Now among the cities which you will give to the Levites you shall appoint six cities of refuge, to which a man slayer may flee. (Numbers 35:6)
Six cities were appointed to serve as “cities of refuge” — a temporary asylum for those who committed involuntary homicide. To be clear, these were not for those who committed willful and premeditated murder but were provided to those who had inadvertently killed someone. Because emotions run high in situations such as these, the person was considered safe from the “avenger of blood” (probably a hot-headed relative) lest he overtake the person and exact his vengeance upon them before a trial could commence. (As a matter of interest, a similar system was established among the Cherokees of the southeastern U.S. They divided their villages into red/war and white/peace towns; white towns being considered cities of refuge).
Most likely, Levitical cities were used for this purpose because there was already a sacred character to these places, something that helped to undergird the safety aspect of these unique towns. Furthermore, Judaism teaches that these particular towns were inhabited by men who were able to discern between the truth and falsehood, meaning they could detect whether or not a person’s actions had been willful or accidental. If it was the former, the avenger of blood had the right to kill the person; if it was the latter, a court would later decide the person’s fate.
What can you and I glean from this? First of all, who among us has not committed some kind of sin that did not warrant the death penalty according to the Word of God? None because, “the wages of sin is death,” and, “All have sinned…” That being established, how many among us would not run to a place that offered refuge from the Adversary of our soul — the one who wishes to take our life? In other words, in Messiah, we all can find refuge from the Accuser and the Destroyer and be hopeful for the future. We have a promise in God, that though we are flawed, we can run to Him and find consolation — that is, those “who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18).
Blessings and Shalom,