Joshua 20
Joshua 20 Kingcomments Bible Studies


After all tribes have received their inheritance, the LORD gives Joshua instructions to designate six cities of refuge. Three of them are in the land and three in the wilderness side of the Jordan. The three cities of refuge in the land are all located in a mountainous land (Jos 20:7), so high and therefore clearly visible. The cities of refuge are a provision of God in case of manslaughter. The manslayer can flee there when he has killed someone by accident.

Each local church may be such a city of refuge. Anyone who becomes aware that he is guilty of the death of the Lord Jesus may flee there. There he hears about the forgiveness of his sins, which can be given on the basis of the same death of Christ. He who does not flee there, dies by the hand of the avenger of blood, that is God Himself. “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).

Command to Designate Cities of Refuge

God has always had cities of refuge in His mind (Exo 21:12-13; Num 35:9-15). Three cities of refuge mentioned by name have already been designated in wilderness side of the Jordan (Deu 4:41-43). Three more cities are now being designated in the land. Moses has already spoken about this in the plains of Moab (Deu 19:1-7). But before they are mentioned by name, the LORD says first for whom the cities of refuge are intended.

For Whom the Cities of Refuge Are Intended

God looks ahead that it can happen that someone from the people makes himself unworthy of the land. Manslaughter defiles the land with blood. Such a person may be killed by the avenger of blood. He cannot live any longer in the inheritance. In His grace God provides in case someone accidentally kills another. That’s a big difference from someone who deliberately kills another person. In one case there is only a guilty hand, in the other case there is also a guilty heart. If it happens accidentally, the inheritance can still be enjoyed, but to a limited extent, namely in one of the cities of refuge.

We can apply this to the death of the Lord Jesus, by which the people have made themselves unworthy to continue living in the inheritance. But God does not attribute to the people the killing of the Lord Jesus as consciously done. Therefore the Lord Jesus prays on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34a; cf. Acts 3:17; 1Tim 1:13).

The people had to leave their homes, just as any manslayer has to. Israel had to leave the wrong generation by repenting and being baptized (Acts 2:40-41). Thereby those who do so take a new place. They resort to the church, their city of refuge (cf. Heb 6:18). This is still the case. We can also apply this to the local church, which will be a refuge for anyone fleeing from God’s judgment over their sins. There he can hear about confession and forgiveness.

The escape from the avenger of blood by entering the city of refuge begins with an honest confession in the city gate, the place where the administration of the city speaks justice (Rth 4:1; 11). The congregation of Israel (Jos 20:6) must determine whether it happened accidentally. If the manslayer is not found guilty, he may enter the city. Stephen says to the elders of Israel that they are murderers of “the Righteous One”, that is the Lord Jesus (Acts 7:52). For them there is no city of refuge. Therefore, in the year 70 the judgment came on them in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Duration of the Stay in the City of Refuge

The death of the high priest means the end of the service of the high priest. Prophetically, this means that the Lord Jesus, Who now performs His service in the heavenly sanctuary for the church, will stop that service when He has taken the church to Himself. The consequence of this is that He will reconnect with Israel, which through Him will be brought back into the earthly inheritance.

There is also an application to us, for whom these things happened and are described in the first place (1Cor 10:6; 11). The history of professing Christianity is the same as that of Israel. The apostate Christians will perish, they will have no inheritance. Where there is false teaching about the Lord Jesus, there is blame on the death of the Lord Jesus. False teachers place Him outside of Christianity through their false teaching. They say as it were that for Him, the Christ of the Scriptures, there is no place in Christianity. They thus declare Him dead in a spiritual sense.

But there is a distinction to be made. There are, on the one hand, the deceivers and false teachers and, on the other, the great crowd who, in ignorance, are guilty of the manslaughter of the Lord Jesus. Those who, against their better judgement, stay in a place where there is no place for the Christ of the Scriptures, become a conscious manslayer. It is inevitable that they fall into the hands of the avenger of blood because they are dragged along in this wickedness.

However, those who come to the acknowledgment that the Christ of God is ‘murdered’ in the church or group where they are, may resort to the city of refuge. This is a local church where Christ is central in accordance with what God has revealed of Him in His Word.

The Cities of Refuge and for Whom They Are Intended

The cities are ‘set apart’, that is, separated from the other cities, for God for a purpose determined by Him. The three cities on the wilderness side of the Jordan are mentioned again, according to their location from south to north. The cities in the land are called from north to south.

Kedesh (meaning ‘holy’) is located in the north, in Galilee. The Lord Jesus lived in Nazareth in Galilee for thirty years. There He has served and taught His disciples and the crowds. He is the city of refuge for them. Shechem (meaning ‘shoulder’) lies in the middle, in Ephraim. Near Shechem is the well of Jacob (Jn 4:5-6) where the Lord Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman and He becomes the city of refuge for her (Jn 4:7; 25-26; 39). Hebron (meaning ‘fellowship’) is located in the south. Whoever takes refuge in the Lord Jesus comes into fellowship with Him, the Holy One of God.

A characteristic of a city of refuge is that it lies in the mountains, i.e. high (cf. Mt 5:14). That speaks of an elevated place in the land. The city of refuge is visible to all as a constant sign of the grace of God.

The cities of refuge are also Levite cities. Those who have taken refuge there are in an environment where they are in the presence of priestly service and teaching. There is loss of inheritance, but there is also profit, by constantly being with Levites. It is a great privilege in the end times in which we live to be in a city – as a picture of a local church – where one understands what priestly service is and where God’s Word is explained in soundness.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

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