A City Set On a Hill
Surviving the Seventieth Week by Reforming Fundamentalism and Establishing Cities of Refuge
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Chapter 9
The Cities of Refuge

Copyright 2010 by Raul E. Lopez, MD, MDiv

In the vision of the two olive trees in Zachariah which we discussed before, one of the olive trees represented Joshua, the high priest and the leader of the religious aspect of the nation. The other olive tree represented Zerubabel, the current governor and the grandson of Jehoiachin, the penultimate king of Judah. He represents the civil or political structure of the nation. In this vision we saw that the oil, which represents the Holy Spirit flowed through the two olive trees into the lamp stands. In the book of Revelation the lamp stand represents the church. This imagery suggests that both the ecclesiastical and civil leadership within a nation can be used by God to fill that nation with the light of the Holy Spirit. Government can be Spirit filled when Godly men lead it and when it is involved in building the church, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. God told Zechariah "the hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple, his hands shall also finish it" (Zechariah 4:9). There are two ways that government can help the church, the first is by protecting it, the other is by implementing Biblical law.

The first commandment of the second table of the Law is "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13). God is grieved when the innocent suffer. This is especially true when those who suffer are His people. In Israel, the Lord provided a way to prevent the shedding of innocent blood. He did this by appointing six cities of refuge so "that the slayer who kills any person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there" (Joshua 20:3). He told them that these cities "shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood" (Joshua 20:3). If the Lord provided this refuge for Israelites who were being unjustly pursued one would expect that He would provide a similar refuge for His church. These six cities provide a model for the creation of Christian city states which could serve as a refuge for God's people.

The cities of refuge were selected from among the cities which were assigned to the Levites, which were the priests of Israel (Joshua 21). All of the tribes except for those of Levi and Simeon were assigned a block of land. This is the result of the actions of their ancestors. The patriarchs Simeon and Levi slaughtered a whole city deceitfully to avenge the defilement of their sister Dinah (Genesis 34). Simeon was scattered throughout the tribe of Judah, and Levi was assigned 48 cities through out all of the land of Israel. Levi had about as much territory as the other tribes but it was divided into 48 discontinuous sections. It is essential to note that Levi was not scattered in a way similar to that experienced by most minorities. In those cities which were assigned to them they were the majority population. Since the government of Israel at the local level took the form of a democratic republic this meant that the Levites controlled most of their own political affairs. The fact that the cities of refuge were selected from among these cities shows that God expected the cities controlled by the priests to be different from the other cities of Israel.

The church has a position in the world which is analogous to the position of the tribe of Levi in Israel. The Levites were the priests of Israel, while the church is the priesthood of the world. Peter says "you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" and "but you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (I Peter 2:5,9 nkjv). This analogy suggests that one particularly effective tool that the church could use to accomplish its task is to establish modern levitical cities and cities of refuge in the form of Christian city states. These could serve as a refuge and as a home base for the missionary activity of the church.

The one thing that would distinguish the cities of refuge from the rest of the world is the implementation of Biblical law. God told the Israelites "Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do [them]; for this [is] your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation [is] a wise and understanding people." (Deuteronomy 4:5-6). As we saw earlier, the law is designed to point men to Jesus Christ "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24). This would occur in two ways. One part of the Old Testament statutory law can be classified as criminal law. The benefit derived from the implementation of this part of Biblical law is the creation of a foundation of morality and justice which would transform the population of the cities into fertile soil for the gospel. The second part of Old Testament statutory law is economic and civil in nature. Implementation of this part of the law would create economic prosperity and opportunity. God promised the Israelites that if they followed God's law they would prosper economically "Save when there shall be no poor among you; for the LORD shall greatly bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee [for] an inheritance to possess it: Only if thou carefully hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all these commandments which I command thee this day. For the LORD thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee. (Deuteronomy 15:4-6). This prosperity, in turn, would bring unbelievers to the cities. They would be the most likely targets for evangelism by the cities. Even in the United States, many who came searching for Money found the Messiah. The same will be true in the cities of refuge.

The cities of refuge would protect the church in two ways. One important way it would protect the church is to protect believers from unreasonable taxation. It is unfortunate that the work of the Lord depends on something as crass as money in order to move forward. However, the subject of finances and taxation is not trivial, but of supreme importance. The church is often held back because many Christians have devoted everything but their wallet to the Lord. However, excessive taxation is slavery. A person who pays forty percent of his income in taxes is a slave for forty percent of the year. Even slaves can serve the Lord, but freemen can serve Him even better. The apostle Paul said "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called [being] a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use [it] rather." (I Corinthians 7:20-21). The Exodus is a testimony to the importance of freedom in order to do the Lord's work. It was to allow the children of Israel to serve Him better that God freed them from the hand of Pharaoh in a miraculous fashion. "And Moses and Aaron came in unto Pharaoh, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me? let my people go, that they may serve me." (Exodus 10:3). Moses communicated this statement six time to Pharaoh and God sent down ten horrible plagues upon Egypt to drive that point home until they finally let them go.

When God's people are enslaved, the fruits of their labor are used to promote paganism in one form or another. Before the Exodus the Israelites were working to build cities for Pharaoh and to support his polytheistic religion. Economic persecution was one prong in a highly successful two prong attack on Christianity mounted by the Moslem Arabs. In all the countries which they conquered a special tax was levied on Christians and evangelism was forbidden. Taxation was one prong, forbidding evangelism the second. Over a period of years this strategy transformed the Christian middle east into the land of Islam. Christians financed the growth of the Islamic empire. As long as Christians were the majority, or a significant minority, the Islamic empire prospered, when Christianity disappeared the empire collapsed into multiple poverty stricken sultanates.

One should not minimize the success of this strategy. Only in Spain were Christians able to take back the land lost to Islam. There, a small number of Christians took refuge in the well protected region of northern Spain called Asturias and established a small independent country. The towns in this area in northern Spain served as cities of refuge against the Moslem invaders. One of the larger cities in the region was called Leon and later the kingdom became known as the kingdom of Leon. Even though the process of de-Christianization in Spain was slow, by the time the last Arab controlled cities in the south were re-conquered, the Christian population had become a small minority. Even in the United States great amounts of tax moneys are used to support the exclusive teaching of evolution and secular humanism in public schools and to subsidize, through the innumerable handouts of an inflated welfare system, those whose lives have crashed because they practiced the tenets of evolution and secular humanism.

The cities of refuge would also protect the church from unreasonable restrictions and from violent persecution both now and during the tribulation. I have actually heard Christians pray for persecution, thinking that it would help the church grow. Violent persecution serves to purify the church. It is like a forest fire which clears all the undergrowth and leaves only the strongest trees standing. However, the church does not grow during persecution, but only during peace. The church grew after the first intense persecution of the church, the one which was orchestrated by Saul of Tarsus, not during that persecution. Luke says that after Saul was converted and stopped persecuting the church "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." (Acts 9:31). If persecution fueled evangelism, Iran would be one of the most Christian countries on Earth but in fact it is one of the least evangelized.

In addition to protecting the church from violent persecutions, these cities would serve to protect persecuted Jews and the oppressed of any nationality. The statue of Liberty proclaims "give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" A sign of the decay of the United States is that the golden door now opens only with difficulty. Christ says "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29 nkjv). This verse could be one motto for the cities of refuge.

Perhaps some would ask why the church is not commanded specifically to build such havens if that was the means whereby the church was to be protected. However, the Lord provided two key facts, first of all He warned the church of impending persecution, then, secondly, in the past, He had provided a pattern for escaping such persecution in the form of the commands about the cities of refuge. The importance of this pattern is evident by the fact that this topic takes up almost three chapters in three different books of the Bible (Numb. 35:9-34; Deuteronomy. 19:1-13; Joshua 20). It seems strange that the Bible makes such great emphasis on this point, especially since there is no Biblical record that it was actually implemented in practice. This makes it likely that it is a pattern for something of universal application. In cases where God wished to save His people from judgment he provided a warning and a way to escape, but left it up to the individual to carry out the escape instructions. This is the case with Noah, Lot, and the Exodus. In the case of Noah, the Lord warned him of the impending destruction of the world and instructed him to build an ark, but it was up to him to build it.

Christians in the past have fled to friendly cities to flee persecution. We already saw the example of the cities in Northern Spain where Christians fled from the constant although low grade persecution of the Arab Moslems. Another example is the Geneva of John Calvin, to which many persecuted Christians fled in the early days of the Protestant Reformation. In some cases, such as the early Puritan colonies, the Christians built the cities of refuge themselves in the wilderness out of nothing. The city mentioned in our text, Philadelphia in Turkey, itself later served as a city of refuge. Several hundred years after the letter was written Asia Minor fell to the Moslems, but Philadelphia was able to resist as an independent city for about seven hundred years, even though it was surrounded by Moslem territory . The other cities where the seven churches were located soon capitulated to the Moslems.

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