Welcome to Expound, our verse-by-verse study of God's word. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God by explaining the word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
I want to share with you from God's word, which by now you're used to that. You know that I'm going to do that. And what we did last time when we were together is we were going through the Book of Joshua. And last time we were together, we covered four chapters of that book.
And what I'm going to do tonight is go back over a little section of one chapter in particular, and that is Chapter 20. And there's only nine verses in it, and chances are I'm only going to read seven of those nine verses. So it's a short little section. But I want to show you what I think is an appropriate meditation before we take the Lord's Supper.
Now 2,000 years ago, our Lord Jesus Christ sat in an upper room with his friends. We call them the Apostles or the disciples. And there he shared a meal with them, the Passover meal, the traditional Jewish celebration of liberation from slavery. And over that meal he broke bread, and he took the cup of wine and he said, do this. Take this. Drink this. Eat this. And do it often in remembrance of me.
I've always been drawn to the fact that Jesus gave that as something to remember him by. He never said, build me a mausoleum. He never said, make me a monument. He never said, walk up to a mountain for a pilgrimage. He just said, let's have a meal. Make the meal together the reminder of what I have done for you in freeing you from sin by my death on the cross. We'll make the Passover meal, and the celebration together over these elements, how you remember me.
So he took an old meal and gave it new meaning. And that's what the Lord's Supper is all about. It was a priority in the early church. Do you remember that? You remember in Acts Chapter 2 that little priority list that is given? It says they gave themselves to the Apostles' doctrine or they committed themselves to the Apostles' doctrine, the breaking of bread, fellowship and prayer.
And so we want to make it a priority. And we do. Once a month we have the Lord's Supper together. We encourage you to do it. You can do it every day in your homes with your families. You can do it every week in your Connect groups. Jesus said, do it often in remembrance of me. And it was a priority in the early church.
What was also a priority is what we do every week. We open our Bibles and we read the word, the Apostles' doctrine. But we're in the Book of Joshua, so technically it's not the Apostles' doctrine. But we're reading from the Bible that Jesus would have read from and the Apostles would have read from.
Now in the book of Joshua, we have learned something. When Joshua gave the tribes their portion of land, there was one tribe that did not get their own huge section of land. And what tribe was that? The Levites. The Levites were not given land. They were given cities. They were given-- we found out in the very next chapter, Chapter 21-- 48 cities scattered throughout all of the tribes of Israel, 48 cities that were called Levitical cities. That's where the Levites hung out within all the tribes of Israel.
So you've got 12 tribes. You've got 48 cities. Four cities per tribe had Levitical cities within them.
Now of those cities, there were six special cities that were called cities of refuge. What is a city of refuge? A city of refuge was a city for political asylum. If somebody committed a murder accidentally, they would run to the city of refuge for a fair trial. That's where they were kept so that nobody could do them any kind of harm. If they unintentionally killed somebody, they would flee. They would run to a city of refuge.
Now those six cities, there were three on the western side of the Jordan River and three on the-- are you with me? Three on the western side and three on the eastern side. I love to hear your voice. Just shout it out. Three on the western side and three on the-- I love that. Thank you.
OK. So on the western side, up north in Galilee, there was a city. Down in the middle of the land was a city. And way down south in Hebron, the area of Judah, was another city. And then that mirrored on the eastern side of the Jordan River.
Now in Verse One of Chapter 20 of Joshua, I'll read just a few verses.
"The Lord also spoke to Joshua, saying speak to the children of Israel, saying, appoint for yourselves cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the slayer who kills a person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there. And they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood. And when he flees to one of those cities and stands at the entrance of the gate of the city and declares his case in the hearing of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city as one of them and give him a place that he may dwell among them."
So this city of political asylum was for a person who did something like a killing unintentionally. It was a place they could go for a fair trial. The trial was done by Levites. They're the ones who occupy the city, so it's people associated with the priesthood, people who know the laws of God, people whose whole ministry life was surrounding the ministry of God. The Levites were the one who would hear the case and be the judges so they could get a fair trial. People would flee there for a fair trial.
Also, a second reason. To assuage or restrain the passions of an interesting individual, here called the Avenger of Blood. The Avenger of Blood. Now we read more about him in the next two verses.
"Then, if the Avenger of Blood pursues him, they shall not deliver the slayer into his hand because he struck his neighbor unintentionally but did not hate him beforehand." It was not premeditated murder.
"And he will dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the one who was the high priest in those days. Then the slayer may return and come to his own city and his own house, to the city from which he fled."
Now that person, called the Avenger of Blood, let me tell you about him, because most of you perhaps are thinking, man, Avenger of Blood. That sounds like a position in the Mafia. It sounds like The Godfather telling Michael Corleone to just settle all family matters, if you remember that scene in that old movie, The "I want you to settle all the matters in the family." And he went and he did that. And we think that's what an Avenger of Blood.
But here's what the word means, and some of you have heard this term. The Hebrew word is Goel. Goel. You've heard me talk about the Goel. The Goel literally means a kinsman redeemer, a kinsman redeemer. A Goel, translated here, an Avenger of Blood.
Why? Because that was one of the duties of the kinsman redeemer, the Goel. You see, a Goel was somebody related to a family member, part of the family, but not like the Mafia family. And he had a couple of different roles.
Number one, if there was land that was lost because the family became poor and it got taken over by somebody else, he could buy it back, redeem it back for the family. If there was a person who, because of poverty, became a slave, the Goel, the kinsman redeemer, could buy that person back, redeem that person. Kinsman redeemer buying that person back out of slavery.
If there was a man who died and left his wife without any children-- hence his family name would not be perpetuated-- his brother, if was suitable and willing, could marry that woman, and the family name, the brother's lineage, would continue. That was the job of the Goel.
But also, if somebody was killed in a family, then, to mete out justice-- because there were no prisons in those days. There were no law courts like we have, and I would say thankfully, because usually people have to wait like five six years for a trial-- it was done immediately.
And so an avenger of blood would be, after pursuing that person-- now if the person was found guilty of manslaughter, first degree murder, it would be the job of the Goel to be the executioner of the person who was found guilty. So if he was found guilty by the Levites, stood trial, then the Avenger of Blood would end his life.
Now I'm going to skip the next two verses because they just name the cities. In the last verse of the chapter, it says these were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwelt among them, that whoever killed a person accidentally might flee there and not die by the hand of the Avenger of Blood until he stood before the congregation.
In ancient times, there was a law. It was common law. It was not just in Israel. It was in several ancient societies. It was the law of exact retribution. The official name is the lex talionis. The lex talionis was the law that said eye for eye, tooth for a tooth, and life for life. Now we find that in the Bible, don't we? Find that in the Bible as a law that God prescribes. And the reason God prescribed that law, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life, is for this reason, because it is human nature to not bring exact revenge that is just and fitting, but to go beyond what is just.
So if God didn't say eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, most people would say, listen, you took out one of my eye. I'm going to take out both of your eyes. That's human nature. We had a fight and you busted my tooth. You're going to wear dentures when I'm done with you. See, we would take it to the nth degree. So to restrain that kind of crazy vengeance, it was an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. That was the lex talionis.
Now Jesus comes along in the New Testament, and he turns that law on its ear, and he brings in a whole new level of grace and forgiveness, and he says this. You have heard that it was said by those of old, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, whoever slaps you on the cheek, turn the other one to him also. If somebody sues you for a cloak, give him your coat as well. If somebody compels you to walk a mile, walk two miles with him.
Now I'm sure that people, when they heard that, were stunned by what Jesus was saying. But he was saying this. Vengeance is not the highest value. Forgiveness is. And let me just say that one of my prayers for all of us is that people would take refuge in our forgiveness, that we would be the kind of people that others would come to for refuge because they know that is a forgiving person. That person values forgiveness and grace, mercy, much more than vengeance.
Couple of things about the cities of refuge. They were ironic. They were ironic. What do I mean by that? Well, it was ironic that these cities of refuge that were Levitical cities existed at all. What do I mean by that? Well, back in Genesis 34, Levi, of whom the tribe is named after, and Simeon, his brother-- I told you the story last week-- killed the men of Shechem, murdered them, slaughtered them.
So on his death bed, their Father Jacob said that they would be scattered in Israel, that they would be broken up, that when they settled in the land that they would be scattered. I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel, Jacob said to them. Now if God were just, totally just and not merciful or gracious, there would be no tribe of Levi at all, right? Levi would be dead. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. Levi, you took lives. You're dead.
So the fact that they existed at all was ironic. And because they existed, it would make them gracious. It would make them understanding. They would remember their heritage. God spared our forefather Levi, and we are a tribe in Israel because God did not exact justice, but gave us grace and mercy.
So when they bring in a criminal who's been accused, they're going to have a softer heart because they themselves exist purely by the mercy of God. So that's why I say it's ironic.
Let's make our church a city of refuge. Let's make our congregation filled with people who are known for their forgiveness. That doesn't mean we tolerate blatant sin, that we wink an eye at it, that we overlook people's flagrant violation of God's law. No, we must call a spade a spade and speak out when we should. But let's be the kind of people that others in the community know that place is a place of refuge. That church is a city of refuge.
We want to encounter people who are forgiven people and who are forgiving people. Isn't that a beautiful description? Shouldn't that be our description? We have been forgiven and we are forgiving. Those two things mark us. So number one, it's ironic, the cities of refuge. But number two, they are prophetic.
You see, I believe that you could look at the cities of refuge as an analogy, sort of like a type of Jesus Christ. Let me tell you how. The cities of refuge were accessible, accessible. Deuteronomy Chapter 19 gave specific instructions that roads were to be built that would go to the city of refuge. And extra-- or outside the Bible-- extra-biblical literature tells us that those roads were twice as wide as normal roads because they wanted to make sure that anyone who had to flee to a city of refuge could have easy access.
Moreover, those roads had to be maintained. They had to be cleared. They had to be resurfaced, sort of, or the stones taken out so that the access would be maintained. Not only that, but at every major crossroad in Israel there was always a sign that pointed to the nearest city of refuge so that if you're out on the road and it's the heat of the emotion, and you have to find a city of refuge, you will come to a sign that says, city of refuge this way.
That's a type of Jesus. He is accessible. He is ready to receive people. He is ready to forgive people. Let's make sure that we are always clearing the path, that we're not putting up obstacles that make it harder for people to come to him. We're making it easier for them to come to him.
So they are accessible, number one. Number two, they were available. 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the cities of refuge, the gates of the city were to remain unlocked, which was unusual because in ancient times, cities had gates and walls, and. They were locked they were fortified. Why Because there were vandals, there were thieves, and there were armies who could invade. So to protect the city, gates were locked. Not so in a city of refuge. 24/7 they were always available, accessible, and available.
Something else cities of refuge were placed, all six of them, on a hill or an outcropping so that they could be seen more readily. It would be easy to mark them and easy to get to.
Jesus Christ is always available. He is always within reach. He said, whoever comes to me, I will in no wise cast out. Jesus is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can come to him anytime you are in need. An unbeliever any time, middle of the night, can call on Jesus for forgiveness, or at a service like this, or in the morning. Always accessible. Always available.
There's something else. The cities of refuge were universal. It wasn't just for Israel. It said in Verse 9, "For the children of Israel and for the stranger. That is the foreigner who dwelt among them." It was for everyone. Now this again was unusual. In ancient societies, protection was usually offered for all of the citizens in that society. But usually it was limited to that society only. Outsiders were not given the same protection.
If you lived in Israel, even if you were not an Israelite, even if you didn't worship Israel's God, you would be protected. It was universal. And I love that because Jesus Christ is for not just Americans, but Argentinians and Israelis and Palestinians and Europeans and Africans. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. He is universal. The gospel is a universal gospel.
There's something else. Cities of refuge were irreplaceable. That is, there were no other options. If you accidentally killed somebody and you decided, well, I'm just going to hang out here, I'm good, I didn't do it, the Avenger of Blood could kill you. The only place you could go-- no other option, irreplaceable-- was a city of refuge. Otherwise you would be pursued by somebody who would take your life.
Now, think how that is so much like Jesus. All of mankind is being pursued by an unrelenting enemy. His name is the Devil. And he wants to kill people. Jesus said, Satan has come to rob, to steal, to destroy. He wants to destroy your life.
The only place of refuge from the eternal consequence of sin is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is irreplaceable as a Savior. So Jesus, like the cities of refuge, accessible, available, universal, irreplaceable.
There's one final analogy that fits. Cities of refuge were relational. That is, you were in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. When the high priest died, it was sort of like an ancient statute of limitations. You were free. You could go back home. You're not guilty any more. The Avenger of Blood cannot come after you. But it was conditional upon that person.
Now I don't know if it's true or not, but in Jewish literature, we are told that the high priest's mother would bring food and clothing supplies to the person who was the killer in the city of refuge so that a relationship would develop, because otherwise you're in the city of refuge going, man, I'm going to pray for the death of the high priest. I want to go home. I don't want to be for 20 years. I didn't do anything. Lord, let that high priest die tomorrow.
But if you have a relationship with the high priest, and especially the mother, you're not going to be praying that because you don't want the death of her son. But when her son does die, then that statute of limitations kicks in and you could go free at the death of the high priest.
Now it's interesting that the Book of Hebrews speaks about Jesus as our great high priest, but also our place of refuge. In Hebrews Chapter 6, Verse 18, it says that we might have strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor to the soul both sure and steadfast, and which enters the presence behind the veil where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become high priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.
Jesus, our great high priest, died for us, giving us freedom. So there are many ways that the cities of refuge typify our refuge, our salvation refuge in Christ. There is only one way the analogy doesn't work. Do you know what it is? Cities of refuge were only available for people who were not guilty. That's where the analogy breaks down. Jesus is for guilty people.
You say, well, I'm not guilty. Actually, you all are. We all are. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Before God, we're all guilty. So the new covenant isn't for non-guilty people. It's for guilty people. While we were sinners, the book of Romans says Christ died for us, the ungodly.
Today, to this day, there are tribes in the Middle East, Bedouin tribes that still practice the Avenger of Blood tradition. They see it as honorable. It is honorable to lay that person's memory to rest by eye for eye, tooth for a tooth, and life for life. And even to this day, in Bedouin societies where people live in tents and migrate around, there are places of sanctuary. And it's usually the tent of a leader. A tribal leader today is called a sheikh. You've heard the term, a sheikh.
Now there is a story. And I had heard it, and I was in the Middle East among somebody who works with Bedouins. I asked because I wanted to confirm this story, and I got it as a confirmation. This actually happened.
Two fellows were one evening having a fight. They were having an argument. The argument broke out into a fight. It got physical. As the fight ensued, one man accidentally killed that man. Now they were both angry. So it was murder, but it was second degree murder.
So now that man is looking at his friend bleeding out in the sand. And as he looks at his friend and his friend dies, he knows the ancient, inflexible custom of the Avenger of Blood. So he travels through the night, through the desert to a tent of a sheikh, a tribal leader. And he goes in and says, I need protection. I need asylum. I've killed somebody. But it was an accident. I didn't mean to do it. Please give me protection. Please give me asylum.
And the old sheikh stood up and placed his hand on one of the ropes of the tent, which is customary, and said, I swear by God that I will give you my protection. I will protect you with my life.
The very next morning, the Avengers of Blood were at the tent door, or flap. And they say, we want that man delivered to us. He's a murderer. The old sheikh said, I will not deliver him into your hands. He has asked for protection. I have promised him my protection. But he is a killer. I have promised him my protection. And they said, but you do not know who he killed. He says, it doesn't matter who he killed. I have given him my word. I promise him my protection. And then they told the old man, he killed your son.
That leader, that sheikh, standing, almost fell when he heard those words, bowed his head in his hands, buried his head in his hands, and just kept himself from breaking out in tears. Finally he gathered enough strength and he said, if that is the case, if he killed my son, then he shall become my son. And everything that I have will one day be his.
The reason he said that is he believed strongly in the power of an oath. A promise was made to give life, his life, to protect the man who asked for it. He will become my son, and everything I have will one day be his.
That's the power of the cross. That's the power of the cross. Jesus, God's son, was crucified. Our sins put him on the cross. But God says to you, then you will become my sons and daughters. And everything I have will one day be yours.
For more resources from Calvary Albuquerque and Skip Heitzig, visit calvaryabq.org.