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The Cities Of Refuge
© By James Dearmore, July, 1999
REVENGE is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. "If thine enemy hunger, feed him," says the Saviour; but among the Israelites and other eastern nations a different practice prevailed. If one slew another, the kinsman of him that was slain felt bound to avenge his relative, and to slay him that had done the deed. Sometimes people were killed by accident, when it was clearly unjust that he who had unwittingly killed another should be slain. To guard against the innocent thus suffering, God commanded that "cities of refuge" should be appointed, to which the slayer might flee, "which killeth any person at unawares."
These cities were six in number: Kedesh, Shechem, and Kirjath-arba, on the west of Jordan; and Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan, on the east of that river. They were so arranged that a few hours' rapid flight would bring the slayer from any part of the land to one of the cities of refuge. Jewish writers say that the roads leading to these cities were always kept in good repair, and that guide-posts were placed at every cross road with "Refuge! Refuge!" written upon them. But the man that wilfully killed another was not sheltered. He was given up to the avenger to be slain.
In our mind we can picture the slayer running toward the city gate; the avenger is close behind, shooting arrows at him. He has thus far escaped, and two or three more steps will place him in safety. But, once within the city, he must not quit its refuge until the death of the high priest. If he do so and the avenger find him he may be slain. But upon the death of the high priest he will be allowed to return home, to dwell in peace again.