For the benefit of Israelites who killed someone by accident or unintentionally, YHWH Elohim favourably made an arrangement in the form of six cities of refuge. After entering the Promised Land those cities were built in obedience to God, six in total, evenly distributed over the country. See Numbers 35:9-34 and Joshua 20:2-9.
What was the idea behind the scheme?
The Free Cities, as they are sometimes called, were provided so that the country would not be contaminated with innocent blood and no blood would come upon the people (Dt 19:10).
Even if someone was an unintentional murderer, in principle he should be put to death under God's ordinance:
Whoever sheds man's blood, his own blood will be shed by man, for in God’s image he made man.
Only by God's merciful provision, an unintentional murderer could take refuge in one of the Free Cities (Dt 19:4-5).
In the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter six, the author is alluding to the regulation of the Free Cities:
17 Therefore God, when he wanted to prove abundantly the immutability of his counsel to the heirs of the promise, stepped in with an oath,
18 in order that we who have fled [to the Free City], by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, would have a strong encouragement to grasp the hope set before us.
19 This [hope] we have as anchor for the soul, both sure and firm, and it goes into the inside of the curtain,
20 where a Forerunner entered in our behalf, Yeshua, who became high priest after the order of Melchizedek forever.
In verse 18, the verb καταφευγω [katapheugoo] is used by the author to describe the decisive action to which the seed of Abraham must proceed to get out of danger and gains safety.
The verb katapheugoo appears in the LXX (the Septuagint) in connection with the flight to the Free Town. See Numbers 35:25-26 (LXX) and Joshua 20:9 (LXX).
Because the Jews are the heirs of the promise made to the patriarch, they live with a wonderful prospective hope, because YHWH, their Elohim, endorsed the promise with an oath. Compare Genesis 22:15-18.
Quite wrongly, at the time of Yeshua's ministry, they cherished the view that they could not loose that promise because they were Abraham's natural descendants (Mt 3:1-2, 7-9). How exactly?
From God's standpoint, according to the apostle Paul, there is such a thing as a true Israel, containing the factual truth that not everything that is called Israel, is really true Israel.
In Rm 4:12 he shows that Abraham really becomes the (spiritual) father of circumcised offspring when its members follow in the footsteps of the faith that he had; first in his uncircumcised state, and also afterwards when he was circumcised.
In the Messianic era some things are necessarily involved having the faith of Abraham. Most important is the fact that faith is practiced in the Mashiach and in his vicarious suffering for sin. Only on that basis one can take a righteous position before God.
Rm 3:21-23 applies to everyone, including the Jews:
21 But now, apart from Torah, Elohim's righteousness has been revealed, being witnessed by the Torah and the Prophets,
22 namely the righteousness of Elohim through faith in Yeshua Mashiach for everyone who believes. For there is no distinction.
23 For all sinned and fall short of the glory of Elohim.
Concerning faith in Yeshua, however, for a Jew something else is at stake. Yeshua in fact is their own Jewish brother; he was born within their own nation: having come out of a [Jewish] woman, having come under Law (Galatians 4:4).
For that reason the ordinances of the Mosaic Law were applicable among them, including the mutual personal relations and one of those divine ordinances concerned the City of Refuge.
When it was decided by the elders that the claims of the murderer on asylum in the Free City were founded, he was allowed to enter permanently the City. For how long?
Possibly for the rest of his life:
For he ought to dwell in his City of Refuge until the death of the High priest; but after the death of the High priest, the manslayer may return to the land of his possession (Nm 35:26-28).
Outside the City of Refuge, God's arrangement of reconciliation through Yeshua Mashiach, the Jews, sharing a common blood debt in connection with the death of their Messianic brother - have proven not to be safe. Millions died in the course of the centuries. In a dreadful manner, it was shown that outside the boundary of his City of Refuge they lived in continual danger. Compare Dt 28:63-68.
The rise of Zionism at the end of the 19th century and the establishment of a Zionist state in May 1948 brought no actual change in that situation.
The Jews therefore cannot ignore the declaration of Peter in Acts 2:36 >>
Therefore let all the house of Yisrael know for certain that Elohim has made this Yeshua, whom you impaled, both Master and Mashiach.
Fortunately for them, in Acts 3:17, Peter also concluded the following: And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers.
The Jews, therefore, is offered the opportunity to seek protection against the Avenger of Blood in the antitypical City of Refuge. In which way?
By placing themselves under the protection of the true High Priest, Yeshua their Mashiach.
As a nation, Israel has failed so far to do so.
Consequently, this merciful arrangement has not yet become visible antitypically.
Therefore, the words of Hebrews 6:17-18 are still waiting for full accomplishment, just as is the case with the complete High priestly arrangement, as Mashiach Yeshua is concerned. We are alluding to the New Covenant and the restoration prophecies that are involved with that ‘berith’. All those weighty spiritual matters will be achieved in their full extent only in the 70th Annual Week, in conjunction with the then established Kingdom for Israel.
In ancient Israel, the saving scheme of the City of Refuge was in shade available, just as a pious Hebrew stated in the First Century: The Torah - having a shadow of the good things to come - not the very substance of the facts themselves (Hebrews 10:1).
Only when the unintentional murderer sought safety in the City of refuge, and actually stayed there, he was safe from the avenger of blood:
For he shall remain in his City of refuge until the Kohen Gadol dies, and only after the Kohen Gadol has died, may the murderer return to the land which is his possession.
Mashiach Yeshua is the actual Self of the true Israel of God; in him all the shadows and types of the Torah are getting their full meaning (fulfilment). Therefore, only when an Israelite in faith is connected with that principal brother of him, he may share fully in the spiritual provisions that YHWH Elohim kindly made available in His Son.
Interesting features of the arrangement
Upon reaching a City of Refuge, the fugitive was to state his case to the older men at the city gate and was to be received hospitably. To prevent wilful murderers from taking cover under this provision, the fleeing one, after entering the City of Refuge, had to stand trial at the city gates in the city having jurisdiction where the killing occurred, in order to prove his innocence. If found innocent, he was brought back to the City of Refuge. However, his safety could be guaranteed only if he remained in the City the rest of his life; or until the death of the High priest. No ransom could be accepted to alter these terms.
The Cities were known to be such; they were open to all Israelites and proselytes, that killed any person at unawares, and they were open at all times.
The way to them was made plain and large. Every year care was taken to make the way good, to remove every hillock, or anything that hindered. If there was a river in the way, to make a bridge over it. In addition, where more ways met, to set up pillars with a hand to them, and these words written on it: "Refuge, refuge".
Nor was the road to be less in breadth than thirty-two cubits.
So, the antitypical arrangement is open to all Israelites and at all times. The way of life and salvation by their Mashiach Yeshua, the True High Priest, is plainly pointed out in the Gospel, and by the ministers of it. They were appointed to direct unto him, and to remove all impediments and discouragements from such who are seeking to him.
A remarkable difference between him and the Cities of refuge: There were six of these, pointing explicitly to man’s imperfect humanity, liable to make mistakes and doing hurtful things.
However, in him, the perfect MasHiach High priest, there is only one.
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