Sunday, March 24, 2013

Our Escape

The image is a Berber village in the Sahara desert.  It was made available at no charge by Joonas Lampinen.  We could go back to Biblical times and probably find places very much like it almost anywhere in the desert.  It reminded me of a series of messages that were preached awhile back at the church I attend.  Escape was the series topic. One of the things that was mentioned was the ancient cities of refuge.  There were six in Israel, named after attributes that pointed to the grace of God.  The more I thought about the need for refuge, the more I realized How important our need for it is.

More recently, there was this quote: "We all need a city of refuge, because we all stand accused by our enemy."  That was said by Jennifer Rothschild and tweeted by Christine Smith.  I think all of us have had "one of those days".  Sometimes they seem to go on forever.  But they don't really.  And, as often as not, a major part of the turmoil stems from accusations..  If not someone else accusing us, then our own psyche accusing ourselves.  Somehow, we often seem to have a harder time forgiving ourselves than we do forgiving others.  Or others have forgiving us.  Let's take a look at what happens with refuge.

Joshua 20:1-3 (KJV)  The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses: That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood. 

The cities were intended for people who had committed manslaughter, not murder.  There were, of course, normal city residents, just like any other city.  But part of their intended function was to protect those who had committed manslaughter.

Joshua 20:4-5 (KJV)  And when he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of the gate of the city, and shall declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city unto them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them.  And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver the slayer up into his hand; because he smote his neighbour unwittingly, and hated him not beforetime. 

Vengeance was common in those days.  There was even Biblical law supporting some of it.  The residents of the city of refuge would take in the killer, who would be safe within the city walls till he had his trial.  That's right, till his trial.  The stay in a city was an opportunity to actually make it to trial, without being the victim of a vengeance killing first.

I'll let you read the rest of the chapter in Joshua and do the research, but there are a couple of points I want to summarize because they're things that start to make this all very exciting.  And, as we continue, the criminal gets taken to his trial in his hometown.  He's guarded on the way to the trial.  If he's found guilty of premeditation, he's toast.  If it's found that there was no intent to kill on his part, he gets an armed escort back to the city of refuge because it was likely the victim's family wouldn't like that verdict and would try for a revenge killing, anyway.  The killer would then live out his days in the city of refuge until the high priest died.  The killer's exile in the city of refuge was a form of atonement.  The high priest's death completed the atonement.  The killer would then be fully pardoned and free to go home or travel about.  Do you see where I'm going with this?

It's said that the Old Testament pictures the reality on the New Testament.  So, consider that whether we steal, slander, or whatever, our sins take away a piece of someone else's life.  Much of what we do has us seeking a spiritual city of refuge.  Our exile becomes living on earth without a connection to God.  The unsaved continue without a connection.  Those of us who accept our salvation have already been found not guilty because of the redemption at the Cross.  So, we remain in our city of refuge, but with a different present and future.  That period of our own atoning exile continues -- only in the sense that we're preparing for total freedom when we leave our refuge.  Our High Priest has already died in atonement for our sins.  And, at the appropriate time, we get to leave our exile and return home to be with God.  That's exciting!

We've been atoned for, pardoned, and given a ticket to get home with.  Eternity in Hell is much less about the torment that's inherently there, and so much more about the torment of being totally separated from God forever. In comparison, our ticket home gives us an eternal place near Him.

Are you willing to accept eternal exile, always hiding because of sin?  Or are you ready to be released from exile?  From temporary refuge into eternal freedom?  What happens when we leave our earth of refuge is up to us.  Make the right choice.

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