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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 20

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

Verses 1-9

The Six Cities of Refuge

Joshua 20:1-9


Our study is about the six cities of refuge. We will open the study by considering the statements set forth in our Daily Bible Readings:

1. Christ a Hiding Place (Isaiah 32:1-4 ). Here is a verse of Scripture that shows us that a Man shall be a Hiding Place from the wind, a Covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in the weary land. How wonderful are God's similes. He delights to draw lessons from nature.

The story before us is the story of Christ, as King. During the past twenty centuries the Children of Israel in many parts of the world have become accustomed to flee when no man pursued. They live in constant fear of enemies lurking in their pathway. They are startled at the falling of a twig. How wonderful it will be when Christ the King shall reign in righteousness, and His people shall no longer be afraid.

2. Christ a Covert (Isaiah 16:1-5 ). This time we find that Christ has established the throne of Israel in mercy, and He is sitting upon that throne in truth. It is then that these words will be fulfilled which are written to the outcasts of Israel: "Be Thou a covert to them from the face of the spoiler."

Just before the fulfillment of this gracious word, Israel will be under the throes of the antichrist who is the "spoiler" of this Scripture. Never has Israel in all of her checkered history suffered as she will suffer in the day of her coming tribulation. How blessed, therefore, is the promise of the Lord Jesus, as her covert from the one who has spoiled her.

3. Christ a Shadow (Isaiah 4:5-6 ). In the day of Israel's restoration and peace, once again the Lord will create "upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night." How graphic is the description, and how wonderful the outlook, "And there shall be a Tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain."

4. Christ a Shelter (Psalms 61:2-6 ). Here is a personal experience of David. We all love the words; "Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I. For Thou hast been a Shelter for me, and a Strong Tower from the enemy." Here is a promise that may be ours, in every trying circumstance.

5. Christ a Fortress (Psalms 71:1-5 ). David is speaking a prayer for safety. He says, "Be Thou my Strong Habitation, whereunto I may continually resort." Then he adds, "For Thou art my Rock and my Fortress."

What assurance is this. Truly there is no temptation that will be able to overwhelm us, for our God has at hand, a Way to escape.

6. Christ our Pavilion (Psalms 27:3-7 ). Here is a confidence that satisfies. "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident." Where is the secret of the Psalmist's security? Even this: "For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His Tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me up upon a rock."

Let us take courage both to do and to dare for God. He will be our Stay, and under His wings we may trust. There is for us a Refuge.

"O safe to the Rock that is higher than I,

My soul in its conflicts and sorrows would fly;

So sinful, so weary, Thine, Thine, would I be,

Thou blest 'Rock of Ages,' I'm hiding in Thee."


1. Satan goeth about seeking whom he may devour. It is still true. Satan may use a different method in one age than in another, however, he is still going about seeking to slay or to entangle the children of God.

It is said that on one occasion Martin Luther seemed to see the devil standing by his bed, as he rested. The enemy had come in displaying a large scroll which held a record of Luther's sins. Sarcastically he seemed to cry, "There is no hope in God for a sinner like you." Luther for a moment only, was staggered by the assault, and then he cried out, "The Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." Quickly Satan fled from view.

In one way or another the wicked one pursues us, with sword drawn. He is ever on the alert, plying his slanders against saints.

2. The place of our deliverance. Our key verses speak of the cities of refuge, of the refuge from the avenger of blood. Have we a place to which we may fly? Our leader dwelt on this. He did not by any means cover it all.

Here is a Scripture he did not use. "Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy Presence." Here is another one, "Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us." Could there be a better place in which to hide, than in the light of His countenance? Remember that when our Lord comes again, it is the light of His countenance, forth-shining, that shall destroy the man of sin, even the antichrist.

Who can withstand the brightness of His glory! When His face appears even the king's of the earth and the great men, and the rich men, and the mighty men, and the chief captains, and every bondman will hide their faces, and cry unto the rocks and to the mountains to fall upon them, and hide them for, who will be able to stand?

The Lamb will be the Light of the New Jerusalem. Let us hide in Him.


1. The times of this ignorance God winked at. There are some men who sin unwittingly, that is they do what they would not have done, and meant not to do. Even so this slaying of another was accidental, and not intended.

To be sure the unwitting deed brought death with all of its horrors upon another, yet the slayer knew not what he did.

It is easy for men to sin because they have sin in their nature, and they are environed about with sinners. They know not what they do.

The men who nailed the Lord to the Cross, the men who wagged their heads against him, may have thought that they were doing God service.

Saul of Tarsus acknowledged that what he did, in arresting the saints and in carrying them bound to Jerusalem, he did in an ignorance born of unbelief. We can easily see the venom in Saul's heart. We can rightly feel that the hardest heart that e'er arose to hate Christ and His saints dwelt in the bosom of a self-righteous, pharisaical disciple of Gamaliel. However, for this cause he obtained mercy because he wrought in ignorance of the villainy of his heart.

2. Take heed to thyself. We have a special provision of God against our sins of ignorance, even as the Israelites had cities of refuge to which they might fly. However, we should not use this provision of grace, as an excuse for sinning. With the years of increased knowledge, comes increased responsibility. Now God "commandeth all men every where to repent." The plea, "I did not know," cannot long be valid. We do know, at least we should know.

Each of us should weigh our deeds and our creeds under the God-given light of this twentieth century. On every city street there are warnings to autoists. Passing red lights and warning signs heedlessly, does not mean that they are ignorantly passed. If passed in ignorance, it is because we were not awake to plain facts.


1. Standing before the elders. The plea of the unwitting slayer had to be publicly made before the elders of the city of refuge. It was not enough to claim that the deed was done unwittingly, proof had to be furnished. There is always a tendency among sinners to excuse their sins.

Saul the king of Israel sought to cover his sin by claiming that he had saved the best of the cattle for a sacrifice unto the Lord. The Prophet was not slow to state that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."

Achan sought to excuse his sin, by saying that he saw, he coveted, he took, he hid. He seemed to think that a plea of the weakness of his human nature might excuse his sin.

2. Even the unwitting sinner needed to seek the city of refuge. Thus, whether one has sinned in ignorance or in full knowledge he must pay the penalty of his sin, unless he conies to Christ.

Even he who knew not his master's will, had to be beaten, although he was beaten with few stripes. The only hope of safety is in the Rock of Ages. Think not, that because thou art a heathen that thou art therefore safe. Think not because thou art ignorant, that, therefore, thy sin shall not discover thee. If thou hast sinned ignorantly, thou still needest a sacrifice. Thou needest a Saviour, a hiding place.

"Beneath the Cross of Jesus

I fain would take my stand,

The shadow of a mighty Rock

Within a weary land;

A home within the wilderness,

A rest upon the way,

From th' burning of the noontide heat,

And the burden of the day."

IV. SIN LIES IN THE HEART (Joshua 20:5 )

1. Is thy heart right with God? That is a tremendous statement He "hated him not before time." Here is the proof of an unintended and an unwitting murder. Had the slayer held enmity against the one he claimed he unwittingly slew, his plea of innocency in. slaying had been seriously crippled.

He had to establish that he had no heart-prompting to his deed. How vital it is that we live with good will toward all men. A heart filled with envy, or jealousy, or malice, is a fit ground on which to grow and mature any crime.

If the heart is right, the life which flows from the heart will be right. If the heart is evil, the whole life will be filled with sin.

2. How oft shall we forgive our brother? Here is a fitting place to seriously ponder in our minds the attitude which we all, as believers, should sustain toward those who despitefully use and persecute us.

Christ said of the unforgiving servant who had been forgiven so great a debt, and then had refused to forgive a fellow servant of so small a debt; that his Lord when he heard thereof, put him into the prison until he should pay all that was due. Then came these significant words, "So likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."

3. God looks at the heart. Men may look on the outer appearances, God looks deeper in. He goes back of every thought and deed to the heart that lies behind it.

Sometimes what we are, speaks so loudly that our words fall as vacant, meaningless statements. Thus the chief consideration is this: "Is thy heart right with God?" We cannot live during the week with hatred in our hearts, and spend six days squeezing our brethren, and then come to God on Sunday with long prayers, and an outward religious show.

V. THE ABIDING LIFE (Joshua 20:6 )

1. He shall dwell in that city. Think you that it became a tiresome seclusion for the unwitting slayer to dwell housed, year in and year out in the city of refuge? Did he tire of the walls that held him in?

Hearken to the words of our Lord, "Abide in Me." Certainly there is no safer place to abide; this all of us will grant. However, is our Place of Safety a place without joy and peace? Is the heart of Christ an uninhabited wilderness, a flowerless desert? Not so.

Hearken to the fullness of the words of our Lord. After He had said, "Abide in Me," He added, "these things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."

Our city of refuge is filled with love and joy and peace. "In [His] presence is fulness of joy; at [His] right hand there are pleasures for evermore."

2. The other city of God where the Bride shall dwell. There is a City, whose Builder and Maker is God. That City will come down from God out of Heaven. It is a City prepared for the Heavenly Bride. It comes replete in glory and all clothed with light a wealth of unfathomable riches and beauty.

It is our final "City of Refuge." There we will delight to abide. We shall no more care to go out to other scenes, and other paths. "So shall we ever be with the Lord."

In that City we shall be safe as well as saved. There shall enter in thereat nothing that worketh an abomination or a lie. The former things will have passed away. No more shall pain pursue us, or sorrow haunt us.

3. In token of the future abiding, let us now abide. This is a present-hour privilege, as well as a far-flung pledge. We may now abide in Christ, and walk with Him along our way. Let us live up to our privileges.


1. Because I live ye shall live also. The safety of the unwitting slayer lay in the life of the high priest. Our safety lies in Christ's life. Christ not only safeguards our lives with His own, but He vouches His life, as the safety of our own.

Even now we can hear Him say, "Neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand." Then He adds, "And no man is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand."

2. He ever liveth to manage our affairs. Certainly we have a Great High Priest who has ascended into the Heavens. He is there for us. He lives for us, and as long as He lives, He undertakes for us. He is our Surety. Everything that concerns not alone our safety from the avenger, but that concerns our welfare, He is managing.

He will manage my affairs,

For He loves me and He cares,

As He dwells with the Father for me:

Grace He'll give in time of need,

For He is a Friend indeed,

Great High Priest who lives in Heaven for me.

3. He lives as the Conquerer of death and hell. Satan made onslaught against Him, but He overcame him, and made an open show of Him. Bless God we have nothing to fear. The one who seeks our souls to devour has already been met by the Master in the way, and is now a conquered foe. That One, our Lord Jesus Christ, leads us in the train of His triumph. His victory is ours. In Him we are secure.

Alone, we could never meet sin, or Satan, or death, or hell. Our only hope lies in our Great High Priest, who is our Saviour, our Lord, our coming King. Thus as long as our Great High Priest lives, and we are in Him, we are safe.

VII. THE MAN WHO WENT OUTSIDE THE CITY OF REFUGE (2 Samuel 3:33-34 , with Joshua 20:7 )

1. Hebron was a city of refuge. In the 7th verse of our study we read that Hebron, in the mountains of Judah, was named as one of the cities of refuge. It was in that city that Abner had gone, when Joab found him. Had Abner stayed within the city, Joab could not have touched him, to slay him. Joab, however, took him aside in the gate, supposedly, to speak with him quietly, and there he smote him under the fifth rib until he died.

2. David's bewailing words. When David heard that Joab had slain Abner he cried out: "Died Abner as a fool dieth? Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man faileth before wicked men, so fellest thou."

(1) The lesson portrays the folly of the sinner who dies outside of Christ. He dies as a fool dieth, because he dies unnecessarily. He dies as a fool dieth because he willfully neglects the Divinely provided place of safety and security. Satan cannot harm the one, to slay him, who is safely sheltered in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ said that Satan could slay the body, but he cannot kill the soul. The man who sees the tornado breaking and stands hard by the storm pit refusing withal to enter in has no one to blame but himself if he is slain in the fury of the wind. Flee to Christ for safety.

(2) The lesson portrays the folly of the sinner who neglects God's publicly announced provision for his welfare. All Israel knew of the cities of refuge, and the one who did not enter in was a willful rejecter. Every preparation has been made for the salvation of the lost. The Law has been satisfied. Its majesty has been sustained, and every legal obstacle removed out of the sinner's way. God can, by the death of Christ, be just and yet the Justifier of those who believe. A favorite couplet of Charles H. Spurgeon's was this:

"None are excluded thence, but those

Who do themselves exclude;

Welcome the learned and polite,

The ignorant and rude."



"Dr. J. E. Conant tells, in his book on, Is Atonement by Substitution Reasonable? of Bronson Alcott's School. He says, 'One of the roughest boys in the school had broken an important rule of the school government. The teacher called the boy up in front, and with the whole school looking on, put the ruler into his hand and extended his own and told the boy to strike. The whole school burst into tears. The moment the command to strike was given, a struggle began in that boy that reached to the depths of his being. He hesitated, finally struck the teacher's hand once, and then burst into tears himself. From that moment that boy's character was so transformed that he became one of the most docile scholars in the school.'

"The penalty for the wrongdoing must fall on some one. The scholar deserved to have it fall upon himself. But the teacher out of his love for the boy and the school let the penalty fall upon himself.

"Here we have a striking illustration of the death of Christ. 'He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.' This is a manifestation of the Grace of God."

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Joshua 20". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/joshua-20.html.
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