Man longs for refuge. He longs for safety. We long for these things because we all carry a great deal of guilt about the place. And it’s only in Christ that man finds safety. A place of refuge where guilt is exchanged for blessing and where we no longer live in fear and dread.
When the Lord settled His people in the Promised Land, He ordered that there be six cities of refuge.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,… “then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgement.” (Numbers 35:9-12)
These cities were places where those who had unintentionally committed a serious crime such as manslaughter could go and be safe until their trial.
Perhaps you got into a fight at the pub and pushed the guy a little too hard. You weren’t trying to kill him. Maybe it was self-defence. Maybe you accidentally hit the guy ploughing beside you in the head with a shovel and he died. There was no malice, but the guy was now dead.
It might enter the heads of the grieving family to come after you and administer a little bit of mob justice. In this case, you could flee to a city of refuge and find safety until an orderly trial could take place.
“Blessed are all who take refuge in Him”, sang David in Psalm 2:12. And perhaps, being a man of the word (Psalm 119:15), David was reflecting on those cities. Perhaps he understood just how much we all need such a city – and more than that – how much these cities reflect God’s character and purpose for us who need them most.
The whole world is stamped with expressions of our need to find a place of refuge.
Our kids reveal it when they play tag or bullrush. They understand the need for a place of safety, a place of protection from those who pursue them.
The guy with the rugby ball discovers his need for refuge while being chased across a paddock. But once he crosses the line and puts that ball down he is untouchable.
In the (now historical) cannibalistic cultures of Central New Guinea, it was often the case that a man could only be pursued and hunted as food until he crossed over a garden wall in the field. If he made it to the other side of the wall, he was safe. All spears went down. His enemies would have to go home hungry and empty-handed.
Because our quest for refuge is universal, and because man rejects God, we also see some really unhelpful places of refuge – safe spaces if you will. From puppy rooms and crayons for 20-something-year-old college students who can’t handle contrary opinions to binge drinking and Netflix for unhappy housewives.
Man needs a refuge.
Now, here’s the question. What kind of people are running to these places of refuge in scripture? It’s not the innocent who go. It’s the guilty. To be captured is to be judged, condemned, taken out of the game. And these cities of refuge are where you go – the only place to go – when you are being pursued in judgement.
Now, when you think about that, and then think back to David’s words, “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him”, you might begin to notice how astonishing it all is. Whose judgement hangs over the head of the guilty man? God’s judgement. And who should such guilty men run to for refuge? God.
And what will all those guilty people, currently living in fear, find in God when they come to Him for refuge? Blessing.
David understood that these cities represented the Good News of the Gospel. And the Good News is this: There is a place where the guilty can go and find refuge and relief. And that place is Jesus Christ, the Temple of God. The seventh and ultimate “City of Refuge” for guilty men.
But Adonijah, in fear of Solomon, got up and went to take hold of the horns of the altar. (1 Kings 1:50)
Solomon, the Son of David, had declared Adonijah a guilty man. Adonijah, fearing for his life, ran to the horns of the altar and laid hold of them as a refuge. And his life was spared (1 Kings 1:53).
The ultimate hiding place from the righteous wrath of God, it turns out, is God. The ultimate refuge for those whom God pursues in righteous judgement is the altar of God, where we find Jesus Christ.
Jesus has no house, no refuge, no city for those who are righteous in their own eyes. The City of God was not built for the innocent. It was built to bless the guilty who come to Him for refuge.
So come and be made glad.