1. A MERCIFUL PROVISION
a. What provision was made in behalf of those in Israel who unintentionally killed another person? Numbers 35:9–12; Joshua 20:1–3.
b. How many cities of refuge were assigned? Where? Numbers 35:13, 14.
c. Why and for whom were these cities necessary? Numbers 35:15.
“This merciful provision was rendered necessary by the ancient custom of private vengeance, by which the punishment of the murderer devolved on the nearest relative or the next heir of the deceased. In cases where guilt was clearly evident it was not necessary to wait for a trial by the magistrates. The avenger might pursue the criminal anywhere and put him to death wherever he should be found. The Lord did not see fit to abolish this custom at that time, but He made provision to ensure the safety of those who should take life unintentionally.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 515.
2. PATHWAYS TO REFUGE
a. Explain the distribution of the cities of refuge and the procedure for making use of them. Joshua 20:4–6. What distinction was made between willful murder and involuntary manslaughter? Numbers 35:16–24.
“The cities of refuge were so distributed as to be within a half day’s journey of every part of the land. The roads leading to them were always to be kept in good repair; all along the way signposts were to be erected bearing the word ‘Refuge’ in plain, bold characters, that the fleeing one might not be delayed for a moment. Any person—Hebrew, stranger, or sojourner—might avail himself of this provision. But while the guiltless were not to be rashly slain, neither were the guilty to escape punishment. The case of the fugitive was to be fairly tried by the proper authorities, and only when found innocent of intentional murder was he to be protected in the city of refuge.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 515.
b. What was the rule in case of trial for murder? Numbers 35:30. As far as the number of witnesses is concerned, what rule was repeated in the New Testament? Matthew 18:16; 1 Timothy 5:19. Why is this so important?
“Personal enmity, or the prospect of personal advantage, has ruined the reputation and usefulness of thousands of innocent men. . . . One man might be controlled by prejudice, selfishness, or malice. But it was not likely that two or more persons would be so perverted as to unite in bearing false witness; and even should they do so, a separate examination would lead to a discovery of the truth.
“This merciful provision contains a lesson for the people of God until the close of time. It was Christ who gave to Moses those explicit directions for the Hebrew host; and when personally with His disciples on earth, the great Leader repeated the same lesson as He taught them, how to treat the erring. One man’s testimony was not to acquit or to condemn. One man’s views and opinions were not to settle disputed questions. . . . God has made it the duty of His servants to be subject one to another. No one man’s judgment is to control in any important matter. Mutual consideration and respect imparts proper dignity to the ministry, and unites the servants of God in close bonds of love and harmony.”—The Signs of the Times, January 20, 1881.
3. A SYMBOL OF REFUGE
a. On what condition was the refugee protected from the avengers, and when was he free to go home? Numbers 35:25–32.
b. Who is our refuge from the death due for sin? Psalm 9:9; Romans 8:1.
“The same merciful Saviour who appointed those temporal cities of refuge has by the shedding of His own blood provided for the transgressors of God’s law a sure retreat, into which they may flee for safety from the second death. No power can take out of His hands the souls that go to Him for pardon.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 516.
c. How does Christ urge us to take refuge in Him? 2 Corinthians 6:1, 2; Hebrews 10:26, 27. How is this illustrated through the cities of refuge?
“If the fugitive would escape with his life, there must be no delay; family and employment must be left behind, there was no time to say farewell to loved ones. His life is at stake, and every other interest must be sacrificed to the one purpose—to reach the city of refuge. Weariness is forgotten, difficulties are unheeded. He does not for one moment slacken his pace until he is safe within the walls of the city.”—The Signs of the Times, January 20, 1881.
“We are living in the last time, and Satan is now working with masterly power in order that with subtle temptations he may overcome those who believe in Jesus. But we are to be ‘kept by the power of God’; therefore, in temptation give glory to God who is able and will keep the believing soul so that he shall not be overcome by the wily foe. . . .
“The crafty deceiver has been found to be an accuser, a liar, a tormentor and a murderer; but whatever he may have led others to say concerning you, the Lord can say to him as He said to Peter, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’ He can say to him, ‘You shall not come in between this soul and Me. You shall not interpose yourself between Me and the soul for whom I died a ransom.’ ”—The Upward Look, p. 42.
4. THE SACREDNESS OF LIFE
a. How does God consider the shedding of blood? Numbers 35:33, 34.
b. What ceremony occurred when someone was found slain? Deuteronomy 21:1–9. What does this tell us about God’s hatred of sin and His regard for human life?
“After the most diligent search had failed to discover the murderer, the rulers were by this solemn ceremony to show their abhorrence of the crime. They were not to regard with carelessness and negligence the deeds of the guilty. In all their acts they were to show that sin has a contaminating influence—that it leaves a stain upon every land and every person who will not by all possible means seek to bring the wrong-doer to justice. God regards as His enemies those who will by any act of negligence shield the guilty. They are in His sight partakers in the evil deeds of the sinner. . . .
“Sin may be called by false names, and glossed over by plausible excuses and pretended good motives, but this does not lessen its guilt in the sight of God. Wherever it may be found, sin is offensive to God, and will surely meet its punishment.”—The Signs of the Times, January 20, 1881.
c. What other things are considered murder in God’s eyes? 1 John 3:15.
“All acts of injustice that tend to shorten life; the spirit of hatred and revenge, or the indulgence of any passion that leads to injurious acts toward others, or causes us even to wish them harm (for ‘whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer’); a selfish neglect of caring for the needy or suffering; all self-indulgence or unnecessary deprivation or excessive labor that tends to injure health—all these are, to a greater or less degree, violations of the sixth commandment.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 308.
“The spirit of hatred and revenge originated with Satan, and it led him to put to death the Son of God. Whoever cherishes malice or unkindness is cherishing the same spirit, and its fruit will be unto death.”—Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 56.
5. HOPE FOR ALL SEEKING REFUGE
a. What provision has been made for our refuge today? John 10:14, 15.
“The same merciful Saviour who appointed those temporal cities of refuge has by the shedding of His own blood provided for the transgressors of God’s law a sure retreat, into which they may flee for safety from the second death. No power can take out of His hands the souls that go to Him for pardon. . . .
“The sinner is exposed to eternal death, until he finds a hiding place in Christ; and as loitering and carelessness might rob the fugitive of his only chance for life, so delays and indifference may prove the ruin of the soul. Satan, the great adversary, is on the track of every transgressor of God’s holy law, and he who is not sensible of his danger, and does not earnestly seek shelter in the eternal refuge, will fall a prey to the destroyer.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 516, 517.
b. What role does the church have in this process? John 10:16.
“The church is God’s fortress, His city of refuge, which He holds in a revolted world.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 11.
“God’s Spirit convicts sinners of the truth, and He places them in the arms of the church. The ministers may do their part, but they can never perform the work that the church should do. God requires His church to nurse those who are young in faith and experience, to go to them, not for the purpose of gossiping with them, but to pray, to speak unto them words that are ‘like apples of gold in pictures of silver.’” —Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 69.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. Who established the cities of refuge, and for what purpose?
2. Why is it so important to have two or more witnesses in any trial?
3. What should we learn from the haste needed in going to the city of refuge?
4. What do these cities teach us about God’s mercy and justice?
5. When is Christ a sure Refuge for me? How can I help others find this?