Christ, Our City of Refuge
By Dean Boelt
"That by two immutable things in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us" (Heb. 6:18).
In God's provision of "the cities of refuge" under the old covenant (Josh. 20:2), was a graphic foreshadowing of the spiritual asylum that those, who become identified with Christ, have in Him.
The Historic Situation. Provision for the cities—six in number—was first announced through Moses (Ex. 21:13: Num. 35:9-15; Deut. 19:1-10). The determined provision was implemented under the leadership of Joshua, as stipulated in Joshua 20:1-9.
The cities' purpose was to provide sanctuary from "the avenger of blood," who probably would be in hot pursuit, for a person who had accidentally killed another. Ultimately, the killer's case was to be decided by "the congregation" (Josh. 20:6). In the meantime, the fugitive was accorded protection in the city to which he had fled.
Easy accessibility to the cities of refuge to all Israel was assured. That was done by locating three of them on each side of the Jordan River. When a person unintentionally killed another, he was forthwith to flee to the nearest city of refuge. If he could get there before the avenger of blood slew him, he would be safe until his case could be duly heard and decided.
The Improvisation of Solomon. It is interesting to recall that Solomon—some 430 years after the cities' creation—invoked the principle which their provision embodied. He did so in connection with his disposition of Shimei the Benjamite. He it was who had cursed David when the king fled from Absalom's insurrection (II Sam. 16:5-12).
Having been instructed by David his father to bring Shimei's head "down to the grave with blood," in recompense for his grievous sin of cursing God's anointed (I Kgs. 2:8-9), Solomon, in his wisdom, devised a remarkable scheme by which the charge could be carried out, yet with the show of mercy for the guilty. He ordered Shimei to build himself a house in Jerusalem and remain in the city. As long as he stayed therein, he would be spared from the death that he deserved.
Under stress, Shimei violated the terms of his reprieve—to which terms he had consented—and was summarily executed by the king (I Kgs. 2:36-46).
The Refuge in Christ. In light of the new-covenant situation, these provisions and occurrences of old time speak tellingly of "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," with its escape from God's righteous wrath against sin (Rom. 3:23-24; cf. Mt. 3:7; Rom. 1:18; 2:2-11; I Th. 1:9-10; 5:9-10). Indeed, as Matthew Henry suggests, it seems that they were designed primarily for that purpose, the necessities of the time actually being incidental thereto.
Thus, believing sinners, relentlessly pursued by the law of Moses—the "avenger of blood" in this case—flee in haste to the divinely-provided refuge of Christ, as the text from Hebrews, printed above, declares. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them" who are in Him, is the blessed declaration of Scripture (Rom. 8:1). In that "city of refuge," we are "delivered from the law" (Rom. 7:6), being fully justified and accepted by God on the basis of our faith in His dear Son (Rom. 5:1-2; Eph. 1:6).
So, as Henry remarks, do the cities of refuge "typify the relief which the gospel provides for poor penitent sinners, and their protection from the curse of the law and the wrath of God, in our Lord Jesus. To Him believers flee for refuge, and in Him they are found (Phil. 3:9), as in a sanctuary. There they are free from arrests, and there is 'no condemnation to them" (Rom. 8:1)." (Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. II, p. 95)
The Required Continuance. The requirement for continuance in the ancient city of refuge is of spiritual significance, as well. To depart therefrom, exposed one to the "avenger of blood." In the case of Solomon's improvised place of refuge, it was likewise. And so it is with our asylum in Christ from sin's condemnation.
We are "reconciled to God by the death of His Son" (Rom. 5:10) on condition. That is, that we get into the Son, on the terms of the gospel, and continue therein, "grounded and settled," not being "moved away from the hope of the gospel" (Col. 1:20-23). Being in Christ, we are ultimately "made partakers" of Him, "if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end" (Heb. 3:12-14; cf. v. 6).
It is a gross perversion of God's truth to think and teach otherwise, as many do. That is, that one is eternally saved in Christ solely on the basis of a beginning faith in Him.
Who, in his right mind, would have it to be different from the way it is! In Christ are to be found "all the treasures," not only of "wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3), but also of "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17, ASV). Those who, having tasted of this "heavenly gift" (Heb. 6:4), turn from it to the "dung" of the mere natural life (Phil. 3:8; II Pet. 2:20-22), not only are "of all men most miserable" (I Cor. 15:19); they also are of them the most stupidly foolish. --Brother Dean made his departure to be with Christ almost eleven years ago after suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease