Mentally flip through your family album and chances are you can recall a classic snapshot of your childhood self up on the shoulders of a parent or older relative. Are your hands tightly gripping their face or are they stretched up in joyful abandon? It’s one of the sharper memories I carry from my early years. I can even hear myself squeal as feelings of delight and danger surge from being hoisted to such dizzying heights. The only thing keeping me from being paralized with fear was an evolving sense of security as I anchored myself on those broad shoulders.
As I reviewed the Biblical history for six cities of refuge that God set up within Israel’s settlements, one name caught my attention. Joshua 21:21 notes the refuge for Ephraim’s territory was to be Shechem, meaning ‘shoulder’. This place had a long history of hallowed significance; it is where Abraham sheltered and met with God under the great tree of Moreh (Genesis 12:6–8), where Joseph’s bones were laid to rest and where Jacob’s well provided a source of respite and refreshment.
Upon God’s shoulders is the responsibility to govern the universe and Shechem as a city of refuge indicated the pillars of His kingdom are justice and mercy. The purpose of God’s laws are not control but protection and stood in dramatic contrast to the prevailing brutality of other nations. In Shechem a manslayer was saved from the vengeance of their victim’s family, cared for by the family of priests within its walls. When the High Priest died, they were absolved from their crime and allowed to return home. Jesus, our High Priest, after shouldering the weight of a cross of suffering and shame, died for the cost of our sin so that we could be reconciled with God and welcomed home by our loving Father (Rom. 5:6-11). As a child we learn what security is by sitting on another’s shoulders. As a child of God, we find rest for our souls when we cry on, lean on, the cross carrying, burden bearing shoulders of Jesus (Matt 11:28-30). His shoulders are plenty strong enough to take on whatever is weighing you down today.