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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Joshua 20

Verses 1-6

Joshua - Chapter 20

Law of Cities of Refuge, vs. 1-6

The first intimation that the Lord would appoint cities of refuge is in Exodus 21:13. The first specifically stated law of the cities of refuge is at Numbers 35:6-34, with another statement also in Deuteronomy 19:1 -­13.

All of this was anticipatory of the time to which the Israelites had now come. It was now time to put the law into practice. The law is briefly stated again.

In general the purpose of the cities of refuge was to protect one who had killed accidentally, or in self-defense, from the avenger of blood. This would have been some near kinsman of the one slain, bent on getting revenge for the death of his relative.

The killer could flee to one of these cities and apply for protection. The elders of the city were compelled to take him in and offer him protection from the avenger, unless it should be determined that he had misrepresented his part in the death.

The law provided that the killer must remain in this city until the death of the high priest, after which he was free to return to his own city. This provision serves as an analogy of Christ the believer’s High Priest, in whom there is safety from the avenger, and whose death frees him from any further guilt in the matter, (Hebrews 7:26).

Verses 7-9

Three Cities Appointed, vs. 7-9

The 3 cities appointed for refuge on the west of Jordan were Kedesh, Shechem, and Hebron. The Naphtalite city of Kedesh was one of the royal cities of the Canaanites, which Joshua and Israel took in the northern campaign. Shechem in Ephraim had been prominent since the days of the patriarchs. Hebron, of course, was Kirjath-arba, the city of the giants, which was given to Caleb (Joshua 14:6-15; Joshua 15:13-20). Here at Hebron occurred the only instance recorded in the Bible where the law of the city of refuge might have been applied. This referred to the murder of Abner by Joab and Abishai, who took Abner aside in the gate of Hebron to slay him. Although Abner did not seek the refuge of Hebron, when he might have, the brothers did not kill him inside the city (2 Samuel 3:22­-27).

The names of the three cities of refuge which Moses had selected on the east side of Jordan (Deuteronomy 4:41-43) are repeated here. They were Bezer in the broad plain in the southern tribe of Reuben, Ramoth-gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in the heights of Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh east. This latter is the famous Golan heights, so often in the news today.

These six cities were located approximately equi-distant from each other on either side of the river. This made them the more readily accessible to the manslayer who must outdistance the avenger in order to save his life.

Many good analogies have been made on the cities of refuge with respect to the guilty sinner who flees to find refuge in Christ. From this short chapter we find the greatest lesson is, then, that God provides escape for guilty men. The accessibility portrays the accessible nature of salvation for the sinner, (2 Peter 3:9). However, there are contrasts also. Whereas, the city of refuge protected only those guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the blood of Christ covers all the guilty, even those who maliciously and intentionally sin against Him.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Joshua 20". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/joshua-20.html. 1985.