The Jewish word ga’al and the City of Refuge

city-of-refugeYesterday, I published my first point regarding why I study Jewish belief. Here is point two:

The Scriptures were written by the Hebrew people for the Hebrew people, in the Hebrew language. Anyone who has studied a second language will know that there will necessarily be some expressions, ideas, words, etc that Hebrew-speaking people will just understand better. For instance, the Passover, found in Exodus 12: Jews keep the Passover feast every single year according to the instructions given in Leviticus 23, commemorating the night that the death angel passed over everyone who was under the blood. It was commanded by God that they keep it forever. (Exodus 12:14, and one of many reasons why Torah-observant Christians keep it today.) It was a dress rehearsal for the redemptive act of Jesus Christ on the cross. When we see the Passover through their eyes, we understand better: We had an appointment with death, but because the innocent lamb died, He became the substitute for us, and now we no longer have to die. (Romans 6:23, Genesis 2:17, Proverbs 11:19, Ezekiel 18:4, James 1:15, Romans 5)

Another of my favorite passages is Joshua 20. The word for “avenger” in this passage is the same exact word translated “redeemer,” which is also the same word translated “kinsman,” both from the book of Ruth. There is no distinction. These words mean each other. They are each other. Your next of kin has the ability to redeem you or to avenge your death. If you read the book of Ruth again (also Leviticus 25:24-25), you will discover that Jesus Christ had to be our next of kin in order to qualify as redeemer, but Yahweh constantly refers to Himself as our redeemer. He also says in Exodus 6:6 that He will redeem us with an outstretched arm. If you read yesterday’s post, that will mean something more to you. The answer? Yeshua the Messiah is Yahweh in the flesh, the arm of the LORD. The Jews would have understood this before they hardened their hearts. Ah, for fun, read Numbers 11:23 and Isaiah 59:1!

Okay, back to Joshua 20.

“The Lord also spake unto Joshua, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses: That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood. And when he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of the gate of the city, and shall declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city unto them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them. And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver the slayer up into his hand; because he smote his neighbour unwittingly, and hated him not beforetime. And he shall dwell in that city, until he stand before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days: then shall the slayer return, and come unto his own city, and unto his own house, unto the city from whence he fled. And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjatharba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah. And on the other side Jordan by Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness upon the plain out of the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh. These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them, that whosoever killeth any person at unawares might flee thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stood before the congregation.”

So what does this mean? What would you see here if you were Hebrew and heard the good news of the Gospel? I hope I can explain this clearly, the way I see it.

The Father is the Son’s avenger of blood (nearest of kin). The Son was slain, unwittingly, by those who are responsible for His death: sinners. When a sinner learns of Christ, He runs to the city of refuge (which is also Christ). The City protects the man-slayer from the avenger of blood until the death of the high priest, at which point he may return home. The amazing thing about this passage is that Christ is also our high priest. It is his death that pardons us! This is the amazing love of God. This is how cool He is. “…yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him.” 2 Samuel 14:14 – Basically meaning that He is acting out His plan to keep us from being separated from Him forever.

Okay, amazing, right? But there’s more to this passage. First, there is eternal security. I have so much to say on this topic; maybe someday I will make an entire post out of it, but for now, suffice it to say that once the high priest is dead, the avenger of blood can no longer seek to destroy us. That’s it. Eternal life.

Secondly, there are those who, after hearing the gospel and learning what Christ accomplished on the cross, turn away and become haters of God. These are those who have made themselves murderers by becoming willingly responsible for the death of Christ. These will be delivered up from the city of refuge, directly into the hands of the avenger of blood.

The writer of Hebrews is expounding on Joshua 20 right here:

“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.” Hebrews 10:26-30. 

Actually, you will find more concerning Joshua 20 if you read the entire book of Hebrews. Here is another passage:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Hebrews 6:4-6

Interesting, right? Suddenly, after learning the meaning of ga’al (meaning to redeem, to act as kinsman, to avenge), and after having read Joshua 20, I understood these passages while also understanding eternal security. There’s a first time for everything, right?

Let me sum up: Studying the New Testament in light of the Old and vice versa provides amazing clarity.

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2 responses to “The Jewish word ga’al and the City of Refuge

  1. Pingback: Jewish High Days and the Resurrection of the Messiah | Full Circle Homeschooling

  2. Pingback: Do You Really Believe in the Old Testament? | Full Circle Homeschooling

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