There were to be six cities. Of the forty-eight cities to be given to the Levites, six of them were to be designated as cities of refuge. Six cities scattered throughout the land of promise where anyone who killed another person unintentionally could flee from “the avenger of blood.” There the manslayer would be protected until he received due process, until “the congregation” could review his case and determine that, in fact, the death he had caused occurred inadvertently and without intent. And having been cleared as a murderer, yet still accountable as a manslayer, he was to remain in the city of refuge under its protection (Numbers 35:9-25a).
Protected but not restored. Safe but not reconciled. Spared in life but separated from his inheritance. But there was an event that could lead to restoration, reconciliation and the return of an inheritance.
And the congregation shall rescue the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he had fled, and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. . . . For he must remain in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest, but after the death of the high priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession.
(Numbers 35:25, 28 ESV)
To leave a city of refuge before the high priest’s death was to leave its protection and thus invite the avenger of blood to avenge the blood of the one killed (35:26-27). But to wait until the high priest’s death was to walk out of a city of refuge as a free man, no debt owing for his accidental crime. To leave the gates of these cities of asylum after God’s highest representative had died, was to return, without fear or recrimination, to his city and his people. The life of the high priest was sufficient to warrant restoration, reconciliation, and the return of an inheritance.
And you can’t help but read this and think that this provision foreshadows our great High Priest.
In a sense, all sinners reside in the “protective custody” of God’s patience and longsuffering. Guilty of transgressions–many done in ignorance, many not so much–we are spared immediate judgment for our sin. But we live separated from God, at enmity with His holy nature, and apart from the eternal inheritance offered to all. Alive, but not living as intended by the Creator. Doing life but not the abundant life. “Strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). No hope, that is, until the death of the High Priest.
But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
(Hebrews 9:11-12 ESV)
He came that He should die. He offered Himself that the captive could go free. He died so that there would be a way for the manslayer, and every other sinner, to know eternal redemption through His blood.
And for all who acknowledge their sin . . . who recognize His grace–even while they were yet sinners . . . and who appropriate the High Priest’s death on their behalf, the gates are opened. And there is restoration. And there is reconciliation. And there is the promise of an inheritance God longs His children to possess.
All because a high priest died. The High Priest, Jesus the Son of God. He who died, rose again, and lives now to ever make intercession.
Such is the grace of God.
To Him be glory now and forevermore.