Joshua 20:7-9: Cities of Refuge Selected

Verse 7:[1] And they appointed (Heb. sanctified[2]) (Josh. 21:32; 1 Chron. 6:76) Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and (Josh. 21:21; 2 Chron. 10:1) Shechem in mount Ephraim, and (Josh. 14:15; 21:11, 13) Kirjath-arba, which is Hebron, in (Luke 1:39) the mountain of Judah.

[They appointed] Hebrew: they sanctified (thus Montanus, Junius and Tremellius). The קָּדַשׁ signifies to designate something unto a particular use, with certain ceremonies of religion employed (Masius).

[וַיַּקְדִּשׁוּ] And they established, or assigned (Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic); they prepared, that is, they designated (Vatablus).

[In Galilee of mount Naphtali] Hebrew: in Galilee, in mount, etc.[3] Therefore, the cities of refuge were established on mountains, so that the indication of the city, the mountain, might be able to be seen a great way off, and thus help might be provided against the wandering of distressed men, etc. To which also the most advantageous placement of the cities of refuge has regard. For the distance of the journey was almost equal from whatever corner of the Holy Land unto whichever one of them. For Hebron stood forth toward the south, Kadesh toward the North, Shechem between those in the middle (Masius).

[And Shechem] Made famous by the defiling of Dinah[4] and the tomb of Joseph.[5] Afterwards it was called Neapolis[6] (Masius).

They appointed, etc.: Concerning these cities, note, 1. That they were all upon mountains, that they might be seen at a great distance, and so direct those who fled thither. 2. That they were seated at convenient distance one from another, for the benefit of the several tribes; for Kedesh was in the north, Hebron in the south, and Shechem between them. 3. That they all belonged to the Levites; partly that these causes might be more impartially examined and justly determined by them, who are presumed best able to understand the law of God, and most obliged and likely to follow it in their judgment, and not to be biassed by any affection or corrupt interest; and partly that their just reputation with the people, and their good counsels, might lay some restraint upon revengeful persons, who might be inclined or tempted to follow the manslayer thither, and endeavour to kill him there.


Verse 8:[7] And on the other side Jordan by Jericho eastward, they assigned (Deut. 4:43; Josh. 21:36; 1 Chron. 6:78) Bezer in the wilderness upon the plain out of the tribe of Reuben, and (Josh. 21:38; 1 Kings 22:3) Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and (Josh. 21:27) Golan in Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh.

[And across Jordan…they established, etc.] These three on the other side of Jordan were indeed established by Moses as cities of refuge; but they did not have that religious right of sanctity until those other cities were also consecrated across the Jordan. And this is the reason why these are appointed again, with no mention made of Moses (Masius out of the Hebrews). Question: Why were not more cities of refuge established for the nine tribes than for the two and half tribes? The Jews respond, 1. that in Gilead homicides were more frequent, Hosea 6:8. But that is as if the cities of refuge were set up for evildoers. Response 2: It is demonstrated that regard is had to the extent of the place, because three additional cities of refuge were to be established, if in the future more spacious borders should be granted to the people by God, Deuteronomy 19:8-10 (Masius).

They assigned, or gave, or had assigned, or given; for they were given by Moses, Deuteronomy 4:41, etc.; or they confirmed Moses’s grant, and applied them to that use to which Moses designed and separated them.


Verse 9:[8] (Num. 35:15) 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, (Josh. 20:6) until he stood before the congregation.

[These cities were appointed (thus Munster, Tigurinus, English, Dutch), הַמּוּעָדָה[9]] In the form of מוּסָדָה/foundation/appointment[10] (Drusius). They translate it, cities of gathering, or assembly (Pagnine, Montanus, Junius and Tremellius, Kimchi in Masius, Drusius), to which the unintentional manslayer ought to resort (Vatablus, similarly Junius). But it is not likely that such a crowd resorted there, that they might be called cities of the congregation from those refugees (Masius). Cities dedicated and sacred (Arabic). Cities publicly established, to which the guiltless, etc., might flee. יעד is used of predetermining the place or time (Arabic).

[For strangers] The Hebrews maintain that by this word[11] were excluded from the cities of refuge all except Jews and proselytes. But גֵּר denotes any stranger; and in Numbers 35:15 the תּוֹשַׁב/dweller is reckoned within the scope of this law.[12] For God simply detests all shedding of innocent blood. Moreover, it is to be noted that all the cities of refuge were assigned to the Levites as habitations: namely, so that by the dignity of the priesthood unjust violence might be all the better restrained; and so that by men skillful in Divine and human law capital trials of this sort might be decided more holily and righteously (Masius).

For the stranger; not only proselytes, but others also; because this was a matter of common right, that a distinction might be made between casual manslayers and wilful murderers.

[1] Hebrew: וַיַּקְדִּ֜שׁוּ אֶת־קֶ֤דֶשׁ בַּגָּלִיל֙ בְּהַ֣ר נַפְתָּלִ֔י וְאֶת־שְׁכֶ֖ם בְּהַ֣ר אֶפְרָ֑יִם וְאֶת־קִרְיַ֥ת אַרְבַּ֛ע הִ֥יא חֶבְר֖וֹן בְּהַ֥ר יְהוּדָֽה׃

[2] Hebrew: וַיַּקְדִּשׁוּ.

[3] Hebrew: בַּגָּלִיל֙ בְּהַ֣ר נַפְתָּלִ֔י.

[4] Genesis 34.

[5] Joshua 24:32.

[6] In 72 AD, Vespasian built Neapolis about a mile west of the old city.

[7] Hebrew: וּמֵעֵ֜בֶר לְיַרְדֵּ֤ן יְרִיחוֹ֙ מִזְרָ֔חָה נָתְנ֞וּ אֶת־בֶּ֧צֶר בַּמִּדְבָּ֛ר בַּמִּישֹׁ֖ר מִמַּטֵּ֣ה רְאוּבֵ֑ן וְאֶת־רָאמֹ֤ת בַּגִּלְעָד֙ מִמַּטֵּה־גָ֔ד וְאֶת־גָּל֥וֹן בַּבָּשָׁ֖ן מִמַּטֵּ֥ה מְנַשֶּֽׁה׃

[8] Hebrew: אֵ֣לֶּה הָיוּ֩ עָרֵ֙י הַמּֽוּעָדָ֜ה לְכֹ֣ל׀ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְלַגֵּר֙ הַגָּ֣ר בְּתוֹכָ֔ם לָנ֣וּס שָׁ֔מָּה כָּל־מַכֵּה־נֶ֖פֶשׁ בִּשְׁגָגָ֑ה וְלֹ֣א יָמ֗וּת בְּיַד֙ גֹּאֵ֣ל הַדָּ֔ם עַד־עָמְד֖וֹ לִפְנֵ֥י הָעֵדָֽה׃

[9] יָעַד signifies to appoint; עֵדָה signifies congregation, people assembled by appointment.

[10] יָסַד signifies to establish, to found.

[11] Hebrew: וְלַגֵּר֙ הַגָּ֣ר בְּתוֹכָ֔ם, and for the sojourner sojourning in the midst of them.

[12] Numbers 35:15:  “These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them (לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְלַגֵּ֤ר וְלַתּוֹשָׁב֙ בְּתוֹכָ֔ם):  that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither.”

Joshua 20:4-6: The Right Use of the Cities of Refuge

Verse 4:[1] And when he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of (Ruth 4:1, 2) 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.

He…shall stand at the entering of the gate: The judges used to sit at the entering of the gate. His cause, or, his matters or business, what he hath done, and why, and how; he shall give them a true relation of the fact, and all its circumstances. They shall take him into the city; understand, if they are satisfied in the relation he makes concerning the fact, otherwise it had been a vain thing to examine his cause. Give him a place; which they might well allow him, because God gave them the city with a reservation for such persons.


Verse 5:[2] (Num. 35:12) 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.

[He smote his neighbor] That is, any man whatsoever; for by nature all men have a society among themselves (Masius).


Verse 6:[3] And he shall dwell in that city, (Num. 35:12, 25) 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.

[Until he stand] Litigants and advocates stood; Judges sat: Exodus 18:13; Isaiah 50:8; Zechariah 3:1 (Drusius).

Until he stand, etc.: Standing was the posture of the accused and accusers, Exodus 18:13; Isaiah 50:8; Zechariah 3:1.

[Before the judgment, לִפְנֵ֤י הָֽעֵדָה֙] Before the council, that is, the Senate. That is, Until he be recalled from the city of refuge by the Judges of his own city, and they judge concerning his case (Vatablus). [But concerning these things see on Numbers 35:12.]

Before the congregation, or, company, or assembly, to wit, the council appointed to judge of these matters: not the council of the city of refuge, for they had examined him before, verse 4; but of the city to which he belonged, or in or nigh which the fact was committed, as appears from Numbers 35:25. Until the death of the high priest; of which see on Numbers 35:25.

[1] Hebrew: וְנָ֞ס אֶל־אַחַ֣ת׀ מֵהֶעָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה וְעָמַד֙ פֶּ֚תַח שַׁ֣עַר הָעִ֔יר וְדִבֶּ֛ר בְּאָזְנֵ֛י זִקְנֵ֥י־הָעִֽיר הַהִ֖יא אֶת־דְּבָרָ֑יו וְאָסְפ֙וּ אֹת֤וֹ הָעִ֙ירָה֙ אֲלֵיהֶ֔ם וְנָתְנוּ־ל֥וֹ מָק֖וֹם וְיָשַׁ֥ב עִמָּֽם׃

[2] Hebrew: וְכִ֙י יִרְדֹּ֜ף גֹּאֵ֤ל הַדָּם֙ אַֽחֲרָ֔יו וְלֹֽא־יַסְגִּ֥רוּ אֶת־הָרֹצֵ֖חַ בְּיָד֑וֹ כִּ֤י בִבְלִי־דַ֙עַת֙ הִכָּ֣ה אֶת־רֵעֵ֔הוּ וְלֹֽא־שֹׂנֵ֥א ה֛וּא ל֖וֹ מִתְּמ֥וֹל שִׁלְשֽׁוֹם׃

[3] Hebrew: וְיָשַׁ֣ב׀ בָּעִ֣יר הַהִ֗יא עַד־עָמְד֞וֹ לִפְנֵ֤י הָֽעֵדָה֙ לַמִּשְׁפָּ֔ט עַד־מוֹת֙ הַכֹּהֵ֣ן הַגָּד֔וֹל אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִהְיֶ֖ה בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֑ם אָ֣ז׀ יָשׁ֣וּב הָרוֹצֵ֗חַ וּבָ֤א אֶל־עִירוֹ֙ וְאֶל־בֵּית֔וֹ אֶל־הָעִ֖יר אֲשֶׁר־נָ֥ס מִשָּֽׁם׃

Joshua 20:2, 3: The Establishment of the Cities of Refuge

Discipleship Course on the Book of Revelation

Verse 2:[1] Speak to the children of Israel, saying, (Ex. 21:13; Num. 35:6, 11, 14; Deut. 19:2, 9) Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses…

[Separate cities] Hebrew: Give to yourselves cities,[2] etc. The to yourselves is an elegent redundancy, according to the usage of the language. Thus, faciamus nobis, let us make for ourselves;[3] vide tibi, see for yourself; and Plautus, quid ego tibi deliqui, in what have I offended you? (Drusius). Unless you prefer to think that by it is signified that the law of the cities of refuge pertains only to Israelites (Masius). Others: Give from yourselves (Junius and Tremellius). But I judge that there is no ellipsis of from here. See a similar example in Joshua 18:4[4] (Piscator).

[Cities of fugitives] [Concerning these Masius has here many things, which ὡς ἐν συνόψει, as in a synopsis, you will find on Numbers 35 and on Deuteronomy 19. Now, what things from him were omitted there, you will find inscribed in this chapter.] In this place (says Tirinus), (it is necessary to proceed) against Andrew Masius, who in hatred of wickedness and a zeal for righteousness appears to disapprove of Christian places of refuge (Tirinus). [But let us hear Masius’ opinion from his own mouth.] The places of refuge (says he) that God set apart were protecting guiltless manslayers. But men, partly in the lust for glory, so that they might magnify their own majesty, others in imprudent Religious belief, have established the right of ἀσυλίας/ asylum in the presence of statues, shrines, and cemeteries, before Bishops, and I do not know where they do not. Moreover, there they protect the most wicked men; which is altogether unworthy of the laws of God, and more agreeable to the institutes of Romulus. See Exodus 21:14. And who would endure God Himself being made the patron of a murderer? or Princes, to whom it has belonged to punish the wicked, being their protectors? So they also expose all men, even the best, to the lust of malefactors; since there is no greater enticement to sin than the hope of impunity (Masius). [Thus Masius. Against whom Tirinus sets the following arguments for Christian places of refuge.] 1. Thus the majesty of God is displayed, when the places dedicated to Him are held so inviolable that even if injury be incurred by men, or even the public and private good demand punishment, nevertheless on account of reverence for those places the man that is in them is secure. 2. Thus a greater opinion of Divine things is procured for the common people. 3. Thus consideration is given to the innocence of many, especially in wars, and a time is given for repentance (Tirinus). [It is not difficult for any judicious man to resolve this quarrel, and to discern whose arguments are of greater weight and moment. But it does not belong to me to insert an opinion.]

Cities of refuge, whereof I spake, etc.: The possessions being now divided among you, do you reserve some of them for the use which I have commanded.


Verse 3:[5] That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.

[He that smites unwittingly, בִּשְׁגָגָ֖ה בִּבְלִי־דָ֑עַת] This is not ταυτολογία, a tautology; but, with the sense of everything doubled, as far as it is able to be done, protection for wicked murders is precluded (Masius). Perhaps the expression is ἐν παραλλήλου, in parallel, whereby two ἰσοδυναμοῦντα, equivalent things, are joined together; as when we say, clay mud, earth of dust, etc. (Drusius). They translate it, through ignorance (or, error [Pagnine, Junius and Tremellius, Castalio, Arabic, Jonathan), without knowledge (Vatablus, similarly Montanus, Munster, Arabic, Pagnine), that is, unintentionally, and with no attention given (Vatablus). Hadrian answers well, in maleficiis voluntatem spectari, non exitum, in crimes attention is to be given to the intention, not the result.[6] For it is in us by nature, that an evil intention have we in hatred; a good intention, even if it goes astray, not likewise (Masius). Yet manslaying is such an awful matter that even those that had done it unintentionally and unknowingly were nevertheless supposed to have need of certain expiatory rites, whereby they might be rest from the terror their conscience. Hence the Areopagites were wont to pronounce judgment of a year’s exile (Masius on verse 6).

Unawares and unwittingly; Hebrew, through ignorance, or error, or mistake, and without knowledge; the same thing twice repeated, to cut off all the claims and expectations that wilful murderers might have of protection here; and God having declared that such should be taken even from his altar, that they might be killed, Exodus 21:14; and accordingly Joab was by Solomon’s order killed even at the altar, 1 Kings 2:28-31, 34. It is the more strange and impudent that any Christians should make their sanctuaries give protection to such persons whom God hath so expressly excepted from it, which the papists do; and their doctors are not ashamed to defend it upon frivolous reasons.

[Who is the avenger of blood, מִגֹּאֵ֖ל הַדָּֽם׃] From the defender of blood (Masius, Junius and Tremellius), supplying, that, of that blood (Junius and Tremellius), which was poured out in bloody murder (Junius). The Septuagint renders it agreeably, ἀγχιστεύοντα τὸ αἷμα, one avenging blood by right of near relation: That is, in just the same way as if the blood of slain man, oppressed by the hand of a murderer, were released by vengeance unto liberty. But vengeance was permitted only to those that just grief impelled (Masius). The Hebraic expression is to be noted, one near of blood, in the place of near to the one killed (Vatablus). Question: Why were the cities of refuge established for homicides alone, but not likewise for thefts, sacrileges, or adulteries? Responses: 1. The danger was not the same in the later as in the former, lest, while the matter is examined by the Judge, they incur a grave injury from someone (Estius). 2. There are hardly any other sins ever joined with innocence, but they are accomplished by zeal, will, and attention given: But God did not at all will that the wicked will be left unpunished (Masius).

The avenger of blood; the kinsman, who had right or power to demand or take vengeance of the slaughter.

[1] Hebrew: דַּבֵּ֛ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר תְּנ֤וּ לָכֶם֙ אֶת־עָרֵ֣י הַמִּקְלָ֔ט אֲשֶׁר־דִּבַּ֥רְתִּי אֲלֵיכֶ֖ם בְּיַד־מֹשֶֽׁה׃

[2] Hebrew: תְּנ֤וּ לָכֶם֙ אֶת־עָרֵ֣י.

[3] For example, Genesis 11:4.

[4] Joshua 18:4a:  “Give out from among you three men (הָב֥וּ לָכֶ֛ם שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה אֲנָשִׁ֖ים) for each tribe: and I will send them, and they shall rise, and go through the land…”

[5] Hebrew: לָנ֥וּס שָׁ֙מָּה֙ רוֹצֵ֔חַ מַכֵּה־נֶ֥פֶשׁ בִּשְׁגָגָ֖ה בִּבְלִי־דָ֑עַת וְהָי֤וּ לָכֶם֙ לְמִקְלָ֔ט מִגֹּאֵ֖ל הַדָּֽם׃

[6] Digest 48.

Joshua 20:1: God Addresses Joshua about the Cities of Refuge

Verse 1:[1] The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying…

[He spoke…to Joshua] The cessation is not here blamed on Joshua, as if he neglected to establish the cities of refuge so often commanded previously; but this is signified, that he attended to these commandments, just like the others, at the right time by Divine instinct, and that he reported concerning them to the people. For the cities of refuge were not able to be established until after the distribution of the land, Deuteronomy 19. Therefore, the statutes concerning the law of the Cities of Refuge follow in their own order, after the distribution of the possessions (Masius).

[1] Hebrew: וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֖עַ לֵאמֹֽר׃