Joshua 20 Cities of Refuge

Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled.”

So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. East of the Jordan (on the other side from Jericho) they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh. Any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.


Before Moses died, the Lord came to him with a message for Israel.  He gave instructions regarding how to deal with a murderer, purposeful or accidental.  God did this to demonstrate how mercy and justice work (Numbers 35).  In a show of mercy towards those who might have accidentally killed someone, 6 towns would be set apart as cities of refuge.  These were places that Israelites or the people living among them could go to be safe from someone trying to take revenge for the life they accidentally took.

Once they were safely at the city gate, they were to state their case, and then a trial would be held.  They could only be condemned to death on the account of more than one witness.  If there was only one witness, they could not be called guilty.  Whether they were guilty or not, they would have to live in the city of refuge for the remaining life span of the high priest on duty at the time of their incident.  An interesting note in Numbers is that there was no ransom allowed for anyone who may or may not be a murderer to return to their homes, or be released from the city (so no bail).

Why could they not return home?  Numbers 35:33 “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.”  If they returned home, the land would become polluted with sin.  Giving leeway to one sinner, creates confusion and leads to leeway for all sinners.  By staying in the town with the high priest, that sin was covered by that priest making atonement for the sin.  So until that priest died, finishing the work of atonement, the person would not be allowed to leave.  If you really did kill someone on purpose, then you would be killed by the avenger of the person you killed, thus cleansing the land.

What an awesome picture of how Christ’s death has overcome the law!

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.[a]  There have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.  Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people.  He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.  For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.[b]

a. Hebrews 5:1 b. Hebrews 7:23-28

  • Is there a promise or principle to remember?

Christ is the only way to atonement from sin.  Atonement = Compensation for sin.

  • Is there an example to follow or a command to obey?

To be a follower of Christ you must believe that: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.[a]  ”The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus, our Lord.”[b]  ”God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”[c]  ”If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”[d]  ”For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[e]

a. Romans 3:23, b. Romans 6:23, c. Romans 5:8, d. Romans 10:9-10, e. Romans 10:13

  • Are there attitudes that needed changing, or an error to avoid?

What is your attitude when it comes to Christianity?  Do you call yourself a Christian?  If so, do you believe that Christ is the only way to Heaven?

In the years following Christ’s death, the Romans coined the word Christian as a derogatory term for those who followed Christ.  It was a way to pick fun at people who had given over their lives to follow a man the Romans thought was ordinary.  Be sure that when you call yourself a Christian that you know what you mean.  Make your calling sure, and be able to give an account as to why you believe what you do.

  • Is there a sin being revealed?

The Lord clearly states in His Word, that we are not to take revenge on those who wronged us.  It is God’s right to judge, not ours.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12

  • Does this make you want to pray for someone or yourself?

Lord, I pray that those who are reading this might take a moment to search their hearts.  I pray that they would know today without a doubt if they belong to you.  I pray that you would use each one of us for your glory to be known throughout the world, and that many would be saved by the testimonies and spreading of your word through your people.

One thought on “Joshua 20 Cities of Refuge

  1. Pingback: Joshua 20. Six cities of safety. The cities of refuge | Bummyla

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