Thursday, June 4, 2015

Cities of Refuge

God asks Israel to do something interesting as they settle into the Promised Land. He asks them to set aside six cities of refuge to which persons who have accidentally done wrong can run and be safe. And as Israel settles the land, they do just this; they set aside six cities - three on the east side of the Jordan and three on the west side of the Jordan - for refuge. They do this after all the lots have been cast, all the land has been divided, all the tribes begin to spread out. 

And then, just as the business concludes, there's one more bit of business...the Levites. This priestly tribe, the sons of Levi, the descendants of Aaron, are to have no land or territory of their own; they are rather to live among the rest of Israel, dispersed throughout the nation to serve God both by bringing God to men and by bringing men to God. 

And wouldn't you know it? When the land is set aside for the Levites, they get all six cities of refuge. All six of them! 

It's such a God thing to do. For two reasons.

First, because the priests need to be reminded every now and then that there's room in the law for mercy. That sometimes, accidents happen and it's not always about judging and condemning. It's not always about right and wrong. Sometimes, there's this other thing. And in a place like this, that other thing is called refuge. 

And second, because if I accidentally kill someone, if I accidentally hurt someone, if I accidentally take life rather than give it, I'm not going to feel like much of a holy person. I'm not going to feel like God is very close to me. I'm not going to feel like there's anything I can do to re-establish that connection I once had. Sure, it was an accident, but.... 

Then God makes this place. He makes this place of refuge, where I can run and at least clear my head. And then in that way God does, He fills it with His people. Not just His nation, not just His chosen people, but the chosen among His chosen. He fills it with people who are the only ones qualified to come into His presence. They're the only ones allowed near anything that's sacred. It's like they're one breath away from holy at any given moment.

And in this place, in this refuge, I can't help but feel that it might be the same for me.

Of course, it could easily go the other way. All these persons who get to be close to God might make me feel even more distant from Him. But if I'm seeking refuge, if I'm looking for a way to come back, there's no better place to do it than among the chosen of the chosen. There's no better place to seek God than surrounded by the priests who know exactly what the weight of the tabernacle is. (More than 7 tons, FYI.) 

It's not even that I need the Levites to do anything specific. I don't need them to offer my sacrifices. I don't need them to approach the altar on my behalf. What I need them to do is keep living their lives. Just keep living. Let me see that there's still a way that man lives with God, and if it's possible, let me be a part of it sometimes. Let me live with God because He's all over this priestly camp in a way that I just can't find Him in a non-Levite city. 

What's great about this, though, is that they aren't really Levite cities. They weren't, anyway. They were regular cities. They were Reubenite, Gadite, Israelite cities that God chose to fill with sinners and priests. So that maybe the two could learn something from each other...

Like mercy...

...and grace.

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