Avoidance Inside the Cities of Refuge
1. Why do we need a place of refuge at Armageddon, and how did God picture it prophetically for us?
BLOODGUILT cleaves to all the world. While outwardly striving for international peace in her own way, Christendom is at the same time taking the lead in preparing the most sanguinary war of all time. Where is there a place for us to escape from having any part in the world’s bloodguilt at Armageddon, that our own lives may not be required of us according to Jehovah’s covenant concerning the sacredness of blood? Jehovah has provided the only place of escape and refuge, and he pictured it for us prophetically in the cities of refuge that he arranged for in the land of Israel.
2. What were the places of sanctuary among the pagan nations, and why were they reduced in number finally?
2 These were not like the places of refuge that were in fashion among the ancient pagan nations. Those places were religiously sacred places, such as groves, temples and altars, and they were given the right of asylum, that is, the right to furnish shelter with protection against punishment for any misdoing. The protective power given to these places extended itself over a considerable area around the holy spot and was sternly guarded and preserved by severe punishments to the violators of the protection offered at the place. However, these places of refuge or of sanctuary were places where, under the cover of religion, the guilty as well as the unfortunate person might find shelter and protection against the officers of the law or those who would take the law into their own hands and inflict punishment. The famous temple of Artemis (or Diana) at Ephesus was a heathen place of asylum or sanctuary and its privileges in this regard expanded as time went on. In time the number of these places of sanctuary multiplied greatly among the Greeks and the Romans, but the privilege of sanctuary was abused and this led to a great increase of criminals. So Roman emperor Tiberius, of Jesus’ day, had a solemn inquiry made into the effects of these sanctuaries, and this resulted in reducing the number of them and limiting their privileges.
3. Were the cities of refuge allowed to multiply in Israel, and when first did Jehovah mention a future place of sanctuary for Israel?
3 The cities of refuge in the land of Israel were limited in number and provided no asylum for the guilty taker of life, but asylum for only the unintentional manslayer. By some it is understood that, while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness for forty years prior to their entering into the Promised Land of Palestine, sanctuary was provided among the encampment of the temple servants known as the Levites, to whom the high priest and his body of underpriests belonged. First when giving the law to the prophet Moses at Mount Sinai, Jehovah God made mention of a future place of sanctuary, saying: “One who strikes a man so that he actually dies is to be put to death without fail. But where one does not lie in wait and God lets it occur at his hand, then I must fix for you a place where he can flee. And in case a man becomes heated against his fellow to the point of killing him with craftiness, you are to take him even from being at my altar to die.”—Ex. 21:12-14, NW.
4. What is meant by taking one guilty of murder even from being at Jehovah’s altar?
4 This last statement may mean that even if a man is a priest who serves at God’s altar he is not to be treated as guiltless, but is to be led away to execution for a crafty, planned murder. Or if any willful murderer should flee to the altar as a sanctuary and take hold of one of its horns in hope of being shielded by the sacredness of the altar, he is to be taken away and executed as he deserves. God does not protect willful criminals either by his law or by holy things of his organization. An example of this is the case of general Joab. During the kingship of David he was guilty of shedding the blood of innocent men because he was moved by vengeance and jealousy. To this he added the crime of supporting a usurper of David’s throne instead of God’s choice for the throne, namely, David’s son Solomon. When the would-be usurper still showed ambitions for the throne and King Solomon had him killed, general Joab fled and took hold on the altar horns and refused to come away, saying: “No! For here is where I shall die.” Accordingly King Solomon had him executed there, saying: “Jehovah will certainly bring back his blood upon his own head, because he fell upon two men more righteous and better than he was and he proceeded to kill them with the sword, when my father David himself had not known of it.” (1 Ki. 2:28-34, NW) No murderer or willful sharer in blood shed may expect the sacrifice of Jehovah’s great altar, namely, Jesus Christ, to atone for his crime or share in crime.
5. How many cities of refuge were to be set aside, and why were they not ordinary cities?
5 In the fortieth year of their wandering the Israelites reached the desert plains of Moab east of the Jordan River opposite the city of Jericho. Then Jehovah God saw good to order them to set aside six cities of refuge, three on the east side of the river and three on the west side. These were not just ordinary cities, but cities belonging to Jehovah’s special servants attached to his temple, one city, Hebron, being a priests’ city and the other five belonging to the Levites. In harmony with their being places of refuge where the refugee was untouchable by the executioner, they were given a sacred status. So we read of the assignment of the cities: “They gave a sacred status to Keʹdesh . . . and Sheʹchem . . . and Kirʹi·ath-arʹba, that is to say, Heʹbron, . . . Beʹzer . . . and Raʹmoth in Gilead . . . and Goʹlan.” (Josh. 20:7, 8, NW) The cities of refuge therefore had God’s special recognition, and their power to provide refuge deserved to be respected.
6. What was it the purpose of the refuge cities to prevent, and what would result if the Israelites tried to sidetrack or bypass this law?
6 The purpose of the refuge cities was to prevent the land from being polluted with innocent blood, not the blood of the person unintentionally killed, but the blood of the unintentional killer who was innocent of any wrong intent: “that no innocent blood may be spilled in the midst of your land that Jehovah your God is giving you as an inheritance and no bloodguilt has to be upon you.” (Deut. 19:10, NW) Besides that, if the Israelites failed to carry out the law of the cities of refuge and tried to sidetrack or bypass the law, it would result in polluting the land with the blood of the innocent person, whether killed intentionally or unintentionally. “You must not pollute the land in which you are, because it is blood that pollutes the land and for the land there may be no atonement respecting the blood that has been spilled upon it except by the blood of the one spilling it. And you must not defile the land in which you are dwelling, in the midst of which I am tenting, for I Jehovah am tenting in the midst of the sons of Israel.”—Num. 35:33, 34, NW.
7. To avenge the blood shed, who was the one made in God’s image, and where might a manslayer flee to escape from this one?
7 Jehovah recognized the right of the nearest relative of the innocent person killed to put the manslayer to death when he came upon him. Jehovah recognized this nearest relative as the avenger of blood and therefore assigned to him the right and power of executioner. Thus God made the blood avenger “in God’s image,” for God himself has the right and power of executing murderers. (Gen. 9:6, NW) God’s law said: “The avenger of blood is the one who will put the murderer to death. When he chances upon him he himself will put him to death.” (Num. 35:19, NW) However, a man might kill another person or be the cause of another’s death accidentally, unintentionally, without malice aforethought. To protect such a man God provided the refuge cities, that the unintentional manslayer might be spared his life until he stood trial and proved his having no intent to kill and no murderous hatred. (Josh. 20:9) So to the refuge city for his district the innocent manslayer might flee. “And you must choose cities convenient for yourselves. As cities of refuge they will serve for you, and the manslayer must flee there who fatally strikes a soul unintentionally. And the cities must serve you as a refuge from the blood avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the assembly for judgment. And the cities that you will give, the six cities of refuge, will be at your service.”—Num. 35:11-13, NW.
8. What arrangement in Catholic Christendom did such refuge cities not typify, and why was that arrangement at last abolished?
8 Jehovah’s law covenant with natural Israel had literal cities of refuge. Jehovah’s new covenant with spiritual Israel provides for a similar refuge. Thus the Israelite cities of refuge typified or foreshadowed a good thing to come, having to do with Christ. (Col. 2:16, 17; Heb. 10:1) What did they typify or foreshadow? Not the Roman Catholic church buildings and precincts where sanctuary used to be provided for offenders against the law. When those who claimed to be Christians began adopting the things of paganism and giving them a Christian appearance, the pagan custom of granting the right of sanctuary at holy places passed over into Christendom. As early as Emperor Constantine of Rome the Roman Catholic churches were made asylums where unfortunate persons could take refuge when pursued by officers of the law or powerful, vengeful enemies. In 681 the synod of Toledo widened the right of asylum to cover thirty paces from each church. Since that time the ecclesiastical privilege held sway in all of Catholic Christendom and continued, at least in Italy, as long as the pope remained independent and had his domains. But this ecclesiastical assumption tended to transfer power from the civil magistrate to the priesthood and worked against the law and the proper administration of justice. It aided the guilty or the sympathizers with the guilty to abuse the privilege. Says The Encyclopedia Americana: “It was the abuses to which this system gave rise, as tending to defeat the ends of justice, that led to its abolition in all Christian countries.”—Vol. 24 under “Sanctuary.”
9. Since when do the cities of refuge find their antitypical fulfillment, and why is there now dire need of such an antitype?
9 The typical cities of refuge find their antitypical fulfillment since God’s kingdom was born in the heavens in 1914 (A.D.), for it is to bring about the avenging of the blood of all who have been unjustly slain. The time for the avenging of the innocent blood draws near and there is dire need of the antitypical city of refuge, for since 1918, when the Lord Jehovah came with his Angel of the covenant to the spiritual temple, the time of judgment has been in progress to determine the bloodguiltiness of humanity.
10. What is the antitypical city of refuge today? With whom is it found, and for whose benefit is it?
10 What is the antitypical city of refuge today? As the typical refuge cities were cities of the temple servants, including the high priest of Jehovah, the antitypical city must be Jehovah’s provision for protecting us from death for violating the divine covenant concerning the sacredness of blood by our coming and remaining under the benefits of the active service of Jehovah’s High Priest Jesus Christ. That provision of protection is to be found with Jehovah’s theocratic organization of his people. It is for only those pictured by the accidental or unintentional manslayer: “When he strikes his fellow man without knowing it and he was no hater of him formerly, . . . he himself should flee to one of these cities and must live. Otherwise, the avenger of blood may, because his heart is hot, chase after the manslayer and certainly overtake him, since the way is great, and he may indeed strike his soul fatally, whereas there is no sentence of death for him, because he was no hater of him formerly.”—Deut. 19:4-6, NW.
11. Since when has more blood been shed than ever before, and especially over what great issue?
11 Since the birth of God’s kingdom by Christ in 1914 more blood has been shed than ever before in human history, not only in private, individual killings and accidental killings but more so in collective killings, in the two greatest carnages of all human experience, World Wars Nos. I and II. Both sides to the wild sprees of human butchery try to justify themselves and try to wash their hands clean of bloodguilt in the water of various self-excusing arguments. But we know that both sides engaged in the mass slaughter over the issue of world domination, though they were informed by Jehovah’s people both before 1914 and more particularly since 1914 concerning the ending of the “appointed times of the nations” that year and the establishment of God’s kingdom then. These wars were waged with total warfare, because for the prosecution of them to gain victory the whole nation was mobilized and all citizens were made to contribute their part to the national effort; and civilian population centers behind the lines became points of strategic bombardment.
12. So what scriptures should the worldly organizations that try to justify themselves remember, and why is religion not clean in this respect?
12 So let the nations and the worldly organizations that feel no sense of guilt before God remember Paul’s words: “I am not conscious of anything against me. Yet by this I do not stand vindicated, but he that examines me is Jehovah.” (1 Cor. 4:4, NW) Also the proverb: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes; but Jehovah weigheth the hearts.” (Prov. 21:2, AS) Also the apostolic words: “For not the one who recommends himself is approved, but the man whom Jehovah recommends.” (2 Cor. 10:18, NW) Before God, the Giver and Sustainer of life, an all-embracing bloodguilt rests on all mankind, on both those who directly did the shedding of blood and those who lent their support morally or materially. In this respect the skirts of religion are not clean, for in these massacres the religious leaders of all nations at war, even the clergy of Christendom, have prayed to their religious gods for heaven’s blessing upon their own military forces. Hence to Christendom the prophetic words addressed to unfaithful Jerusalem apply: “Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the innocent poor.”—Jer. 2:34, AS.
13. What typical illustration did Jehovah give of how he lays a joint responsibility upon people regarding bloodshed?
13 We must remember that the God of justice lays upon people a joint responsibility in respect to bloodshed. This point he made very sharp and clear in his law to Israel concerning a person slain whose killer was never discovered: “In case someone should be found slain on the ground that Jehovah your God is giving you to take possession of it, fallen on the field, and it has not become known who struck him fatally, then your older men and your judges must go out and measure to the cities that are all around the slain one, and it must prove to be the city nearest to the slain one.” In clearing themselves of guilt the older men of that likely guilty city must break the neck of a young, unworked cow in an unsown torrent valley, doing so before the Levite priests, “because they are the ones Jehovah your God has chosen to minister to him and to bless in the name of Jehovah and at whose mouth every dispute over every violent deed should be disposed of.” The older men of that city then washed their hands over the cow with the broken neck and had to say: “Our hands did not shed this blood, neither did our eyes see it shed. Do not set it to the account of your people Israel whom you redeemed, O Jehovah, and do not put the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel.” Only then, said God’s law, “the bloodguilt must not be set to their account. And you—you will clear away the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, because you will do what is right in Jehovah’s eyes.”—Deut. 21:1-9, NW.
14. So today how do all peoples share in a community of responsibility for the blood that has drenched the earth?
14 So all peoples, especially in these days of total warfare, national mobilization, and international friendships, treaties and trade, share in a community of responsibility for the blood that has drenched the earth, all shed because the nations have refused to acknowledge Jehovah’s universal sovereignty and to bow peacefully before Jehovah’s enthroned King Jesus Christ, seeking his favor.
15. Who today are like the manslayer in Israel who killed without knowing it or without previous hatred, and how so?
15 Who is without bloodguilt today, either directly or by association, either in times of war or in times of peace? Some may have committed manslaughter by carelessness in driving a car or by other accident or willfully so. Afterward they have repented and, whereas the law may have inflicted upon the guilty ones a penalty that must be paid to “pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar,” yet they have implored the mercy of God the Giver of life. Others may have taken part in collective killing, thinking conscientiously that it was their duty, or being persuaded by the religious leaders and teachers that it was God’s will and was a doing of sacred service to God. They have since confessed that they made a mistake and see the need of divine mercy toward them. Others being incited by the venomous hissings of Christendom’s clergy or other religious leaders have joined in persecuting Jehovah’s witnesses, this resulting in death to thousands of them for their integrity toward God. Now they realize how mistaught and misled they were and how they need God’s mercy, the same as Saul of Tarsus did. All of us may be aware of some community responsibility for the violent loss of human life. We feel that, if we had known better and been better instructed, we should not have done it or taken any related part in it. It was all accidental or unintended because of our lack of knowledge and understanding of God’s law and will. All such are like the ancient manslayer in Israel “who slays his fellow without knowing it, while he was not hating him formerly.”
16. (a) What does fleeing to a city of refuge picture? (b) For what nationalities were Israel’s cities of refuge meant?
16 Fleeing to a city of refuge pictures how we go as quickly as possible, whether we are dedicated to God or not, and we confess our sin of bloodguilt to him and appeal to him to have mercy on us through his great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who provided the ransom sacrifice for all mankind. Thereafter we seek to prove to God that our repentance is genuine by keeping fast to our refuge within his provision and theocratic organization. We must bear in mind for whom the ancient cities of refuge were meant, in order to appreciate who may benefit by their antitype today. Jehovah’s law said: “As cities of refuge they will serve. For the sons of Israel and for the temporary resident and for the settler in the midst of them these six cities will serve as a refuge, for anyone to flee there that fatally strikes a soul unintentionally.” “These became the cities appointed for all the sons of Israel and for the temporary resident who resides for a while in their midst, for anyone to flee there who fatally strikes a soul unintentionally, that he may not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until his standing before the assembly.”—Num. 35:14, 15 and Josh. 20:9, NW.
17. Who, then, were first in taking advantage of the divine protection for unintentional manslayers, and why so?
17 Hence the members of the spiritual “body of Christ,” the congregation of anointed Christians, need this provision, too, for they are the antitypical “sons of Israel”; they are members of spiritual Israel. The original part of this remnant passed through the years of World War I, during which they became captive to the Babylonish world because they came under the fear of men in high station and their course of action was not altogether clean from this world, not entirely neutral toward the mortal combats of this world. How much of bloodguiltiness Jehovah at his temple judged to be upon them, we do not definitely know. But after he released them from their captivity to Babylon in 1919 they repented of any measure of sin in any respect, confessed their guilt and endeavored to clean up their worship of him under his guidance by Christ. Moreover, since then, and particularly down to 1931, thousands who were definitely tainted with bloodguilt heard the message of the Kingdom and of the coming Armageddon and they began to flee to the antitypical city of refuge. They repented and turned to God for mercy. With faith in his High Priest Jesus Christ they gave themselves in full dedication to God to do his will ever afterward and to remain strictly within his merciful provisions to be safeguarded against the executing of all the bloodguilty at Armageddon. In this time of ‘shortening the days of tribulation for the chosen ones’ sake’ spiritual Israelites were first in taking advantage of this divine protection for the unintentional manslayer.
18. For whom else is the antitypical city of refuge, as foreshadowed by the type, and what does this prove as to the time of fulfillment of the type?
18 But the ancient refuge cities were also “for the temporary resident and for the settler” in Israel. As these were not Israelites they picture those not of spiritual Israel, those not of the spiritual remnant today, but who turn to the God of spiritual Israel and want to take advantage of his merciful arrangements through his High Priest. Their eyes have been opened to see the bloodguiltiness of all the world and they want no share further in it nor in paying the penalty for it with this world at Armageddon. So they, too, are fleeing from threatening execution and entering into the antitypical refuge city under the High Priest Jesus Christ. In fleeing there they show the sincerity of their repentance and of their reliance upon God’s mercy to spare their lives through Christ. How? By dedicating themselves to God to be subject to the divine will from now on into eternity. Thus today, for their protection from the death of the bloodguilty, hundreds of thousands of refugees of the “temporary resident” and “settler” class are to be found within Jehovah’s provision in company with the members of the remnant, inside the New World society. Now is the time, since 1931, for these “other sheep” of the Lord Jesus to be gathered to his fold, to make them “one flock” with the remnant of spiritual Israel. This fact adds to the proof that now, since 1914, is the time of application of this prophetic picture of the refuge cities.
Formerly I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and an insolent man. Nevertheless, I was shown mercy, because I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith.—1 Tim. 1:13, NW.