Cities of refuge

Cities of refuge – Joshua 20:1-9

Chapter 20

v1 Then the *Lord spoke to Joshua. v2 He said, ‘Tell the *Israelites to choose special cities. I told this to you by Moses. v3 Anyone can be safe in these cities if he has killed someone. But he will be safe only if he had not meant to kill that person. The person who killed a man or woman can escape to that city. There, that person will be safe. The brother of the dead person may not kill such a person there.

v4 The man who killed someone must go to the city. When he arrives, he must stand in the entrance of the city. There he must tell the leaders what he has done. Then they must let him go in. And they must give him a place to live and stay there. v5 The brother of the dead person may follow the man who killed his brother or sister. But the leaders of that city must not let the brother hurt that man. This is because he did not mean to kill the man. He did not want to hurt him. v6 The man who killed must stay in that city. He may have told them what is true. The judges there will decide. Then he must wait until the *high priest of that time dies. After that, he is free to return to the town that he came from.’

v7 So the *Israelites chose these cities:

·           Kedesh in Galilee, in the hills of Naphtali,

·           Shechem in the hills of Ephraim,

·           Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hills of Judah.

v8 They also chose cities east of the river Jordan:

·           Bezer in the flat desert land of Reuben,

·           Ramoth in Gilead in the *tribe of Gad,

·           Golan in Bashan in the *tribe of Manasseh.

v9 Any *Israelite or foreign person who was living in *Israel could escape to these cities. They may have killed someone, but they had not meant to kill that person. They could escape to these cities. Then the brother of the dead person could not kill them until the judges had made their decision. The judges had to decide the intentions of the man who killed.

Verses 1-3 The law of Moses was very strict. If a person killed someone on purpose, that person must die (Exodus 21:12). If a person killed someone by accident, he did not have to die. He could to go to a *city of *refuge (Exodus 21:13). Moses told the *Israelites to choose these cities (Numbers 35:1, 9-15).

Verse 3 The nearest relative could kill the guilty person.

Verses 4-6 The person who killed by accident would be safe in the city. The judges would decide if his story is true. If the story is true, the person would be safe in the city.

When the *high priest died, the person could go home as a free person. We cannot be sure why this was so. Maybe it is like a picture of Jesus. God forgives us because Jesus, our *high priest (Hebrews 4:14), died for us. (See also Hebrews 6:18.)

Verses 7, 8 There were three *cities of *refuge on either side of the river Jordan. Nobody lived very far from a *city of *refuge. Everyone could reach a *city of *refuge quickly.

*Cities of *refuge and Jesus

The *cities of *refuge are like a picture of Jesus.

·     We are all guilty. We have all *sinned (Romans 3:23).

·     We can go to Jesus as a place of *refuge (Romans 10:9; Hebrews 6:18).

·     He will forgive us (Ephesians 1:7).

·     He will keep us safe (John 3:16).

The picture is not perfect.

·     We must confess that we have *sinned (Acts 3:19).

·     We do not need to wait for the death of the *high priest. Our *high priest (Jesus) has died for us already (Hebrews 9:25-26).

·     Our *high priest became alive again. He argues our case for us before God (Hebrews 7:24-25).

The names of the *cities of *refuge are interesting.

·     Kedesh – right with God – Jesus makes us to be right with God (Romans 5:19).

·     Shechem – shoulder – Jesus cares about us, especially when we are weak. He is like a farmer who carries a young sheep on his shoulder (Isaiah 40:11).

·     Hebron – *fellowship – we have *fellowship with God and with other Christians (1 Corinthians 1:19; 1 John 1:7).

·     Bezer – a place of safety – Jesus is our place of safety (Psalm 18:2).

·     Ramoth – high places – we live in high places with God. This is like a picture of the successes that God gives to us (Habakkuk 3:19).

·     Golan – probably means *exiles – we are *exiles, that is, strangers in the world (1 Peter 2:11).