What movie or television show has made you cry the hardest?
I saw that question on Twitter and immediately knew my answer: Defendant. That’s the English name of a Korean drama from 2018. It stars Ji Sung as a prosecutor who suddenly wakes up with amnesia – in prison. He finds he is on death row, accused of killing his wife and child.
The (lengthy) details of the plot aren’t important, but let’s just say that there is something about the unfairness of someone being wrongly accused that gets all of my emotions going.
Every justice system is supposed to work to prevent something like that from happening. This includes the Biblical justice system of the Israelites, designed by God.
We get a peek into this justice system in Numbers 35, which describes cities of refuge. Cities of refuge are cities the Israelites were required to build in their new Promised Land. They were for the wrongly accused.
For example, say you’re a hardworking Israelite harvesting your crops. You swing back your scythe and it flies out of your hand, striking and killing one of your servants.
You expect your friends and family to understand. But alas, you hear a rumor that the brother of your late servant has decided that you killed him on purpose. He’s coming to kill you now. So you drop everything and run to the nearest city of refuge.
In the city, not only are you protected from the man who wants your head, but your case comes before an assembly. They look at the evidence and decide whether or not you intentionally murdered your servant. When they side with you, you get to stay in the city of refuge and the servant’s brother can’t kill you.
If you step outside the boundaries of the city of refuge, game over. The servant’s brother is within his rights to kill you.
You have to stay in the city in order to stay safe.
Does that sound restrictive to you? It’s kind of like opposite jail. The brother threatening your life is left alone. Instead you, the innocent one, are locked up for the rest of your life. Granted, it’s a city, and not a jail cell, but still! Isn’t there a better way to do this?
What do you think? I think that this reminds me of, well, life.
We’re all running from accusers, from avengers of blood, from the powers and principalities that want us dead.
Our haters and enemies want to see us suffer. Societal poisons like institutionalized racism and corrupt governments and corporate greed threaten to steal our joy, our peace, our lives.
And Satan wants us to die eternally.
What do we do about it?
We can keep running. And running and running until we’re exhausted and overwhelmed and depressed and fighting off existential panic.
Or we can run to a city of refuge. The Gatekeeper is Jesus.
There we are, panting and sweating, doubled over from the sheer effort of escape. Jesus holds us tight to Him. He whispers “You’re safe now”. He takes our side. Satan can’t kill us now. Our joy can’t be stolen. Our peace is ours forever.
If we step outside of the boundaries that Jesus set in place for us, it’s game over. In an instant, our accusers will surround us, screaming for our blood.
We have to obey God in order to stay safe.
If we want to be free from the evil this world produces, we need to live differently from it. If we want peace and joy and the hope of having them forever, we have to surrender our rights to live in our own cities, with our own farms, and instead live a life directed by the Gatekeeper.
So where are you running to?
“I am your only Hope.”
The accused Israelite escaping into the city of refuge. You and I running to give our lives to Jesus. We’re so similar.
But we are not the same. The Israelite was innocent. You and I are not.
We don’t deserve a city of refuge. We don’t deserve peace or joy. We don’t deserve eternal life. We did this to ourselves. We committed the crimes. Knowingly. Gleefully.
And now we’re running, hoping, praying for a refuge that we shouldn’t receive. The Gatekeeper sees us coming. He should lock the gate, turn us away.
But He doesn’t.
He takes our case.
He stands before the assembly, before all the evidence and sins and addictions that clearly show us to be guilty.
And He says, “I’ll take the blame.”
“Every crime this one stands accused of – give the punishment to Me. I’ll take it. I’ll suffer the consequences. Do not let them die for their sins.”
Now we sit in our new city. Our accusers taunt us. They’re sure we’ll be back.
And sometimes we want to be. This city is so different from our old place. We don’t do any of the things we used to. Some of the people we love think we’re crazy for moving.
But we know the truth. This is how we survive. No one will do for us what the Gatekeeper just did.
So we stay. And day by day, the city looks more beautiful. And you fall in love with the Gatekeeper.
And you realize that this city has always been the best city of them all.
What do you think about the refuge city policies? Are you living in God’s city of refuge? Comment below and share this with someone.
One thought on “Welcome to God’s Jailhouse (Numbers 35)”
Wow. I love the title of this blog. As I was reading, my heart was warmed when I read that “Jesus is the gatekeeper” of the city of refuge. I want to run into that city and be safe.