In Numbers 35:9-34 and Joshua 20:1-9, after the conquest of Canaan, the Lord’s people were told to appoint six cities of refuge for the one who unintentionally slays someone without premeditation. If the manslayer made it to one of the cities, they would be safe, and a hearing would ensue to make sure their claim of accidental homicide was justified. But if someone seeking vengeance slew them before they made it to one of the cities, the killing was justified. Now, a few parallels between the cities of refuge and the Lord’s church today.
One city was not as good as another. The Levites had forty-eight cities but only six were designated as places of refuge (Num.35:6-7; Josh.20:7-8). In a similar way, there are many “churches” today but only one whom the Lord has designated as a place for asylum and protection for the soul. Jesus built “one church” of refuge, which is his “one body” (Mt.16:18; Eph.1:22-23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4; 5:23).
There was mercy in the cities of refuge. Accidental or not, murder was still murder and a violation of the law. “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex.20:13). However, within the cities of refuge mercy was granted and one was not given the death they deserved (Gen.9:6; Ex.21:12). Today, all have sinned and are guilty and deserving of spiritual death (Rom.3:23; 6:23; Rev.20:14). However, there is no condemnation for the faithful in Christ (Rom.8:1). There is mercy in Christ and in his church of refuge (2Cor.1:3; Eph.2:4; Tit.3:5; Lam.3:22; Acts.2:36-42,47). Those who have obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ were added to the Lord’s church of refuge (Acts.2:41,47).
One had to remain in the city of refuge. If one left the city for any reason, they could be killed by someone seeking revenge (Num.35:26-27). Nevertheless, there was one condition in which the manslayer could leave the city in safety without the threat of harm. It was only after the high priest died (Num.35:28; Josh.20:6). Jesus our High Priest, unlike the mortal high priests, lives forever (Heb.4:14; 7:22-25). This means that once we have fled to the church of refuge we can never leave (Heb.6:18-20). The safety of our souls depends on our continued faithfulness in the Lord’s church of refuge (Rev.2:10).