Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cities of refuge

Num. 35:12 And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.
Throughout the Old Testament we have many pictures, types, and foreshadowings of Christ. Many times they come in the form of people; Abraham, Moses, David, and many others were a picture of the coming Messiah. However there are also times when inanimate objects and even certain ceremonies and days picture aspects of our Lord. The Cities of Refuge are one of those inanimate objects that give us a colorful illustration of part of what Christ would accomplish.
In order to see Christ as the City of Refuge we must see ourselves as those who had committed manslaughter and in need of a protector. We met that criteria in two ways. First, we were present by representative in Adam when he effectively killed all his descendants through the original sin (Rom. 5:12). Secondly, we were guilty in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, who was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him (Isa. 53:5). So while we might say we did not personally go out looking to kill either time, it does not change the fact that we were guilty of blood in both cases.
When a man was guilty of manslaughter, it was expected that a death penalty of sorts was placed on him in that the family of the deceased would look to enforce the law of an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. We have here further continuity in the illustration, for we were by nature the children of wrath. I have heard this explained as though we ran to Christ to escape Satan, the accuser of the brethren, (and I suppose in a way that is true). However, it much closer to a correct understanding to see God as the offended family member, it was his wrath and condemnation we were under, not Satan's!
So here we are, guilty of the blood of an innocent man, whether intentional or not and we have heavy on our heads the impending and inevitable wrath of God. Our only hope is to fly to some mountain, to a Rock of Ages, to a City of Refuge and cast ourselves upon it in faith that it can withstand the fury of the pursuing party until the day of our trial. As Paul told the Corinthians that the Rock in the wilderness was Christ, so I say that refuge for us was only found in Christ.
All physical illustrations have their limitations when attempting to picture something spiritual, and this one is no exception. The striking difficulty here is that God is (by Christ) the slain innocent, he is the vengeful family member, he is the City of Refuge itself, and he is the judge that will eventually proclaim us just (albeit not for our innocence, but for the righteousness of Christ for us). But is it not fitting that in a foreshadowing of our redemption, its greatest problem is that God is "too" present and active? For in our salvation the same is true, God is both just and the justifier! (Rom. 3:26)