Deuteronomy 4:41-43 – Remember When Mom Was the City of Refuge?

Posted: December 14, 2016 in 05-Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 4:41-43

Eastern Cities of Refuge

When we were little and we did something to one of our siblings, we would run and hide behind our mom’s legs as we were being chased by our bigger, older sibling. Mom was home base. Mom was the demilitarized zone. She was the city of refuge. If your big brother had caught you, he would have pummeled and made you cry uncle or, even worse, apologize to him. If you made into mom’s line of sight and to her legs, the battle was over between you and your sibling. There would be no violence here today. Even if you had done something wrong, mean, or vicious to your sibling, there would be no retribution once you made to mom.


It was then that mom had to become a mediator as well as savior. She had to figure out what exactly happened among the cacophony of the two children presenting their cases at the exact same time. She finally has to scream, “Quiiiiieeeettttt!” And, then, when there were no voices speaking. She would ask the accusing child to state his/her case. Then, the accused child clinging to her leg had to state his/her case. There would be punishment of some sort but with mom, it typically would not be a whipping unless she caught you in the act of doing the crime. Usually, it involved the child in the right being allowed to go back out and play and the child in the wrong being required to stay inside the rest of the day. Or if the child in the wrong had done something particularly egregious, the worst punishment of all – being sent to your room and being told “to wait til your father gets home!” Oh that was the worst punishment of all. Having to wait for what seemed like eons of time. If we snuck out of the room and went back outside, mom’s refuge rules were all off. If your brother caught you outside the house, mom was probably standing at the window watching jungle justice be exacted by your brother or sister. However, if you stayed in the room like you were told, you were safe but, then, there was the justice of dads. They did not seem to give a rip about our excuses for why we had done what we had done. They were concerned only with the crime, the family rule that had been violated. We would pay for our crimes with dad. It would be a whipping. It would be, even worse, restrictions from things that we enjoyed doing. There would be punishment.


However, it was that idea of running and hiding behind mom that came to mind when I thought about these cities of refuge that are first mentioned in Numbers 35, but are again mentioned here in Deuteronomy 4:41-43:


41 Then Moses set aside three cities east of the Jordan, 42 to which anyone who had killed a person could flee if they had unintentionally killed a neighbor without malice aforethought. They could flee into one of these cities and save their life. 43 The cities were these: Bezer in the wilderness plateau, for the Reubenites; Ramoth in Gilead, for the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, for the Manassites.


The Mosaic Law stated that anyone who committed a murder was to be put to death (Exodus 21:14). But for unintentional deaths, God set aside these cities to which the murderer could flee for refuge (Exodus 21:13). He would be safe from the avenger—the family member charged with avenging the victim’s death (Numbers 35:19)—until the case could go to trial. The congregation would judge to find if the attacker acted unintentionally. If he did, he would return to the city of refuge and live there safely until the death of the high priest who was in office at the time of the trial, at which point he could return to his property. If the attacker left the city of refuge before the death of the high priest, however, the avenger would have the right to kill him (Numbers 35:24-28).


The establishment of those privileged sanctuaries among the cities of the Levites is probably traceable to the idea that the Levites would be the most suitable and impartial judges, that their presence and counsels might calm or restrain the stormy passions of the blood avenger. By their consecration as priests, the Levites were mediators between the Israelites and God. As such, they would have been gifted to calmly mediate between the attacker and the victim’s family, ensuring that no further bloodshed would occur.


So, as you can see, there is a similarity between being able to make it to your mom’s legs when you were a kid and the cities of refuge for Israelites. If you could just make it to mom, there would be not butt-whoopin’ by your sibling. She was a safe haven. Mom was the UN peacekeeping force. All hostilities must end in mom’s line of sight. Once there, the chase was over. The lust for vengeance would end at mom’s feet. We would then have to present our cases to her and she would adjudge what punishment would be deserved. Not you and not me, but mom. That is what these cities of refuge were like. If the accused could just get there before their accuser could get to them then there would be no vengeance killing. However, as part of making it to the city of refuge, the accused would have to remain “in the house”, inside the city of refuge until the high priest died. The accused avoided being brutalized for vengeance but there was the having to stay inside the city of refuge for what could be a long time, if the high priest was relatively young.


According to, these cities of refuge are also symbolic of what Christ is to us. Sinners find a refuge from the destroyer of our souls. Just as the guilty person sought refuge in the cities set up for that purpose, we flee to Christ for refuge from sin (Hebrews 6:18). We run to Christ to escape the danger we are in from the curse and condemnation of the law, from of the wrath of God, and from an eternity in hell. Only Christ provides refuge from these things, and it is to Him alone that we must run. Just as the cities were open to all who fled to them for safety, it is Christ who provides safety to all who come to Him for refuge from sin and its punishment.


Just as with the cities of refuge, there is no disputing our crimes, our sins. They are well documented before God. We may spend years of our lives justifying them as OK. But God’s law is God’s law and there is justice to be exacted for our crimes. Our sins, even one, prevent us from living in the presence of God for eternity. Our sins, even one, condemn us to the deserved punishment of hell, where there is gnashing of teeth, burning of flesh, despair, hopelessness, and the utter darkness of separation from God. That’s what we deserve when we commit the crime of sin, even just one crime of sin not to mention that we are repeat offenders of God’s law on a daily basis. It is only through the saving grace of Jesus Christ, our city of refuge, that if we abide in Him that we are set free from the punishment and wrath of God against our sin. It is through Him that we are set free from our just and deserved punishment. He has already take the punishment we deserve when He was crucified, dead and buried. It is through His resurrection that our sins have been laid to rest in the grave and no longer cast a pall of judgment over us. We are set free to live in the knowledge that Jesus is the reason that we are no longer condemned. We can walk in the newness of light.


Amen and Amen.

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