THE CITIES OF REFUGE | The Book of Joshua 20:1-9

In the Book of Joshua 20:1-9

The Cities of Refuge
The Cities of Refuge

The land of Canaan has been possessed and subdued. The various tribes have received their inheritance and things are starting to wind down as far as the conquest of the land is concerned. However, there is still much work to be done by Joshua and the people of Israel. In this chapter, we find them carrying out a command that was first given to Moses in Numbers 35:1-34. They were to appoint 6 cities that were to be known as “cities of refuge”. These cities were to be made available to someone who has killed another person by accident. They could flee to any of these 6 cities and find safety and help.

It is these cities of refuge that I want to consider for a awhile this morning. They paint for us a clear picture of the salvation that is to be found only in the Lord Jesus Christ. Allow me to share several truths with you this morning concerning the cities of refuge.


A. They Were To Serve As A Refuge – It is clear from these verses that these cities were to be set up to protect the person who had accidently taken the life of another person. If the crime in question happened to take the life of another human being, the nearest kinsman of the slain man had the right to avenge the death of his fallen relative, Num. 35:19-21.

Therefore, when a man had accidentally taken the life of another, he could flee to one of these 6 cities of refuge and there, if it was determined that the death had indeed been an accident, he could find safety from the “avenger of blood.” So, these cities were established as a refuge.

B. They Were To Serve As A Reminder – For our sakes, these cities serve to point out certain facts about the salvation we enjoy in the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as these were place were a man could flee in a time of desperate need, so Jesus is a place of safety this morning.

You see, here is our problem. We are born sinners, Rom. 3:23. It isn’t our fault; we are just born with an old sinful nature that we inherited from our father Adam. But, even though it isn’t our fault that we are born this way, it is our fault that we stay this way! As we grow older and reach an age where we can make a choice regarding sin, we all choose to sin. That makes sin a double edged sword! We are guilty by birth and by practice.

Now, since this is true, we are in deep trouble! Just like there was a death sentence on all those who took the life of another, there is also a death sentence on every person born into the human race. We are all being pursued by an Avenger of Blood.

We need a refuge! We need a place where we can run to and find safety for our souls! A place where we can find a new life and a new start. A place where the avenger of blood cannot touch us, ever! That place is a man. That man’s name is Jesus Christ. Notice what these cities of refuge teach us about Him.

I. The Purpose Of These Cities


A. They Were Provided By God – Man did not come up with the idea for these cities. This was a notion that was birthed in the heart and mind of God. He wanted to teach His people that murderers had to pay for their crimes, hence, the avenger of blood. Yet, He also wanted to teach His people that there was a place of mercy for those who were only guilty of an accident. Therefore, God gave them the cities of refuge.

(Ill. May I remind you that Jesus Christ is also the gift of God! Remember what the Bible says about Him, John 3:16?

B. They Were Provided By Grace – God could have allowed the manslayer to die like any other person who had taken a life. However, in His grace He made a way that those folks who had accidentally taken the life of another might find refuge and help.

(Ill. By the same token, God could have allowed sinners to all go to Hell. After all, we are guilty in His sight and we deserve nothing but damnation in the fires of Hell! But, I praise the precious name of the Lord this morning that God sent His Son to take our sins upon Himself on the cross, Isa. 53:6. I thank God that Jesus paid the price that sinners like you and me might live through Him!)

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow

I. The Purpose Of These Cities

II. The Provision Of These Cities


A. Vs. 4 They Had Power To Save – When the manslayer arrived in the city, his case was heard by the elders and if it was determined that the death had indeed been an accident, he was given a place within the city and was protected from the avenger of blood. The city of refuge allowed a man to live who would have otherwise surely died.

(Ill. So it is with Jesus! He is the only One Who can guarantee salvation to the soul of man! When a sinner comes to Jesus Christ by faith and accepts Him as Savior, that person is immediately adopted into the family of God.

B. Vs. 5-6 They Had Power To Secure – Notice that as long as the person stayed within the city he was safe. He could live there until the Day of Judgment and for as long as the high priest lived and when the high priest died, the manslayer was free to return home without fear.

(Ill. When we commit our souls to the Lord Jesus for salvation, we too are secured! If it was determined that the manslayer was guilty, then he was cast out. I know I am guilty, what does that say about my situation? You see, when Jesus died on the cross, he took my guilt.

I. The Purpose Of These Cities

II. The Provision Of These Cities

III. The Power Of These Cities


A. They Were Available To All – God provided 6 cities of refuge. There were three east of the Jordan and three west of the Jordan. They were placed so that there was not tribe that was too far from a city of refuge. They were available to everyone no matter where they were or who they were! Whether the manslayer was a son or a stranger, there was a city of refuge open for him.

(Ill. What a picture this is! Just as those ancient cities were available to all, so Jesus Christ is available to all as well. The plan of salvation makes only one requirement upon a man and that is that he is required to be a sinner! If you are a sinner and know it; if you are willing to admit that to God;

B. They Were Accessible To All – Just as these cities were spaced all over the country and were available to every Israelite, they were also accessible to every person. There are several reasons why I say that.

1. They Were Prominent – Most of these cities were built on top of mountains. Most of the cities of ancient Israel were built of white limestone. When the sun hit these cities they gleamed. Even in the night, under the light of the moon, they would be visible. They were easily seen, even from many miles away.

2. They Were Prepared – There were certain preparations that were made in and around these cities that guaranteed the manslayer that he would find safety when he arrived at the city of refuge.

A. The Roads Were Never Clogged – The priests would made sure that the roads leading to these cities were clear from obstructions and always open to the traveler.

B. The Gates Were Never Closed – No matter what the time of day or night, the gates on the city of refuge were never closed.

C. The Direction Was Never Confused – There were sign posts with the Hebrew word “Miklat” written on them that had been set up to point the way to the city of refuge. That word means “Refuge” There was no need for anyone to misunderstand the way to get there.

(Ill. What a picture these things paint for us of the salvation that can be found in Jesus Christ. Just like the cities of refuge, He is accessible to all.

I. The Purpose Of These Cities

II. The Provision Of These Cities

III. The Power Of These Cities

IV. The Position Of These Cities


A. There Is A Picture In Their Names – These six cities paint a wonderful picture of the provisions of God which are ours through the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Kadesh – Righteousness –  (Ill. A refuge for the unclean!) 2 Cor. 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

2. Shechem – Shoulder –  (Ill. A refuge for that one lost in the wilderness of sin.) Luke 15:3-7 “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

3. Hebron – Fellowship –  (Il. A refuge for the lonely sinner!) 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

4. Bezer – Fortress –  (Ill. A refuge for the helpless sinner.) Heb. 6:18 These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.

5. Ramoth – Heights –  (Ill. A refuge for the wretched sinner!) Eph. 2:6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

6. Golan – Joy – (Ill. A refuge for the downcast.) 1 Peter 1:8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:

B. There Is A Picture In Their Necessity – Without these cities, many innocent people would have died. But, their existence guaranteed that they would continue to enjoy life.

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