“Therefore I command you, you shall set apart three cities” (19:7). The Israelite “cities of refuge” were symbols of mercy in a very harsh ancient world. The Israelites and their neighbors lived in a world without prisons (consequences were either fines or death), and with swift punishments after the testimony of two or three witnesses. But sometimes a person caused harm without intent, and in order stop revenge-killings, these special cities protected those guilty of manslaughter.
Amazingly, God is our safe refuge even when we are truly guilty. Because Jesus accepted the punishment we deserved, we can “flee for refuge” to God’s merciful, open arms (Hebrews 6:18).