arrangement that is described for us very carefully in the 20th chapter of this book.

Those six cities are described from verse 71 in that chapter 3 of them were the last of the Jordan River and are listed first K dish in the north in Galilee. We know where Galilee was the hill country of naphthalene. That's where most of the places associated with the early ministry and growing up of the Lord Jesus Christ are located in Kadesh was up there and there was Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim that was further south and finally it was carry out our boat which is Hebron Caleb's town in the south and Judah.

So going down the territory from north to south west of the Jordan was with her three times that of the east of the Jordan River and here the order is from the South going north as if you were drawing a great big circle around the land was be.

Certainly deserts the tribe of Reuben Raymond from Gilead in the middle: we know about because we followed battles in Israel today on the Golan Heights. That's the place: in the north and the tribe of Manasseh. These were very, very special cities another describe several places in the Old Testament there are two places that mention them briefly, but not by name. You find them in the 21st chapter of Exodus example verse 12 and following again also briefly in the fourth chapter Deuteronomy verses 41 to 43 there are three passages which describe the cities of the length part of the law, you find them described at length in Numbers 35 part of the Pentateuch you find them described at length in Deuteronomy 19.

Also part of the Pentateuch, that's to say there establishing and function was delineated carefully in the Old Testament law. The first five books and here in the 20th chapter of Joshua in fulfillment of what was already predetermined by God through revelation of Moses and recorded in the Jewish Scriptures you find the fulfillment of this carried out in detail as land was finally settled.

What makes the cities of refuge so important well in order to understand why they were important to understand something about the way in which justice was practiced in a primitive way in the society somebody would kill another person, whether accidentally or intentionally as we would say in our law with malice of forethought left family of the one who was killed, and you have to remember that families were very close tribes very close to one another family of the man who was killed we get together and they would select one member of that family to be what was termed an avenger of blood became a sacred duty of that person so selected to pursue one that had killed their relative and retaliate by killing the killer. This was an age going back, perhaps long way before the actual giving of the Old Testament law, in which the basic maxim was less an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

You caused me to lose sight of my I have the right to demand that you lose the sight of your eye. If I have a tooth knocked out of the fight, I have a right to demand to of yours should be extracted, and so on.

Right up to death. One of my family is killed. We have the right to see somebody that is done it is killed now as I say that is a rather primitive system of justice, but it has something to commit to at least take life seriously and and it has a certain measure of retribution, equality and equity, but you have the case not sure you understand that where the death of a person was not something that was premeditated something achieve with malice of forethought. What we and our jurisprudence: murder the first murder in the 2nd°, but rather what we call manslaughter is to say there is no doubt that individual was killed but it was done without malice. It was accidental case like that, it is not justice to allow the avenger of blood to pursue one who has done the killing that would be to multiply injustice or to create an injustice of its own. Deuteronomy 35 spells out some details of people would understand exactly what's involved. It says they are. For example, suppose to man around chopping wood, coming up logs in order to have wood for the fireplace and while one of them is striking the wood with his acts. The iron portion of the acts.

The blade flies off the handle strikes. The man was dropping wood with him and kills it. Now, according to the Lexi on Thomas switches the law of life, and I tooth for tooth and avenger of blood to be appointed immediately, and his duty would be to kill that one who had killed his relative even though the man had killed his relative unintentionally, was to be done in a situation like that.

Well, this is where these cities of refuge cavemen got appointed in the law through Moses described in detail twice in the Pentateuch in numbers 35 and in Deuteronomy 19.

As I've indicated that these six cities should be set up throughout the land equally spaced so whenever anything like this happened person who had unintentionally and accidentally killed another person would have a place to flee to soon as the accident happened. This man would start out as fast as he could possibly go in by the shortest possible route to reach one of the cities when he arrived. One of the cities was to stand in the gate.

He was to present his case to the elders of the city Levites, of course, the priests, and he was explain what happened says explicitly in these texts that if this case is just to hear it is not a device by which a murderer could escape justice, but it is cause was just. If this really was an accidental killing then they were not turning away. They were not to send them back to the avenger of blood who may perhaps at that moment have been hot on his heels, but rather see them in the city and getting refuge business stay there safety by going out until the death of the high priest high priest was serving at that time and when the high priest died then to go free, and he was to go free, imperfect safety is very interesting to when you begin to reflect on intelligent number of very important things sort of things that we really ought to profit by our legal system. One thing the establishing of the cities shows great value that the Israelites in obedience to the revealed law of God placed on human life is this value that is placed on human life is given to life by God on the basis that men and women are not just risen from the animals the way evolution would have us believe, but rather are made directly by God in his own image know, for example the way back in the early pages of Genesis. In the early chapters were told how God made man in his own image.

The flood came in after the flood God establishes capital punishment is all right for the very first time saying he who sheds man's blood, by man.

Also, shall his blood be shed because man is made in the image of God in the image of God he made see what that means is that capital punishment is instituted not because we don't value life, but because human life in the image of God is so valuable that it must be wantonly destroyed and it's exactly that same principle that comes into play here.

On the one hand, the murderer is not to be excused very clearly in the Old Testament when a person kills another intentionally his life is the before it's to protect life the same time and on the other hand, if this death is accidental in the life of the one who killed another accidentally is to be spared. Great, great value on human life. We lost that today we lost it in a very peculiar way. We lost it by what economists I believe times maudlin sentimentality where the guilty person is concerned. The victim is forgotten and the sentiment pours out of the one was guilty of some crime and so we treat the crime lightly and we say well it's because we're humanitarians don't want anybody to suffer too much for having done something wrong and actually in that distorted perspective we undermined the value of life that we think of that very moment where preserving the Old Testament law didn't do that in these cities of refuge helped establish that point. The second thing about them is also quite interesting and it's based on the fact which is mentioned here in Joshua 20 and verse nine that anyone was welcome to flee to those cities.

Joshua 20 verse nine says any of the Israelites or any alien living among them who killed someone accidentally flee to these designated cities. Most societies just in order to exist.

Have to have some code of law, and there is always some measure of justice by any human code of law, but it has often been the case and still is in many areas of the world today that one kind of law applies to the citizens of the country of the resident of that particular area and quite another standard applies to those who don't belong to that people were you treat your own people well with justice where foreigners are concerned or aliens are concerned.

Well you can do anything you want because you don't think nearly as highly of those people as you do your own people. That's quite understandable. We think that way often even when our law doesn't allow it. But that was not true Israel say that Jews perhaps more than any other ancient people had a very extreme sense of their own unique identity of said of the Greeks that they had a unique sense of their own identity.

And that's true with that but the chose above all, because the Jews thought they were brought into existence by God, and they were and they were given a special law by God and that is true they were and and they recognized and did so rightly that they were chosen people with a unique mission and all that was absolutely true with the Jews.

At the same time simply because they had knowledge of the true God was the creator of all man also had a special sense of the value of all life. Even the lives foreigners so you find again and again in the wall regulations specify what applies to the Jew.

Also applies to the alien.

I can suggest were in danger of losing that in our own time because box we don't want to do justice, but we are losing sight of the fact that there is one God who is the creator of all reason why there must be equal, and universal justice is that there is one God. God is made you God is made million God is made, not wanting God is made, the one we call the board of the one it doesn't speak our language. God made the one to speak our language. God is made. Those were above is not as by those who are below us. God is made of all their all answerable to God all stand before the board of his justice in the final sense we have to keep that you say sometimes I was saying this morning we talk about the separation of church and state is it's possible to have just civil law without a religious reference is not true is a violent point in the separation of church and state simply that civil leaders must not appoint to depose religious leaders and religious leaders must not appoint or depose civil leaders. That's good.

That means that each has its sphere in each sphere is established by God and those in those two spheres are all responsible to the same God, but that is not the same thing as saying that religious values shall not have bearing upon civil law take away the religious value should take away the Christian dimension. You remove the knowledge of the true God and law degenerates into relativism, which of course is my next point. In Israel all these laws related to God. It was a religious base for everything we quote Francis Schaeffer at this point because is very strong on this is given a great deal of thought, civil law, the relativism of our day.

Here's how he relates it to the cities of refuge, the cities of refuge for Levitical cities.

That is, they had something to do with God, the person taking refuge had to stay in the city into the death of the high priest so he would be reminded that the civil laws were related to God did not just exist in a sociological vacuum. Unlike modern man. The people of the Old Testament and of Christian communities even after the Reformation did not view civil law as basically sociological site on a law that we just reached by consensus or by popular vote. To them it was not founded primarily on the social contract is one of the theories of social law, civil law was related to society but not only to society. It was ultimately related to the existence and character of God.

This is important since Schaeffer law which comes from God can provide something fixed. Today's law says is relativistic and that is true, it is, we begin to think along those lines. These cities refuge laws that are given to describe how they were to function say something very profound and very practical to our legal system. We need to hear it. But you know when I think of these cities of refuge. The point of greatest practicality to me is that they provide us with an illustration of what it really means as the center under the judgment of God facing spiritual as well as physical death to flee to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge.

Certainly that has been in the mind of many of our hymn writers when they speak of fleeing for refuge to Jesus Christ other refuge have I non-hangs my weary soul on the says one of our hymn sets a reference to this thing we find has Christians refuge in Jesus Christ. Now the illustration is imperfect because the parallels are not exact in every instance. For one thing, these cities of refuge work for the innocent. Those who had not intentionally killed another technically man slayers, but innocent of murder and can't be said of us. We talk about fleeing the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge. It's not because we're in danger of losing our lives so unjustly we we are justly condemned for our sin before the bar of God's justice of the parallelism exact there and again it's not exact. In this sense, when somebody in ancient Israel found themselves in dangerous situations like this and had to flee. It might have taken them many hours and and perhaps days and certainly many anxious moments before they could get from where they were to one of the cities when we talk about the Lord Jesus Christ being our refugees never far away or Jesus Christ is here. Refuge in Jesus Christ can be found in a moment it's not exact. At that point and I want to make that clear and having said that, there are obviously wonderful and quite constructive parallels. For one thing in the 19th chapter of Deuteronomy that roads were to be billed to the city. That's interesting is that you expect there to be passion could very well have a city without some kind of path leading up to it. Just all of the people going in and out would make a path but that's not what Deuteronomy 19 is talking about Ron only says that special roads were to be billed to the city is nowhere else in the Pentateuch of my knowledge is a never say that arose to be billed anywhere. Roads are to be built to the cities, although it doesn't say so in the Pentateuch, the other nonbiblical sources that a great deal of information that we learn from rabbinical sources. For example, in from Josephus that not only were roads built to the cities where they make special efforts to build bridges across ravines by somebody fleeing along one of these roads would find it necessary to wind down the wall revealing and perhaps that kind of a detour would be delayed enough that the avenger of blood to reach shipment billing. The bridges had to be built. We are moreover that they repaired the roads each spring.

It was a sacred duty in Israel to repair those roads. Moreover, it would happen. I'm sure you understand this and as you followed along the road.

One of the cities refuge you would, and occasional crossroad or fork all happen in a situation like that if you take the wrong route you and get to the city of refuge, the avenger of blood would know the right way you get there ahead of you be waiting for you when you came for that reason, signs were erected in Israel along these road signs that read refuge refuge and show the way I say that there is an obligation upon us as Christian people who know the way to the refuge that is found in Jesus Christ.

To make that way plain. If I can use the imagery of these cities.

We are to build roads so the people may get the Jesus Christ easily. We are to construct bridges over any chasms in their thinking, or our society that might stand in the way we are to erect signs point to him and what is more, we are to stand at the crossroads and we are complaint people Jesus we are to cite this is why there is safety. Flee to him on the great tragedies of the church and so many centuries of its history has been that the church of Jesus Christ is not clearly pointed the way to Jesus. It's not all sorts of other things. Some of the other things that has Donna been valuable engage in social marketing must do that. It's an outflowing of the life of Christ within conducts service divine service we sometimes and that's good it can be more or less good. Depending on how it's done nothing wrong with that.

Say whatever the church of Jesus Christ begins to think that these other things are his primary concern and forgets that it is sent into the world by Jesus Christ as Lord and Master itself to proclaim the way to him. The church always loses its true identity. Men and women who should be clearly pointed to the Savior were confused and going contrary ways.

So the church something to learn right there on the cities of refuge as a second thing about the cities refuge that is interesting and it should be an encouragement to anyone who is not yet come Jesus Christ as a Savior. It's at the gates of the cities of refuge were always to be kept unlocked. I wasn't normal range in times at night. The gates were closed, walked up the idea was that didn't like bad people are up and about a might come in and steal committed murder town might be attacks on warily, especially at night when you can't see band of robbers or marauders coming against her. And so the gates of the cities or Oxford might get get in early from the fields of you were going to be admitted. Then in walked either Locks all the time because he let anybody slip again perhaps would do damage or danger. These cities refuge were not like that. The doors of the city's refuge were always open, so man in the end of a day's work accidentally killed following had to flee good, flee, and even if he arrived in the middle of the night he can get in there would find himself safe. I'm sure you understand that parable easy one way to Christ is always open, or Jesus Christ didn't set up office hours. He didn't say I'll see you between eight and five Mondays through Fridays, but if you get concerned about religion over the weekend. Well, don't bother me come back on Monday into anything of the sort. The Lord Jesus Christ said, in the May Lord Jesus Christ, that whosoever will make, so that anybody at any time in any place, and find the Lord Jesus Christ ready, willing, anxious to receive that one and him they find life I've already pointed out 1/3 thing about the cities that is that they were open aliens as well to choose is easy to apply that way to salvation, life through Christ is open to anyone is opening you, no matter who you may be you may say well I'm too old.

You're never too old say well I love the whole life.

I'm firmly fixed in my own pattern of behavior.

Why should you die and suffer in hell because of an earlier pattern of behavior. The apostle Paul was firmly fixed in a rigorous pattern of behavior with the Lord Jesus Christ reached him on the road to Damascus and turn them around erratically. Why should we do the same for you, allow them to do that is I want to young I got my whole life ahead of me. I don't want to do that. I remember something Charles Spurgeon always used to science a very winsome when I find the number of his sermons.

He says you're old enough to sin your old enough to die in your old enough to believe in Jesus and that was true or too young to come to Christ to say well I'm too stubborn you say well I'm too sinful.

You say well I do this, you say well I'm to that lesson the cities of refuge were open to all who have a need you have a need, even if you don't recognize that you have a need your under the judgment of God. It's only in the Lord Jesus Christ that you find refuge from the judgment rightly falls upon you last points. Is this. If a person in Israel who was guilty of manslaughter refused, for whatever reason to flee to the cities, there was no hope for the avenger of blood would pursue them and the man would be killed if you don't flee to Jesus Christ, whom God is provided is your refuge there is no hope for you. You have an avenger of blood is hot and your heels, son of God necessarily low when you die, you must face the judgment seat of God its death itself that this pursuing you, you don't know how far behind.

Death is you don't know whether death is going to catch you 10 years from now, 20 years from now or tonight whether that reckoning is 20 years or 30 years off for an hour away.

Reckoning is still there. The avenger of blood existence. Death will come, Lord Jesus Christ says come to me. The Bible says, why should you die.

Bible says God is gracious God is provided, the way Jesus died in your place.

Bible says all you have to do is come, come, because the way is open when you come if you never done that. So you been sitting here for a long time maybe of come week after week, month after month, maybe year after year.

Get list of these things and you said you know, that sounds pretty good. Alden any rate, I enjoy the fellowship.

Mostly I don't have anything else to do on Sundays, but you've never really come to Christ in a personal way. Why shouldn't this be the night I put it off you come to Christ. If, in your own heart say or Jesus Christ. I have heard this for a long time and I know that all those things that I've heard are absolutely true. I have been running from you. I am a sinner I I am under her judgment and what I really should be doing is running to you and that's what I want to do my run long enough. I don't want to avoid what I should do any longer. I want you to receive me open the gates of laxity and take me and if you do that you find Jesus is already there, is already at work in your heart and is arms reaching out to embrace you make it do that by the power of the Holy Spirit and for Jesus sake, let us pray all our great father we come to a story like this in the Old Testament and holy first look at it just seems to be certain legal provision that was characteristic of Israel and of no one else yet here we see this picture of what has been made available to us through the work of Jesus Christ, our father for those here who know you didn't already trust Christ as Savior great joy in this and apply it to their hearts in the sense that they must be witnesses of these things and point the way and prepare the roads and constructed bridges and erect signs for those who are perishing to those who have not believed in Christ, who perhaps have heard but not committed themselves to him, we ask lovingly that they might have no peace at all.

No false peace or rest until they enter in to that refuge which is in the Savior grant that they might do it.

Tonight is our now the quietness of their own hearts. We pray in the matchless and powerful name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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