In our Sunday evening Bible studies, we are continuing to examine the Book of Joshua. Last night, we looked at the cities of refuge. I’d never thought much about them before, but as I prepared for the study, the Lord spoke to my heart.
What were the cities of refuge? We find the answer in Joshua 20.
"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...” (Joshua 20:1-4, NIV).
During the time of Joshua, Israel lived under the law of ‘an eye for an eye’ and ‘a tooth for a tooth’. If you murdered someone, you were put to death. Killing an innocent person polluted the land because humans are made in the image of God. “If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image” (Genesis 9:6 NLT).
Numbers 35:33 NLT says, “This will ensure that the land where you live will not be polluted, for murder pollutes the land. And no sacrifice except the execution of the murderer can purify the land from murder.”
However, even if you accidentally killed someone, the slayer was to be killed to cleanse the land from the pollution of innocent blood. The closest relative of the person killed could come after you for your life. That person was called ‘the avenger of blood’.
When someone accidentally killed someone, they could flee to one of the cities of refuge. God designated six cities – Kedesh, Golan, Ramoth, Shechem, Bezer, and Hebron as cities of refuge. Some of the cities were in the north, some in the south. Three cities were situated on each side of the Jordan River.
In a city of refuge, the slayer would find welcome and safety until his trial and could work and make a living. The cities were administered by the Levites, from the tribe of Levi. Some of the Levites were priests, who performed the daily rites in the Tabernacle. Others cared for the Tabernacle and all its furnishings, as well as being responsible for the administrative work. Later, they were involved in interpreting the law and were teachers.
We see from the passage in Joshua 20 that God initiated the cities of refuge. He also made the way clear for someone to reach one of them. The roads to each one were to be kept free of all obstructions and in good repair. Bridges were built where needed so the slayer didn’t have to go down into a ravine but could go straight across.
In addition, at every crossroad, there were signs which read, “Refuge! Refuge!” and pointed in the direction of the city. The signs had to be large enough so that the slayer could read them as he fled.
Joshua 20:9 (NLT) says, “These cities were set apart for all the Israelites as well as the foreigners living among them...” They were available to all, young, old, free, slave, male, female, Jew, Gentile.
I’m sure you’re already thinking about the similarities between the cities of refuge and the great salvation God has provided for us. As stated previously, God initiated the cities of refuge. From the time of Adam and Eve’s disobedience and rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden, God was the One to institute the way to refuge and salvation through His Son, Jesus.
The cities were available to everyone. John 3:16 (VOICE) is a whoever verse. “For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life” (italics mine).
It wasn’t difficult to find the cities. God gave instructions that the path to each one be clear. And likewise, God is not far from any of us. “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26-27 NIV).
Joshua 20:6 (NIV) says, “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.”
I read that the Talmud, which contains the teachings and commentaries on the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), argues that the death of the high priest formed an atonement for the slayer’s mistake so they could go free.
Jesus is our great High Priest.
“We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:18-29 MSG).
Praise God that in the Old Testament, over and over, He gave us glimpses of what was to come in the New. Praise Him for the great salvation He provided for us in Jesus. The only thing that can stop us from receiving refuge and salvation in Him is our will. Come to Him today, whatever your need. His arms are outstretched and He’s waiting for YOU.
In this Blog, I want to share with you some of the things I've learned from many years of following Jesus.