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׃

1 thought on “Joshua 20:4-6: The Right Use of the Cities of Refuge

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘Instructions are given for the using of these cities. The laws in this matter we had before, Numbers 35:10, etc., where they were opened at large. (1.) It is supposed that a man might possibly kill a person, it might be his own child or dearest friend, unawares and unwittingly (Joshua 20:3), not only whom he hated not, but whom he truly loved beforetime (Joshua 20:5); for the way of man is not in himself. What reason have we to thank God who has kept us both from slaying and from being slain by accident! In this case, it is supposed that the relations of the person slain would demand the life of the slayer, as a satisfaction to that ancient law that whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. (2.) It is provided that if upon trial it appeared that the murder was done purely by accident, and not by design, either upon an old grudge or a sudden passion, then the slayer should be sheltered from the avenger of blood in any one of these cities, Joshua 20:4-6. By this law he was entitled to a dwelling in that city, was taken into the care of the government of it, but was confined to it, as prisoner at large; only, if he survived the high priest, then, and not till then, he might return to his own city. And the Jews say, “If he died before the high priest in the city of his refuge and exile, and was buried there, yet, at the death of the high priest, his bones should be removed with respect to the place of his fathers’ sepulchres.”‘

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