Psalm 46:1-7 and Numbers 35:6-11
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. 5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
I am so excited to share this teaching from God’s Word today. If you’ve been worshiping here for any length of time you know I am not typically a series preacher, but a week to week one. Every week I listen for what God is saying and try to discern what particular Word He has for us. This past Wednesday, during our worship team practice, Mandy was explaining how God had impressed on her to construct the service today around the idea that God is our Refuge, our Hiding Place, our Anchor, our Stability in a turbulent and uncertain world. She had been so moved by the Holy Spirit that her passion about God wanting us to be reminded of such got me thinking, and that thinking has led to this morning’s sermon.
We do have a Refuge for our souls. There is a safe place to take our pain and sorrow. There is a Refuge that serves as an anchor to keep us from being tossed to and fro in the midst of the craziness that surrounds us. And there is more to this idea of “refuge” than we may perhaps be aware of. The concept of refuge encompasses more than our English word allows us to experience.
Turn to Numbers 35:10-12
Then the Lord said to Moses: 10 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 11 select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. 12 They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that a person accused of murder may not die before he stands trial before the assembly.
Cities of refuge. Let me explain a bit about God’s design for these places. You’ll remember that no police force was established when God gave Moses the Law. The idea was that injustices were to be dealt with swiftly. Nothing was to be drug out. The punishment was supposed to simply fit the crime. If you stole, you paid restitution. (Ex. 22) If you killed someone, you would lose your own life. It was an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” etc.
In Numbers 35:19-25, God distinguished between murder and manslaughter. In doing so, He set a precedent for grace. There would be a need for grace rather than swift judgment under this circumstance. People who had accidently caused someone’s death could flee to a City of Refuge and be protected and safe.
And so, six cities of refuge were established. They were: Kadesh, Shechem, and Hebron to the west of the Jordan, and to the east of the Jordan they were Golan, Ramoth-Gilean, and Bezer.
No matter where you lived at that time, you could get to a City of Refuge with a sense of ease. Access was available to everyone! The Lord is our refuge. Do you see the same open access for all who will run to Him? God’s Word tells us that “God so loved that world that He gave His only Son that WHOEVER believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Access to Jesus, the Ultimate Refuge, isn’t the privilege of a certain race of people or certain class of people, but Romans 10:13 tells us “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Most of the Cities of Refuge were built on mountains so they could easily be seen even from miles away. There were even signposts along the way, pointing the way to Cities of Refuge so that someone fleeing for their life would clearly know the way. There would be no guesswork in finding the nearest City of Refuge.
Do you know the way to our Refuge has been clearly marked? In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s as clear as it gets, friends. No ambiguity there. If you’ve been wondering how to get right with God and how to qualify for heaven, your eternal refuge, you have your answer. Jesus is the way.
The OT priests were responsible to make sure the roadways to the cities of refuge were not only clearly marked, but that they were always open and without obstruction. If an avenger of blood was hot on your trails, the last thing you needed to deal with was a roadblock. You couldn’t afford to be slowed down. Death was after you, and you had to have a clear pathway if you were going to make it to the City of Refuge in time.
Listen, the avenger of blood is after you. Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death.” The only way to avoid the death penalty is to accept what Jesus has already done for you in clearing the roadway before you. He has removed all obstacles out of your way when it comes to fellowship with God and being able to take refuge in Him. His blood has paid the price for your refuge, your freedom. No more obstacles. No more hoops to jump through in order to be in fellowship with God. Run into Him. He will save you.
Those who took refuge in one of these special cities found new life and a new start. II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Need a fresh start and a new life? Come to Christ, your Refuge.
Remember, God knew there would be a need for grace and mercy in the case of manslaughter. God also knew we would need grace. Man didn’t think up the idea of grace. God did. God provided the Cities of Refuge, not man. In the same way, God has provided grace and mercy for us. Salvation and a relationship with God is a free gift (John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:9)
God could have allowed us to die in our sin. But he didn’t. Is. 53:6 says “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
He became sin who knew no sin-that we might become His righteousness. He humbled Himself and carried the cross. Jesus Messiah, Name above all names, Blessed Redeemer, Emmanuel. The Rescue for sinners. The Ransom from Heaven. Jesus Messiah. Lord of all!
We deserved everything that sinners should bear, but Jesus had it all placed on Him instead. That is grace and mercy. It was freely offered, not without expense, but without consequence to us.
Cities of refuge were salvation stations. They had saving power. Persons that otherwise would have died were given a place to live for the rest of their lives if necessary. It was a permanent refuge. We find all of that and more in Jesus, our Refuge. He will never leave us or forsake us.
Hebrews 6:18 talks about God as our Refuge and the Greek word in Hebrews that is translated “refuge” (in KJV, NKJV, and NASB) is the same one used in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) in the passages describing the cities of refuge. That tells me God wanted His people to see in the Cities of Refuge, a type or symbol of that which Christ has become for us.
Let’s look briefly at the six Cities of Refuge to see what specifics we can learn about the Lord, our Refuge.
The first city was Kedesh. The name, “Kedesh” means “a holy place” or “righteousness.” The first city listed in the OT meets our first and foremost need. We read in God’s Word that “Our righteousness is as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)
In one of his sermons, A.C. Dixon told of an incident that took place in Brooklyn, N.Y. A detective who had been looking for a local citizen finally tracked him down in a drugstore. As the man began to make his purchase, the officer laid his hand on the citizen’s shoulder and said, “You’re under arrest; come with me!”
Stunned, the man demanded, “What did I do?”
The detective calmly replied, “You know what you did. You escaped from the Albany penitentiary several years ago. You went west, got married, and then came back here to live. We’ve been watching for you since you returned.”
Quietly the man admitted, “That’s true, but I was sure you’d never find me. Before you take me in, could we stop by my house so I can talk to my family?”
The officer agreed. When they got to his home, the man looked at his wife and asked, “Haven’t I been a kind husband and a good father? Haven’t I worked hard to make a living?”
His wife answered, “Of course you have, but why are you asking me these questions?” Her husband then proceeded to explain what had happened and that he was now under arrest. He apparently had hoped that his record as an exemplary husband and father would impress the officer. Even so, he was still an escaped criminal. Though he was “right” with his family, he was all wrong with the state of New York.
Our good deeds and kind acts could never be enough to make us right with God. It is only through the righteousness of Christ that He imparts to us that we are made righteous in God’s eyes. It’s not the best kind of righteousness that man has to offer, but the spotless, holy and pure righteousness of God Himself that is given to us as a gift. II Cor. 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
“There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”
The second city was Shechem. “Shechem” means “shoulder.” Did you know the shoulder is a place of great strength? Heavy burdens that can’t be carried in your arms can be carried more easily on your shoulder. On the Day of Atonement when the high priest would make atonement for the sins of Israel, He would wear the names of the 12 tribes of Israel on his shoulders! Foretelling the birth of Christ, Isaiah said in Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.” Hallelujah!
Is anyone following this with me? I used to sing a song that says, “If He carried the weight of the world upon His shoulders, I know my brother that He will carry you.” Jesus, our Refuge, has BIG SHOULDERS! That’s why I Peter 5:7 says we can “cast our cares on Him.” He has big shoulders! He has strength to carry our burdens in times of need.
The only reference to the word “shoulder” in the NT is found in Luke where there is one lost sheep and the shepherd leaves the 99 to go find it. When He finds it, He lays it upon His “shoulders.” As the OT priest “bore” the children of Israel upon his shoulders, so the Lord Jesus Christ, our High Priest, carries us on His shoulders. Yes, my faith has found a resting place!! It’s on the shoulders of Jesus, my Refuge!
The third city, Hebron, means “fellowship” or the “binding friendship place.” Jesus is a Refuge for all the lonely and disenfranchised. I John 1:3 “And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” Hallelujah. We don’t live and walk alone. Praise the Lord, we are part of a spiritual family with God as our Father.
Let me point out that religion and fellowship with God are two different things. Religion is man’s ideas about how to get to God. Fellowship is God’s invitation to know Him intimately.
Bezer, the fourth city means “fortress” or “stronghold.” It speaks of our protection and victory that we have in Christ. Psalm 18:2 says, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Do you know that you can’t protect yourself? You may carry a concealed weapon, hold a blackbelt in taekwondo and wear a bullet proof vest, but when it comes to the “blood avenger,” the enemy of your soul, you are no match for him. But Jesus, can become your fortress. He can not only save you, but He can keep you safe for the rest of your life and throughout eternity if you will remain in Him for refuge! Without Jesus, we are without strength. With Jesus, we are completely safe. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it, and they are safe!” (Prov. 18:10)
The fifth city, Ramoth, means “heights.” Jesus, our Refuge, the Exalted One has lifted us up with Him. Ephesians 2:6 tells us we are seated together in heavenly places with Christ Jesus. Sin will drag you down, but Christ will lift you up! And one day, we’re going as high as any person could get when we are caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
Christ lifts us up because we don’t live as those who have no hope. Hope is like helium in a balloon. It keeps us elevated. It keeps us expanded and living above the physical realm. It puts us in another dimension with a higher, heavenly perspective.
Golan, the final city, literally signifies joy. Do you remember the message the angels declared to the shepherds? “Behold, I bring you good news of GREAT JOY!” Our Refuge, Jesus, has made forgiveness of sins possible. What joy! Jesus has made fellowship with the Father and one another possible. Amazing joy! He has made the reality of heaven our reality! Unending joy! Is. 51:11 is the promise for God’s people. Listen to it. “The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” In His presence there is “fullness of joy!” (Ps. 16:11) A relationship with Jesus makes serving serving and loving people a great joy!
KEDESH — Holiness/Righteousness
SHECHEM — Shoulder
HEBRON — Fellowship
BEZER — Stronghold/Fortress
RAMOTH — Exaltation
GOLAN — Joy
What a complete Savior! In Him “all fullness dwells.”
(The next three paragraphs were taken from http://www.higherpraise.com/outlines/joshua/Josh%2020_1-9.htm)
There is an interesting story in the book of 2 Samuel. In chapter 2, we see a man named Abner, who had been Saul’s Commander-in-chief, being pursued by a man named Asahel, 2 Sam. 2:18-24. Abner tries to reason with Asahel, but Asahel continues to pursue Abner. Abner is carrying a spear and apparently, Asahel runs into the spear and dies.
Later, we find Abner at the gates of the city of Hebron. Remember, Hebron was one of the 6 cities of refuge. There, he is met by Joab, David’s Commander-in-chief. Joab is also the older brother of Asahel. Joab catches Abner at the gate of the city of refuge and kills him, to avenge the death of Asahel, 2 Sam. 3:27.
What is most striking are the comments made by King David as he mourned the death of Abner, 2 Sam. 3:32-34. It is as if David were saying, “Abner, you died like a fool! You were right there at the gates of the refuge. All you had to do was walk right in. Nobody had you tied up! You could have been saved, but you died like a fool!” Friend, don’t let that same thing happen to you!
Nobody has you tied down this morning. All you have to do is walk into the Refuge and be saved. Our Refuge, Jesus, is waiting for you!
Do you need to be saved today? Let Jesus, your Refuge, become your righteousness.
Do you need to offload your burdens? Let Jesus, your Refuge, shoulder them.
Do you need fellowship and comfort? Let Jesus, your Refuge, fellowship with you.
Do you need protection and strength? Let Jesus, your Refuge, be your fortress and stronghold.
Do you need to be lifted up today? Let Jesus, your Refuge, give you hope and perspective on the circumstances of life.
Do you need encouragement? Let Jesus, your Refuge, be your joy today.
God wants you safe. He has created a Refuge for you. I want this church to be a City of Refuge for those who are hurting. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Picture someone who is in desperate need of help. There is someone standing right next to them who has whatever it takes to help the desperate person, let’s say a dying person, but the person refuses treatment. Why hold on to burdens? Why hold on to emotional pain? Why hold on to discouragement and defeat? Why hold on to your sin? Why watch your life ebb away as the “avenger of death” comes after you? Why not let Jesus become your Refuge? Will you do it today?