Keeping Within the Bounds of Refuge
1, 2. Under what restriction was the refugee in the refuge city placed, and for how long?
THE fugitive from the avenger of blood was obliged to prove his innocence of any intent to kill the person accidentally slain. The refuge city to which he fled must first return him to the city in which or in the neighborhood of which the killing occurred. There the assembly must try his case to establish his worthiness to enjoy the protection of a city of refuge: “Then the assembly must judge between the striker and the avenger of blood according to these judgments. And the assembly must deliver the manslayer out of the hand of the avenger of blood and the assembly must return him to his city of refuge to which he had fled, and he must dwell in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.” (Num. 35:24, 25, NW) Since Hebron, one of the refuge cities, was the city of the high priest and his underpriests, the sons of Aaron, this reminds us that Jehovah’s High Priest Jesus Christ is the one anointed to pass upon the manslayer’s lack of wicked intent in causing loss of life to others. He is the one to decide whether to admit him within Jehovah’s place of refuge in his New World society and to let him stay there.
2 Since it was a mercy that the refugee was spared from death, it was perfectly proper for him to be put under bounds, to be limited as to his freedom. He had to stay within his city of refuge and its thousand cubits of open land all around the city. Beyond that limit lay danger to his spared life. “But if the manslayer should at all go out of the boundary of his city of refuge to which he may flee, and the avenger of blood does find him outside the boundary of his city of refuge and the avenger of blood does slay the manslayer, he [the avenger of blood] has no bloodguilt. For he [the manslayer] ought to dwell in his city of refuge until the high priest’s death and after the high priest’s death the manslayer may return to the land of his possession. And you must not take a ransom for one who has fled to his city of refuge to resume dwelling in the land before the death of the high priest.” (Num. 35:26-28, 32, NW) Thus the high priest during whose activity in office the manslaughter occurred must die before the unintentional manslayer could return to his own city or his land inheritance, without fear of the blood avenger. So if the Israelite high priest himself accidentally killed someone he could not leave his refuge city all his lifetime. If a Levite killed accidentally, he could not leave his refuge city to go up to the temple of Jehovah and perform a Levite’s duties there until the high priest died. This showed how the high priest governed the life and liberty of the refugees.
3. So through whom is Jehovah’s protection to blood-tainted refugees now granted, and in what way does one leave the antitypical city of refuge, and with what consequences?
3 This shows, too, that Jehovah’s protection to the blood-tainted refugees today against execution during the avenging of innocent blood at Armageddon is granted through his High Priest Jesus Christ, who gave his own human life to rescue even repentant manslayers besides sinners of all other kinds. Going outside of the refuge city before Israel’s high priest died pictures, therefore, that the one enjoying God’s mercy and protection becomes rebellious at God’s limitations upon him. He loses his appreciation of what God has done for him through Christ and why God has put him under bounds. He becomes like Shimei, who cursed David when fleeing from his son Absalom and whom David’s successor, King Solomon, put under bounds in the city of Jerusalem. Shimei put King Solomon to the test, left Jerusalem to recover two of his slaves, and on his return was put to death for having selfishly broken bounds. (1 Ki. 2:36-46) So the forsaker of refuge comes out from under the atonement covering of Christ’s sacrifice, no more trusting in its merit or feeling its need to safeguard him against the divine penalty for sin. He becomes careless about meeting Jehovah’s requirements and humbling himself under God’s mighty hand, and he develops his own self-righteousness and trusts in it to deliver him. He puts God to the test too far, impaling Jesus Christ afresh for himself and losing all sense of repentance. Outside of Jehovah’s merciful refuge he is certain to become subject to execution when all bloodguiltiness that is not covered is avenged at Armageddon. He will not survive.
4, 5. (a) What questions arise as to the fulfillment of the death of Israel’s high priest? (b) How long therefore, will members of the remnant of spiritual Israel have to remain in their refuge city?
4 The High Priest Jesus Christ, since his resurrection from the dead, has the “power of an indestructible life” and “dies no more,” as “death is master over him no more” but he is a “priest forever” like Melchizedek. (Heb. 7:15-17 and Rom. 6:9, NW) How, then, can he fulfill the picture of the death of Israel’s high priest? And so how could anyone come out from the antitypical refuge city in the New World society? How long will the modern-day refugees have to remain there? We must remember that Israel’s high priest, when he died, ceased to serve as high priest and to offer atonement for the accidental manslayer. Hence the members of the remnant within the antitypical refuge city must remain there as long as they live on earth. They hope to survive the battle of Armageddon into God’s new world, but even after that battle and its execution of the bloodguilty they will need the atoning merit of their heavenly High Priest. Why? Because they are still in the imperfect flesh.
5 However, when they finish their earthly duties after Armageddon and die and are instantaneously resurrected to life as divine spirit creatures in the heavens, they will no more need the atoning services of Jehovah’s High Priest, for then they have forever left the flesh behind, sacrificed in vindication of Jehovah’s universal sovereignty. Everything that attaches to the imperfect flesh, including accidental bloodguilt, will have passed away from them. Thus the High Priest will have died in an atoning, protective capacity toward them. But clear through Armageddon and until their fleshly tabernacle, their earthly house or tent, is dissolved in death and they gain a “building from God, a house not made with hands, everlasting in the heavens,” they will have remained within the refuge city under the immortal High Priest.—2 Cor. 5:1, NW.
6. How do the Armageddon survivors not of spiritual Israel stay in their refuge city until the antitypical death of the High Priest, and for what might they die after that?
6 But how about the modern refugee “temporary residents” and “settlers”? Since they will remain in the flesh forever, when will they ever be able to leave their refuge city and be free from accidental bloodguilt? They may not come out of the refuge city under Christ immediately after Armageddon, because they too, like the surviving remnant, will be in their imperfect flesh, infected with sin. So they will be obliged to remain under the High Priest’s atoning protection; otherwise the blood avenger would kill them. By availing themselves of this throughout the thousand years of his kingship and priesthood they will eventually be lifted to human faultlessness. At the close of the thousand years he will yield them over to Jehovah God together with all the rest of uplifted mankind for a final, eternally decisive test of their integrity, this by the loosing of Satan and his demons for a little while. For passing this test with divine approval, Jehovah God will justify them to everlasting life in the paradise “new earth” of the new world. But when the High Priest yielded them over in human perfection he in effect died to them as atoning, covering Priest, for they passed out from under his protective covering in the refuge city and were placed before God for a test of their own merit. If any die after that, it will not be by the avenger of blood, nor because of previous guilt for accidental bloodshed, but will be because of their willfully failing in the test of their integrity through some selfishness.—Rev. 20:1-6, 11-15, NW.
‘PREPARING THE WAY’
7. How did the ancient refuge city act toward the accidental manslayer, and how did he have to conduct himself in it?
7 The ancient refuge city was to open its gates and act as host to the accidental manslayer. “And he must flee to one of these cities and stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and speak his words in the hearing of the older men of that city, and they must receive him into the city to themselves and give him a place and he must dwell with them. And in case the avenger of blood chases after him, then they should not surrender the manslayer into his hand, for it was without knowing it that he struck his fellow man fatally and he was not hating him formerly. And he must dwell in that city until his standing before the assembly for judgment, until the death of the high priest who happens to be in those days. It is then that the manslayer may return and he must enter into his city and into his house, into the city from which he had fled.” (Josh. 20:4-6, NW) While in the refuge city the refugee was deprived of the freedom of going up to God’s temple, yet he was in close touch with the temple servants, the Levites, and at Hebron with the priests and even the high priest, for whose early death, however, he must not long, for that would be tending toward the spirit of murder and rebellion against God’s bounds. He must not be idle, thinking the city owes him a living, and thus become an economic burden on the Levites and priests. But he must learn a trade and become a contributor to the city’s welfare and prosperity.
8. So how must those fleeing to the Christian’s city of refuge conduct themselves, and in what does this result?
8 Likewise those fleeing to the Christian’s city of refuge may not be idlers within the New World society. They must show an appreciation of the divine mercy to them and keep in touch with the remnant of the “royal priesthood” and especially with the High Priest under whose covering they find protection. They must not be burdens, drags, on the New World society, retarding its activity, draining away its spiritual prosperity. They must learn a trade in that organization, and in view of the divine obligations laid upon it the only “trade” suitable within that organization is to learn to preach the Kingdom message and declare the “day of vengeance of our God.” (Matt. 24:14; Isa. 61:1, 2) This makes the time within bounds fly by most happily before Armageddon in praise of Jehovah and it results in salvation both to the refugee and to others.
9. To keep free from bloodguilt, for what have the refugees declared themselves and for what covenant have they taken their stand?
9 So here in our refuge city we find ourselves now, and here we are determined to stay until the High Priest’s “death.” Because Jehovah’s witnesses are determined to keep within bounds inside Jehovah’s merciful ‘city of refuge’ under his High Priest, these witnesses declared themselves, on November 1, 1939, in favor of absolute neutrality toward the sanguinary combats of this world. Also they have taken their stand for God’s covenant concerning the sanctity of blood, not to violate it by the transfusing of blood that has resulted in so many unreported deaths, to keep themselves from any willful bloodguilt in God’s sight. The willful murderer found no asylum in the ancient city of refuge but was handed over to the avenger of blood to die justly at his hands. We want no persons of that willful kind within the New World society.—Num. 35:16-21, 30, 31; Deut. 19:11-13.—See The Watchtower, November 1, 1939; July 1, 1945.
10. What help to successful flight had to be prepared for the unintentional manslayer, and how was this done in the type?
10 The priests and Levites of the cities of refuge had to be most helpful to those taking refuge among them and given safe harbor. Furthermore, they and all Israel had to be most concerned about helping the needy fugitives to beat the blood avenger in getting within the safe precincts of the refuge city, thus to prevent innocent blood of accidental manslayers from being shed. Said Jehovah’s merciful law: “You will set apart three [more] cities for yourself [Israel] in the midst of your land that Jehovah your God is giving you to take possession of it. You will prepare for yourself the way and you must divide up the territory of your land that Jehovah your God proceeded to give you as a possession into three parts [west of Jordan River], and it must be for any manslayer to flee there.” (Deut. 19:2, 3, NW) This ‘preparing the way’ meant that the main roads of flight to the cities of refuge had to be made speed roads; hillocks had to be leveled down, stumbling stones had to be cleared out, rivers had to be bridged, the roads had to be broadened to even as much as thirty-two cubits, or forty-eight feet, so that heavy traffic might not block the fugitive, and at the crossroads signs had to be erected marked “Refuge! Refuge!” to point out the direction to the city of asylum. Each division of the land, three east of the Jordan and three west of the river, had its own refuge city, so that the flight would not be overlong to a man in any district. Each one knew his proper refuge city.
11. Because of what provision may all nations be glad with Jehovah’s spiritual people today?
11 What an excellent illustration this is of how the way has had to he prepared for the accidentally bloodguilty today, particularly the antitypical “temporary residents” and “settlers,” the “other sheep,” who are not spiritual Israelites but who are from all nations! Thus these nations may now be glad with Jehovah’s people, the remnant of spiritual Israel. Looking forward to punishing bloodguilt at Armageddon, Jehovah sings out: “I shall intoxicate my arrows with blood, while my sword will eat flesh, with the blood of the slain and the captives, with the heads of the leaders of the enemy. Be glad, you nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and he will pay back vengeance to his adversaries and will indeed make expiation for the ground of his people.”—Deut. 32:42, 43, NW.
12. (a) Why is it urgent for us to keep the “way” in excellent condition, and how do we do so? (b) Otherwise, how might we incur future bloodguilt to our own destruction?
12 As Jehovah has allowed only a “short period of time” till the avenging of the innocent blood at Armageddon, and as that time since 1918 has been reduced so much by now, it has become most urgent for us to keep in excellent condition the way that has been prepared to the present-day city of refuge. Thus we shall make easy the speedy flight of countless others who become aware of their accidental bloodguiltiness before God and his High Priest, and who awake to the peril of the worldwide avenging of blood at the “war of the great day of God the Almighty.” We must sound the warning to them, by a fearless, steady declaration of the “day of the vengeance of our God.” We must assist them to speedy flight to the only place of refuge under Jehovah’s High Priest. We must become as signposts along the way announcing “Refuge! Refuge!” and pointing to the only place where to find it now. Everyone must serve in this lifesaving manner in his own division of territory. We dare not fail in our duty as watchmen, pointing at the threatening sword of execution and warning the imperiled people to flee. If we fail in our duty by neglecting to give warning, then our present place of refuge will not benefit us at the crucial time, for the blood of those who might have escaped through proper warning will be required at our hand by Jehovah God. (Ezek. 33:1-9) So let us be on guard against incurring future bloodguilt this way to our own destruction.
THE TREADER OF THE WINE PRESS
13, 14. (a) Who, then, is the antitypical “avenger of blood,” and why so? (b) When and where will he overtake the murderous bloodguilty?
13 But who is the “avenger of blood” before whom to flee? Who is this nearest kinsman of the slain ones who has been made “in God’s image” to act as His executioner of the shedder of human blood? (Gen. 9:6 and; 2 Sam. 14:6, 7, 11, NW) To be qualified to avenge the slain of all the earth and especially the slain witnesses of Jehovah God, this avenger must be a kinsman of all mankind and especially of Jehovah’s witnesses. Who must that be? Who could that be but God’s only-begotten Son, who became the man Christ Jesus? He is mankind’s closest relative, for he was born of a woman, born a perfect man with a life so valuable that it could be offered in sacrifice for all mankind to ransom them from everlasting death. He became a brother to his footstep followers, so that what one does to one of the least of these brothers one does it to their oldest brother Jesus Christ; so that one who kills one of his faithful followers kills one of Christ’s brothers and shows he would do it to Christ himself, too. (Heb. 2:11-17; Matt. 25:40, 45) However, as High Priest he is now about to apply the merit of his atoning sacrifice in behalf of all obedient mankind, to make them his children and to become their Everlasting Father. So, anyone that kills one of these antitypical “temporary residents” or “settlers” who have associated themselves with the New World society kills one of Christ’s prospective children, one of the “other sheep” over which he is the One Shepherd, the Right Shepherd who surrendered his own soul for all his sheep.—John 10:16, NW.
14 Therefore he, “the man Christ Jesus,” stands in the proper relationship to avenge, not the blood of one, but the blood of all the slain, taking action with the swiftness of a pursuing avenger of blood against all the murderous crowd. He will overtake them all at the field of Armageddon. He will find them all outside the antitypical city of refuge, for it will give them no harbor.
15, 16. (a) Who, then, rightly is the one to tread the wine press at Armageddon? (b) However, in Isaiah’s prophecy, who is it that pictures himself as treading the wine press, and in what language?
15 Rightly, then, Jesus is the one that treads the great wine press of God’s anger at Armageddon, for there the crushing of the life out of the bloodguilty world comes as an avenging of the innocent blood that it has already shed and will yet shed till the Avenger calls the world to account and forces payment. However, Jehovah prophetically pictures his own self as treading the great press to crush those who showed no brotherly love to his people, namely, Edom, the descendants of Jacob’s (Israel’s) twin brother. The prophecy gives us the dialogue between the prophet Isaiah and Jehovah in these words:
16 “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with deep-red garments from Bozrah [Edom’s capital city], this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?—I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save [my people].—Wherefore is redness in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winevat? I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the peoples not a man was with me [none of Jehovah’s witnesses having to engage in violent action to help him at Armageddon, and none of the wicked being able to stand up against Him]; and I have trodden them in mine anger, and trampled them in my fury; and their blood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all mine apparel. For the day of vengeance [against my enemies] was in my heart, and the year of my redeemed [people] had come. And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: and mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me. And I have trodden down the peoples in mine anger, and made them drunk in my fury; and their blood have I brought down to the earth.”—Isa. 63:1-6, Da.
17. Whom, though, does Jehovah use in treading the wine press at Armageddon, and how does John describe his forevision of this?
17 But in treading the wine press at Armageddon Jehovah uses the nearest Kinsman of all mankind, the Blood Avenger who is entitled to do the treading for his heavenly Father, namely, “the man Christ Jesus.” The apostle John had a forevision of him going into the loaded wine press at Armageddon and treading it with a troop of heavenly companions: “And I saw the heaven opened, and, look! a white horse. And one seated upon it is called Faithful and True, and he judges and carries on war in righteousness. . . . he is arrayed with an outer garment sprinkled with blood, and the name he is called is The Word of God. Also the armies that were in heaven were following him on white horses, and they were clothed in white, clean, fine linen. And out of his mouth there protrudes a sharp long sword, that he may smite the nations with it, and he will shepherd them with a rod of iron. He treads, too, the press of the wine of the anger of the wrath of God the Almighty. And upon his outer garment, even upon his thigh, he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”—Rev 19:11-16, NW.
18. Why may we expect “all the righteous blood spilled on earth” since Jerusalem’s destruction to be visited upon Christendom?
18 At this Armageddon wine press the flow of blood from the smitten nations will be a flood. Nineteen centuries ago, at the temple of Jerusalem, Jesus said to the Jewish religious leaders, teachers and rulers: “I am sending forth to you prophets and wise men and public instructors. Some of them you will kill and impale, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city; that there may come upon you all the righteous blood spilled on earth from the blood of righteous Abel [the first martyred witness of Jehovah] to the blood of Zechariah son of Bar·a·chiʹah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I say to you, All these things will come upon this generation.” (Matt. 23:34-36, NW) Did they come upon that generation? Yes; for, thirty-seven years after the priest-inspired mob cried out to Governor Pontius Pilate, “His blood come upon us and upon our children,” Pilate’s own fellow countrymen, the Romans, destroyed Jerusalem and her temple after a four-month siege and piled up a death toll of 1,100,000 and scattered 97,000 survivors to the ends of the earth to die as slaves. (Matt. 27:24, 25, NW) So may we expect “all the righteous blood spilled on earth” since then to come upon unfaithful Christendom, the modern counterpart of anti-Christian Jerusalem? Yes!
19. In that connection, what may we expect about Babylon the Great?
19 Also what may we expect about that four-thousand-year-old harlot, Babylon the Great, drunk with the blood of the holy ones and of the witnesses of Jesus, in whom was found also the blood of prophets and of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth? Because, as the Bible says, she dominates all earth’s peoples, she and all peoples under her, including Christendom, will be hurled into God’s globe-encircling wine press. Then blood may be expected to gush out in a torrent.
20. At Armageddon by whom and how is the wine press trodden, and with the juice of the “vine of the earth” pressed out how deep?
20 At Armageddon now near harvesttime comes, then the time of the wine treaders. Jehovah the Supreme Avenger signals, and with exulting shouts Jesus Christ and his troop of treaders leap into the wine trough, not with bare feet, but on horseback, on horses of the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” to crush the tremendous “vine of the earth” and its overload of wicked fruit. Picturing the tremendousness of the Armageddon slaughter, the Revelation says: “He called out with a loud voice to the one that had the sharp sickle, saying: ‘Put your sharp sickle in and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, because its grapes have become ripe.’ And the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and he hurled it into the great winepress of the anger of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress as high up as the bridles of the horses, for a distance of a thousand six hundred furlongs [yes, two hundred miles].”—Rev. 14:18-20, NW.
21. (a) What does the deepness of the grapejuice picture, and what does its being “outside the city” where the wine press is trodden indicate? (b) How, then, may any avoid the wine press of God’s anger?
21 The great Armageddon wine press will be trodden “outside the city” and the horses under Christ and his heavenly troops will fairly wade, almost swim, through blood, so many will be those in opposition to Jehovah God and his King of kings. Do not skeptically think this is too gruesome to come true! It is a pictorial prophecy of God’s Word and his Word always comes true, and this picture has every reason for coming true. “Trodden outside the city” means it will be trodden outside the New Jerusalem, outside the theocratic organization, hence outside the Christian city of refuge and outside the New World society. Do any today want to avoid being pitched into the wine press of God’s anger to be crushed? Then make no delay to escape the divine Avenger of blood. Take the road marked “Refuge! Refuge!” and flee to the refuge city under the High Priest Jesus Christ. Then determinedly, wisely, gratefully stay inside it until Armageddon!