Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spoke to you by the hand of Moses:
We know how strictly the law of Moses applied the avenging law. He who had killed was himself to be killed. The nearest relation of the victim had the right, and it was his duty, to pursue the offender. He was the avenger of blood. The law, under its original form, made no distinction between a murder committed purposely and of premeditation, and an unintentional murder. It may well be said that in this respect it was the inexorable law of the letter which killeth.
I. The establishment of cities of refuge, intended to serve as a sanctuary to the murderer who had killed some one by accident, IS LIKE THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS THE NEW LEGISLATION WHICH DEALS RATHER WITH THE INTENTION THAN WITH THE ACT, and is aimed primarily at the heart. The last commandment of the Decalogue, which prohibits covetousness, carries the Divine law into the inner region of the moral life, showing that its scope is far wider than the sphere of outward action or speech. The man who has unintentionally committed murder, finds in the city of refuge a means of escaping the vengeance of the pursuer. This provision is in itself a protest against the Pharisaic spirit which based its judgment upon the outward act alone. The new covenant gives yet riffler application to the same moral principle, when it declares that hatred in the heart involves the moral guilt of murder, as lust does of adultery.
II. The establishment of cities of refuge is AN ADMIRABLE EMBLEM OF THE CHURCH. The Church is the city set upon a hill, whose gates stand open day and night to those whom the law condemns. Only those to whom it offers shelter are not exclusively persons who have transgressed unwittingly, as was the case with the Israelitish cities; all who have broken the law of God, even with open eyes, may there find shelter, on the one condition that they enter by the door. "I am the door," says Jesus Christ, "no man cometh unto the Father but by me" (John 10:7). This is a strait gate - so strait that none can pass through it except on bended knees and laying aside every weight. By repentance and faith everything that is of self and sin must be abjured. But so soon as these conditions are fulfilled, the door is opened. No one is too great a sinner to enter there. Publicans and harlots, all the sorrowful and sinful, let them hasten, arise and enter in. The city of refuge is open for all. The Church of the middle ages restored in a literal sense the Jewish custom of having cities of refuge. It opened its sanctuaries to murderers and spread over them the shield of its protection. This was called the privilege of sanctuary; but it became a grave abuse. Let us cleave to the one great privilege of finding refuge in the true Church built upon the great Cornerstone. The old cities of refuge promised safety from the avenging arm of the inflexible law. We have a further pledge of our safety in the blood that was shed for our sins, in the redeeming sacrifice by which our debt was paid. Sheltered beneath this outspread wing of everlasting love, we are safe from the condemnation of the righteous law which we have broken. - E. DE P.
Parallel VersesKJV: Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses: