“Designate six cities of refuge for yourselves, three on the east side of the Jordan River and three on the west in the land of Canaan. These cities are for the protection of Israelites, foreigners living among you, and traveling merchants. Anyone who accidentally kills someone may flee there for safety.” (Numbers 35:13-15)
Shortly before the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land, God gave final instructions to Moses. Among these was the designation of six cities of refuge to protect innocent people form blood revenge. There are two points here that are of particular relevance to us today.
1. God is our Refuge
The definition of the word ‘refuge’ is, ‘a place or situation providing safety or shelter.’
Have you ever noticed, how many scriptures speak about God as a refuge?
“The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you”. (Deuteronomy 33:27)
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalms 46:1)
What a timely reminder for us! Now, perhaps more than ever in recent decades, the world needs a refuge, a safe place to retreat to from fear and anxiety in this current pandemic. I thank God that He has shown us that the place of refuge for us is Jesus Christ.
I’m reminded of the words of the beautiful hymn...
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
A few days ago, I began to feel fear creep upon me, as many of you will have experienced. I found it difficult to think straight, to concentrate, to get on with work. I knelt down and prayed and as I turned my eyes upon Jesus, a stillness and calm crept over me. Peace came into my heart and with it came a right perspective.
We who know Jesus, can run to him for refuge in these days and find a place of safety and shelter there.
2. Available for all
We see in this week’s scripture that the protection being offered was not just for the children of Israel; it was for it’s ‘foreigners’ and ‘travelling merchants’. In other words, a place of refuge is available to all. Doesn’t this speak to us so clearly of the deep love, care and compassion in the heart of God for His creation?
This is a message for your families, your friends, your colleagues (if you’re still working), your neighbours (over the balcony or fence). God is available to us all. All we need to do is ‘come’.
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9)
Moses, perhaps the greatest of all the leaders of the children of Israel, is dead. Joshua has been appointed as his successor and he finds himself with the responsibility of leading hundreds of thousands of people into the land of promise. The job is new, the task is daunting! He is passing through uncharted territories in his own life and there is the prospect of the enemies that lay ahead and would need to be faced.
Does this sound familiar? Is this not where much of the population of planet Earth finds itself today? We find ourselves moving forward into territories and we have ‘never been this way before’ (Joshua 3:4). And what about the ‘enemies’? Today, some of you will be very afraid of this new ‘way’. Others will be filled with uncertainty about the future. Some of you may feel at times that you just can’t cope with the life that we are moving into.
Friends, the word to us today is the same word that God gave to Joshua as he faced his uncharted territory and enemies. “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed”.
Why? “For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go”.
THIS is what makes all the difference! God’s presence with us. Unless God had promised to be with Joshua, he could not have moved forward into the unknown.
What a comfort this can bring us today. The same God who promised to be with Joshua in his hour of need, is the one who draws near to us also, to lead us through the days of uncertainty that lie ahead. Let’s draw near to Him that we too may know the peace that His lovely presence brings to us today.
"On the day the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered it. But from evening until morning the cloud over the Tabernacle looked like a pillar of fire. This was the regular pattern—at night the cloud that covered the Tabernacle had the appearance of fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp.” Numbers 9:15-17 NLT
Isn’t this an outstanding part of scripture? For forty years, this pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night was a constant companion to the children of Israel.
Imagine waking shortly before dawn each morning and standing at the entrance to your tent. As the dawn begins to break, you watch as the fire slowly dims until a cloud is clearly visible. Again, at dusk, as darkness begins to fall, you watch the transformation as the cloud slowly starts glowing until the whole pillar is ablaze. How amazing to watch that day, after day, night after night, month after month, year after year...for forty years!
However, I suspect for many, that it didn’t take terribly long for the wonder of the miraculous to wane. I think that after a relatively short time, many of the gathered company would take this miracle for granted and the wonder of it would ebb away.
Before we criticise the children of Israel for complacency, perhaps we can can be guilty of this very same thing. God has worked wonderful miracles in many of our lives. We have marvelled at the wonder of what He has done...for a time. Then, like the children of Israel, the wonder fades and with it, something of the vibrancy of the life of God that we felt.
Wherever you are today, whatever you are facing, let God ignite in you again the fire of the wonder of what He has done in your life. Meditate on it. Share it with friends. Share it with family. Share it on social media! Never again let this fire of wonder wane and keep it burning till the end of your wanderings on earth.
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