The cities chosen as Cities of Refuge were Kedesh of Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali; Shechem, in the hill country of Ephraim; and Kiriath-arba (also known as Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. The Lord also instructed that three cities be set aside for this purpose on the east side of the Jordan River, across from Jericho. They were Bezer, in the wilderness of the land of the tribe of Reuben; Ramoth of Gilead, in the territory of the tribe of Gad; and Golan of Bashan, in the land of the tribe of Manasseh. These Cities of Refuge were for foreigners living in Israel as well as for the Israelis themselves, so that anyone who accidentally killed another man could run to that place for a trial and not be killed in revenge.
–Joshua 20:7-9 Living Bible (TLB)
SHECHEM: The Second “City of Refuge”
Sechem was situated at the extremity of a valley among the hills of Ephraim. The famous mountains of Ebal and Gerizim rose on either side, from the slopes of which the blessings and the curses of the law were proclaimed in the ears of assembled Israel.
If Jerusalem was the greatest and the grandest of the cities of Palestine, Shechem was perhaps the most beautiful. It is still spoken of by travelers as one of the loveliest spots all the Holy Land, with its orchards of olive, fig, and pomegranate, and its flocks of singing-birds, which have made the inhabitants give to the graceful slope on which it looks down, the name of the “Musical Valley.”
I don’t know if the streets in the olden time resembled what they are now. The following is the recent description of a traveler familiar with them: “The streets are narrow and vaulted over, and in the winter time it is difficult to pass along many of them on account of brooks, which rush over the pavement with deafening roar…. It has mulberry, orange, pomegranate, and other trees mingled in with the houses, whose odoriferous flowers load the air with delicious perfume during the months of April and May.”
You do not require to be told that Shechem is a very ancient city, and that many interesting events in sacred story took place in connection with it. The earliest mention made of it is when the patriarch Abraham slept under its oaks, (the Terebinths of Moreh,) when he came to Canaan from distant Chaldea, and erected his first altar under their shade; and one of the last Bible notices regarding it, is in connection with the woman of Samaria, when Jesus sat with her at “the well of Sychar,” and spoke to her of the better fountain, “springing up to everlasting Iife.”
What does the name Sechem tell of Christ?
It is a word which means “shoulder” Jesus, our Refuge,” bore a guilty world upon His shoulders. The ancients had a fabled Atlas, who was supposed to carry the earth on his shoulders. Jesus Christ is the true Atlas. “Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows!”
All the sins of all His people Jesus bore for ever away. Think of that heavy load which bowed Him down to the ground in the garden of Gethsemane, and caused drops of blood to fall from His brow! No other one hut Jesus could have carried such an awful load and burden as this. No angel or archangel could have done so. Jesus, being God, was alone “able to save unto the uttermost.” He is the only “sure fomidation” that could sustain all the building. With any other, it would have fallen into a mass of ruins.
But I love not only to visit the old city of Shechem, and to think of Jesus bearing the guilt of His people on His shoulders, but I like to think of Him as the true Shechem now. He is our Shechem at God’s right hand. “The government is upon His shoulders.”
The Church and the world are upheld by Him. Believers –the poorest, the weakest, the humblest –are on the shoulders of Jesus. He is bearing the weight of them all; loving them all, attending to them all, interceding for them all. All that befalls me, Jesus orders. Food and raiment, health and strength, friends and home, are gifts from Him. Every tear I shed, He knows it, He appoints it. If he sends me sorrow and trial, I will go and enter the gates of this city Shechem, and remember, “Jesus who died for me bears me on his shoulders!”
Moses speaks of God conducting the children of Israel through the wilderness of old, as a kind father who carries on his shoulder his weak and weary child. “Thou Hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee,as a man doth hear his son” And David says in an hour of trouble, “I am poor and needy, yet the Lord carries me on his heart.”
I like to look at that New Testament picture” Jesus, the good Shepherd, carrying a bleating sheep or lamb back on His shoulder to the fold. That poor wanderer had gone astray on the dark mountains; but the great and gracious Shepherd had gone after it “until He found it; and when He had found it; He laid it on His SHOULDERS, rejoicing.”
What perfect security and safety you have in Jesus, and in His Gospel City! Far, far more so than the manslayer had of old in his. I daresay, even although he was delivered from the Avenger, the Hebrew refugee could not help at times dreading lest the other might come upon him secretly. I daresay, late at night, on his lonely couch, he “would sometimes dream of the Goel stealing beside his pillow, and he would start from his unquiet sleep at the scary dream.
Not so in the case of those who have fled to the “Gospel Refuge.” They can say in sweet confidence, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep; because thou, Lord, only makes! me to dwell in safety.” He who is their “Keeper” says of them, “They shall Never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.”
Written by John Ross Macduff.
Published in 1865.
Edited for thought and sense.
Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: John Ross Macduff (23 May 1818 – 30 April 1895) was a Scottish divine and a prolific author of religious essays. Born in Bonhard, Scone, Perthshire, Macduff was educated at the University of Edinburgh, and was ordained as minister of Kettins, a parish in Forfarshire in 1843. He returned to St Madoes, a parish in Perthshire in 1849, which he left to take charge of Sandyford, a new church in Glasgow. He preached there for fifteen years (until 1870), and then went to live in Chislehurst, Kent, in order to focus entirely on writing. His best known books were: “The Prophet of Fire”; “Memories of Bethany”: “Memories of Gennesaret”; “The Shepherd and His Flock “: “Sunset on the Hebrew Mountains “; “Comfort Ye”; “The Golden Gospel”; “Morning and Night Watches”; “The Bow in the Cloud”; “The Story of a Dewdrop”; and “The Story of a Shell.” Macduff died in Chislehurst.