"How sweet the NAME of Jesus sounds
First City -- Kedesh.
If you look far north in the map of Palestine above the lake of Merom, near the snowy peaks of mount Hermon and Lebanon, you will see where this Refuge-city lies. Recent travellers describe its ruins as still standing on a rocky ridge in the midst of green hills, surrounded with the remains of forts and castles built by the Crusaders in the middle ages. It was situated within the tribe of Naphtali, and must have been it great town at the time when the old warrior Barak, who was born within its walls, marched from its gates to meet Sisera in the plain below with his nine hundred chariots of iron.
What does its name tell of Christ?
The Hebrew word KEDESH signifies "Holy." Jesus was "The Holy One." Not one stain of sin polluted His holy human nature. Angels in heaven, as they cast their crowns at His feet, cry, "Holy! holy! holy!" Devils on earth were compelled to exclaim, "We know thee who thou art, the HOLY ONE of God." Jewish priests, as they spake of Him of old by types, took "a lamb without blemish." Jewish prophets, as they spake of Him in their predictions, called Him "The Righteous (or HOLY) Branch." Apostles, as they wrote about Him, said "He was HOLY, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." When He was Himself on earth, He could challenge His bitterest foes, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" And when He came down, soon after His ascension, from His throne in the skies, we find Him proclaiming as His name, "He that is HOLY, He that is True!"
Reader, remember this. Jesus never could have saved you unless He had been "glorious in holiness." If He had had one sin in Him, you and I must have been lost for ever. Just as one leak in Noah's ark of old would have sunk it, so one leak of sin in Jesus, the true Ark, would have plunged us all in the depths of eternal despair. Let us, then, love often to walk round the walls of KEDESH, and think of our "City of Refuge" as "The HOLY Child Jesus."
And when you ponder His holiness, seek to be holy, as He was. How He hated sin! How He loved to do His heavenly Father's will! How gentle, and good, and kind He was to all! He never was angry, or passionate, or revengeful. When a youth, at His early home in Nazareth, "He increased in favour with God and man." Be like Jesus in His holiness! Let KEDESH be a word written on your young hearts! Whenever you are in trouble or difficulty, or temptation, always ask, "How would the HOLY JESUS have acted here?" Turn the words of your well-known hymn into a prayer. While you say --
"I love the NAME of Jesus,
seek also to add --
"I long to be like Jesus,
Second City -- Shechem.
Shechem was situated at the extremity of a valley among the hills of Ephraim. The famous mountains of Ebal and Gerizim rose on either side, from the slopes of which the blessings and the curses of the law were proclaimed in the ears of assembled Israel. If Jerusalem was the greatest and the grandest of the cities of Palestine, Shechem was perhaps the most beautiful. It is still spoken of by travellers as one of the loveliest spots in the Holy Land, with its orchards of olive, fig, and pomegranate, and its flocks of singing-birds, which have made the inhabitants give to the graceful slope on which it looks down, the name of the "Musical Valley." I don't know if the streets in the olden time resembled what they are now. The following is the recent description of a traveller familiar with them: -- "The streets are narrow and vaulted over, and in the winter time it is difficult to pass along many of them on account of brooks, which rush over the pavement with deafening roar.... It has mulberry, orange, pomegranate, and other trees mingled in with the houses, whose odoriferous flowers load the air with delicious perfume during the months of April and May." You do not require to be told that Shechem is a very ancient city, and that many interesting events in sacred story took place in connexion with it. The earliest mention made of it is when the patriarch Abraham slept under its oaks, (the Terebinths of Moreh,) when he came to Canaan from distant Chaldea, and erected his first altar under their shade; and one of the last Bible notices regarding it, is in connexion with the woman of Samaria, when Jesus sat with her at "the well of Sychar," and spoke to her of the better fountain, "springing up to everlasting life."
What does the name SHECHEM tell of Christ?
It is a word which means "SHOULDER."
Jesus, our Refuge, bore a guilty world upon His shoulder. The ancients had a fabled Atlas, who was supposed to carry the earth on his shoulders. Jesus Christ is the true ATLAS. "Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows!" All the sins of all His people Jesus bore for ever away. Think of that heavy load which bowed Him down to the ground in the garden of Gethsemane, and caused drops of blood to fall from His brow! No other one but Jesus could have carried such an awful load and burden as this. No angel or archangel could have done so. Jesus, being God, was alone "able to save unto the uttermost." He is the only "sure foundation" that could sustain all the building. With any other, it would have fallen into a mass of ruins.
But I love not only to visit the old city of Shechem, and to think of Jesus bearing the guilt of His people on His shoulders, but I like to think of Him as the true SHECHEM now. He is our Shechem at God's right hand. "The government is upon His SHOULDER." The Church and the world are upheld by Him. Believers -- the poorest, the weakest, the humblest -- are on the shoulders of Jesus. He is bearing the weight of them all; loving them all, attending to them all, interceding for them all. All that befalls me, Jesus orders. Food and raiment, health and strength, friends and home, are gifts from Him. Every tear I shed, He knows it, He appoints it. If he sends me sorrow and trial, I will go and enter the gates of this city SHECHEM, and remember, "Jesus (Jesus, who died for me) bears me on his shoulder!"
Moses speaks of God conducting the children of Israel through the wilderness of old as a kind father carries on his shoulder his weak and weary child. "Thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son." And David says in an hour of trouble, "I am poor and needy, yet the Lord (lit) carries me on his heart."
I like to look at that New Testament picture -- Jesus, the good Shepherd, carrying a bleating sheep or lamb back on His shoulder to the fold. That poor wanderer had gone astray on the dark mountains; but the great and gracious Shepherd had gone after it "until He found it; and when He had found it, He laid it on His SHOULDERS, rejoicing."
Young reader, what perfect security and safety you have in Jesus, and in His Gospel City! Far, far more so than the manslayer had of old in his. I daresay, even although he was delivered from the Avenger, the Hebrew refugee could not help at times dreading lest the other might come upon him secretly. I daresay, at night, on his lonely couch, he would sometimes dream of the Goel stealing beside his pillow, and he would start from his unquiet sleep at the scaring vision. Not so in the case of those who have fled to the "Gospel Refuge." They can say in sweet confidence, "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep; because thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety." He who is their "Keeper" says of them, "They shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand."
Third City -- Hebron.
Hebron is the most ancient of all the cities of Canaan. It was as old, if not older, than Damascus, and was built seven years before Zoar in Egypt. After wandering about from place to place in the land of promise, pitching their tents and altars, it was here the patriarchs had, for the first time, a settled home. We need not wonder at their selection of the old Canaanite city, on the peaceful slope of the southern hills, nestling amid olive-groves and terebinths, and looking down on one of the most fertile valleys in Palestine, with its orchards and corn-fields. On its eastern height is the spot which gives it to this day perhaps its most sacred interest -- the cave of Machpelah, where the dust of the patriarchs has reposed for four thousand years. It must have been outside its walls that the angels appeared to Abraham, when he was seated at his tent door. The adjoining height is pointed out as the place from which the patriarch saw the smoke of burning Sodom rising from its own deep valley. It was in Hebron David was anointed king over Israel. It was amid its vineyards and mountain-slopes that John the Baptist grew up as a little boy, before he appeared in the wilderness of Judea, to tell of One mightier than he, "whose shoe-latchet" he was "not worthy to unloose."
What does the name HEBRON tell of Christ?
In Hebrew it means "fellowship," "society," "friendship." JESUS has brought guilty man into fellowship with God. On account of sin we had forfeited this fellowship. We had made God not our friend, but our enemy. We were cut off from communion with all that is holy and happy. Angels, in their errands of mercy through the universe, passed by our world; they could hold no intercourse with those who had rebelled against their Creator. Can none bridge this wide gulf which separates between earth and heaven? Can no ladder be let down by which happy angels can descend once more on their visits of love, and fallen man once more be raised up to hold "fellowship" with God and holy creatures?
JESUS is the true HEBRON -- the true ladder of Jacob let down from heaven and reaching to earth. Jesus has "reconciled things on earth and things in heaven," He hath "raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places." We who were once "afar off" have been "brought nigh by the blood of Christ."
I trust many who read this will love often to visit in thought the old city of the patriarchs, and to dwell on its name and meaning, "fellowship." Think of what you would have been without Jesus, your Hebron-City of Refuge, -- a poor outcast in creation, an alien from all that is holy and happy. But by Jesus all is changed. God is your Father -- Christ is your elder Brother. In Him, God loves you, -- angels visit you, -- the Holy Spirit teaches you, -- heaven is open for you. You are enrolled as a citizen of the great Hebron above -- "the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Christ has made you to be members of the great heavenly family; so that the little child who loves Jesus, is brother or sister to the archangel before the throne! You may be deprived of human friendship and fellowship. The brother or sister, the father or mother, or friend you once dearly loved, may be laid in some earthly Machpelah -- some silent grave. But rejoice! nothing can separate you from a better friend and more lasting fellowship. Though all earthly joys were to perish, you can always rush within the gates of that mighty Hebron of refuge, and say, "Truly our 'FELLOWSHIP' is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ."
"Earthly friends may pain and grieve me,
Fourth City -- Bezer.
BEZER was situated beyond the Jordan, in the tribe of Reuben. Although its precise site has not been discovered, we may infer that it was perched on one of the many rocky heights among the mountains of Abarim, -- perhaps a spur of the great mount Nebo, from whose summit Moses was permitted, before death, to get a view of the Land of Promise. The northern portion of the waters of the Dead Sea would be seen from it, and the pastoral mountains of Judah in the distance. From its name, as well as from its being a border town, and subject to attack from the warlike tribe of Moab, Bezer would probably be strongly fortified, -- similar, perhaps, in this respect to the towns in the neighbourhood, with which the Israelites were so struck on their first approach to Canaan, with "their walls great and high, reaching to heaven."
What does the name BEZER tell of Christ?
It literally means "stronghold," or Rock. Jesus is the believer's BEZER. The sinner is in danger everywhere else, but in Jesus he is safe. He is invited to "turn to the STRONGHOLD" as a "prisoner of hope," and once within its gates, "though an host encamp against him," he need "fear no evil."
What a mighty force does encamp against him! There is God's Holy Law, with all its terrible threatenings and curses. But sheltered in the true BEZER he can triumphantly say, "It is God that justifieth: who is he that condemneth?"
There is Satan, with his artful wiles and countless temptations. He was once a bright angel himself. He knows what holiness and happiness are. But being now a wicked spirit, he would make others as wicked and unhappy as himself. He is spoken of in the Bible as "a strong man armed." But Jesus is "stronger" than this strong man. If you have fled for refuge to this great gospel Bezer, seated within its secure bulwarks you can joyfully exclaim, "I will say of the Lord, He is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whose I will put my trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower."
There is your own Wicked Heart, with its sinful thoughts, and vain imaginations, and deep corruptions -- for a man's worst foes are often those of his own household. One of these heart-foes will tempt you to tell a lie; another to swear; another to be dishonest; another to be selfish; another to be passionate; another to be unkind. But He that is for you, is greater than they that are against you. Safer than in any earthly castle, you can take up your warrior-song, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe."
There are the Trials and Sorrows and Distresses of this world, -- those things that cause sad hearts and tearful eyes. But that blessed Saviour -- your Rock and Stronghold -- "knows your sorrows," for He felt them. He marks your tears, for He shed the same himself. Fleeing to this true BEZER in the time of affliction, you can dry your tears and sing, "God also will be a refuge for the distressed, a refuge in the time of trouble; and they that know thy name shall put their trust in thee."
And there is Death, the last enemy of all. But even over this King of terrors and Terror of kings, you can shout in triumph from your Divine shelter, "O death, where is thy sting?... Thanks be to God, who giveth me the victory through the Lord Jesus Christ."
And Jesus is a Stronghold for all. I have already spoken of the little children of old rushing to its gates, -- infants smiling fearless in the Saviour's arms. He combines the majesty of Deity with the tenderness of man. If He had been the great God alone, you might have been awed at the thought of going to Him. But what says the prophet Isaiah of this true BEZER? -- "A MAN shall be as a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest." He Himself says in another scripture, "I will turn mine hand upon the little ones."
In one of the great strongholds that were besieged in our last Indian rebellion, the Christian mothers were wont to hush their infants asleep by singing, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." My young friends, "as one whom his mother comforteth," so is God willing to "comfort you;" and here is His word of comfort: "The Lord is good, a STRONGHOLD in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him." In the old Cities of Refuge no weapons of any kind were allowed to be made. Those who possessed them had to surrender them. This is true in a nobler and better sense regarding the Gospel Stronghold. There can be no deadly weapons forged there. Their edge is blunted: "There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." Satan's armoury has been plundered; the "Stronger than he" has "taken from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divided the spoil."
I have said that the word BEZER means "Rock" as well as "stronghold." "Trust in the Lord for ever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength," or, (marginal reading,) "THE ROCK OF AGES." May you not well say, with your eye on this glorious "Refuge" --
"Dear NAME, the ROCK on which I build,
"ROCK of Ages, cleft for me,
Fifth City -- Ramoth.
RAMOTH was situated in Gilead, within the tribe of Gad, and somewhere near the banks of the brook Jabbok, where, you know, Jacob wrestled in prayer with the angel. It must have occupied a commanding position among the beautifully-wooded glens of Gilead, and, like Bezer, been strongly fortified. We infer this latter from the many sieges it had undergone. Being not only, like the other, a border town of Palestine, but situated in the direct route taken by the invading Syrian armies, it must have been constantly exposed to hostile attacks.
You can think of Ramoth, then, among the hills and slopes on the other side of the Jordan, with their forests of native oak, which the famous "bulls of Bashan" (herds of wild cattle) roamed at large; while more peaceful flocks browsed on the meadows which fringed the mountain-streams.
What does the name RAMOTH tell us regarding Christ?
Ramoth literally means EXALTATION. Jesus is the true Ramoth; He is "exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour!" He was once lowly, despised, rejected, crucified, slain. He compares Himself to a poor outcast and exile amid these forests of Gilead: "Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion." But having been exalted on the cross as a suffering Saviour, He is now exalted on the throne as a glorious King. "God hath highly EXALTED Him;" -- angels exalt Him -- seraphs adore Him -- saints praise Him -- the Church on earth magnifies Him -- the Church redeemed in heaven will magnify and exalt Him for ever and ever!
Young reader, delight often to walk around the walls of Ramoth, and think of Jesus "exalted at God's right hand." He is there pleading your cause. Though exalted, He has not forgotten the lowliest or humblest of His people. He is the Greatest of all Beings, but He is the Kindest of all too. The first time after His exaltation when He came down to earth to speak to the aged apostle John, John wondered if the glories of heaven had altered His love and tenderness. He remembered how often before he used to lean on His bosom. When he looked, however, now, upon the glorious Being that stood before him in His lustrous garment, with "His eyes like a flame of fire," "he fell down at His feet like one dead." But the same gentle hand touched him, the same gentle voice he was wont to hear so often in past years, said to him, "Fear not!" How sweet for us to think that we have exalted on the highest throne of the universe an unchanged and unchanging Saviour, an ever-living, never-dying Friend.
"Though now ascended up on high,
JESUS is exalted in heaven, and exalted by all the glorious family of heaven. But, alas! there is one place where He is often not exalted, but rather cast down, and that is the human heart. That heart has been too truly compared to the inn of Bethlehem, where there was room for every guest but the Lord of glory! Ye of tender years, whom Christ loved so much on earth -- whom He fondled in His arms of mercy; see that it is not so with you. "My son," He says, "give me thine heart." See that He is enthroned there as Lord of all. Exalt Him in everything: in your thoughts, in your words, in your deeds. Welcome Him, as the children of the temple welcomed Him to Jerusalem of old. Take up their song, and sing, "Hosannah to the Son of David! hosannah in the highest!"
"When, His salvation bringing,
"And since the Lord retaineth
Sixth City -- Golan.
GOLAN was situated in Bashan, in the tribe of Manasseh, among the pastoral hills north of the lake of Gennesaret. It formed the most northerly Refuge-Sanctuary on the east side of Jordan, as Kedesh did on the west; but there are no particular events connected with it in Bible story.
What does the name of this last City of Refuge tell us regarding Jesus?
Golan literally signifies Joy. Jesus is truly the Golan of His people; they may have many others, but He is their "chief joy!" Well may they call Him GOLAN; for not one joy could have ever visited them had it not been for Him. The world would have been to them, from first to last, a "valley of Baca," (weeping,) had not Jesus died for their sins, and saved their souls. Well might the angel say, when he came to the plains of Bethlehem to announce the Saviour's birth, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of GREAT JOY!"
There is not one step the Christian takes but Jesus is GOLAN to him -- "joy." He is straying, a lost sheep on the dark mountains, in search of peace: Jesus meets him, and says, "Your sins are all forgiven you;" -- he is joyful at that. He is wandering a prodigal from his Father's house: Jesus brings him to his lost home, and calls him His own child; and he is joyful at that. He has to travel a long and dreary journey ere he reaches his true home in heaven: Jesus gives him His arm to lean upon; and he "goes on his way rejoicing." He has many fiery trials to try him: Jesus tells him not to think these "strange," but rather to "rejoice," inasmuch as He is "partaker with him in his sufferings." He has, at last, to walk through the dark Valley: Jesus meets him there, and supports him there. He sees "the King in His beauty," and the land that is yet "afar off;" and, believing, "he rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory." When Jesus beholds him from His throne in judgment, what are to be His blessed words of welcome? "Enter ye into the JOY of your Lord." And when, as a ransomed one, he enters the streets of the New Jerusalem, at whose feet is it that he is to cast, through all eternity, his crown? "In thy presence," O Saviour God, is "fullness of JOY!"
Young reader, love often to gaze on the walls of this City of Refuge. The sacred writer, in giving the list of these six cities, seems to have kept it to the last because it is a happy word, and speaks of the happy prospects of all those that love the Lord Jesus. Believe me, there is no true joy but in God. The joy of the wicked is like that of a noisy stream -- noisy because it is shallow. The joy, on the other hand, which Jesus gives, is like a great river, -- deep, calm, ever-flowing, overflowing; -- not full in winter and dry in summer, but full, and clear, and refreshing all the year long. It may be always truly said of Jesus, the great Gospel Refuge, and of those who have fled to Him, what was said of old about Samaria, "There was great JOY in that CITY." It was the object of all that Christ did and said on earth to give you this joy. "These things have I spoken unto you," says He, "that my JOY might remain in you, and that your JOY might be full." Love Him now, and serve Him now and follow Him now, that you may come at last to the true Golan, in His glorious presence above, and "REJOICE evermore!"
"Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
"Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared,
"'Tis strung, and tuned, for endless years,