The LORD also spoke to Joshua, saying,…
I. Let us, then, look at THE PEOPLE WHO DWELT IN THEM Who were they? They were not exclusively rich people, nor were they exclusively poor. Poverty or wealth was no title to a residence there. Nor were they even educated people, or illiterate people. Some other plea than these must be urged in order to get an entrance there. They were guilty people. Upon their hands must be the mark of their foul sin. They must be avowed man-slayers, or else the gates were closed against them, and admission refused. I think I hear the Pharisee reply something like this: "I am a religious man — a respectable man. This is a religious city established by God, kept by His priests — the peculiar care of Jehovah. There is a certain fitness between that city and myself. I mean to enter there, because I think it is a good thing to dwell in such a place." But they speak to him and say, "Sir, you have made a mistake. Let us ask you one question — Have you ever done any harm?" He looks at them, amazed at the question. "Done any harm? No, sirs, mine has been a blameless life. Taken the life of another? Why, I would not hurt a fly." "Then, sir," they say to him, "this city cannot be your dwelling-place. It, with all its privileges, is for the man-slayer." Ah, sinner, now I know why you are not saved. You are not guilty: you do not believe it. But let me point out to you another mark of these people who dwelt in the cities. They were something more than guilty: they were conscious of their danger. They had found out that they had slain a man. They knew the penalty of the law: they believed it. They did not dare to doubt it, and they fled for their very lives. Sinner, would to God that we could get you to flee for your life! Oh, sinner, to-night you see it not, but there behind you is the keen, two-edged sword of that law that you have broken — that law that you have defied. It is very near to you. God says, "Fly, fly for thy life to the city of refuge." And you — what are you doing? Why, you do not even hear the voice of God. You have no consciousness of your danger. One other word about these people: they were responsible, absolutely responsible, for their own safety. I think I see that man again. We have watched him, and we have spoken to him; he left us and ran; but we say to each other now, "What is the matter? Our friend has stopped running. Look! He is sitting down by the road-side, and from that wallet behind his back, which we did not see before, he has taken out some bread. He is eating it leisurely, quietly. He must have made a mistake. Surely, the avenger of blood cannot be after him. Surely he cannot be guilty." We go up to him and we say, "Friend, you told us just now that you were flying from the avenger of blood. How is it that you are taking your ease?" "Well," he says, "the fact is I have been thinking over the matter, and I have changed my mind. Quite true, I have done wrong; quite true, I have taken a life; quite true, the avenger of blood is after me. But look here, sir. The logic of the matter is this: if I am to be saved I shall be saved." "What folly! You may be saved if you flee; but, as God liveth, unless you get within its walls you never will be saved."
II. LOOK TO SOME REMARKABLE POINTS ABOUT THE CITIES OF REFUGE THEMSELVES. Well, the point that strikes us, and which shows forth Jesus Christ and His willingness and power to save, is this: these cities were all easy of access. God took all the difficulties out of the way.
1. They were all upon the level plain. If you read chapter 20., and take the map, as I have done, and look at the land, you will be struck with this, that not one of them was built upon a mountain. What does it mean? Why, it means that an anxious and fleeing man — fleeing for his life — must have no weary mountain to travel up. There, upon the level plain, is the city whose welcome walls invite him for refuge. You have no hill of experience or of works or deeds to climb up. And then observe another fact about them, proving the ease of access which God had arranged for them.
2. If you were to look at the land of Palestine you would observe that it is divided nearly longitudinally — that is, from north to south — by a river at times broad and wide and deep, and with a mighty current — the river Jordan, Now, we will suppose that God had put the cities of refuge, we will say, on the other side. Here comes a poor man-slayer; he is flying for his life, and he reaches Jordan. There is no bridge; he has no boat; he cannot swim; and yet there within sight of him is the welcome city. "Oh," he says in his bitter despair, "God's promise has brought me so far only to mock me." But no, God arranges otherwise. God said, "Let there be six cities, three on each side of the river; one north, one in the middle, one in the south, on one side; one in the south, one in the middle, one on the north on the other side." What does it mean? Why, it means this, that wherever there could be a poor, guilty man-slayer there was a city of refuge. Oh, "The Word is nigh thee," &c.
3. May I add, too, that the gates were always open. Eighteen hundred years have the gates been open. Man's infidelity and opposition have never closed the gates.
4. Observe, too, about these cities, that they were all well known. That was of the very greatest importance. God ordained that there should be six. Their names were given. I think the mothers of Israel must have taught their little children those six names by heart. It would never do that by and by their child should be in danger, and know not where to escape. We are told by Josephus that where cross-roads met there were always finger-posts established, having these words, "To the city of refuge." And I often think that persons like myself, or even the most distinguished ministers of Christ, cannot save a soul, but they may be fingerposts pointing clearly to Jesus, and saying in life and ministry and deed, "To the city of refuge." Let me point out to you another fact of great importance about these cities — the most important fact of all, without which all other facts would be useless. Within these walls was perfect safety. God had said it: Jehovah's word was staked to it. Perfect safety. God's honour was at stake. Every man who fled inside that city should be saved.
(J. T. Barnardo.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying,