Joshua 20 - The Cities of Refuge
A. God commands the appointment of six cities of refuge.
1. (1-3) A place of refuge from the avenger of blood.
The LORD also spoke to Joshua, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Appoint for yourselves cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the slayer who kills a person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there; and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.’”
a. Appoint for yourselves cities of refuge: God now tells Joshua to fulfill what the LORD had commanded through Moses in Numbers 35 - the appointment of six cities of refuge.
b. 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.
c. And they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood: 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.
i. 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.
ii. 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).
iii. 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).
iv. How long will our nation be polluted by the stain of unpunished murders? Not too many years ago, over one year in Los Angeles County, they averaged more than five murders a day. The blood of the slain cries out before God.
d. The avenger of blood tracked down the murderer, and if necessary, delivered him over to the authorities for execution. This was providing the testimony of two or three eyewitnesses could confirm the guilt of the murderer according to Deuteronomy 17:6-7.
e. Since the avenger of blood might set himself against a person really guilty of manslaughter (accidental or unintentional killing) instead of murder, the cities of refuge were established to protect the person innocent of murder.
2. (4) Entrance into the city of refuge.
And when he flees to one of those cities, and stands at the entrance of the gate of the city, and declares his case in the hearing of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city as one of them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them.
a. And declares his case in the hearing of the elders of that city: According to custom, the elders of the city spent much time at the gates of the city. When someone fleeing from an avenger of blood came to a city of refuge, he stated his case to the elders at the city gates.
b. They shall take him into the city as one of them: After explaining the case, the fleeing person could expect to find protection within the walls of the city of refuge, though he would have to stay there, and live in the city, to enjoy that protection.
3. (5) Protection against the avenger of blood.
Then if the avenger of blood pursues him, they shall not deliver the slayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor unintentionally, but did not hate him beforehand.
a. They shall not deliver the slayer into his hand: The leaders of a city of refuge were obliged to protect the one who had fled to the city. The avenger of blood had no legal standing to deliver the slayer over to execution.
b. Because he struck his neighbor unintentionally, but did not hate him beforehand: Israel had a sophisticated legal system, with judgments often based on intent and premeditation.
4. (6) Freedom for the slayer.
And he shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the one who is high priest in those days. Then the slayer may return and come to his own city and his own house, to the city from which he fled.
a. He shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the one who is high priest in those days: To be protected against the avenger of blood, the slayer had to stay within the walls of the city of refuge until his case was fully heard by the proper authorities, and until the death of the standing high priest.
b. Then the slayer may return and come to his own city: After being declared innocent of murder by the proper authorities, and after the death of the standing high priest, the slayer could go back to his home and be protected against the wrath of the avenger of blood.
B. Six cities selected for cities of refuge.
1. (7-8) The appointment of six cities.
So they appointed Kedesh in Galilee, in the mountains of Naphtali, Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and Kirjath Arba (which is Hebron) in the mountains of Judah. And on the other side of the Jordan, by Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness on the plain, from the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh.
a. On a map, we see that the cities of refuge were well spaced throughout the country. No matter where you were in Israel, you were not very far from a city of refuge.
b. Deuteronomy 19:2 tells us that proper roads were to be built and maintained to these cities of refuge. The city was not much good to the slayer if they could not get to it quickly.
2. (9) The purpose for the cities of refuge is again stated.
These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwelt among them, that whoever killed a person accidentally might flee there, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until he stood before the congregation.
a. The cities of refuge were not only for the benefit of the Israelite, but also for the stranger who sojourned among them. God’s justice applied to all without partiality.
3. The cities of refuge as a picture of Jesus.
a. The Bible applies this picture of the city of refuge to the believer finding refuge in God on more than one occasion:
i. Psalm 46:1: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. More than 15 other times, the Psalms speak of God as our refuge.
ii. Hebrews 6:18: That by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
b. Points of similarity between the cities of refuge and our refuge in Jesus.
· Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are within easy reach of the needy person; they were of no use unless someone could get to the place of refuge.
· Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are open to all, not just the Israelite; no one needs to fear that they would be turned away from their place of refuge in their time of need.
· Both Jesus and the cities of refuge became a place where the one in need would live; you didn’t come to a city of refuge in time of need just to look around.
· Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are the only alternative for the one in need; without this specific protection, they will be destroyed.
· Both Jesus and the cities of refuge provide protection only within their boundaries; to go outside means death.
· With both Jesus and the cities of refuge, full freedom comes with the death of the High Priest.
c. A crucial distinction between the cities of refuge and our refuge in Jesus.
· The cities of refuge only helped the innocent, but the guilty can come to Jesus and find refuge.
Joshua 21 - Cities Appointed for the Levites
A. The people of the tribe of Levi receive their cities with their common lands.
1. (1-3) The leaders of the tribe of Levi ask for what was promised to them.
Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites came near to Eleazar the priest, to Joshua the son of Nun, and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the children of Israel. And they spoke to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, “The LORD commanded through Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with their common-lands for our livestock.” So the children of Israel gave to the Levites from their inheritance, at the commandment of the LORD, these cities and their common-lands:
a. The Levites received no “province” of land such as the other tribes did; however, they had to live somewhere. So, each tribe gave certain cities and common-lands (land immediately surrounding the cities) to the tribe of Levi.
b. The tribe of Levi had no “province” of land because God had declared that He would be their inheritance (Joshua 13:14, and 13:33).
2. (4-42) Cities are appointed to the Levites, according to their three main family divisions.
Now the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites. And the children of Aaron the priest, who were of the Levites, had thirteen cities by lot from the tribe of Judah, from the tribe of Simeon, and from the tribe of Benjamin. The rest of the children of Kohath had ten cities by lot from the families of the tribe of Ephraim, from the tribe of Dan, and from the half-tribe of Manasseh. And the children of Gershon had thirteen cities by lot from the families of the tribe of Issachar, from the tribe of Asher, from the tribe of Naphtali, and from the half-tribe of Manasseh in Bashan. The children of Merari according to their families had twelve cities from the tribe of Reuben, from the tribe of Gad, and from the tribe of Zebulun. And the children of Israel gave these cities with their common-lands by lot to the Levites, as the LORD had commanded by the hand of Moses. So they gave from the tribe of the children of Judah and from the tribe of the children of Simeon these cities which are designated by name, which were for the children of Aaron, one of the families of the Kohathites, who were of the children of Levi; for the lot was theirs first. And they gave them Kirjath Arba (Arba was the father of Anak), which is Hebron, in the mountains of Judah, with the common-land surrounding it. But the fields of the city and its villages they gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh as his possession. Thus to the children of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron with its common-land (a city of refuge for the slayer), Libnah with its common-land, Jattir with its common-land, Eshtemoa with its common-land, Holon with its common-land, Debir with its common-land, Ain with its common-land, Juttah with its common-land, and Beth Shemesh with its common-land: nine cities from those two tribes; and from the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with its common-land, Geba with its common-land, Anathoth with its common-land, and Almon with its common-land: four cities. All the cities of the children of Aaron, the priests, were thirteen cities with their common-lands. And the families of the children of Kohath, the Levites, the rest of the children of Kohath, even they had the cities of their lot from the tribe of Ephraim. For they gave them Shechem with its common-land in the mountains of Ephraim (a city of refuge for the slayer), Gezer with its common-land, Kibzaim with its common-land, and Beth Horon with its common-land: four cities; and from the tribe of Dan, Eltekeh with its common-land, Gibbethon with its common-land, Aijalon with its common-land, and Gath Rimmon with its common-land: four cities; and from the half-tribe of Manasseh, Tanach with its common-land and Gath Rimmon with its common-land: two cities. All the ten cities with their common-lands were for the rest of the families of the children of Kohath. Also to the children of Gershon, of the families of the Levites, from the other half-tribe of Manasseh, they gave Golan in Bashan with its common-land (a city of refuge for the slayer), and Be Eshterah with its common-land: two cities; and from the tribe of Issachar, Kishion with its common-land, Daberath with its common-land, Jarmuth with its common-land, and En Gannim with its common-land: four cities; and from the tribe of Asher, Mishal with its common-land, Abdon with its common-land, Helkath with its common-land, and Rehob with its common-land: four cities; and from the tribe of Naphtali, Kedesh in Galilee with its common-land (a city of refuge for the slayer), Hammoth Dor with its common-land, and Kartan with its common-land: three cities. All the cities of the Gershonites according to their families were thirteen cities with their common-lands. And to the families of the children of Merari, the rest of the Levites, from the tribe of Zebulun, Jokneam with its common-land, Kartah with its common-land, Dimnah with its common-land, and Nahalal with its common-land: four cities; and from the tribe of Reuben, Bezer with its common-land, Jahaz with its common-land, Kedemoth with its common-land, and Mephaath with its common-land: four cities; and from the tribe of Gad, Ramoth in Gilead with its common-land (a city of refuge for the slayer), Mahanaim with its common-land, Heshbon with its common-land, and Jazer with its common-land: four cities in all. So all the cities for the children of Merari according to their families, the rest of the families of the Levites, were by their lot twelve cities. All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of Israel were forty-eight cities with their common-lands. Every one of these cities had its common-land surrounding it; thus were all these cities.
a. The striking thing about this list is that God wanted the Levites “sprinkled” all throughout the land of Israel. He never intended there to be one “state” of Levi, but every tribe was to have the priestly influence and presence in their midst.
i. In the same manner, Christians (being priests, 1 Peter 2:5 and 2:9) are to be “sprinkled” all throughout the world and society, instead of heading off to make a “Christian country” somewhere.
b. Perhaps it is also significant that the priests received their cities last of all the tribes. Priests are appointed to serve, not to be served, and there is something priestly about letting others go first.
B. Israel takes full possession of the land.
1. (43) The land is Israel’s, given to them by God.
So the LORD gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.
a. All the tribes had their land. They must go into every corner of what God has given, and take full possession, but God had provided everything necessary for them to do so.
2. (44) The rest in the land is Israel’s, given to them by God.
The LORD gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.
a. The LORD gave them rest all around: This is the point where Israel stopped commemorating Passover as if equipped to travel as described in Exodus 12:11). Now they will eat the Passover reclining at rest (as described in John 13:23), because the LORD had given them rest in the land.
3. (45) Not a word of God fails.
Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.
a. Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken: God was completely faithful in regard to the land; but Israel was not. Any failure to fully possess was not because God had not made adequate provision, but because Israel had failed to fully follow the LORD.
b. God has been completely faithful to you, and made provision for continual victory. He has given greatly unto you, but what do you possess?
i. “In the light of the Cross, is it not true that the enemy has no right to dwell in the land? Is it not true that Satan’s claim to your life was taken from him at Calvary? Is it not true that sin has no right to a foothold in the life of the child of God? Is it not true that Satan has no power in the presence of Omnipotence? Is it not true that by virtue of His blood and His resurrection, Jesus Christ is pledged to destroy the enemy utterly? Is it not true that in the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit there is strength for every temptation, grace for every trial, power to overcome every difficulty?” (Alan Redpath)
Joshua 22 - A Misunderstanding Reconciled
A. The armies from the tribes east of the Jordan are sent home.
1. (1-4) Joshua thanks them for a job well done.
Then Joshua called the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, and said to them: “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you. You have not left your brethren these many days, up to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God. And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brethren, as He promised them; now therefore, return and go to your tents and to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan.”
a. You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you: In the seven years they had been with Joshua, helping the tribes west of the Jordan to conquer their enemies, they had been completely obedient and helpful to Joshua.
b. You have not left your brethren these many days: They had gone out and fought on behalf of their brethren, even though they already had their own inheritance - even as God commanded them to do.
c. Now therefore, return and go to your tents and to the land of your possession: Now that the land was conquered and fully distributed to the tribes, they could go back to their families and lands on the eastern side of the Jordan.
2. (5-6) Before they leave, Joshua gives them an exhortation and a blessing.
“But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.
a. He tells them to take diligent heed to the word of God, probably here mostly in the sense of carefully hearing it and knowing it.
b. He tells them to love the LORD. This is a matter of the heart, but it can still be commanded.
c. He tells them to obey God with all they have, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him in a personal sense, and to serve Him with all your heart and soul.
i. We should not miss the order here. First we should take care to hear God. Then we give Him our love. Next comes a walk of obedience. To mix this order up is to get off into heresy (loving without hearing) or legalism (obeying before loving).
d. So Joshua blessed them and sent them away: Joshua will not send them away with a blessing; he knows that they cannot do or be what God wants without His blessing in their lives.
i. Perhaps he used the blessing from Numbers 6:23-27: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.’” So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.
3. (7-9) The armies of the two and a half tribes depart, with much spoil.
Now to half the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given a possession in Bashan, but to the other half of it Joshua gave a possession among their brethren on this side of the Jordan, westward. And indeed, when Joshua sent them away to their tents, he blessed them, and spoke to them, saying, “Return with much riches to your tents, with very much livestock, with silver, with gold, with bronze, with iron, and with very much clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.” So the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, which they had obtained according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses.
a. Return with much riches to your tents: Their obedience to God and faithfulness to their brethren has been rewarded. God has allowed them to gain much plunder that they can take back home with them.
i. We believe that when we obey God, we will be gainers, not losers. Perhaps not always in this obvious material sense, but in real, wonderful gains none the less.
b. So the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel at Shiloh: We might imagine that this was a somewhat emotional departure of brothers who had known the closeness of fighting side-by-side. These were true veterans of the army of Israel.
B. The incident of the altar by the Jordan.
1. (10) The eastern tribes make an impressive altar.
And when they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan; a great, impressive altar.
a. Before crossing over the Jordan, the soldiers from the two and a half tribes build a great, impressive altar near the Jordan River.
b. This was significant not only because of its size, but because of the meaning of an altar. An altar was a place of sacrifice, and both the Israelites and pagans had altars they used for sacrifice.
2. (11-12) The tribes west of the Jordan river learn of the great altar.
Now the children of Israel heard someone say, “Behold, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar on the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan; on the children of Israel’s side.” And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered together at Shiloh to go to war against them.
a. Behold, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar: When the news comes to the rest of Israel, their is no discussion, there is a simple reaction. They gathered to make war against their own brothers who built this altar.
i. Notice that Joshua does not need to gather them, they gather of own accord. It was an automatic reaction.
b. Why did they do this? Because they feared that this altar was a sign of allegiance to the pagan gods of the region.
c. Their readiness to fight this battle shows great courage to confront on behalf of God’s truth and holiness. This was a healthy “body,” able to purge itself of poisons.
i. Their later actions show that they are not happy about taking this action, nor will they do it rashly - but they will do it!
3. (13-15) Before action is taken, Phinehas the High Priest, and representatives from each tribe west of the Jordan personally confront the leaders of the tribes east of the Jordan.
Then the children of Israel sent Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest to the children of Reuben, to the children of Gad, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, and with him ten rulers, one ruler each from the chief house of every tribe of Israel; and each one was the head of the house of his father among the divisions of Israel. Then they came to the children of Reuben, to the children of Gad, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, to the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them, saying,
a. Phinehas led the group, because he had the authority. He was High Priest over the whole nation, including the two and one-half tribes on the east side of the Jordan. He not only had the authority, he also had the heart of a wise shepherd. He wanted to correct the erring, to protect the nation, and to drive out the dangerous.
d. Israel reacts according to God’s character. Their assembling for war demonstrated God’s holiness, but their personal confrontation demonstrated God’s love.
4. (16-18) Phinehas brings the accusation against the eastern tribes.
Thus says the whole congregation of the LORD: “What treachery is this that you have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the LORD, in that you have built for yourselves an altar, that you might rebel this day against the LORD? Is the iniquity of Peor not enough for us, from which we are not cleansed until this day, although there was a plague in the congregation of the LORD, but that you must turn away this day from following the LORD? And it shall be, if you rebel today against the LORD, that tomorrow He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel.”
a. What treachery is this: Clearly, they thought that the altar at the Jordan represented a rival place of sacrifice and worship, to compete with God’s tabernacle, presently at Shiloh.
i. God had clearly commanded that there was one place of sacrifice and burnt offerings for Israel: Also you shall say to them: Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to offer it to the LORD, that man shall be cut off from among his people. (Leviticus 17:8-9)
ii. We understand from this that we cannot worship God any way we please, or justify a manner of worship just because we like it. First and always, our worship must be pleasing to God. We must worship Him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)
b. Is the iniquity of Peor not enough for us: Phinehas reminds the eastern tribes that Israel has been punished for rebellion against God before, using the rebellion at Peor as an example.
i. At Peor, Israel’s men had sex with Moabite women, and they gave themselves over to the worship of the Moabite gods. In judgment, God sent a plague that killed 24,000 people.
ii. This incident would be especially meaningful to Phinehas, because he was the one who stopped the plague by making a dramatic stand for righteousness in the midst of gross sin.
c. He will be angry with the whole congregation: Phinehas also knew that the sin of these tribes would reflect on the whole nation. He knew that no one really sins unto himself.
5. (19) A willingness to sacrifice to keep a brother from sin.
Nevertheless, if the land of your possession is unclean, then cross over to the land of the possession of the LORD, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take possession among us; but do not rebel against the LORD, nor rebel against us, by building yourselves an altar besides the altar of the LORD our God.
a. Take possession among us: To Phinehas, anything was better than seeing these tribes go off in rebellion against God. If there was something unclean in their land, he invited them to come and live with the tribes on the western side of the Jordan.
b. This was an invitation made at great cost. It would have meant a must smaller area of land for the western tribes. But it didn’t matter, because they were willing to sacrifice to see their brothers free from this sin.
i. Too many of us lack this willingness; we tell people to stop sinning, but are not willing to help them if it costs us something.
of , which is