Friday, June 5, 2015

Higher Ground

If you pay attention to the cities of refuge, you'll notice something interesting about them: they're not really places you or I might go to hide. 

Remember, these are the cities that Israelites could run to for safety if they accidentally killed someone they had no ill will against. There, they would be protected from the vengeful relatives of the wrongly deceased. And since these cities of refuge belonged to the Levites (the priests), there was a way in each of these places for a man to come to God, and for God to come to man. 

But here's what is interesting. Three of the cities, those in the nine and half tribes of Israel, are in the mountains. One in the smaller Israel is on the "desert plateau." The other two, it's not specified what type of terrain they lie on, but we can make assumptions. 

So God sends His mistaken to the high and open places. At a time when they'd probably rather run to the low and closed spaces.

Mountains, by definition, are full of valleys. And there are plenty of valleys in the Bible. But these cities of refuge lie specifically in the mountains, in the high places. From here, you can see all of God's Creation from one horizon to the other. You can look out over the Promised Land and see God's chosen people.

The same is true of the plateau. The desert may not be the most scenic of all places, but here, the spaces are wide open. You can see from one end to the other, and while you don't get the same bird's-eye view that the mountains offer, what you do get is the sense that the world stretches before you in a way that doesn't seem possible when it feels like the world is closing in on you.

These are poignant reminders, in the midst of disgrace, that grace still reigns.

Yes, grace.

Grace is a funny thing to talk about in the context of the law. To a people whose every relationship was guided by covenant, grace steps outside the contract and loves anyway. The law, at its best, is a laundry list of blessings and curses. That's what it's for. You do right, and God will pour out His blessing upon you. You do wrong, and He will rain down His curse. It seems pretty straightforward, which is what we both love and hate about the law.

But then, there's this. Then, there's refuge. Then, there's the accidental murderer, who has done wrong but is not cursed. Who has not done right but is blessed. He is blessed by the mountains and the wide open spaces, by being called to higher ground when it would feel more natural to crawl into the depths.

It's not an accident. It's not like God picked these six cities and then went, hmmm...look at that. These all seem to be in the high and open places. No. He chose the high and open places because with God, every little detail is about grace. Every little detail matters. He could have chosen the valleys, but He didn't. He chose the mountains. He could have chosen the caves, but He didn't. He chose the plateaus. He chose the higher ground. He chose wide open spaces.

Because that's what grace does.

At just the moment when you're ready to run, grace calls you to bigger things.

Go for it.

Remember - these aren't just mountains, these aren't just plateaus, these aren't just the high and open places. These...are refuges. These are, as much as it may seem otherwise, the places to hide. Under God's wings. These are the places to shelter. In God's grace. 

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