Joshua
Introduction 1-2 Command to Designate Cities of Refuge 3-5 For Whom the Cities of Refuge Are Intended 6 Duration of the Stay in the City of Refuge 7-9 The Cities of Refuge and for Whom They Are Intended
Introduction

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 wilderness side of the Jordan. The three cities of refuge in the land are all located in a mountainous land (verse 77So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah.), 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 10:3131It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.).


Command to Designate Cities of Refuge

1Then the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, 2“Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘Designate the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses,

God has always had cities of refuge in His mind (Exo 20:12-1312“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.13“You shall not murder.; Num 35:9-159Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,10“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan,11then you shall select for yourselves cities to be your cities of refuge, that the manslayer who has killed any person unintentionally may flee there.12The cities shall be to you as a refuge from the avenger, so that the manslayer will not die until he stands before the congregation for trial.13The cities which you are to give shall be your six cities of refuge.14You shall give three cities across the Jordan and three cities in the land of Canaan; they are to be cities of refuge.15These six cities shall be for refuge for the sons of Israel, and for the alien and for the sojourner among them; that anyone who kills a person unintentionally may flee there.). Three cities of refuge mentioned by name have already been designated in wilderness side of the Jordan (Deu 4:41-4341Then Moses set apart three cities across the Jordan to the east,42that a manslayer might flee there, who unintentionally slew his neighbor without having enmity toward him in time past; and by fleeing to one of these cities he might live:43Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau for the Reubenites, and Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan for the Manassites.). Three more cities are now being designated in the land. Moses has already spoken about this in the plains of Moab (Deu 19:1-71“When the LORD your God cuts off the nations, whose land the LORD your God gives you, and you dispossess them and settle in their cities and in their houses,2you shall set aside three cities for yourself in the midst of your land, which the LORD your God gives you to possess.3You shall prepare the roads for yourself, and divide into three parts the territory of your land which the LORD your God will give you as a possession, so that any manslayer may flee there.4“Now this is the case of the manslayer who may flee there and live: when he kills his friend unintentionally, not hating him previously—5as when [a man] goes into the forest with his friend to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down the tree, and the iron [head] slips off the handle and strikes his friend so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live;6otherwise the avenger of blood might pursue the manslayer in the heat of his anger, and overtake him, because the way is long, and take his life, though he was not deserving of death, since he had not hated him previously.7Therefore, I command you, saying, ‘You shall set aside three cities for yourself.’). 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

3that the manslayer who kills any person unintentionally, without premeditation, may flee there, and they shall become your refuge from the avenger of blood. 4He shall flee to one of these cities, and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and state his case in the hearing of the elders of that city; and they shall take him into the city to them and give him a place, so that he may dwell among them. 5Now if the avenger of blood pursues him, then they shall not deliver the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor without premeditation and did not hate him beforehand.

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 with 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 has made themselves unworthy to live still longer in the inheritances. 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 23:34a34But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.; cf. Acts 3:1717“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.; 1Tim 1:1313even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;).

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 2:40-4140And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”41So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.). Thereby those who do so take a new place. They resort to the church, their city of refuge (cf. Heb 6:1818so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.). 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 4:1,111Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down.11All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “[We are] witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem.). The congregation of Israel (verse 66He shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, until the death of the one who is high priest in those days. Then the manslayer shall return to his own city and to his own house, to the city from which he fled.’”) 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 7:5252Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;). For them there is no city of refuge. Therefore, in the year 70 the judgment came upon them in the destruction of Jerusalem.


Duration of the Stay in the City of Refuge

6He shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, until the death of the one who is high priest in those days. Then the manslayer shall return to his own city and to his own house, to the city from which he fled.’”

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, stops 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 10:6,116Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.11Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.). The history of 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 he falls into the hands of the avenger of blood, because he is dragged along in this wickedness.

However, those who come to the acknowledgement that the Christ of God is ‘murdered’ in the church or group where he is, 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

7So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. 8Beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plain from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan from the tribe of Manasseh. 9These were the appointed cities for all the sons of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them, that whoever kills any person unintentionally may flee there, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until he stands before the congregation.

The cities are ‘set apart’, that is, separated from the other cities, for God for a purpose determined by Him. The three cities in 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 a city of refuge for them. Shechem (meaning ‘shoulder’) lies in the middle, in Ephraim. Near Shechem lies the source of Jacob (Jn 4:55So He *came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph;) where the Lord Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman and He becomes the city of refuge for her (Jn 4:7,25-26,397There *came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus *said to her, “Give Me a drink.”25The woman *said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.”26Jesus *said to her, “I who speak to you am [He].”39From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I [have] done.”). 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 5:1414“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;). 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 pure.


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