New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


Jos 20:1 Yahweh spoke to Joshua saying-
Having given the people their inheritances, they are now asked to set some aside as cities of refuge. But as noted several times in Josh. 19, some of these cities they had not even taken from enemy hands. 

Jos 20:2 Speak to the children of Israel saying, ‘Assign the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you by Moses-
"Assign" is the usual word for "give". The tribes were to give these cities. But several of them they had not even bothered to take from the local inhabitants.

Jos 20:3 that the manslayer who kills any person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there. They shall be to you for a refuge from the avenger of blood-
We are all in the position of the man who unintentionally committed manslaughter and must therefore die. We are under sentence of death by reason of being human, as well as for our actual sins. The avenger of blood could be seen as God, for it is He alone who has the right to execute judgment for sin. And we must note that the word ga'al translated "avenger" is also that translated "redeemer" or 'ransomer'. The cities of refuge are therefore understood in Heb. 6:18 as looking ahead to refuge in the Lord Jesus: "Who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us". The allusion is to how the person who found they had committed a sin worthy of death, yet without as it were wishing to have done so, could flee to a city of refuge and be saved there by the death of the high priest. The curse upon Levi was that the members of this tribe were to be scattered in Israel (Gen. 49:7). However, this resulted in the cities of the Levites being scattered throughout the land, thus providing accessible cities of refuge to all who wished to escape the consequences of sin. Those cities were evidently symbolic of the refuge we have in Christ. Again and again, the curses and consequences of human sin are used by the Father to mediate blessing. It is the sure hope before us which is our refuge. "Hope", elpis, is a confident knowledge of a future reality, rather than a hoping for the best. We should be confident in our salvation. The 'guilty' person was made free totally through the death of the High Priest, clearly looking forward to the significance of the death of the Lord Jesus. 

LXX adds: "until he have stood before the congregation for judgment". In this case we note that the person was to be assumed innocent until proven guilty- a principle to always live by.

Jos 20:4 He shall flee to one of those cities, and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city. They shall take him into the city with them and give him a place, that he may live among them-
The cities of refuge represented salvation in the Lord Jesus (Heb. 6:18). But most of them were situation in remote or mountainous areas, Hebron being an exception. The idea was that those wishing for salvation from sin they had unintentionally committed must make quite some conscious effort and choice to get there, as is true today. And more such cities were promised, but Israel didn't take up that offer. This would have made salvation more easily accessible, as it were, had they done so.

Jos 20:5 If the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver up the manslayer into his hand; because he struck his neighbour unintentionally, and didn’t hate him beforehand-
This is assuming that the elders find the man's case consistent and genuine. They were to judge that according to whether he 'hated him in time past' (Dt. 19:6). We note that hatred of a neighbour was to be the reason for death. John appears to have this in mind when he reasons that hatred of our brother is effectively a living death sentence (1 Jn. 2:11; 4:20). It was to be that "whoever hates his brother is a murderer", not a manslaughterer (1 Jn. 3:15). And that hatred can be in someone's heart, even if they have not killed the object of their hatred. This is the principle which is taught here.

Jos 20:6 He shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days. Then the manslayer shall return, and come to his own city, and to his own house, to the city he fled from’-
The death of the High Priest was paralleled with a man standing before the judgment for his crime in Josh. 20:6 RV. This surely prefigured how Christ's death was and is effectively our judgment. Further connection between the cross and the judgment is found in considering Zech. 12:10, which states that men would look upon the pierced (i.e. crucified) Saviour, and mourn in recognition of their own sinfulness. This verse is quoted as having fulfilment both at the crucifixion (Jn. 19:37) and also at the final judgment (Rev. 1:7). There is strong connection between these two events.

Jos 20:7 They set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (the same is Hebron) in the hill country of Judah-
But Kedesh was listed in Josh. 19 as a city not yet taken by Naphtali; yet it was commanded to be given by them to the Levites as a city of refuge (Josh. 20:7). So their refusal or 'being slack' to take the city meant they had no wider vision, of providing a place of refuge for the needy within Israel as a whole. And there is no real evidence that this wonderful system of salvation and justice ever really worked in practice.

Jos 20:8 Beyond the Jordan at Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness in the plain out of the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh-
But Ramoth Gilead passed in and out of Israelite possession; and it is doubtful whether Manasseh ever bothered securing Golan from the local inhabitants. The cities were generally in the wilderness or mountainous areas; perhaps the idea was that they should not be used casually, but the person had to make quite some effort to get there.

Jos 20:9 These were the appointed cities for all the children of Israel, and for the alien who lives among them, that whoever kills any person unintentionally might flee there, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stands before the congregation-
Again we note that the person was to be assumed innocent until proven guilty- a principle to always live by. The cities were "appointed", this gracious system of salvation was carefully worked out in practice for the people. But the cities were not all "given" by the people, so the system didn't work in practice.