Cities of Refuge

Cities of refuge served the purposes of justice.

Joshua 18-21 (5)

Read Joshua 20.1-9.

1.  What was the purpose of the cities of refuge? What was accomplished by having these cities?

2.  Who was eligible to take advantage of a city of refuge?

Think about it.
The Law of God was given to Israel so that justice, reflecting the very character of God, could obtain throughout the land. No one was allowed to be a law unto himself or to take the law into his own hands. Elders and judges were to be established throughout the land, in every town, village, and city, to interpret and enforce the Law of God so that love for God and neighbors would everywhere prevail.

The cities of refuge served two purposes. First, they provided a safe haven for one who had caused the death of another person, but unintentionally and without malice aforethought. Such a person would have to stand before the “congregation” of judges in his own community, who would weigh the evidence and pronounce a verdict on the accused. But it might take time for all that to be accomplished. So to protect the individual who was the cause of death against possible vengeance, cities of refuge served as a temporary residence until his case could be adjudicated.

Second, if the local judges found that the death had indeed been unintentional, the accused might still be in danger of vengeful friends or relatives of the individual who had died. So to protect the life of the perpetrator, and to discourage those who might give in to fleshly passions and do harm to their neighbor, a convicted person could take up residence in the city of refuge for as long as the current high priest was alive. He had to remain in the city and not stray from it, lest, if he be found and vengeance taken against him, he would have no protection from the Law of God.

Cities of refuge were thus spread throughout the land, so that they could be easily accessible.

Meditate and discuss.
1.  What does this arrangement – cities of refuge – demonstrate about the justice of God?

2.  Although the perpetrator would not be punished, he would be inconvenienced. How is this just?

3.  Do you think the churches would benefit from a better understanding of the Law of God? Do you think communities would benefit if Christians were better informed about and more consistent in living God’s Law? Explain.

“We may add, how important it was that there should be places of refuge for the innocent, in order that the land might not be polluted with blood. For if that remedy had not been provided, the kindred of those who had been killed would have doubled the evil, by proceeding without discrimination to avenge their death. It certainly did not become the people to be idle in guarding the land from stain and taint. Hence we perceive how tardy men are, not only to perform their duty, but to provide for their own safety, unless the Lord frequently urge them, and prick them forward by the stimulus of exhortation.” John Calvin, Commentary on Joshua (1509-1564AD)

Lord, I will certainly sin unintentionally today. I am much more sinful than I know or admit. So help me, Father, to…

Pray Psalm 19.12-14

Linger over these verses as you pray, waiting for the Lord to convict you of any sins you may have overlooked.

Psalm 19.12-14 (St. Christopher: Beneath the Cross of Jesus)
Who, Lord, can know his errors? O keep sin far from me! 
Let evil rule not in my soul that I may blameless be. 
O let my thoughts, let all my words, before Your glorious sight 
Be pleasing to You, gracious Lord, acceptable and right!

T. M. Moore

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Where does the book of Joshua fit in the ongoing story of God’s covenant? Our workbook, God’s Covenant, can help you discover the place in God’s work of redemption not only of Joshua but of all the books of the Bible. God’s Covenant is a valuable resource to guide you in all your studies in God’s Word. To order your copy, click hereAnd when you order, we’ll send you a free copy of Bricks and Rungs: Poems on Calling.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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