Study Notes

Joshua 20:1-21:45

20:1-6 Cities Of Refuge

Back in Numbers 35, God had commanded the Israelites to designate six cities of refuge: three cities across the Jordan and three cities in the land of Canaan. If either an Israelite or an alien or sojourner unintentionally killed someone else, they could flee to one of these cities - escaping an angry family member who would be wanting to kill him in return.

In those days, this "avenger" had the right to kill someone that killed their family member, but the Lord said that this was wrong. Too many people were killed for accidentally causing the death of someone.

The reason that Lord had them designate the cities of refuge was...

Deut. 19:10 "So innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and bloodguiltiness be on you.

If the manslayer made it to the city, he would be safe there until he had a fair trial. If it was found that he had committed murder intentionally, the avenger would kill him. But if the death was found to be accidental, the manslayer would live in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest, after which time he could return home safely.

But if the manslayer went outside the safety of the border of the city of refuge, and the blood avenger found him, the avenger would kill him and not be guilty.


So it was the Israelites' obligation to designate these cities. In Deuteronomy 19, the Lord told them,

Deut. 19:3 "You shall prepare the roads for yourself, and divide into three parts the territory of your land, which the LORD your God will give you as a possession, so that any manslayer may flee there.

They also had to prepare the roads to the cities of refuge.

When the manslayer arrived at the city of refuge, he was to...

Josh. 20:4 ...stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and state his case in the hearing of the elders of that city; and they shall take him into the city to them and give him a place, so that he may dwell among them.

This would be his place of salvation from the avenger.

A Picture Of Christ

In the cities of refuge, there is a clear picture of Jesus Christ, the One to whom the sinner can run.

Just like the manslayer, every sinner is facing death, because

Rom. 6:23 ...the wages of sin is death...

It is not only the Israelites that can run to Jesus, but everyone - Jew or Gentile.


The road has to be prepared and kept up by the people of God. We must make sure that any and every sinner knows the way to Christ and that the road is free from stumbling blocks.

We come to Christ confessing our sin, and we enter by the gate.

Matt. 7:14 "...The gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.

The avenger accuses us, and demands our blood.

1Pet. 5:8 ...Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

But we are not delivered up to him. Rather, Christ intercedes for us.

We will remain in the our city of refuge until the death of our great High Priest. Fortunately,


So we will be safely in Christ forever, because He has already died, and lives forever and ever.

20:7-9 The Cities Of Refuge Designated

God has not forgotten any detail in His picture of Christ. Remember that there were to be six cities. Six is the number of man, which Jesus had to become to die for our sins.

The names of the cities were KEH-desh, Shek-EM, Kheb-RONE, BEH-tser, Raw-MOTH, and Go-LAWN. Each of these names points to Christ.

KEH-desh means "holy place."

Hebr. 10:19 ...Brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus

Shek-EM means "shoulder."

Isa. 9:6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Kheb-RON means "fellowship."

1Cor. 1:9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

BEH-tser means "fortress."

Ps. 18:2 The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge...

Raw-MOTH means "exaltation."

Acts 5:31 "He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins."

Go-LAWN means "their rejoicing."

Ps. 5:11 But let all who take refuge in Thee be glad, let them ever sing for joy; And mayest Thou shelter them, that those who love Thy name may exult in Thee.

21:1-3 Levi Scattered

Way back in the book of Genesis, Simeon and Levi did a bad thing. Their 13-year-old sister Dinah went into town to hang out with the pagan girls. But she ended up being raped by a guy named Shechem.

Shechem fell in love with Dinah and asked for her hand in marriage. The brothers were angry, and planned revenge.

Gen. 34:14-15 And they said to them, "We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this {condition} will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised

They consented.

Gen. 34:25-29 Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male. And they killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem's house, and went forth. Jacob's sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that {was} in the houses.

Their father Jacob rebuked them for this sin. Later, in Genesis 49, as he was speaking prophecies over each of his sons, he said,

Gen. 49:5-7 "Their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; Let not my glory be united with their assembly; Because in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel."

Jacob says that if they were allowed to prosper or their tribes were united, it would be a dangerous thing. So they would be scattered and dispersed. This is exactly what happens. Most of the tribe of Simeon was either absorbed into the tribe of Judah or dispersed outside of the nation of Israel.

The Levites were able to garner a blessing when the "golden calf incident" occurred. When Moses took his stand, he said,

Exod. 32:26 "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him.

Therefore, we read in Deuteronomy that,

Deut. 10:8-9 At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day. Therefore, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God spoke to him.

God turned the curse into a blessing. Yes, Levi would be scattered and dispersed throughout the land, but it would actually be a blessing.

Claiming The Lord's Promises

God had clearly told the Israelites that although the tribe of Levi was not to have an inheritance in the land, they were to be given cities among the other tribes.

But the Levites had not yet received their cities. They said, "Hey guys, the Lord said we are going to get cities. Don't you think it's about time?"

And they were right.

I am reminded that there are some promises of God that must be claimed to be gotten. Oh, not the "name it and claim it" nonsense of the faith movement, but actual promises that we must say, "This is mine - I'm standing on it, claiming it, and laying hold of it."

My favorite example of a promise of this nature is that of perfect peace. The Bible promises perfect peace to any believer. But it must be claimed by a certain obedience:

Phil. 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

If you will lay hold of this promise by praying, petitioning, and giving thanks, God will give you His peace. Guaranteed.

(21:4-42) Cities For The Levites

These verses describe the cities and pasture lands that each of the tribes gave to the Levites.

21:43-45 No Promise Of God Failed

The Lord has again demonstrated His faithfulness to those whom He has chosen.

Ps. 36:5 Thy lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Thy faithfulness {reaches} to the skies.

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