When the Israelites were settled in their promised inheritance, they were to set apart cities of refuge. In Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 19, we learned that these cities were to be safe-havens for persons who accidentally caused the death of another human being. These cities were to protect accidental murderers from the avenger of blood, until the death of the high priest. Moses had appointed three cities of refuge on the eastern side of the Jordan River: Bezer, Ramoth-gilead, and Golan. But now three others were appointed on the west side of the River; they were Kedesh in the tribe of Naphtali, Shechem in the tribe of Ephraim, and Hebron in the tribe of Judah. These cities were arranged in such strategic locations that any person in Israel could reach one or the other of them in half-a-day’s journey or less. These cities were designed to picture or represent the relief which the Gospel provides for penitent sinners. In our Lord Jesus Christ – the ultimate Refuge – we guilty sinners may find protection from the curse of the law and the wrath of God (Heb. 6:18). Our Savior is a Refuge that is always at hand and easily accessible!
The names of each of the six cities of refuge have a significant reference to the name of Jesus. They are like six pictures of the Savior, hung up in the Old Testament picture-gallery.
The Hebrew word Kedesh signifies “holy.” And truly, Jesus was emphatically “the Holy One!” Not one stain of sin polluted His holy human nature. Angels in heaven, as they cast their crowns at His feet, cry, “Holy! holy! holy! (Isa. 6:3) Always remember that Jesus never could have saved you unless He had been perfectly pure and holy. If He had been guilty of just one sin, we would have been lost forever and plunged into the depths of eternal despair! Therefore, let us love to walk around the walls of our Kedesh often, and rejoice that our Savior was called “the holy child Jesus” (Acts 4:27).
Shechem is a word which means “shoulder.” Jesus, our Refuge, carried the weight of the guilty world upon His shoulder (Isa. 53:4) All the sins of all His people – He carried them away forever! No one except He could have carried such an awful load and burden as that. But not only did He bear the guilt of His people on His shoulders, but He also carries all the affairs and happenings of the whole world. “The government is upon his shoulder” (Isa. 9:6). And in particular, all believers – even the poorest, the weakest, and the humblest – are continually upheld on the shoulders of Jesus. He is bearing the weight of them all – loving them all, attending to them all, and interceding for them all.
In Hebrew, the name Hebron means “fellowship” or “friendship.” And it is Jesus alone Who has brought guilty human beings into fellowship with God! By our sins, we forfeited this fellowship. But Christ is our true Hebron. He is like a ladder that has been let down from heaven, reaching to earth. He has “reconciled things on earth and things in heaven” (Col. 1:20). He has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). We who were once “afar off” have been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).
What does the name Bezer tell us of our Savior? It literally means “stronghold” or “rock.” Jesus is the believ-er’s Bezer – the Rock of ages, and the stronghold for all who flee to Him! The sinner is in danger everywhere else; but in Jesus, he is safe. He is invited to “turn to the stronghold” as a “prisoner of hope”; and once he is within its gates, even “though an army encamps against him,” he may “fear no evil.” “Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock!” (Isa. 26:4)
Ramoth means “exaltation.” And our Redeemer has been “exalted to be a prince and a Savior!” He was once lowly, despised, rejected, crucified, and brutally slain; but having been exalted on the cross as a suffering Savior, He is now exalted on the throne as a glorious King! “God has highly exalted him” (Phil. 2:9). Angels exalt Him, seraphs adore Him, saints praise Him, the Church on earth magnifies Him, and the redeemed Church in heaven will magnify and exalt Him forever and ever!
The name Golan signifies “joy.” Christ is truly the Golan of His people; they may have many other joys, but He is their “chief joy!” Indeed, not one true joy could have ever come to them, if it had not been for Him! The world would have been to them – from beginning to end – a “valley of Baca” (valley of weeping), if Jesus had not died for their sins and saved their souls. Well might the angel say, when he came to the plains of Bethlehem to announce the Savior’s birth, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!” By nature, the sinner is straying like a lost sheep upon dark mountains, in search of peace; but Jesus meets him and says, “Your sins are all forgiven!” – and he is joyful at that wonderful news! He is wandering like a prodigal child, far from his Father’s house; but Jesus brings him home, and calls him His own – and he is joyful at that! We have a long journey ahead of us before we reach our true home in heaven; but once we are there – as a ransomed son or daughter of the King in the bliss of eternal glory – we will shout, “In Your presence, O God, is fullness of joy!”
Lord Jesus! You are our true City of Refuge for poor sinners who – through sin and ignorance and unbelief – have destroyed their own souls. But You save them from the malice of hell, the threats of a broken law, and the avenging cries of their own awakened consciences! Help us to flee for our lives and take refuge in Your blood and righteousness, O crucified Savior! Amen.
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illustration from a Bible card published in 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company