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Read Joshua 20

Cities of Refuge

1 Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled.”

So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. East of the Jordan (on the other side from Jericho) they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh. Any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.

Go Deeper

In this passage, we see Joshua carrying out God’s plan that He gave to Moses in Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 19 when God instructed Moses to establish “six cities of refuge for my people.” Quite a bit is written in the Old Testament about these cities of refuge, which seems a bit strange. Why such an elaborate plan just for the unlikely event that one person accidentally kills another person?

Because, thankfully, God plans ahead. And in His plans, He wants us to recognize and understand His character. With these cities of refuge, God established a protocol that provided safety for His people in a time of danger. As one author puts it, these cities were a place for those who were guilty of hand, but not of heart. Can you imagine how those people felt as they ran for safety? Surely they were panicked, literally running for their lives and thinking, “If I can just make it to the place of refuge, I am saved.” They were thankful beyond measure for a plan that would protect them from death and for the opportunity to return home and rest in full freedom after the death of the high priest.

Sound familiar? As soon as Adam and Eve took that forbidden bite, God needed a plan to save us from the danger of eternity without Him. And this plan weaves its way through the Old Testament while consistently pointing us to the one ultimate place of refuge: Jesus Christ. Hebrews 6:18 tells us that while our sins might differ from those seeking the city of Kedesh, we can run to Jesus, our High Priest, for refuge. Belief in His death and resurrection will fill us with the strength and encouragement we need to hold fast to the hope set before us: eternity with Him.

In the book of Psalms alone, God is described as our “refuge” in times of trouble more than 15 times. So whatever it is today that is weighing you down—guilt, anxiety, despair, stress, worry, finances, shame—run to Him just like those running to Kedesh. He has planned ahead, knowing exactly what danger it is that you are trying to escape. Take hope and find rest and safety in knowing that no matter what you are fleeing, God is your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in any kind of trouble. He has planned ahead and is waiting to take you in.


  1. When you experience a time of trouble, who or what do you run to first?
  2. If your answer to the question above is not God, why do you think that is?
  3. What is weighing you down that you need to give over to God so that He can fill you with strength and encouragement for today?

Did You Know?

If you were to look on a map, the six cities of refuge were well spaced out across the land. Anywhere you were in Israel there was a city of refuge nearby.

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4 thoughts on “Joshua 20”

  1. In times of trouble, I always turn to myself as I think about things internally and then I also bury those problems inside me. I not only need to use my wife as she is my partner, but first and foremost, I need to use God and give it to him!

  2. The purpose of all scripture is to reveal the one, true, living God, his character, precepts and ultimately to introduce us to his son, Jesus, the perfect, spotless Lamb, who takes away the sins of the world. Today’s chapter highlights God’s justice for those who committed the crime of murder. In establishing cities of refuge, the guilty would have access to protection and a fair trial. I’m reminded of my own guilt, I’ve fallen short and gravely missed the mark. But JESUS! He is the gate to enter in to true refuge! By his sacrificial gift on the cross, he forever and ever became the fortress for all who believe and receive. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Like the Israelites, there is no protection outside of the gates, we must all CHOOSE to enter in. Let’s stop rationalizing & running away and move straight to Him, where we will find rest for our weary souls.

  3. Points of similarity between the cities of refuge and our refuge in Jesus. (form enduring word Bible commentary):
    · 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
    · 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.

    A crucial distinction between the cities of refuge and our refuge in Jesus.
    · The cities of refuge only helped the guiltless, but any one so also the guilty can come to Jesus and find refuge.

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