Though we may not be aware of it, every one of us is being hunted. We are on the run from the penalty of our sins. But God, in His grace, has given us a city of refuge.
“A Tale of Two Cities”
(Joshua 20, 21)
The Chronicles of Israel’s history is nearly completed. The book of Joshua, we will close in just 5 short chapters. The conquered territory has just been divided among the tribes. People were there in the land. The enemies have trembled and had seen the power of God.
And yet, rather than close the book of Joshua as we have been studying, God intended several other things to be recorded for our benefit today. At first reading, the last few chapters of Joshua may had appeared boring and incidental to the church, but I think you will discover with me over the next 2 or 3 weeks as we complete this study, that the richest trues have yet to be learned from the last few chapters of Joshua.
Now may I invite your attention to the 20th chapter of the book of Joshua and we will begin reading with Joshua 20:1, Then the Lord spoke to Joshua saying, Speak to the sons of Israel saying designate the cities of refuge of which I spoke to you through Moses. That the man slayer who kills any person unintentionally without premeditation may flee there and they shall become your refuge from the avenger of blood. And he shall flee one of these cities and he shall stand at the entrance of the city and state his case in the hearing of the elders of that city. And they shall take him into the city to them and give them a place so that he may dwell among them. Now at the avenger of blood pursues him then they shall not deliver the man slayer unto his hand for he struck his neighbor without premeditation and did not hate him beforehand. And he shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment until the death of the one who is high priest in those days. Then the man slayer shall return to his own city and into his own house in the city of which he fled. So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arbe, that is Hebron, in the hill country of Juda. Beyond the Jordan east of Jericho designated Bezer in the wilderness of the plane from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh. These were the appointed cities for all the sons of Israel and for the stranger who so adjorn among them. That whoever kills any person unintentionally may flee there and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until he stands before the congregation. Now notice the first 3 verses of the next chapter. 21:1, Then the heads of households of the Levites approached Eleazar the priest, and Joshua son of Nun, and the heads of households of the tribes of the sons of Israel. And they spoke to him in Shiloh in the land of Canaan saying, the Lord commanded through Moses to give us cities to live in, with their pasture lands for our cattle. So the sons of Israel gave the Levites from their inheritance these cities with their pasture lands according to the command of the Lord. Two special classes of cities have been designated by God to take place in the land in this new society.
There are the 1st class the cities of legal refugee and 2ndly the cities of spiritual refugee. I want to deal first with the cities of spiritual refugee found in chapter 21 of Joshua. You could call all of these events in Joshua chapter 21 if we had taken the time to read them, Operation Saturation. It was God’s intention to literally saturate this land with the presence of the Levities. And so he designates 48 cities that will be places of worship, places of teaching, places of counsel, places of advice. For the Levities will be the counselors, the story tellers, the teachers in the land. And these cities would be the centers of that kind of spiritual refugee. It has been estimated that no one in the land would live more than 10 miles from one of these cities of spiritual refugee. That means that it was available to every Israelites, a man or men verse in the law capable of teaching and preaching and counseling and advising.
These cities evidently were very important to the people. In fact, you will note if you look back in your text verse 2 & 3 indicate that when God commanded Moses they had time to forget about it and time to rethink it and when Aaron comes back now or the sons of these priestly men who will now serve as teachers, preachers, advisors, that the people give any hesitation these 48 cities. And they are accompanying pasture land. In other words, the people gave generously to the Levities. And it was a credit to these people, because it allowed the presence of God’s word to exist in the land. It allowed all the people in the land to have access, ready access to people who could help them. These were places of spiritual refugee. What Mark means I read the passage was the generosity of people who allowed the Levities to live as comfortably as anyone could live in the new land.
The church, ladies and gentlemen today, must take simpler stand as these people who gave us this example. It is a credit to any church to take care of its pastors, its staff, its global staff, that is, the missionaries who serve and represent the church. Not with the question how little can we give but how much can we give.
One of the reasons, by the way, that I believe that God is blessing so uniquely this church is that we have that position of generously. You may had read in the Communiqué this morning an indication of that. We had a missionary come through here, a missionary family, and they wrote a note thanks to the church and you will notice in that note that missionary family said how much their daughter enjoyed the Jacuzzi in the hotel. Jacuzzi? Where did they stay? The Marriott Courtyard. The Marriott Courtyard? For half price they could had stayed at the Best Western. I answer that with a question, where would we rather stay?
I had the privilege of representing the university I attended and went to more than 150 churches, and I got the best education possible on how not to treat servant of the Lord. This selfishness, ladies and gentlemen, of the average church is appalling. Whenever we found out from these churches that they weren’t going to put us in homes but are going to put us up in motel, we all held our breath. Because these motels usually had names like, The final resting place, The trucker’s paradise. I never will forget ministering in one of these churches in South Carolina, the largest independent Baptist churches there, that evening we ministered to more than 2,000 people. When we were finished the senior pastor came up to us and handed us an envelope with a check and said, Boys, I wish it could be more. And we said, Oh, we are sure that it is enough to cover our expenses. We shook hands, left in the van and traveled down the road and opened that envelope. There was a check for $67.00 and some odd cents. I wish I could tell you that this was the exception, but it is not.
I talked to a missionary couple some months ago, and they told me about the missionary barrels that they received from the churches in the states. They said they received one on the field from one particular church and they never even bothered to open it. They put it back into the closet until Halloween. And then they would pull it out and they would use clothing, I will never forget this missionary telling me with no animosity in his voice, he says the clothing they sent us makes fantastic costumes.
I remember as a kid receiving Christmas gift from a church every year, and by the way I appreciated that because most don’t do that. The church that supported my missionary parents and they would send my brothers and I the same thing every year, basically. I never thought about it then, there were usually a kind of stocking stuffer and there would be things in there like a comb, a pencil set, a pen set, maybe a pair of socks and always penny candy. What I think about now is the fact that church sent those gifts in used half gallon milk cartons. Was a box to much? Was pretty Christmas wrapping to costly for missionary kids?
Our missionaries that are serving around Japan told me when they came and spend a weekend with Colonial Baptist, they were absolutely amazed the generous attitude. I will never forget dropping them off at the hotel where they were staying and he looked at me and said, we have never been treated like this, in fact, I don’t believe my wife and I have stayed in a nicer hotel since our honeymoon. Our missionaries who are going to send Salvador told me before they left, you have treated us more royally than any other church we have ever been in. We are not competing. He said you treated me like a king, his wife said you have treated me like a queen. I get calls nearly every week from missionaries who have heard about what you and they say I have heard about Colonial Baptist Church, and I need support too. Can I come? How do we treat the Levities? How do we treat those who sacrifice their lives to serve on the front lines? My friend, by God’s grace, we will never use old milk cartons. We will never send 20 year old tatter clothing. We will serve by the acronym of Joshua 21, not how little can we give, and be reasonable, how much can we give and be generous?
Now I want to take you to the other special class of city, by the way if you have your notes I missed it, there are 3 principles in that chapter, the principle of generosity, urgency, and honor. Now chapter 21: 2, 3, go back to Joshua, verse 2 indicates this next class of city, designate the city of refugee that I have spoke to you through Moses, that the man slayer who kills any person intentionally without premeditation may flee there and they shall become your refugee from the revenger of blood. We know from scripture, 6 cities on both sides of the Jordan were set aside as cities of refugee. In fact, 4 Old Testament books discuss the cities of refugee. That gives us the strong indication that these cities were very, very important in that new society.
Turn back to Deuteronomy, if you would, chapter 19, just head toward Genesis, Deuteronomy 19:2 a little bit further explanation, And you shall set aside 3 cities for yourself, we will learn later in the text 3 more are added making 6, in the midst of your land, verse 3, you shall prepare the roads for yourself and divide into 3 parts the territory of your land that the Lord your God will give you as a possession. So that any man’s slayer may flee there. Now this is the case of the man slayer who may flee there live. When he kills his friend unintentionally, not hating him previously, as when a man goes into the forest to cut wood and his hands swings the ax to cut down the tree and the iron head slips off the handle and strikes his friend so that he dies. He may flee to one of these cities and live. Unless the avenger of blood pursues the man slayer and heat of his anger and over take him. Because the way is long and takes his life, though He is not deserving of death since he did not hate him previously. Now let me ask you a question that may come to your mind, how about the person who is guilty? You see in the land of Canaan there were temples of the pagan God that would give sanctuary to known criminals. Is that what they are setting up here in Israel as well?
Look at verse 11, But if there is a man who hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and arises up against him and strikes him so that he dies and he flees to one of the cities, then the elders of his city shall sent and take him from there and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood so that he may die. Now the avenger of blood was someone appointed by the family or tribe or clan of the victim. And that avenger was to track down the killer, it wasn’t his purpose to decide intentional killing or unintentional. Or manslaughter. He was to revenge the family of that bloodshed. It was not so much revenge as it was retrofusion in the system of early and somewhat primitive law. The killer had one hope, he had to make it to the city of refugee before he was caught. And if he could make it there, he all out of breath could present his case to the elders of the city and they would hold trial. If he was innocent he could live there in safety. If he was guilty, he would be handed over to the avenger of blood. Now as I read this passage, it so moved me. There are differences between the cities of refugee and Jesus Christ, but there are similarities. I want to camp there for the remainder of our time. If you have notes, I want to give you several things,
1. The cities of refugee were appointed by God himself. They were determined by the Israelites. Just as God would determine the city of refugee safety for that person hunted by the avenger. So God choose his son before the foundation of the world appointed him to die to be the refugee for all man kind. Those who would flee to him.
2. The cities then would provide safety from the avenger. I can imagine in that day a man running for his life constantly looking back over his soldier looking for the avenger’s blood. Trying to make it. Not stopping to eat or sleep, running out of breath, running for his life.
My friend, everyone who runs to Jesus Christ is running for his life. The person is setting aside any illusions of safety. But recognize that he is indeed hunted and he runs to the city of refugee who is Christ. And all the while the avenger that roaring lion is seeking to devour that soul.
3. It was the duty of the Jew to clearly indicate the way to the city. Now watch this. Deuteronomy and Numbers 35 tells us that they were to build roads that led to the cities. That was not commanded for any other city of the land. But the city of refugee must have a road. Why? To make it as easy as possible for that person to make it.
We learn from historical extra biblical sources that they were to cover the revenges with bridges. They were to build bridges so the hunted one could take the shortest route possible to the city.
I learned as well in my research, that every major crossroads, there had to be signs pointing the way. If the city of refugee was this way and the man was running he would come to the crossroads and there would be a sign fashioned to point this direction and there would be one word on the sign. Refugee. Refugee. It is well, it was stated that these signs had to be so large that a man running at full speed would not miss it. He could see it. He could see the word refugee.
I learned also that many of the cities would post runners along the way. Whenever they saw a hunted one running toward the city, they would run along the side and guide and encourage and say Here, run this way, run with me and I will take you there. Ladies and gentlemen, can you see? The awesome responsibility that is paralleling ours today, we build sign posts for people. We run along side. We point the way. We make it easy. We build roads that say Run for your life. Jesus Christ is safety. Run there. And I will take you.
4. I love this thought. The doors to the city of refugee were never locked. Now lets understand that this is very unusual in these days. Because at night, all the gates were always locked. This protected the residents from robbers. From harm. From raids. At the city of refugee. And furthermore, in times of war, the cities locked those massif gates clad with iron. But even in times of war, the cities of refugee were told that they could never lock their gates. That gives me a couple of ideas.
A. It lets me know just as Jesus Christ was always available, so those who serve Him should always be available to point the way.
B. It also lets me know that the people who lived in this cities of refugee lived the risk of their own lives.
It would be like you sleeping at night in your home with your front door wide open. They were willing to risk something for the safety of one lone person who may be running at that very moment in the darkness of the night for his life. I wonder what we risk today for the cause of Jesus Christ.
5. The cities were to be located at high places. Interesting that these cities were required to be built on hillsides or on mountaintops, WHY? So they could easily be seen. Do you get the idea here that these cities of refugee were available, were accessible. I wondered whether Jesus Christ had that very thought in mind, I don’t know, when He encouraged His disciples to be like a city set high on a hill. Fascinating thought. That we in a sense could represent a city of refugee as we point the way toward to our Lord and Savior.
6. Lastly, the cities of refugee were available for anyone. You may had missed it as we read in the text, but not just the Israelites but the Gentiles could run and find safety and protection. So off today the gospel goes out to anyone: the Gentile or Jew, black, white, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, advantage, disadvantage. Jesus Christ made it very clear when He said that whosoever, whosoever, whosoever. . . they come.
Hebrews 6 talks about those who have fled for refugee and laying hold the hope set before them.
My friend, I want to make it very clear this morning that if you are without Jesus Christ you are not safe. If you are without Jesus Christ this morning you need to understand that there is someone hunting your soul. The avenger is none other than Lucifer. And he carries in his hand the most powerful weapon known to men, death. In fact it is so powerful that it always touches everyone.
And if Jesus Christ does not return and take His church, everyone in this room will experience death. The wages of sin is death. The only hope, my friend, is for you to run to the city of refugee. And run to that person that God man who took the sting out of death. Who took the victory from the grave, who took the most powerful weapon that the avenger had and crushed it so you could have safety forever. If you are without Jesus Christ my friend, you are hunted. And I pray that you will not become another victim of that adventurer.
I love to tell the story, a legend as it were, a servant of a very wealthy Arabian chieftain went to market one day. He was buying supplies for his clan and the servant around the corner headed down a dark alley way and he came faced to faced with a hooded being and he recognized that it was death. And the servant ran as fast as he could and he ran back to that chief and he begged, please I saw death and I knew that death had come for me, and I must flee. May I have the most powerful stallion that you have so that I can flee. And he did, he left Baghdad, he fled to Samara. The chief then had to pick up where the servant left off and so he went to the market place. And he also turned down that same alley, he also came faced to faced with the hooded being death. The chieftain knew it was not his time so he said to death why is it that you have frightened my servants, you have startled him why? Death responded, Frankly it is I who was startled, I did not understand while he was in Baghdad. Because tonight I have an appointment with him in Samara.
It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment. Are you safe? Are you saved?
Our Father, we are thankful beyond words for the safety the forgiveness the peace that we have found in our city of refugee of Jesus Christ. Though once hunted by that roaring lion we are forever saved We’ve come to the city by way of its door cross and we have asked for forgiveness. Now we are safely in. I pray O Father, for that someone that may be in this room this very hour, who is not saved, for them to recognize the horror of the hunt, recognize the certainty of death, to put off any elusion of safety and recognize that they must leave everything and run for their lives, run to you.
My friend, if this sermon has been for you, if the second section of our discussion this morning has dealt with those of you who is being hunted, who are apart from Jesus Christ, you are not safe, you have not come to Him. This very moment, my dear friend, you can invite Jesus Christ into your life. I have had people tell me that they had invited Jesus Christ into their heart right where they have sat in this hour, this service, you can do that. You do not have to come down. You do not have to raise your hand. Or sign a card, join a church, get baptized. All you have to do is run to Jesus Christ and say Lord, I recognize that I need you as my savior. I know that I am a sinner. I cannot save myself. I want you to save me now.
My friend, if that has been your prayer, I want you to know on the authority of scripture that you are now safe. I want you to as well if you pray something like that, the entire desire of this church to see you grow, we would want to personally disciple you with people in this church who know the Lord and have walked with Him. I ask you to do me the privilege of coming to me and saying I prayed something like that just now.
Father, we do pray that everyone who leaves these doors, would leave part of the family of God. Thank you for our hope to cure in Christ, in Jesus name we thank you. Amen.