Welcome to Expound, our verse by verse study of God's word. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God by explaining the word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
Would you turn in your bibles, please, to the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 19. Now, it's a good thing that we're in this chapter, because it's a very short chapter. And I say it's good, because I don't plan on taking the full hour tonight. I want to enjoy the Lord's Supper. And so I want to, I really want to cut my normal time about to half, if that's even possible. I'm going to give it a shot. But I want to make this more of a meditation, more of a devotional.
But we're here principally to celebrate the Lord's Supper, we call it, the Lord's Supper. It's the Lord's Supper because it's a supper the disciples had with the Lord. It was the very last meal that he shared with them before he went to suffer on the cross. And what Jesus did, is he took an old meal and infused it with new meaning.
That's what the Lord's Supper was. It was an old meal with a new meaning. The old meal was the Passover. The new meaning is, do this in remembrance of me. The elements would speak of his broken body and his shed blood. So it was an old meal with a new meaning.
I've always been fascinated and thankful that when Jesus wanted his people to remember him he gave us a meal to do so. He didn't say, make a marble statue and look at it and remember where I preached this or that. Or build a temple that memorializes me. But rather, get together as my people, share these elements, share a meal.
And the early church did share a meal. Very often when they would have the Lord's Supper they first had a love feast, an agape feast, where they would have a meal, a sanctified pot luck. People would bring their dishes and then they would take the Lord's Supper together.
It was one of the priorities of the early church, the Lord's Supper was. In Acts chapter two, verse 42, "And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship in the breaking of bread and in prayer." So it was a priority to get together to break bread, to take the elements, to remember the Lord Jesus, his suffering and his death.
But also on the top of their priority list was the apostles' doctrine, it was Bible teaching. And so we are looking at a particular portion of scriptures. And remember, when the apostles taught they often took the Old Testament as their basis. That was the scripture for them. And they saw the meaning behind those prophetic utterances.
Well, in this chapter we have some verses about some unusual cities called the Cities of Refuge, the Cities of Refuge. And it's actually perfect that we're having the Lord's Supper, because the Cities of Refuge, as I will close off this section, are really prophetic. They're a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate place of, city of refuge.
Now the fact that the Cities of Refuge were Levitical cities, don't forget that, is very important. And as I tie a bow on tonight's Bible study I'll show you why that's important. Remember the tribe of Levi. They had no land allotment, but they did have cities within other people's and other tribes' land allotment.
So there were 48 cities throughout all of the 12 tribes of Israel. And those 48 cities belonged to the Levites. The Levites would dwell in them.
Six of the 48 cities were called Cities of Refuge. I'm kind of summing it up here. And I'm borrowing from another portion of scripture and that is Numbers chapter 35. You don't have to turn there. We've already covered it, so I know you remember all this. Numbers chapter 35 is about the Cities of Refuge. They're mentioned here again by Moses to the new generation.
And when we get to Joshua chapter 21, the six cities are actually named. So we know that there were three on the west side of the Jordan River and three on the east side of the Jordan River. The three cities by name on the Western side starting with the very northern City of Refuge was a city of Kedesh. Not like the one down south, but up north. It was Kedesh of Galilee. The second one in the middle of the country was Shechem, in the central spine of mountains. And then way down south in the Judean hills was the city of Hebron. Those three cities where the Cities of Refuge.
Now God said, if I expand your territory you'll need more. So Joshua 21 tells us they added three more on the east side of the Jordan River. Up north, the city of Golan. In the middle, the city of Ramoth-Gilead. And way down south in the desert, in the wilderness, in what is today Jordan, the city of Bosor. And those were the six Cities of Refuge that the children of Israel.
Now, what were they about? A City of Refuge was if you had gotten into some sort of an argument with somebody and it became very heated, and you didn't premeditatively kill him, but in the fight that ensued you killed your neighbor, so it was second degree manslaughter. So because it wasn't premeditated you didn't have hatred in your heart, but the result was the death of your neighbor. Well, you need a fair trial. So you would be instructed to flee to one of these six Cities of Refuge, and there you would be protected.
And what would you be protected from? Well, from the mob that would follow you to kill you. Because hey, you killed my buddy. Or a relative, a family member called the avenger of blood, the avenger of blood, who would chase you down and kill you because you killed a relative.
So because that was possible, these Cities of Refuge were scattered throughout the 12 tribes where a person could flee. And so in verse one, "when the Lord your God has cut off the nations whose land the Lord your God is giving you and you dispossessed them and dwell in their cities and in their houses, you should separate three cities for yourself in the midst of your land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess. You shall prepare roads for yourself. And divide into three parts the territory of your land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit that any man slayer may flee there."
Later on, the Jews will assemble a group of writings called the Talmud. Have you ever heard of the book the Talmud or the series of books the Talmud, the Jewish Talmud? The Talmud says that at every crossroad in Israel there was a sign post with a sign on it that said "To the City of Refuge," so that at any crossroad anybody fleeing and needing a fair trial, needing protection, would be given directions on how to get there.
So it was given for two reasons. It was to restrain revenge and it was too reserve judgment. The Levites who lived there would have an impartial view of things and give you a fair hearing. And it would keep those who simply want to avenge your blood away.
Verse four. Oh, and by the way, the only catch is, you have to stay in this city until you go to trial. And if you are indeed found guilty, then you are turned over to the avenger of blood. Or until the high priest dies. And when the high priest dies, this is Numbers 35, you are free, you are acquitted. It's as if his death atoned for your crime. Keep that in mind as we bring this to a close.
"And this is the case of the man slayer who flees there, that he may live. Whoever kills his neighbor unintentionally, not having hated him in times past, as when a man goes to the woods with his neighbor to cut timber and his ax swings, 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." So the cutting part flies off the handle and hits the guy in the head. You didn't mean to, but man, I'm sorry that happened. He's dead.
Verse six, "Lest the avenger of blood, while his anger is hot, pursue the man slayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and kill him though he was not deserving of death since he had not hated the victim in times past." Now look at the word in your text "avenger," the word "avenger." And I'm going to see if you recall this word. I've shared with you on many occasions. The word in Hebrew translated here "avenger of blood," is the Hebrew word "go'el." Some of you are familiar with it. I see a couple heads going, oh, I know the word "go'el." The word "go'el" is the Hebrew word for the kinsman redeemer, the relative who is a redeemer.
So the idea of an avenger of blood is a relative, not a mafia member. This isn't the godfather sending out somebody to rub somebody out. (IMITATING THE GODFATHER) I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse.
(REGULAR VOICE)It's not that kind of a avenger of blood. It was a relative who performed a legal function. Some of the legal functions were thus. Number one, if somebody in your family became so poor that he or she had to sell themselves and become a slave to pay off their debts, you could redeem them, buy them back from slavery. That was the go'el, the near kinsman who would redeem.
If land was lost, the kinsman redeemer, the go'el, could redeem. Also, in this case, he would be the executioner if the person who committed the murder was found guilty in that Levitical city. So that was the function that he performed.
Verse seven, "therefore I command you saying, you shall separate three cities for yourself. Now if the Lord your God enlarges your territory as he swore to your fathers, and gives you the land which he promised to give your fathers, and if you keep all of these commandments and do them, which I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, or to walk always in his ways, then you shall add three more cities for yourself besides these three. Less the innocent blood be shed in the midst of your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. And thus, guilt a bloodshed be upon you. But if anyone hates his neighbor, lies in wait for him--" this is premeditated murder-- "rises against him and strikes him mortally so that he dies and he flees to one of these cities, then the elders of his city shall send and bring him from there and deliver him over to the hand of the avenger of blood--" the go'el-- "that he may die. Your eyes shall not pity him, but you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel that it may go well with you."
I want you to notice something about the law. This is the law of God, right? This is the Old Testament. The law in the Old Testament did not simply, merely, only, uniquely deal with outward action, but also with inward attitude. If you hate somebody in your heart, see this is important. Because so often it is misconstrued that the old covenant simply is a list of do's and don'ts governing outward action. But here it's governing inward attitude.
Remember, Jesus said, for out of the heart precede evil thoughts and murderers. And then he said this, you have heard that it has been said by those of old that you shall not commit murder. But I say unto you, if you are angry at your brother without a cause, you are guilty of the judgment. So he was talking about the inward attitude, not just to outward action that the law was sent to govern.
You and I were made in God's image. To kill someone made in God's image like this is to dishonor God personally. And thus it would be dealt with in a judicious, fair, and a spiritual matter with the priests in the Levitical cities making the judgment.
Something else, this is very different, and you need to know the difference between a custom in Islam that the Western world is just becoming aware of, it's been ongoing since 632 AD, but now we're just sort of realizing that it's still being done. And that is the thought of an honor killing within a family. And an honor killing are often murderers perpetrated by somebody in the family, an avenger of blood, but not with a court trial. It's done just subjectively.
Sometimes a father will kill his daughter. That's an honor killing. And he feels he's justified, and is justified under Islamic law, Sharia law. This is one of the reasons Sharia law is not good and people in our country are saying we don't want to allow that, because of things like this. Not a fair judicial trial, but done without a trial. Very, very different than this in the old covenant.
Verse 14, "you shall not remove your neighbors' landmark, which the men of old have set in your inheritance, which you will inherent in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess." Now this is a dirty trick. You live next door to your neighbor. You look at some of the land he's got and he's not plowing that land. It's just he's got more land then you have, but he's not using it. So you decide, I'm going to wake up in the middle of the night and there's a marker that marks the boundary between my plot and his plot. So I'm just going to move it over four inches. He'll never know. And you move it, and the next day he doesn't know it. So a couple months later you move it over another few inches.
Now eventually, you will enlarge your own land. You are stealing from your neighbor by moving the boundary. The ancient boundaries were stone, sometimes several feet tall. And this was seen as theft in ancient Israel. Because you are expanding your territory in a non-legal way.
By the time the Roman Empire came along, it was capital punishment, it was a capital crime to move a boundary marker and enlarge one's territory. To this day in our country, if you take the surveying pin that marks your property, if you were to move it, charges could be brought against you and sustained in a court of law. And you can go to jail and be fined an enormous amount for it. So that was part of a law back them.
"One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits. By the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry. And indeed, if the witness is a false witness who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother. So you shall put away evil from among you."
OK, let's get a grip on this. God knew, and the priests of Israel came to understand, that mankind has a bent toward deception. So knowing this, whenever you would bring a charge against somebody, you would be a witness testifying in a case, there were very carefully constructed criteria.
Number one, you had to have at least two, and the best would be three witnesses for the charge to be sustained. You couldn't adjudicate a crime based on one witness. Number two, you would examine the witnesses independently to see if their testimonies matched. If there was a discrepancy you'd throw it out. You'd throw their testimony out and seek for the right kind of witness or you'd throw the case out.
If any of the witnesses were suspicious, like they would accept money, they would accept a bribe, again they would be disqualified from it. And you could only testify in a case based on what you had actually seen with your own eyes or heard with your own ears.
And then, after all of that, if you gave false testimony, the one who brought the false testimony, the false witness, whatever the criminal was accused of, the false witness would suffer the same punishment. So if it's a capital offense and this person is lying, the false witness dies as well. Or if that person gets a fine, the false witness gets a fine. It's the same punishment for the witness who's a false witness as for the criminal who is being tried.
"And those who remain," verse 20, "shall hear and fear and thereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you. Your eyes shall not pity. Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot."
Now we've told you before that this is an ancient law known as the lex-talionis. The lex-talionis is the law that the punishment should fit the crime, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. It wasn't really a law to ensure revenge as it was a law to ensure restraint from too much revenge.
Because this is human nature. You took out my eye, man, I can't see. I'm coming after you, and you'll be blind in both your eyes. Or hey, you know that fight last week? I had to go to the dentist. I lost my front tooth. When I see you, I'm going to make sure you wear dentures the rest of your life. See, the punishment often exceeds the crime when you personally enact it. So in a court of law the punishment must fit the crime.
If you remember your bibles, way back in the book of Genesis, in Genesis chapter four there was a guy named Lamech. Remember Lamech? And Lamech came back from killing somebody and he said, I have killed a man. He bragged, he boasted. I have killed a man for wounding me, even a young man, for hurting me. If Cain shall be avenged seven-fold, then Lamech shall be avenged 77-fold. That's human nature. To restrain that bent, that proclivity of human nature, the lex-talionis was there so that vengeance would not exceed what is fitting. The punishment would match the crime.
Now we get to the New Testament. And Jesus takes this lex-talionis, this scripture. And he sort of turns it on its ear in a beautiful way, showing that the highest way to treat somebody is not revenge. The highest way to treat someone is forgiveness. Listen to what the Lord Jesus said. This is Matthew chapter five, Sermon on the Mount.
"You have heard that it was said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, give your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to him who asks of you and from him who wants to borrow from you, do not turn away."
So not vengeance, but forgiveness is the highest act. Be a refuge for people, just like the City of Refuge. Don't immediately react or respond, but welcome that person in and be a refuge. Now we've talked about the Cities of Refuge, then the land markers, and then the witnesses. Let's just kind of get back in and sum up a couple thoughts before we take the Lord's Supper.
The Cities of Refuge are ironic, number one, and they display God's mercy. The Cities of Refuge are prophetic, number two, and they display God's grace. Allow me to explain.
The Cities of Refuge are ironic. And what I mean by that is the fact that the tribe of Levi even existed at all is a demonstration of God's mercy. Because there is no just, legal reason why the tribe of Levi should even have existed. I'm going to jog your memory. Back in Genesis when the father of the tribe of the Levites, Levi and Simeon were around, those two brothers attacked a city. And they committed mass murder of many of the males of that city. You probably recall the story.
On his deathbed, Jacob, their father, got all the boys together, and he mentions this. He brings Simeon and Levi in and he said, cursed be your anger, for it is fierce, and your wrath, for it is hurtful. Therefore, the Lord will divide you and Jacob and scatter you in Israel.
Now just think about that. He didn't say, but he should've said, your anger is fierce. You killed several people, it was a mass murder, therefore by justice, you need to die. You need to be eradicated. You need to be eliminated. But rather, it was an act of mercy, wasn't it?
You're not getting what you deserve, God said through Jacob. But you will be divided, you will be scattered. And the tribe of Levi was. They didn't get any land allotment at all. They got the priesthood, miracle of miracles. But they only got cities scattered throughout all of Israel. So it's ironic that the Cities of Refuge were Levitical cities when there really is no just reason why the tribe of Levi should even exist at all. It's a demonstration of God's mercy.
Second, the Cities of Refuge are prophetic, and therefore a demonstration of God's grace. They're prophetic in that they speak in the future of the ultimate refuge, the Lord Jesus Christ. Because a criminal would flee to a City of Refuge for a fair trial, he would be protected while the high priest was alive. So he was saved by the life of the high priest. And when the high priest died it was as if his sins were atoned for by the death of the high priest.
Jesus, in the New Testament, is called our Great High Priest, the ultimate High Priest, the final High Priest. Though he could have avenged us for our sins, the avenger became the Redeemer. The avenger, the go'el, became the one who set us free and took the punishment upon himself. And that's what we celebrate. That is what we remember.
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