The Torah, the first five books of the Bible, is the foundation of the world’s three major religions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all consider it to be the beginning of God’s Word. Genesis traces the origins of history to Joseph, Exodus is the story of God’s people escaping Egypt, Leviticus sets up the priestly laws, and Numbers chronicles 40 years of wandering through the wilderness. The final book, Deuteronomy, was Moses’ farewell address. He knew he would not live to see the promised land, so before the people crossed over, he gave them one final series of laws. While Leviticus is the first law, setting up the tabernacle and details of the priesthood, Deuteronomy is God’s instruction on how the nation of Israel itself should be set up. The original Hebrew for the book was “Habbedharim,” meaning “The Words,” but in Greek it translated to “Deuteronomion,” or “The Second Law.”
Because God’s people were living in the days before grace, the standards of holiness had to be enforced by law. Worship of idol gods, witchcraft, adultery, and even swearing were all punishable by death. Fortunately, we are now living in a time when Jesus has brought God’s forgiveness, so each individual can be completely cleansed of sin by His blood. But while the Law was harsh, it still contained beautiful examples of mercy.
Most of Deuteronomy deals with crime and punishment, but in chapter 19, Moses instructed the people to construct three special cities. Verse 2, Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the midst of thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it. These cities were places of refuge for people who had killed accidentally (what we today call involuntary manslaughter). Verse 5 gives an example of a man swinging an ax to chop wood, and the head slips off and kills an innocent bystander. The man is not guilty of murder, but the family of the deceased would likely seek revenge. Verse 6: Lest the avenger of the blood pursue the slayer, while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and slay him; whereas he was not worthy of death.
The man was not worthy of death, but with people out to kill him for the incident, he had to find a place where his safety would be guaranteed. The law of the cities of refuge was absolute; as long as the fugitive was outside of the city, he could be killed, but once he crossed over into safety, he was untouchable. A priest was there to make atonement for the accidental death, and the man could live the rest of his days in peace.
This law was so important that the nation of Israel was set up with special roads created so that anyone could quickly get to their nearest city of refuge, no matter where they were. Verse 3: Thou shalt prepare thee a way, and divide the coasts of thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to inherit, into three parts, that every slayer may flee thither. Whether the accident happened in a city or in the middle of the wilderness, the slayer could easily escape to a local place of safety.
Jesus is our city of refuge. We are guilty of the crimes of sin and are like fugitives fleeing through the wilderness, with the enemy constantly hunting us with intentions to destroy. But no matter where we are, how dark our path, or how far into the pits of sin we have fallen, Jesus will meet us there. He will find us, forgive us and quickly transport us into the city of His protection.
This would seem like an easy system to abuse, but God established strict laws to make sure that only innocent men found mercy in the cities of refuge. Real murderers were not allowed. Verses 11 and 12 describe the fate of any man who attempted to abuse this sacred law of mercy: But if any man hate his neighbor…and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities: Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. All are welcomed into Heaven, that great city of refuge, but some think they can take advantage of God’s grace and get away with it. Anyone who thinks they can live any way they want and still be a part of the Lord’s kingdom is in for a serious wake-up call. The wicked shall be turned into hell (Psalm 9:17).
The original three cities of refuge established were Golan, Ramoth-Gilead, and Bosor (Deuteronomy 4:43). However, the Lord knew that as the nation grew, more cities would have to be set up. Verses 8 and 9: And if the Lord thy God enlarge thy coast, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers…then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three. Later, we find that the three more cities were in fact appointed. Joshua 20:7: And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjatharba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah. As the population grew, the cities of refuge had to expand to accommodate more people.
We often state that God did not create Hell for people, but for the devil and his fallen angels. Therefore, when man sinned, Hell had to be enlarged. Isaiah 5:14: Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure. But Heaven was not created for people, either; Adam was meant to live forever in Eden. So Hell may have to enlarge itself to make room for people, but so does Heaven.
Just like the cities of refuge described in the Old Testament, Heaven is expanding to make room for God’s people. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the universe is in a state of expansion. In 1929, Edwin Hubble observed that galaxies are moving further and further apart, at an increasing rate. Scientists attribute this to the Big Bang, suggesting that the explosion that spun the universe into existence is still causing it to expand. In fact, the far reaches of space are moving away so fast, that some galaxies may soon be cast out of the known universe, with no evidence left that they ever existed. Just like the wicked souls who will be cast out of God’s presence into eternal Hell.
In ancient days, man believed that the universe was static, but here are at least 10 Bible scriptures describing God as “stretching” or “spanning” the heavens.
Job 9:8: Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.
Psalm 104:2: Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
Isaiah 40:22: It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:
Isaiah 42:5: Thus saith God the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth.
Isaiah 44:24: Thus saith the Lord, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;
Isaiah 45:12: I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.
Isaiah 48:13: Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.
Isaiah 51:13: And forgettest the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth;
Jeremiah 10:12: He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.
Zechariah 12:1: The burden of the word of the Lord for Israel, saith the Lord, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him.
Most notable are Isaiah 40:22, Isaiah 44:24, and Zechariah 12:1, because the word used to describe that expansion was “stretcheth.” The word “eth” was Hebrew for “perpetual time.” In the King’s English, verbs in a present tense fell into two categories. If they ended in an s, they referred to something happening now and only now (today, all present tense verbs end in s). But verbs ending in “eth” described actions being done perpetually. For example, John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. When we translate this into “believes,” it loses some meaning, because the indication is that one is only believing now. “Believeth” refers to someone believing now, in the future, and forever; it is a continual believing that never ends.
This is why it is so profound that the King James translators (who had no idea that the universe is expanding) wrote that God “stretcheth” the heavens. Without their knowledge, the Holy Spirit through their pens was already proclaiming that the Lord is expanding the universe now, continually, and forever. More than 300 years before Hubble made his discovery, the King James Bible had already declared that the universe was in a state of constant expansion.
When God said “Let there be light!” the universe came into existence, but His Word has such great power that It is still creating and expanding the cosmos. He is enlarging the heavens to make room for His people, who are about to be taken in the Rapture. Before we reign for eternity with Him on Earth in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21), He is preparing a beautiful city of refuge, where we will safely dine at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb during the seven years of Tribulation (Revelation 19). What a wonderful God to extend His mercy to us fugitives, who were not worthy of such a place! And yet how sad that most are ignoring God’s outstretched hand, as He calls out to us, inviting us to take refuge in His heavenly city. Matthew 7:14: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.