Do you have a place of refuge when you need it? Certainly, it is true that “God is our refuge and strength.” But He often uses people to provide his refuge for those in trouble. When God was preparing to give the Promised Land to the Israelites, he told Moses to lay out cities of refuge in all the different areas where they would be living. As soon as Joshua led the Israelites into their new homeland and they began to be settled he set up these cities of refuge with three on the other side of the Jordan for those two and a half tribes that stayed there and then the others in the areas where the rest would be living. The whole point of these cities was to have them in close enough proximity to the people that one could get there when they needed it. These cities were for one particular need. It was to protect a person who had killed a fellow Israelite without intending or planning to do so. God had given the family both the right and responsibility to have an avenger of blood in the family so that if someone killed one of their family members, the avenger of blood was to go out and avenge the one who had been killed as a representative of the family. Its intent was to carry out the law that “Whoever sheds a person’s blood, by men shall his blood be shed.” Instead of having a nationwide police force God gave each family the right to avenge their own at that time.
But there was the concern that in such a law, one who was working with another person and in the course of the work an accident occurred and one was killed, that the one who killed them accidentally would be avenged for the blood when they had no ill intent at all but was just working them. It also had to do with when two people were in an argument and one hit another and they died, but the one who hit him wasn’t trying to kill him at all. It was just a disagreement that had both angry and frustrated but no one desired to kill the other. In such cases, the one who had killed the other without intent or premeditation was to flee to the closest city of refuge before the avenger of blood could catch them. They were to be accepted into the city and tried there for what had happened and if they were found innocent of murder they would be protected from the avenger of blood. They were required to stay in that city until the priest there died and then they could go home without being harmed.
Certainly, we live in a very different time and situation. Families don’t have such a responsibility to avenge the loss of a family member anymore. We live in a time when the law has set up police and armies that are there to take care of punishing an evildoer who with intent kills a part of the family. God’s law now is that we are not to avenge ourselves but to give place to wrath so that God will take care of avenging anyone who does the wrong. He does so by means of the civil authorities as described in Romans 13:1-5.
But the point I would like to emphasize is that people at all times, especially in times of stress, hurt, fear and loneliness still need a place of refuge. Obviously, one primary place God wants us all to come to is to Him in prayer. In Philippians 4:6 Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” A prayer is a powerful place of refuge for every hurting, struggling person. At the same time, we often need a place or person to go to in this life and world. As the child who was frightened in the night and when they cried out for their mother to come, was told to pray and God would be there to help them. The child said, “I know God will help me but I need someone with flesh to help me too.” God usually works through people to carry out many of His works in the world. Most of us know someone in our life that we know will be there and care for us if we run into problems we don’t know what to do with.
But I suspect that the reason the counseling industry has become so large is that people are looking for someone who will listen, care and encourage them in their life struggles. I know some situations need a professional who can diagnose and provide the guidance needed. But I also know there are tons of times people simply need someone who will lovingly care about them and listen intently to their hurts and problems and pray with them. There are times when advice is needed. But many times it isn’t advice they need, but a friend who cares and has time to encourage.
I believe God intended the home to be such a place of refuge in life. I also believe that God’s plan is for the church to show that love, compassion, and involvement so that hurting people feel loved, wanted and needed in the hours in which they are hurting. Think about the church where you worship. How could you help it to become more of a place of refuge for hurting people all around us? Remember 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 that God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others with the same comfort God has given us.