Joshua: Cities of Refuge

Joshua 20:1-9

I don’t buy temporary insanity as a murder defense. Because
people kill people. That’s an animal instinct. I think breaking
into someone’s home and ironing all their clothes is
temporary insanity.

Today we are going to take a look at Joshua 20.
This chapter describes God’s mercy as He appoints cities of
refuge in order to protect people who have killed someone

Joshua 20:1-6

Once again we see that God is speaking to Joshua, giving him
instructions, rather reminding him of what He already shared with
This chapter tells us of dedicated cities that served as a place of
refuge to those who killed someone accidentally.

Appointed by God

God told Moses in Numbers 35:6,9-34 that he was to establish 6
cities of refuge for the protection of the manslayer.
3 of the cities were located to the East of the Jordan
3 would be located West of Jordan in the land of Canaan.
Moses set apart cities of Refuge to the East of the Jordan in
Deut 4:41-43

After crossing the Jordan and conquering the land God had
promised them, Joshua was to set apart 3 cities for refuge.

Appropriate for Manslaughter NOT Murder

We find God’s original instructions to Moses in Deut 19:1-7
regarding these cities of refuge and their purpose.
God makes the distinction in these verses between the action and
the heart. Those who intentionally take the life of another will
receive justice for their crime, however those who unintentionally
take the life of someone can receive refuge if they run to one of
these designated cities.
God gives an example of two men in the forest chopping wood.
One man swings the ax to chop the tree and the head of the ax
flies off and strikes the other man so he dies. This man would go
to the city of refuge and be protected against the avenger of

Avoidance of the Avenger of Blood

Let’s take a moment to talk about the
Avenger of Blood

Hebrew – goel which might be better defined as restorer. When a
life was taken, a goel was chosen from the family to go and get
vengeance for the family, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.
This is the same root word we find for the kinsman redeemer in
the story of Ruth and Boaz.
But, rather than marry a brother’s wife, the avenger of blood had
a different responsibility.
His purpose was to kill the one who killed his family member.
He was not tasked with figuring out if the death was accidental or
on purpose.
He was the avenger of death.

God’s provision was to prevent undue bloodshed in His land.
If the person is found guilty of murder he would be handed over to
the avenger of blood for execution.
If the person is found innocent of murder (accident, no
premeditation) he would NOT be handed over to the avenger of
blood, he would stay safe in the refuge city until the death of the
high priest.
Joshua 20:4 tells that the elders should assess the fugitive at the
city gate and protect him against the avenger until his case can
be heard by the congregation.
If his case is genuine he remains in the city until the current high
priest dies. Then he can return to his home.
Let’s look at the final verses of this chapter
Joshua 20:7-9

Accessible to All

The 3 cities were located in three separate regions of Canaan.
Kadesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali – this was the
upper part of the land in Galilee
Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim right in the middle of the
Hebron in the hill country of Judah this is the southern part of the
They were spaced out so that a person wouldn’t have to run more
than a 1∕2 day to get to safety.
Beyond the Jordan East of Jericho
Verse 8 mentions the 3 cities God had Moses appoint for refuge,
Bezer in Reuben’s land
Ramoth in Gad’s land
Golan in Manasseh’s land
Not only were these refuge cities easily accessible, they were
open to anyone in need.
Not just Israelites, even the sojourner and stranger could come.
Anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there.


I doubt any of us here have murdered anyone, but the Bible tells
us that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
We deserve death and hell for rebelling against God,
This chapter in the Bible tells us that God is a God of mercy.
These refuge cities remind believers today that Jesus is:

Easy to reach – Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me,
when you seek me with all your heart.”
Open to All – Romans 10:13 “For “everyone who calls on the
name of the Lord will be saved.”

I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive
us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Place of Safety – Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a
very present help in trouble.”

Seek Jesus – whether we are in trouble or not, we should be
seeking Jesus. We need Him constantly. As the hymn goes,
I need thee every hour.
Ask Jesus – Jesus not only wants to hear our prayer for
salvation, He wants us to be constantly in prayer. Paul wrote to
pray without ceasing. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask our Heavenly
Father for anything.
Rest in Jesus – When we are in trouble, we need to run to Him.
The problem most people have is that they run from Him when
they face trouble, or blame Him for the trouble.
He is our place of safety, He holds us in His righteous right hand.