Joshua Chapter 20 & 21: Cities of Refuge

Dec 15th, 2009 | By | Category: Joshua, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Joshua Chapter 20 & 21: Cities of Refuge

Josh. 20:1 The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying,

Josh. 20:2 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses:

Josh. 20:3 That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.

Josh. 20:4 And when he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of the gate of the city, and shall declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city unto them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them.

Josh. 20:5 And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver the slayer up into his hand; because he smote his neighbour unwittingly, and hated him not beforetime.

Josh. 20:6 And he shall dwell in that city, until he stand before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days: then shall the slayer return, and come unto his own city, and unto his own house, unto the city from whence he fled.

Verses 1-6 refer to the cities of refuge set up in Israel after the 12 tribes were all appointed land. The purpose of the cities of refuge was to give the slayer who accidentally killed someone a place where he could flee (verse 3). He could flee to one of six cities (to be named later).

However, before the slayer could enter the city of refuge, he had to declare his cause, or reason, for wanting to enter the city to the “elders” at the gate.

The city gate was thick with a chamber in it. The gate was open during daylight hours, and a judge sat in the gate. Hence the gate was like a courthouse, and decisions were often made there. Lot and Absalom were such judges.

If the slayer fled to the city and stated at the gate that he had killed someone accidentally, he was granted entry. (Strangers could not just enter a city of refuge—they had to give a valid reason.) The slayer’s word was taken at face value at first, and entry was allowed. However, a pursuer might arrive subsequently and tell a completely different account. Later there would be a hearing, or “judgment,” by the congregation back at the scene of the crime so that all witnesses could be heard. The slayer would get safe conduct back to the judgment scene.

Comment: In other words, if the slayer was lying, that would be revealed when the case was heard later and witnesses were obtained. The city of refuge was a temporary shelter based on the slayer’s own word until the case could be heard fully.

The case is stated positively here—the slayer told the truth and murder was not premeditated. In this circumstance, the slayer had to return to the city of refuge after the favorable judgment and stay there until the death of the high priest. Note: Joshua 20 is slanted to protect the innocent.

The lessons and principles apply to both the Gospel Age and the Kingdom Age. What are some of them? (1) Do not judge anything except by the mouth of two or three witnesses. (2) There should be a hearing. (3) Premeditated murder and hating one “beforetime” incur guilt.

Comment: The New Testament calls hatred murder.

Reply: The Gospels advise that one who has ought against his brother should go to him and tell the grievance or complaint. Or vice versa: If a brother has ought against us, we should go to him and try to come to an understanding whereby the grievance is settled.

In Matthew 18:15-17, where one brother trespasses against another, the party who is finding the fault goes to the other brother and states what the fault is. If that brother will not listen and make amends, the accusing brother can then take two or three witnesses with him to confirm whether or not the original accusation was valid. If so, and if the trespassing brother still refuses to hear, the case is brought to the ecclesia for a decision.

An ecclesia decision in the Gospel Age may be incorrect. If so, the matter will be corrected when the high priest “dies”—that is, when the Gospel Age ends and one’s destiny is known. Hence “when the high priest dies” means when the office of high priest ceases. In other words, Jesus is our High Priest in this age, but he will no longer be our High Priest when the age ends. Our trial period is now; when the age ends, all decisions regarding Christians will have been rendered. Then the “innocent,” the true Christians, will be exonerated. Hence, in the final analysis, an arrangement has been made to clear the names of those who are falsely accused.

For example, in the past, the nominal Church often rendered wrong decisions and falsely condemned true Christians as heretics.

There is also a Kingdom Age application. The people have been doing evil during the present evil world. In the Kingdom, corrective judgments and punishments will be rendered based on acts and crimes committed now, even though the people were not consecrated and thus were not on trial at that time. Certainly a savage murderer will be judged and dealt with differently from one who has tried to live morally and honestly. In the Kingdom Age, the Church (the “congregation” of verse 6) will be the judges of the world. The death of the “high priest” will occur at the end of the Kingdom; that is, the office of The Christ will cease for the world at that time. (“Know ye not that the saints shall judge men and angels?”—1 Cor. 6:2,3 paraphrase.) After the Kingdom Age, the “slayers,” fully restored, will be free to enter the ages beyond.

Note: The death of the high priest refers to the cessation of office at the end of either age.

Q: How can a brother unwittingly slay a brother in the Gospel Age?

A: He can do so by ruining the reputation of another with false statements. Sometimes this is done deliberately and sometimes unwittingly. Many things are said with second- and thirdhand information, which can be erroneous. Joshua 20 considers the favorable standpoint—that the one who is fleeing is innocent. In the Book of Deuteronomy, both ways are stated: favorable and unfavorable. If the accused was found guilty at the trial, he was punished by being put to death.

Here is a scenario: A person may be innocent, but another brother may wish to do him injury and thus tell a false rumor to a third party. The third party could be convinced he has the facts, which is not the case, and then tell them to others. There are so many variables, that each case has to be considered separately to establish the validity or nonvalidity of the charge.

In the Old Testament, the “slaying” was a literal death. In the Gospel Age, figurative or spiritual “slaying” is the picture. The high priest’s office will cease at the end of the Kingdom Age. In this age, the judgment of the ecclesia is the antitype of judgment by the congregation, or people, in a certain locale. A matter had to be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. In the Old Testament study on leprosy, the leprous party had to be brought to the priest at particular periods of time for examination. The priest then pronounced him clean or unclean. In another instance, when an injury to property or another person occurred, the priest often assigned the penalties. Generally speaking, the Old Testament accounts apply to the Kingdom Age, in which the Church, Head and body, will render proper decisions. Therefore, the earlier chapters of Leviticus, with trespass offerings, etc., pertain to the world in the Kingdom Age. In a separate chapter in Tabernacle Shadows, the Pastor called them “Sacrifices Subsequent to the Day of Atonement” and just gave a brief description and enunciated certain principles. Because these sacrifices apply to the world in the future, he concentrated on Leviticus 8, 9, and 16, which pertain to the Gospel Age. For example, in Leviticus 16 on the Day of Atonement, the high priest wore white sacrificial garments (as opposed to garments of glory and beauty). In the Gospel Age, the high priest and underpriests are pictured as wearing white sacrificial garments. The robes of glory and beauty pertain to the Kingdom Age when The Christ will judge the world of mankind. The Church is being judged now so that they can be judges later. The Melchisedec priesthood in the Kingdom Age will be actual kings and priests, whereas in this age, Christians are called to be kings and priests.

Josh. 20:7 And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjath-arba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah.

Josh. 20:8 And on the other side Jordan by Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness upon 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.

Josh. 20:9 These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them, that whosoever killeth any person at unawares might flee thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stood before the congregation.

Of the six cities of refuge, three were east of Jordan, and three were west of Jordan. This division suggests a twofold application—one to spiritual classes and the other to earthly classes.

Three Cities West of Jordan(Earthly) Three Cities East of Jordan (Spiritual)

Kedesh in Galilee (tribe of Naphtali)                   Bezer (tribe of Reuben)

Shechem, or Nablus (tribe of Ephraim)                Ramoth in Gilead (tribe of Gad)

Hebron, or Kirjath-arba (tribe of Judah)              Golan in Bashan (tribe of Manasseh)

Bezer was near Jericho but to the east, across Jordan in Reuben’s territory. Golan was a town, whereas the Golan Heights are an area, a long stretch of territory east of Jordan that begins on the heights above the Sea of Galilee and extends northward quite a distance. Thus the Golan of verse 8 is different.

Josh. 21:1 Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites unto Eleazar the priest, and unto Joshua the son of Nun, and unto the heads of the fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel;

Josh. 21:2 And they spake unto them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, The LORD commanded by the hand of Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with the suburbs thereof for our cattle.

Josh. 21:3 And the children of Israel gave unto the Levites out of their inheritance, at the commandment of the LORD, these cities and their suburbs.

The Levites reminded Joshua of God’s command, through Moses, that cities be given to them to dwell in, plus suburbs, out of the land inherited by the 12 tribes. Forty-eight cities in all were to be given to the Levites, with six of them being cities of refuge (Num. 35:1-8).

Josh. 21:4 And the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites: and the children of Aaron the priest, which were of the Levites, had by lot out of the tribe of Judah, and out of the tribe of Simeon, and out of the tribe of Benjamin, thirteen cities.

Josh. 21:5 And the rest of the children of Kohath had by lot out of the families of the tribe of Ephraim, and out of the tribe of Dan, and out of the half tribe of Manasseh, ten cities.

Josh. 21:6 And the children of Gershon had by lot out of the families of the tribe of Issachar, and out of the tribe of Asher, and out of the tribe of Naphtali, and out of the half tribe of Manasseh in Bashan, thirteen cities.

Josh. 21:7 The children of Merari by their families had out of the tribe of Reuben, and out of the tribe of Gad, and out of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve cities.

The Levites were divided into four groups according to their service in the Tabernacle:

(1) Kohathites, (2) Gershonites, (3) Merarites, and (4) Amramites. The Amramites were also descendants of Kohath, but they were a special category out of the Kohathites.

………………………………………../ Aaron (Jochebed was the wife of Amram and the

Levi — Kohath — Amram — Moses mother of Aaron, Moses, and Miriam.)

………………………………………..\ Miriam

This chapter deals with only three of the four Levite encampments around the Tabernacle because the Kohathites included the Amramites. The chapter not only names the cities but also tells which cities from which tribes (and how many) went to Kohath, to Gershon, and to Merari. The Kohathites are listed twice (verses 4 and 5). The Kohathites who got cities out of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin—13 cities in all—were really the Amramites on the east side of the Tabernacle, the most honored place. Since Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin had a more honorable position than the other tribes, it was appropriate that the Amramites got cities from these tribes. Verse 5 mentions what is usually thought of as Kohathites, who got ten cities in Ephraim, Dan, and one half of Manasseh. The Merarites and the Gershonites were of lesser importance. The Gershonites were given 13 cities out of Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and one half of Manasseh. The Merarites were given 12 cities out of Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun. Notice that each tribe is listed only once (except Manasseh because of its two divisions). All of these cities (13 + 10 + 13 + 12) add up to 48.

Josh. 21:8 And the children of Israel gave by lot unto the Levites these cities with their suburbs, as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses.

Josh. 21:9 And they gave out of the tribe of the children of Judah, and out of the tribe of the children of Simeon, these cities which are here mentioned by name,

Josh. 21:10 Which the children of Aaron, being of the families of the Kohathites, who were of the children of Levi, had: for theirs was the first lot.

Josh. 21:11 And they gave them the city of Arba the father of Anak, which city is Hebron, in the hill country of Judah, with the suburbs thereof round about it.

Josh. 21:12 But the fields of the city, and the villages thereof, gave they to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for his possession.

Josh. 21:13 Thus they gave to the children of Aaron the priest Hebron with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Libnah with her suburbs,

Q: According to Joshua 15:13, Hebron was given to Caleb, a non-Israelite. Here verses 11-13 state that Caleb got the fields and villages of Hebron, but that Hebron was a city of refuge.

How can these thoughts be harmonized?

A: Hebron was a city of refuge, a city of the Levites, and also the city of Caleb. In other words, nothing said earlier about Caleb’s inheritance was changed. When cities were given to the Levites out of the inheritance of the 12 tribes, the thought is not that only Levites were in those cities. A part of these cities was apportioned to the Levites, and in addition, property in the suburbs was given to them to grow crops. In the Third Temple chapters of Ezekiel, the future land arrangement around the Holy City for the princes, the Levites, and the priests is spelled out.

Josh. 21:14 And Jattir with her suburbs, and Eshtemoa with her suburbs,

Josh. 21:15 And Holon with her suburbs, and Debir with her suburbs,

Josh. 21:16 And Ain with her suburbs, and Juttah with her suburbs, and Beth-shemesh with her suburbs; nine cities out of those two tribes.

Josh. 21:17 And out of the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with her suburbs, Geba with her suburbs,

Josh. 21:18 Anathoth with her suburbs, and Almon with her suburbs; four cities.

Anathoth was Jeremiah’s home city.

Josh. 21:19 All the cities of the children of Aaron, the priests, were thirteen cities with their suburbs.

Josh. 21:20 And the families of the children of Kohath, the Levites which remained of the children of Kohath, even they had the cities of their lot out of the tribe of Ephraim.

Josh. 21:21 For they gave them Shechem with her suburbs in mount Ephraim, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Gezer with her suburbs,

Josh. 21:22 And Kibzaim with her suburbs, and Beth-horon with her suburbs; four cities.

Josh. 21:23 And out of the tribe of Dan, Eltekeh with her suburbs, Gibbethon with her suburbs,

Josh. 21:24 Aijalon with her suburbs, Gathrimmon with her suburbs; four cities.

Josh. 21:25 And out of the half tribe of Manasseh, Tanach with her suburbs, and Gathrimmon with her suburbs; two cities.

Josh. 21:26 All the cities were ten with their suburbs for the families of the children of Kohath that remained.

Josh. 21:27 And unto the children of Gershon, of the families of the Levites, out of the other half tribe of Manasseh they gave Golan in Bashan with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Beesh-terah with her suburbs; two cities.

Josh. 21:28 And out of the tribe of Issachar, Kishon with her suburbs, Dabareh with her suburbs,

Josh. 21:29 Jarmuth with her suburbs, En-gannim with her suburbs; four cities.

Josh. 21:30 And out of the tribe of Asher, Mishal with her suburbs, Abdon with her suburbs,

Josh. 21:31 Helkath with her suburbs, and Rehob with her suburbs; four cities.

Josh. 21:32 And out of the tribe of Naphtali, Kedesh in Galilee with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Hammoth-dor with her suburbs, and Kartan with her suburbs; three cities.

Josh. 21:33 All the cities of the Gershonites according to their families were thirteen cities with their suburbs.

Josh. 21:34 And unto the families of the children of Merari, the rest of the Levites, out of the tribe of Zebulun, Jokneam with her suburbs, and Kartah with her suburbs,

Josh. 21:35 Dimnah with her suburbs, Nahalal with her suburbs; four cities.

Josh. 21:36 And out of the tribe of Reuben, Bezer with her suburbs, and Jahazah with her suburbs,

Josh. 21:37 Kedemoth with her suburbs, and Mephaath with her suburbs; four cities.

Josh. 21:38 And out of the tribe of Gad, Ramoth in Gilead with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Mahanaim with her suburbs,

Josh. 21:39 Heshbon with her suburbs, Jazer with her suburbs; four cities in all.

Josh. 21:40 So all the cities for the children of Merari by their families, which were remaining of the families of the Levites, were by their lot twelve cities.

Josh. 21:41 All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of Israel were forty and eight cities with their suburbs.

Josh. 21:42 These cities were every one with their suburbs round about them: thus were all these cities.

Josh. 21:43 And the LORD gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.

Josh. 21:44 And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.

Josh. 21:45 There failed not aught of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.

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