World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
20. Cities of Refuge
1And Jehovah spake unto Joshua, saying, 2Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Assign you the cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by Moses, 3that the manslayer that killeth any person unwittingly and unawares may flee thither: and they shall be unto you for a refuge from the avenger of blood. 4And he shall flee unto one of those cities, and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city, and declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city; and they shall take him into the city unto them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them. 5And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver up the manslayer into his hand; because he smote his neighbor unawares, and hated him not beforetime. 6And he shall dwell in that city, until he stand before the congregation for judgment, until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days: then shall the manslayer return, and come unto his own city, and unto his own house, unto the city from whence he fled.
7And they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill-country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill-country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (the same is Hebron) in the hill-country of Judah. 8And beyond the Jordan at Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness in the plain out of the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh. 9These were the appointed cities for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them, that whosoever killeth any person unwittingly might flee thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stood before the congregation.
Jos 20:1-6. The Lord Commands the Cities of Refuge.
1-3. The Lord spake unto Joshua … Appoint out for you cities of refuge—(See Nu 35:9-28; De 19:1-13). The command here recorded was given on their going to occupy their allotted settlements. The sanctuaries were not temples or altars, as in other countries, but inhabited cities; and the design was not to screen criminals, but only to afford the homicide protection from the vengeance of the deceased's relatives until it should have been ascertained whether the death had resulted from accident and momentary passion, or from premeditated malice. The institution of the cities of refuge, together with the rules prescribed for the guidance of those who sought an asylum within their walls, was an important provision, tending to secure the ends of justice as well as of mercy.
4. he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of the gate of the city—It was the place of public resort, and on arriving there he related his tale of distress to the elders, who were bound to give him shelter and the means of support, until the local authorities (Jos 20:6), having carefully investigated the case, should have pronounced the decision. If found guilty, the manslayer was surrendered to the blood-avenger; if extenuating circumstances appeared, he was to remain in the city of refuge, where he would be safe from the vindictive feelings of his pursuers; but he forfeited the privilege of immunity the moment he ventured beyond the walls.
6. until the death of the high priest—His death secured the complete deliverance of the manslayer from his sin, only because he had been anointed with the holy oil (Nu 35:25), the symbol of the Holy Ghost; and thus the death of the earthly high priest became a type of that of the heavenly one (Heb 9:14, 15).
Jos 20:7-9. The Israelites Appoint by Name the Cities of Refuge.
7-9. they appointed … cities—There were six; three on the west, and three on the east, of Jordan. In the first instance, they were a provision of the criminal law of the Hebrews, necessary in the circumstances of that people (see on Nu 35:11; De 19:2). At the same time they were designed also typically to point out the sinner's way to Christ (Heb 6:18).