These last chapters in the book of Numbers end on a merciful note. The Lord commanded the Israelites to establish cities of refuge for those people who have accidentally caused another person’s death.
I’d always heard of the Old Testament’s “eye for an eye” mandate, but I did not realize that the closest relative of a murdered person was the one responsible for executing the murderer. If the death was an actual accident, however, the community members escort and protect the person who caused the death — but he had to stay within the city of refuge to have guaranteed protection from the avenging family member.
I’m settling on the word “refuge” for a moment. There are many Biblical illustrations of the way we ourselves can take refuge:
2 Samuel 22:3 – “my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent men you save me.”
2 Samuel 22:31 – “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.”
Psalm 2:12 – “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Psalm 5:11 – “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.”
Psalm 9:9 – “The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”
Psalm 16:1 – “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.”
Psalm 17:7 – “Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.”
Psalm 31:1 – “In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.”
Psalm 36:10 – “How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.”
Do you get the idea that a place of refuge is important to the Lord? Not the special cities as outlined in these last chapters of Numbers, but that we view our Heavenly Father AS our refuge. The Hebrew word for refuge as found in Psalm 31 above is palat. It is a verb that means to bring into security, to deliver, or to cause to escape.
What is a refuge in plain English, anyway? The word “refuge” can be used as either a noun or as a verb and means a place of shelter and protection or, as a verb, it means to shelter or protect. In those few verses above, we see it used as a noun — either the Lord himself is the refuge for the psalmist, or refuge is what the writer finds or takes in the Lord.
My anxiety-driven mind is captivated by these few verses about refuge! And I am reminded tonight that although I don’t have a city of refuge to run to when I sin, Jesus is my refuge. He who never sinned took my place on that cross — and that sacrificial act paved the way for me and for you to take shelter in the eternal place of refuge.