The LORD also spoke to Joshua, saying,…
I. A BENEFICENT POLITICAL INSTITUTION. In ancient Greece and Rome there were asylums and shrines where the supposed sanctity of the place sheltered the blood-stained fugitive from righteous retribution; and it is probable that here, as in innumerable other instances, the pagan institution was but an imitation of the Divine. In our own country, too, there were, in former times, similar sanctuaries. But how different the copy from the pattern — the one institution how pernicious, the other how salutary! By the so-called sanctuaries all that was unsanctified was promoted, for here wilful murderers were received, who, after a short period, were permitted to go forth to repeat a like violence with a like impunity. Not thus was it with him who fled to the city of refuge. We have heard of Indian savages who, when one of their people is killed by a hostile tribe, will go out and kill the first member of that tribe whom they may meet. We have heard, too, of those who for years would cherish vindictiveness and deadly hate against some enemy. Quite opposite to any such spirit of retaliation is that which was to stimulate the Goel in his pursuit. The express command of God placed a sword in his hand which he dared not sheathe. As one entrusted with a prisoner of war, so was it, as it were, said to him, "Thy life for his if thou let him go."
II. A TYPE OF CHRIST. Each person concerned, each regulation for the direction of the various parties, each circumstance of the case finds its counterpart in the gospel antitype.
1. To begin with the unfortunate homicide himself — he represents the sinner in his guilt and danger, under the wrath of God.
2. Does any one doubt the efficacy of God's way of saving sinners? Would any one fain flee to other refuges? Ah, they are but refuges of lies.
3. Money could procure no remission; nor will riches avail "in the day of the Lord's wrath."
4. Mercy could not be shown unless the prescribed conditions were observed.
5. Up, then, and flee, thou yet unsaved one! Wait not vainly till others bear thee thither perforce. Complain not of thy God as an austere judge because He saith, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die"; but bless Him for His clemency in preparing thee a place of safety.
6. This terrible Goel — the avenger of blood — whose fatal purpose no reward, no argument, no entreaty can turn aside, is but an impersonation of the righteous anger of the Lord against the sinner.
7. That we may more fully perceive the appositeness of the illustration which the cities of refuge furnish of the person and work of the Redeemer, let us notice their position in the country — "in the midst," not in the borders, or in the corners of the land (Deuteronomy 19:2).
8. The very names of the six cities are, to say the least, in keeping with the symbolism of the subject.
9. The cities of refuge were not open to native Israelites only, but "the stranger" and "the sojourner" — in fact, "every one" among them was accepted (Numbers 35:15). Thus none is accounted an alien who, owning himself a sinner, flies to Christ.
10. There is a beautiful lesson in the fact that not only the city itself, but the very suburbs, afforded safety.
11. The isolation, the restrictions, and the privations experienced by him who was confined within the city of refuge may be compared to the separation of the Christian from the world and the things of the world; but what, after all, are temporary trials, if the precious life be spared?
12. We have spoken of the danger of delay in seeking the refuge. Let us earnestly bear in mind the danger of the opposite kind, namely, of afterwards quitting the safe retreat.
13. At the death of the high priest the manslayer was set free.
14. Before the homicide could be received as a permanent inmate of the city of refuge, a trial was appointed. If he was acquitted, he was admitted there; but if condemned as a designing murderer, he was given up to the avenger for summary execution. This condemnation may be read in two ways.It suggests —
1. A blessed contrast. We have been tried, and found guilty. Our sins are of crimson dye. Yet the door of mercy stands still open; nay, more, it is the full admission of our guilt, and not the profession of our innocence, that is the condition of our entrance thereat.
2. A solemn comparison. Though it be so, that for all sin there is a pardon, yet the Scripture speaks of "a sin that is unto death." The case of a deliberate murderer, in contradistinction to an unwitting manslayer, illustrates that of one whose sins are not the sins of ignorance, but presumptuous sins, namely, who has deliberately and persistently sinned against light and knowledge. From this depth of wickedness, for which no city of refuge is provided, and for which there is no forgiveness, either in this world or the next, the Lord graciously preserve us!
(G. W. Butler, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying,