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From Eternity Past

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    Cities of Refuge

    Six cities assigned to the Levites were appointed as cities of refuge, “that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares. And they shall be unto you cities for refuge ...; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.” Numbers 35:11, 12. This merciful provision was necessary because 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 magistrates. The avenger might pursue the criminal and put him to death wherever he should be found. The Lord did not abolish this custom but made provision to ensure the safety of those who should take life unintentionally.EP 367.4

    The cities of refuge were within a half day's journey of every part of the land, the roads leading to them always kept in good repair. Signposts were 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. The case of the fugitive was to be fairly tried by proper authorities, and only when found innocent of intentional murder was he protected in the city of refuge. The guilty were given up to the avenger. At the death of the high priest, however, all who had sought shelter in the cities of refuge were at liberty to return to their possessions.EP 368.1

    In a trial for murder, the accused was not to be condemned on the testimony of one witness, even though circumstantial evidence might be strong against him. “Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of the witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.” Numbers 35:30. It was Christ who gave to Moses these directions for Israel; and when personally on earth the Great Teacher repeated the lesson that one man's testimony is not to acquit or condemn. One man's opinions are not to settle disputed questions. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” Matthew 18:16.EP 368.2

    If the one tried for murder were proved guilty, no atonement or ransom could rescue him. “Ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death.” “The land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.” Numbers 35:31, 33. The safety and purity of the nation demanded that the sin of murder be severely punished.EP 368.3

    The cities of refuge were a symbol of the refuge provided in Christ. The Saviour 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.EP 369.1

    He who fled to the city of refuge could make no delay. There was no time to say farewell to loved ones. Weariness was forgotten, difficulties were unheeded. The fugitive dared not slacken his pace until he was within the city.EP 369.2

    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 does not earnestly seek shelter in the eternal refuge will fall prey to the destroyer.EP 369.3

    The prisoner who at any time went outside the city of refuge was abandoned to the avenger of blood. Even so, it is not enough that the sinner believe in Christ for pardon of sin; he must, by faith and obedience, abide in Him.EP 369.4

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