TEXT: THE BOOK OF NUMBERS 35:2, 6, 11-29, 31-34; Joshua 20
By now, I think most of us are familiar with the term “Sanctuary Cities”, in communities which openly pledged a place where undocumented immigrants may be safe without fear of apprehension and deportation by federal officers. There are even “Sanctuary Churches” that have been established in our communities.
I’ve listened to Christians and non-Christians alike, who claim that they were inspired by or heard from others that the ancient “cities of refuge” found in the Bible substantiate their support. Supporters argue biblical precedent for sanctuary cities. As Vogue magazine puts it, “Now approximately 300 American cities are carrying the torch first lit by those sacred altars.”
So are today’s “sanctuary cities” a modern biblical expression of the Bible’s “cities of refuge?” No, not even close!
HISTORY (Numbers 35) –
Just before Israel entered the land of Canaan, God told Moses to choose 48 cities for the Levites’ priestly tribe (Num. 35:7), since they would have no land while all the other tribes did have land, but each of the tribes would supply a place for them.
Though the TEMPLE be in Jerusalem only, the LEVITES would be everywhere to minister the Word of God to the people.
SIX OF THOSE DESIGNATED CITIES would be CITIES of REFUGE. Three on the east side of the Jordan River and three on the west side of the Jordan River. They were designed for the people who accidentally MURDERED someone–to save them from being killed by kin of the murdered victim. They would then live in the city of refuge until the trial where they would stand and be judged. If a man intentionally killed another, he then could reside in the city, but at trial be charged “GUILTY” and worthy of death by the avenger.
But if a man unintentionally killed a person, after the trial, when he was proclaimed innocent, the man could live in the city of refuge and remain there. If he went out of the city of refuge, he would risk being killed by the avenger. The avenger wouldn’t be judged because the “murderer”, though innocent, should have stayed in the city of refuge. And he would have to live in that city of refuge until the High Priest died. When the High Priest died, he was free to leave the city and was free of his GUILT. The AVENGER had to respect the fact that the man was innocent of all that he committed.
REASONING FOR LAW – BLOOD defiles the land.
The KILLER, even though innocent, couldn’t return to his land UNLESS the DEBT of Murder was paid even though it was a mistake that the DEATH occurred. There could be no “satisfaction”, or ransom money paid from some kind of ‘trust fund’, to free the man from guilt. The only thing that could free the man from GUILT was the death of the murderer. The BLOOD of the murderer alone cleansed the land of the BLOOD of the victim. But when the High Priest died, the man could return to the land.
The DEATH of the High Priest REDEEMED a man from guilt, freed him from the debt to pay for by his own blood.
The Picture of the High Priest Dying is Significant –
Instead of the unintentional murderer, a perfect picture of JESUS, the Great High Priest dying on the Cross instead of us.
The wonderful thing is all of this is that our own High Priest died and then rose again from the dead. And the unintentional murderer could return to the land where his home is.
And the Bible said that this land where his home was, is also the land where the LORD dwelt. [Come on!]
Notice the idea presented here of returning to the place of home, or his possession – Numbers 35:28 (AMP)
 Because the manslayer should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the high priest’s death, the manslayer shall return to the land of his possession.
God gave the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis for the land of our possession. But our SIN drove out, and the only thing that would pay for the crime is our own blood. That meant our own deaths.
No other means would PAY for our SIN other than our own blood. But what good would that do for us? We couldn’t enjoy the land again for we would be dead!
Numbers 35:31 (AMP)
 Moreover, you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer guilty of death; but he shall surely be put to death.
Numbers 35:33 (NIV)
 “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.”
No other “satisfaction” (KJV) or ransom money or ransom payment of any kind would do. The only other recourse was death by the high priest (Numbers 35:22). That meant if no other payment besides his death could remove the GUILT OF BLOOD IN THE LAND, and…the high priest’s death accomplished the same thing, then the BLOOD of the high priest was as good as the BLOOD of the slayer.
A Time for Notable Comparisons–
The Cities of Refuge references in our Bible, first of all, were LEGAL–Sanctuary Cities are not!
Cities of Refuge were authorized under the Mosaic code to serve as part of Israel’s justice system–Sanctuary Cities, in contrast, are ILLEGAL and outside the justice system altogether and do not exist to protect due process. They exist to enable the GUILTY to escape punishment altogether. The mere presence of an illegal alien on American soil is an illegal, criminal act subject to proper law enforcement.
Those, no matter how well-meaning they are, who help others avoiding the LEGAL consequences of criminal conduct, are subverting the system of justice by not cooperating with it.
- A City of Refuge worked with law enforcement.
- A Sanctuary City works against it.
- A City of Refuge served to guarantee that a man had his day in court.
- A Sanctuary City works to prevent the accused from ever facing a day in court.
- A City of Refuge existed to ensure that every man received a fair trial.
- A Sanctuary City exists to enable a man to avoid a fair trial altogether.
As you can clearly see by the above comparison there is no similarity supported by the Bible.
BIBLE APPLICATION: Hebrews 6:18-20 (ESV)
HEBREWS 6, in the New Testament, mentions the fleeing for refuge, which brings us back into the picture the LAW of the City of Refuge has for the manslayer.
But it mentions something else–the elements from a totally separate LAW in the above verses (Heb. 6:18-20).
The Law of Atonement and the Law of the Cities of Refuge.
ASPECT OF THE VEIL (“curtain”) –
The Day of Atonement had a High Priest enter the holiest; the VEIL, where God’s presence dwelt, so long as he had the BLOOD of a spotless LAMB.
Now putting both aspects together, you have a man out of his home where God dwells, but meeting DEATH should he try due to his SIN not having been paid for. And the only way he can return is when the high priest dies removing his SIN and cleanses the land.
And we have THE HIGH PRIEST, carrying BLOOD past the VEIL into the holiest where God dwells, removing SIN.
Put the two together and you have a picture of returning to the Garden of Eden where Man and God dwelt together in the Garden.
But Man’s sin DEFILED the land and he was driven out (Genesis 3:24).
So the Garden Story brings together the elements of the CITY OF REFUGE LAW AND THE VEIL ASPECT OF THE DAY OF ATONEMENT.
- MAN became a prisoner outside of his true home, and one who is confined from his home is a PRISONER.
BUT GOD HAD A PLAN!
And that PLAN provided MAN, not just any prisoner, but a prisoner of HOPE!
A man couldn’t return, for he would have died to try. There standing at the entrance to the Garden was a flaming sword. Just like the avenger of blood, the flaming sword was there to kill him should he return home.
But one day, in the future, since Adam was driven from home, there was going to be a High Priest that was to die. And that DEATH allows the SINNER to return to home.
So ADAM waited as a PRISONER OF HOPE for centuries, UNTIL…THE HIGH PRIEST JESUS CHRIST CAME AND DIED…AND MAN COULD RETURN HOME AGAIN.
EDEN means PARADISE or HEAVEN in English.
The Apostle John saw HEAVEN opened and he saw what occurs in Heaven, the true Holiest of Holies:
Revelation 5:6 (KJV) –
And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a LAMB as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
Revelation 5:8-9 (KJV) –
 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints.
 And they sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.
THE LAMB is the HIGH PRIEST, as well. His death REDEEMED us ALL to God.
Why Are Two Old Testament Stories Involved In This Story?
The only flaw I see with the Old Testament picture of the HIGH PRIEST was that you couldn’t find a man who could be killed and bring his BLOOD into the Holiest of Holies showing that the SINNER’S BLOOD could be paid for by the High Priest’s own blood.
And in another picture, the DEATH of the High Priest allows the slayer to return home.
Put them together, the High Priest, JESUS, dies, and takes His own BLOOD into Heaven to pay for our SIN, and allows us to go to our eternal home into HEAVEN, behind Him.
And that’s what Hebrews 6 said.
Isn’t it wonderful when all is said and done, God looks at us as PRISONERS away from home, but not only PRISONERS BUT PRISONERS OF HOPE!
CREDITS & SOURCES –
The American Family Radio (AFA); “Sanctuary Cities…Cities of Refuge” – March 27, 2017.
Photos: Google Image Search – Settings, Advance search…
Bible Translations used: Amplified Bible (AMP); English Standard Version (ESV); New International Version (NIV); King James Bible (KJV).
Bible Dictionary: Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.