104-1020-Joshua Chapter 20
Now to fulfill what God had commanded Moses to do God also commanded Joshua as well. Joshua was commanded to appoint six cities as a refuge for persons who had not purposefully killed another man. The Family was obligated to avenge the death of a family member. The man who had committed manslaughter could flee to a city of refuge where he would be safe until he was judged.
God is a just God and if one was found guilty of murder then the final responsibility for the punishment fell to the goel. Goel was a Hebrew word which meant the representative of the family of the victim. It would be the responsibility of the goel (avenger of blood) to carry out the proper punishment. Murder was punished by the loss of the murderer’s life. This goes back to requirement for capital punishment found in Genesis 9:6. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.” Also in God’s Law we read, “Moreover, you shall not take 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 in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. ‘You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel.” (Number 35:31, 33-34) I can’t but help wonder how long our nation will be stained by the blood of unpunished murders. The Blood of the slain cries out before God, much like Abel’s. “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10)
The manslayer would go to the gate of the city of refuge. There the elders would come and hear his case. Accordingly the elders spent much time at the gates of the city of refuge. After hearing the case of the manslayer the elders would allow him into the city where he would stay under their protection. If he left the city he did so at his own peril.
If and when the goel came to the city of refuge the elders could not deliver him over and were obligated to protect him. The reasoning behind this is the sophisticated legal system that the Israelites had. The judgments of the congregation were based upon the intent of the accused and on if there was premeditation.
The manslayer was to stay in the city until he faced trial before the congregation or until the death of the current High Priest. If the manslayer was declared innocent of murder or after the death of the High Priest he could return home to his family and remain protected from the goel.
The cities of refuge were well spaced out in the nation of Israel. None were more than a day or twos travel from anywhere in the nation. Also in Scripture it was stated that proper roads were to be built to each of these cities. (Deuteronomy 19:3)
Not only did the Israelites benefit from this law but also strangers that traveled in their nation. The justice of God applies to all without partiality.
In the Bible we see a picture of Jesus as a city of refuge.
- “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
- “So that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 6:18)
Other points of similarity between the cities of refuge and 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.
There is a distinction between the cities of refuge and Jesus which is the cities only helped the innocent. But to Jesus, the guilty can come and find refuge.