Summary: A Church should be a city of refuge for those who are hurting and in need.
Church Dedication: A House of Refuge
We have gathered here today to dedicate this building to God. God saw fit to allow us to occupy this place after we had met in schools for over eight years. Today, having completed the work necessary to fully occupy this place, we can now dedicate this building and its functions to God. To dedicate something means you set it aside for use for a special purpose and today we will set aside this place as a house of God for worship and a place of refuge for those in need spiritually. Before we go through the formal service of dedicating this building, I want to lay the proper foundation for what we are dedicating this building for – as it relates to it being a place of refuge. I do not think I need to elaborate on it being a place of worship. We recognize that the people of this congregation are the Church and this place where we come together weekly to worship God with other believers. But as a Church (both as people and this special place that God has given us, we have another responsibility to reach out to those around us.) Now that we have this place we must be attentive to what takes place in this house and how we use it in our service to God. For example, in one of the cities where I used to live, there was one Church that used one of their fellowship halls as a Christian night club where people could get together and party – which is really what they did. We will dedicate and treat this place as a house of God for worship of Him and a place of refuge for those seeking help. Please turn with me to Numbers chapter one and we will begin reading at verse forty-seven.
I. Cities of Refuge
In the first chapter of Numbers, God directed Moses to take a census of all of males of the twelve tribes of Israel over the age of twenty – these were men who could be used a warriors if needed. The tribe of Levi was exempt from this census as they were not to be warriors. Let’s start with verse 47. “The Levites, however, were not numbered among them by their father’s tribe. For the Lord had spoken to Moses saying, ‘Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you take their census among the sons of Israel…..But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no wrath on the congregation of the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony.” (Vss. 47-49; 53)
The tribe of Levi was appointed to a lifetime position as priests over Israel. They were not allowed to be warriors, but were assigned to keep the house of God. When the Children of Israel came into the Promised Land, the Levites were not given land as the other tribes, but were given cities. These cities were placed strategically throughout the land. When you read verse fifty-three God said that the Levites would camp around the tabernacle so that His wrath would not be on the people of Israel. Here is what we need to understand. God’s tabernacle was a holy place and only the tribe of Levi was allowed to enter. If anyone else came within a certain distance of it, they would be put to death. God’s house is a holy place and we need to remember and respect that. Too many times we treat God’s house like any other building; we need to not take His house for granted. So the tribe of Levi was to camp around the tabernacle to keep the people safe while also performing their duties as priests to keep the people focused on their one true God. Now turn to chapter thirty-five. Let’s start with verse one.
“Now the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho, saying, ‘Command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites from the inheritance of their possession cities to live in; and you shall give to the Levites pasture lands around the cities……The cities which you shall give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, which you shall give for the manslayer to flee to; and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities.” (Vss. 1-2; 6)
When God brought the Children of Israel into the Promised Land, He instructed Moses to have them give the Levites cities for them to live in. When these cities were given, they became cities of refuge, especially for those who had killed someone unintentionally. Now you would think that if someone accidently killed another person they would be fine since it was an accident but that was not the case. The person could still be killed by the “avenger of blood” who was a family member of the deceased person seeking an eye for an eye as it were. These cities were set aside as places of asylum for the accidental manslayer and were evenly distributed throughout Israel. These cities also accepted people who were criminals. Once a person entered into the city, they could not be apprehended or punished even if they were guilty. The Israelites were commanded to give every assistance to those seeking a city of refuge. To this end the roads to the cities had to be properly maintained and signs had to be posted along the way. The cities were located so that none were more than one days travel from anywhere within the land of Israel. God placed the cities so that there would not be endless bloodshed because someone was accidently killed. Remember, the “avenger of blood” could continue until a family was wiped out. For example, I killed your brother and you kill me; then my brother kills you and then your brother kills my brother. See how far this could go? The cities of refuge were designed to stop this type of continuous killing from happening.