Until the Death of the High Priest
Concerning the passage before us, Albert Barnes says –
“The atoning death of the Saviour cast its shadow before on the statute-book of the Law and on the annals of Jewish history. The high priest, as the head and representative of the whole chosen family of sacerdotal mediators, as exclusively entrusted with some of the chief priestly functions, as alone privileged to make yearly atonement within the holy of holies, and to gain, from the mysterious Urim and Thummim, special revelations of the will of God, was, preeminently, a type of Christ. And thus the death of each successive high priest presignified that death of Christ by which the captives were to be freed, and the remembrance of transgressions made to cease.”
What he says is not far off from most other scholars, and it is true. But… it doesn’t explain the mechanics of what is being relayed in this passage. Without the mechanics, it is simply a guess that this is what is being pictured. Without knowing “how” it is, it actually doesn’t help us to understand the passage.
Here we have people in a particular category – they have shed blood without sanction. That is divided into two more categories. The first is one who did it intentionally, he is a murderer, and he must die. The second did it unintentionally, and he is still guilty of blood, but he can be freed from the guilt.
What we will do today is find out the “how” of the matter as it points to Christ. But we need to do so by understanding how it first works for the person who fled to the place of refuge. If we cannot do that, then we cannot – truthfully – say that we understand “how” this points to Christ.
And before we do, we should probably define what a murderer is in its most basic form. The reason for this is that if we take the Bible’s strictest definition of the words, we are all guilty of it. As this is so, we all need to understand the mechanics of what is going on in our verses today.
Text Verse: “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” 1 John 3:13-15
John says that whoever hates his brother is a murderer. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that everyone has fallen into this category at one time or another. God looks at the intent of the heart and that is the standard which is brought to bear on the human soul. John was simply citing what the law he grew up under already spoke –
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:17, 18
As the law is written and cannot be broken, to hate one’s brother in the heart means that the person has broken the law. In the breaking of the law, the law – meaning the entire law – is violated. This is why John could say this.
Jesus said as much concerning intent. In Matthew 5, he said that if you look at a woman with lust in your heart, you’ve already committed adultery with her. Intent… it’ll get you every time. But there is good news too. We can be freed from the law and we can be given grace.
This is the marvel of what God has done in Christ. The mechanics of a part of how that can happen are found in today’s verses. It’s a marvelous part of His superior word. And so, let’s turn to that precious word once again and… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. A Statute of Judgment to You (verses 22-34)
So far in this chapter, verses 1-8 were given concerning the designation of Levitical cities throughout the land given to Israel. However, there was a stress upon there being six cities of refuge which was seen in verse 6.
After that, the placement and purpose of these cities of refuge were seen in verses 9-15. The main point was that they were to be a place of refuge from the avenger of blood for one who accidentally killed another person.
Then from verses 16-21, the passage spoke of a person who intentionally killed another. For this, the city of refuge was not applicable. Rather, the murderer was to be taken and killed by the avenger of blood.
With that directive properly disposed with now, the details of who could seek refuge, how that refuge was to be determined, and the responsibilities and restrictions upon such a person are now given.
The logical and orderly way that the chapter is laid out ensures that every detail is stated and then explained so that no confusion or ambiguity would result. With that in mind, the instructions for the innocent manslayer are now precisely defined, starting with…
22 ‘However, if he pushes him suddenly
v’im b’feta – “and if suddenly.” The word petha comes from a root signifying “to open the eye,” and thus a wink. What occurs happens so fast that it cannot be misconstrued as with malice aforethought. There could have been a fight or flight reflex that simply took over the situation. This is probably what occurred with poor Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:6 –
“And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.”
Unfortunately for Uzzah, his act was one which cost him his life because he touched a most holy object which was strictly forbidden by the Lord.
22 (con’t) without enmity,
Here the word evah, or enmity is used for only the second time in Scripture. The only other time it has been seen was in Genesis 3 –
“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis 3:15
It signifies hostility, or hatred. In other words, it is obvious from the surrounding interactions of the lives of the two, either because of close friendship, or from not having known one another at all, that there was no reason for there being hostility between the two.
Such a state would be evident to any who knew the relationship, or lack of it, and could see that there was nothing which would impel someone to instantly push another person, causing his death.
A possible example would be two people walking on a trail with a steep cliff next to them. One stumbles, reaches out towards the other, and accidentally pushes the other over the side. It would be obvious to any and all that the act was wholly unintentional.
22 (con’t) or throws anything at him without lying in wait,
Towards the end of the previous sermon, in verse 20, the word tsediyah, or lying in wait, was introduced. Now, this is its second and last use in Scripture. In verse 20, there was an intentional lying in wait to do harm. Here that is lacking.
Instead, the person throws something toward or at another and it causes death. It could be as simple as two people throwing a baseball. The one catching misses it and it donks him in the head, killing him.
Or, it could be that the two were in a traveling show, where one throws knives at the other who is on a big spinning wheel. Unfortunately, the knife thrower missed his sleep the night before and his aim was off. The knife hits the femoral artery, the blood gushes forth, and the life is over.
The same holds true with William Tell and his one day of poor marksmanship. Instead of hitting the apple, he accidentally hits the frontal lobe of his rather dull apple holder.
As loony as it is to even do this type of thing, it was not a deliberate act, and both were in agreement in the performance. Thus, the act is one which is unintentional.
23 or uses a stone, by which a man could die, throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm,
The word “throwing” is not actually correct. The Hebrew word is naphal, meaning “to fall.” One might think of a person working on a brick building. He loses hold of the brick and it goes careening over the wall. Unfortunately, someone happens into the work area and the brick plunks down on his head, killing him.
The person who dropped the brick had no intention of killing anyone. After all, he was just laying another brick in the wall. But his action has caused death, and the avenger could, legally, take action against him.
Another example might be a person practicing his aim by throwing stones up at a target. If someone happens by and gets clunked in the head with one of the rocks as it comes down, it might kill him.
There was nothing intentional, and the person had no malice aforethought. It was simply time and chance which stepped in and brought about the death. With the lack of evil intent, the person is a manslayer, but not a murderer. Deuteronomy 9 gives a bit of a different view of such things –
“And this is the case of the manslayer who flees there, that he may live: Whoever kills his neighbor unintentionally, not having hated him in time past— 5 as when a man goes to the woods with his neighbor to cut timber, and his hand swings a stroke with the ax to cut down the tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he shall flee to one of these cities and live.” Deuteronomy 19:4, 5
If such unfortunate accidents occur…
24 then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments.
Here, the word “manslayer” is not appropriate. It is not the standard word ratsakh, or “manslayer,” that is used so frequently in this chapter. Rather, it uses the word nakah, to strike. Thus, it should say, “the striker.” He is being set in contrast to the avenger of blood through the use of this descriptive word.
The congregation is brought together in order to hold an official trial which is conducted according to the precisely stated wording which is found here, and which is expanded upon in Deuteronomy.
The words, “according to these judgments,” mean that these are examples by which to guide any other similar situations. If the striker is deemed guilty, he is a murderer. If he is deemed innocent, he is only a manslayer without advance intent to kill.
25 So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood,
Here, the judgment is made, and so the usual word, ratsakh, is given. He is a manslayer, but he is deemed to have done it unintentionally. Because of this, he is given legal protection from the manslayer. If this provision were not given in the law, then any act of homicide, intentional or unintentional, would be deemed as acceptable for the avenger of blood to take revenge.
25 (con’t) and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled,
It is apparent that this means that the people of the city of refuge where the manslayer went had sent him, probably under Levitical guard, back to the city where the killing had taken place. There would have been a preliminary trial at the Levitical city to see if he even qualified to be taken in.
Once summoned for a trial he would have been conducted to the city for that trial. If guilty, he would have been executed. However, being found innocent, he is then returned to the Levitical city for refuge which would last for a set but indeterminate amount of time, which was…
25 (con’t) and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.
One can see the providence of God in this. If what he did was the day when a new and young high priest was ordained, he may be there for the remainder of his life. If what he did was a week before the current high priest died, he would only have to be in refuge for that one week.
The reason for this mandate and this provision is two-fold. The first reason is that ha’kohen ha’gadol, or “the priest, the great,” represented the nation before God. He did this with the holy offerings, and he did it in his mediatorial role on the Day of Atonement. This is seen several times, but two pertinent examples are found in Exodus and Leviticus –
“So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the Lord continually. 30 And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the Lord. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the Lord continually.” Exodus 28:29,30
“Why have you not eaten the sin offering in a holy place, since it is most holy, and God has given it to you to bear the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord? 18 See! Its blood was not brought inside the holy place; indeed you should have eaten it in a holy place, as I commanded.” Leviticus 10:17, 18
The high priest bore the judgment of the children of Israel, and the priest bore the guilt of the congregation through the eating of the sin offering. As the high priest was ultimately responsible for this, and for the rites of atonement on the Day of Atonement, he bore the guilt of the people. In the case of the manslayer, another thought, however, comes into play. Two more verses are needed to see this. Both are found in this chapter in just a few more verses –
“Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.” Numbers 35:31
“So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.” Numbers 35:33
The guilty must be put to death. Period. Nothing else was acceptable. But the innocent is also guilty of shedding blood, for which no atonement could be made, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Therefore, the Day of Atonement, where all other sins were atoned for, could not atone for his act.
However, because the high priest bore the judgment and the guilt of the manslayer, his death alone could expiate those sins. When he died, because he bore the guilt of the act, the act of the law – and thus the law of the act – died with him. The manslayer was now free from his guilt.
This is why the same word is used for both murderer and manslayer. The guilt of bloodshed is the same for both, regardless if it is intentional or unintentional. As we saw already, the word which defines this act, ratsakh, is first found as a precept of the law itself in the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not murder.”
People question, if what Paul refers to in Colossians 2, and what the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 7, 8, and 10 about the law being annulled in Christ, actually applies to the Ten Commandments or not. This verse right here answers it. The Ten Commandments are the basis for the law, and they are – along with the entire law – annulled, obsolete, and set aside in Christ.
The second reason is because in this there was a typological prefiguring of Christ. That will be explained later, but simply stated for now, the high priest was the mediator of the law. As this is so, the final judgment of the law, whether he officiated at the trial or not, was his.
As far as the person in the city of refuge, the time of his dwelling there would be solely up to that one determination – the death of the great priest – but it stood firm. At no time could he leave and be safe from the avenger of blood otherwise. This is seen with…
26 But if the manslayer at any time goes outside the limits of the city of refuge where he fled,
v’im yatso yetse – “And if going out, he goes out.” These words must be taken in connection with verse 28. “At any time” means “at any time before the death of the high priest.” The one who has shed blood is covered by this provision of the law only as long as he is in a city of refuge.
The city of refuge is a Levitical city, a city which represents for Israel the firstborn of Israel. This must be remembered from Numbers 8 –
“I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn of the children of Israel. 19 And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the work for the children of Israel in the tabernacle of meeting, and to make atonement for the children of Israel, that there be no plague among the children of Israel when the children of Israel come near the sanctuary.” Leviticus 8:18, 19
The cities of refuge, being Levitical cities, are thus – as it says in Numbers 8 – under the authority of Aaron and his sons. Therefore, the manslayer is represented by the firstborn, and he is under the protection of the life of the high priest. He is safe from the law because he is safe within the high priest who bore his guilt. To leave the city would then expose him to danger…
27 and the avenger of blood finds him outside the limits of his city of refuge,
The person has willfully left the only place of protection for his life. The city border is a sanctuary, and he has been provided asylum. But with the high priest still alive, he is not protected outside of its border. If the avenger hears of it and finds him…
27 (con’t) and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood,
The man has forfeit his life. He was found innocent of intentional murder, but he still bears the guilt of having shed blood. The act is still considered ratsakh. It was unsanctioned taking of human life, in contradistinction to harag, or killing, which can be sanctioned.
The blood is shed, there is no atonement for shedding of blood except by the blood of the one who shed it, and therefore, the avenger is not guilty of shedding further blood. Instead, he is justified in his taking of this life which bears bloodguilt. Not only is it his right to do so, it is his obligation if he finds him…
28 because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest.
Somebody must bear the responsibility and guilt for what occurred. The Lord accepted that the high priest would be the one to do this for the sins of His people. But the guilt of blood could only be borne by him, it could not be atoned for, as we have seen and will see. Therefore, as long as he lived, the guilt was either born by him, or by the one who had committed the act. The manslayer is only safe within the Levitical city of refuge. However…
28 (con’t) But after the death of the high priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession.
The guilt is freed from him, and it has been lifted from the high priest because he has died. The blood has been avenged through death. Therefore, he who was the avenger of blood is no longer so. If he were to kill this man, whose bloodguilt has been removed, he would bear bloodguilt and would, himself, be liable to the avenger.
As the high priest bore the judgment and the guilt of Israel, and as he has died, the judgment, which was passed, and the guilt which he bore on behalf of his people, died with him. However, being a high priest of the law, the law did not die with him. It continued on to the next generation. If the freed man accidentally killed again, he would, once again, be bound by the provisions of this chapter.
29 ‘And these things shall be a statute of judgment to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
Here is the term l’khuqat mishpat, or “for a statute of judgment.” It is only found here and in Numbers 27:11 which dealt with inheritances of property. The idea of both is a statute of the Lord that entails a fixed, permanent, and authoritatively established judgment. It defines and determines a legal right.
In this case, it was a legally binding precept under the Law of Moses, and which would continue under that same law for all the generations to come, until the law would find its fulfillment and ending. The judgment was made, the statute was enacted, and it is legally and permanently binding for all under the law.
30 Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty.
The intent here is obvious. Anyone can make a claim on another person, especially when it may involve family of the deceased, or when it involves someone who hates the person who is accused. In Deuteronomy 17:6, the number is set at “two or three witnesses” for anyone who could be put to death for a crime.
This is extended to all iniquity or sin in Deuteronomy 19:15. Jesus repeats the precept in John 8:17, Paul uses it as a precept in 2 Corinthians 13:1, and the author of Hebrews refers to this precept for anyone who rejected the Law of Moses in Hebrews 10.
It is a safeguard which is intended for the protection of all due to the obviously wicked heart of man, or the fallibility of man to properly discern what may have occurred in a matter his eyes witnessed.
31 Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.
What this means is that a person who has shed blood, and who has been judged guilty, thus identifying him as a murderer, cannot appeal for his life through some sort of payment, nor can anyone else offer a payment to buy back his life. This goes back to Exodus 21 where a person could redeem his life from a death sentence handed out for another reason –
“If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, then the ox shall surely be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be acquitted. 29 But if the ox tended to thrust with its horn in times past, and it has been made known to his owner, and he has not kept it confined, so that it has killed a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If there is imposed on him a sum of money, then he shall pay to redeem his life, whatever is imposed on him.” Exodus 21:28-30
The man did not commit ratsakh, or unsanctioned bloodshed. Therefore, he could purchase his life back at whatever payment was imposed. If he could not pay, then he died. The person who has murdered, however, could not buy his life back. This is because of what it says coming up in verse 33. Further…
32 And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest.
Of this, the Pulpit Commentary states –
“No one might buy off the enmity of the avenger before the appointed time, for that would give an unjust advantage to wealth, and would make the whole matter mercenary and vulgar.” Pulpit Commentary
This is not correct. The fact that a person could redeem his life from what his ox had done, as noted a minute ago, shows this. The reason for this will be explained in the final verses of the chapter. What is true here, is that a ransom may satisfy the avenging relative, but it cannot satisfy the justice of God.
For now, the same law applies to the person who committed unintentional ratsakh, or unsanctioned bloodshed, and it is for the same reason as verse 33 will explain. He could not buy his way out of what he did at any price.
Rather, he had to stay in the city of refuge as long as the high priest lived. No price, no matter how high, could be enough. The psalmist was referring to this general precept when he wrote these words about the surety of death –
“Those who trust in their wealth
And boast in the multitude of their riches,
7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother,
Nor give to God a ransom for him—
8 For the redemption of their souls is costly,
And it shall cease forever—
9 That he should continue to live eternally,
And not see the Pit.” Psalm 49:6-8
The reason that a ransom could not be paid for either was because there was unsanctioned killing – intentional or unintentional, it makes no difference. When the death was unsanctioned, there was a price assigned to that act…
33 So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.
Here is a new word, khaneph. It signifies to pollute or profane. It comes from a primitive root, meaning to soil. This is especially so in a moral sense.
The intent of the words is obviously that of unsanctioned killing. Otherwise, Israel would be guilty of bloodshed anytime they went to battle. But David understood that this was not the case when he said this about Joab –
“Moreover you know also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, and what he did to the two commanders of the armies of Israel, to Abner the son of Ner and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed. And he shed the blood of war in peacetime, and put the blood of war on his belt that was around his waist, and on his sandals that were on his feet.” 1 Kings 2:5
In unsanctioned killing, there was a polluting of the land which could not be atoned for except by the blood of the person who shed it. This same word is used by the psalmist with these words –
“And shed innocent blood,
The blood of their sons and daughters,
Whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan;
And the land was polluted with blood.” Psalm 106:38
As this is a standard which precedes the Law of Moses, it is an eternal standard, and thus it – like Israel under the law who sacrificed their children – applies to those who do so to the gods of self-convenience and wickedness through abortion.
It is just one more reason, on a heaped-up pile of reasons, why those who do such things desperately need to come to Jesus. And it is why this nation, among the many other nations who approve of this practice, will be plunged into complete destruction in the years ahead. Such bloodshed defiles the land…
*34 (fin) Therefore do not defile the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.’”
Of verses 31 and 32 which referred to not accepting a ransom for either the murder or the freeing of the manslayer, Cambridge says, “These prohibitions emphasize the extreme value of human life.” This is an incorrect statement. Humanity makes itself worthless through their actions, even to the point where God has destroyed, and He will again destroy, the entire planet, minus very few.
The reason for these provisions is because God is holy. Until we can understand the holiness of God, we cannot see sin, meaning our own sin, in its proper light. The Lord is teaching Israel that unholiness bears a weight of guilt, and that weight must be placed somewhere.
To defile the land where the Lord dwelt was to bring contempt upon the holiness of the Lord. For the one who innocently shed such blood and defiled the land, the Lord made provisions in the cities of refuge. But for the guilty, no provision could be made.
The nature of God demands that a violation of His holiness must be corrected through a judicial process. His righteous character demands that it must be so, and yet His mercy allows for it to be borne by another. This was the burden of the high priest.
The Lord was instructing the world, through the people of Israel, that these fixed and eternal standards must be met, but that provisions for how they can be met outside of the imposition of the penalty upon the guilty were available. Proof that this is so, not only for Israel, but for any and all who will acknowledge him, comes from the words of Paul, which reflect the sentiment of this final verse of the day –
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.” 2 Corinthians 6:16
As I said earlier, there were two reasons for the mandate that the offender had to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. The second reason I gave was that these things anticipate Christ. That is what we will see next.
Do not defile the land in which you live
For among the midst of you, there I dwell
To you the blessings of heaven, I will give
Or, from Me will come the tortures of eternal hell
For I dwell among you; even I, the Lord
Therefore, be holy as I am holy – this you must be
In this, you will receive my promised reward
And there shall be peace between you and Me
Do not profane the land, but keep it pure and undefiled
And between us there will be a state of harmony
In this, upon you I shall have smiled
And together we shall dwell for all eternity
II. Our Great High Priest
Chapter 35 details the cities of the Levites. They were taken in place of the firstborn of Israel to minister between the priests and the people, but they stand as representative of the firstborn. It is the first typological point concerning Christ, who is the Firstborn they anticipate.
From their cities, six cities were named as places of refuge. In Scripture, six is the number of man, especially fallen man. It is five plus one, or grace plus man’s addition to it. It is seven minus one, or coming short of spiritual perfection.
The cities are given as a haven for such. They are a place of grace for those who fall short, but who seek refuge. The cities themselves do not save, they only protect. And they only do so by the voluntary act of the man staying in them.
Thus, the cities were anticipatory of Christ for Israel. One under the law still had the hope of Messiah, and in such a hope, the sin of the man was not imputed. This was spoken by David, and cited by Paul with these words –
“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:
7 ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.’” Romans 4:5-8
David was a man under the law. It was a law that said sin was to be imputed. And yet David wrote that there was a blessedness for the man to whom the Lord did not impute sin. The law is of works, and yet a person could be deemed righteous by faith.
The city of refuge was such a place. The man was guilty, but his guilt could be taken away, but not by law. It could only be taken away by a provision of grace within the law – the anticipation of Messiah.
We saw that the priests ate the sacrifice of the sin offering in order to bear the sins of the people. But we are told in Hebrews that such sacrifices actually did nothing. The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin. And so, these sacrifices were only anticipatory of the coming of Christ.
We saw this in each of the countless sacrifices of Leviticus and Numbers. Each detail anticipated Christ. And so, the sin animal offerings eaten by the priests did not actually take away the sin. The high priest only bore the sin of the people in an anticipatory way. That anticipation was of Christ to come.
And that takes us to the high priest. It specifically noted that it was he who was anointed with oil. The picture takes us back to Leviticus and what that anointing anticipated. The word mashakh, or anoint, is the root of mashiakh, Messiah, or Anointed One. In Isaiah 61, that Anointed One was anticipated –
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” Isaiah 61:1
Luke says that Christ went into the synagogue, read that portion of Scripture, and stated that it was fulfilled in their hearing. He was proclaiming that He was the One anointed by God as Messiah.
Those who had transgressed the law through bloodshed found safe refuge in the Levitical city of refuge. When the high priest was alive, he bore the guilt of the judgment and guilt of the offender. But he didn’t actually bear the guilt because the animal which they ate to bear the guilt of the people could not be a suitable substitute to bear guilt. It was only a type of Christ.
But when Christ came, He could bear the guilt – and He did. He is the fulfillment of Levitical city of refuge, He is the fulfillment of the animal bearer-of-guilt substitute, He is also the fulfillment of the anointed high priest who then bore the guilt.
And in that capacity, and with that burden of guilt, He also died. As we said of the high priest of Israel, we can now say of the fulfillment of that high priestly position in Christ – When He died, because He bore the guilt of the act, the act of the law – and thus the law of the act – died with Him. The manslayer was now free from his guilt.
This is what Paul wrote about in Colossians 2. Though he is speaking to Gentiles, the premise remains the same concerning what occurred –
“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” Colossians 2:13-15
The Anointed One, the Messiah, the true High Priest, died on the cross of Calvary, and the handwriting of that law died with Him. In that death, the law is taken away, and the captives are set free.
Some might claim that the idea of the city of refuge means that a person could lose his salvation. If they left the city, they were subject to the avenger of blood. Such is exactly the opposite. That is speaking of before, not after, the high priest dies.
That looked to Israel before the coming of Messiah. Those who trusted in Messiah, died in faith. They were kept in the City of Refuge until His coming. In the death of Messiah, the captives are freed. Verse 26 cannot be taken to indicate a loss of salvation. In fact, it proclaims eternal salvation.
For those who come to Christ after the act, Charles Ellicott provides sufficient detail to explain their state –
“As the bodily safety of the Israelite who had slain a man depended upon his strict observance of the law which required him to remain within the city of refuge until the death of the high priest, so in the same way the spiritual safety of the believer depends upon his exclusive reliance upon the merits and efficacy of the atoning death and righteousness of Christ, seeing that “there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we may be saved; neither is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12).
If the person of Israel left the city of refuge, it meant that he was under law. He was not under grace if he went out. And that state remains today. One can choose law, or he can choose grace, but he cannot have both. The author of Hebrews makes this clear when speaking of the New and the Old covenants –
“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Hebrews 9:11-15
One can be under law, with a priest who dies and stays dead, and a law which continues to condemn, or he can come to Christ who lives forever, and to the grace which is offered freely unto eternal salvation.
At the beginning of our verses today, John showed us that we have all committed murder. We may have done it unintentionally, and some of us may have done it intentionally, but we have a greater hope than our pitiful actions. As the author of Hebrews says –
“Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” Hebrews 6:17, 18
Israel had cities of refuge until the coming of Christ and His death for them. The tragically flawed thinking that we must continue to adhere to the Law of Moses now is shown false in the passage today. In fact, it is a self-condemning act because such a person rejects what the law only anticipated – freedom in Christ. We have a Place of refuge that we too can flee to, in order to keep us out of the death that we deserve. Let us flee to the grace of God in Christ and be saved from what we as humans otherwise deserve.
Closing Verse: “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” Revelation 6:10
Next Week: Numbers 36:1-13 It’s the last sermon in Numbers, which makes me rather sad… (The Inheritance of Zelophehad) (71st Numbers Sermon)
The Lord has you exactly where He wants you. He has a good plan and purpose for you. It may seem at times as if you are lost in a desert, wandering aimlessly. But the Lord is there, carefully leading you to the Land of Promise. So, follow Him and trust Him and He will do marvelous things for you and through you.
Until the Death of the High Priest
‘However, if he pushes him suddenly without enmity
Or throws anything at him without lying in wait
Or uses a stone, by which a man could die
Throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies;
———-such is his fate
While he was not his enemy or seeking his harm
Then the congregation shall judge guilt or innocence
Between the manslayer and the avenger of blood
According to these judgments
So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer
From the hand of the avenger of blood, saving his head
And the congregation shall return him
To the city of refuge where he had fled
And he shall remain there until the death of the high priest
Who was anointed with the holy oil; until he is deceased
But if the manslayer at any time goes
Outside the limits of the city of refuge where he fled
And the avenger of blood finds him
Outside the limits of his city of refuge, he had better dread
And the avenger of blood kills the manslayer
He shall not be guilty of blood: from guilt he is released
Because he should have remained
In his city of refuge until the death of the high priest
But after the death of the high priest so we learn
The manslayer to the land of his possession may return
And these things shall be a statute of judgment to you
Throughout your generations in all your dwellings, so shall you do
Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death
On the testimony of witnesses, so shall it be
But one witness is not sufficient testimony
Against a person for the death penalty
Moreover you shall take no ransom
———-for the life of a murderer who is of death guilty
But he shall be put to death surely
And you shall take no ransom for him
Who has to his city of refuge fled
That he may return to dwell in the land
Before the death of the priest; yes, until he is dead
So you shall not pollute the land where you are
For blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made
———-for the land
For the blood that is shed on it
Except by the blood of him who shed it; this you must understand
Therefore do not defile the land which you inhabit
In the midst of which I dwell
For I the LORD dwell
Among the children of Israel
Lord God, we are even now in a wilderness
And we are wanting to be led by You
Without You to direct, our lives would be a mess
And so be our guide, O God; You who are faithful and true
We long for the water in this barren land
May it flow forth from the Rock, our souls to satisfy
Give us this refreshing, spiritual hand
And may we take it, and to our lives daily it apply
And we shall be content and satisfied in You alone
We will follow You as we sing our songs of praise
Hallelujah to You; to us Your path You have shown
Hallelujah we shall sing to You for all of our days
Hallelujah and Amen…
22 ‘However, if he pushes him suddenly without enmity, or throws anything at him without lying in wait, 23 or uses a stone, by which a man could die, throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm, 24 then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments. 25 So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled, and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. 26 But if the manslayer at any time goes outside the limits of the city of refuge where he fled, 27 and the avenger of blood finds him outside the limits of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood, 28 because he should have remained 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.
29 ‘And these things shall be a statute of judgment to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 30 Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty. 31 Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. 32 And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest. 33 So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. 34 Therefore do not defile the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.’”