Chapter 20


The Cities of Refuge

    • Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, which I instructed you to do through Moses. These cities will be places where a person who has killed someone accidentally and unintentionally may flee for protection from the avenger of blood. Upon reaching one of these cities, the person who caused the death will stand at the city gate and present his case to the elders. Then, the elders are to allow the person to enter the city and give him a place to live among them. If the avenger of blood follows the individual, the leaders must not release the killer to him because he killed their neighbor unintentionally and without being hostile to the victim previously. The killer must stay in that city and stand trial before the local assembly. He must continue to live in that city until the death of the high priest who was in office at the time of the accident. After that, he may go back to the city from which he fled.”

      • Guzik elaborates, “God now tells Joshua to fulfill what the LORD had commanded through Moses in Numbers 35 – the appointment of six cities of refuge…The purpose of the cities of refuge was to protect the slayer who kills any person accidentally or unintentionally. They were to protect someone in the case of manslaughter as opposed to murder…Such a person needed protection against the avenger of blood. The Hebrew word for this phrase is goel, and in this context means the representative from the victim’s family charged with making sure justice is carried out against the murderer of the family member.”

      • Guzik continues, “God had a passion to make sure that murderers were punished in ancient Israel, and in that culture, the final responsibility for justice rested with the designated goel (avenger of blood) in the family…The principle for capital punishment goes back to Genesis 9:6: Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man. The state’s right to use the sword of execution is also stated in the New Testament (Romans 13:3-4)…God said also that unpunished murderers defiled the land: Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death… So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. Therefore do not defile the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the children of Israel. (Numbers 35:31, 35:33-34).”

    • So, they designated the following cities as cities of refuge on the west side of the Jordan River:

      • Kedesh in Galilee, in the hill country of Naphtali; Schechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), in the hill country of Judah.

    • On the east side of the Jordan River, across from Jericho, the following cities were designated:

      • Bezer, in the wilderness plain of the tribe of Reuben; Ramoth in Gilead, within the territory of the tribe of Gad; and Golan in Bashan, within the territory of the tribe of Manasseh.

    • These were the cities designated as cities of refuge for all the Israelites as well as the foreigners who lived among them. Anyone who accidentally killed a person could flee to one of these cities and be protected from the avenger of blood until he stood trial before the local assembly.

      • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “…From anywhere in the land, one of these six well-known Levitical cities was no more than two days’ travel away.”

        • The same source draws attention to this fact, “The treatment of foreigners in Israel was a great advance in human relations. Resident aliens were to receive every justice offered to the native Israelites (see Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:33-34; 24:22; Numbers 15:15-16).”