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.”

1 thought on “Joshua 20:7-9: Cities of Refuge Selected

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘We have here the nomination of the cities of refuge in the land of Canaan, which was made by the advice and authority of Joshua and the princes (Joshua 20:7); and upon occasion of the mention of this is repeated the nomination of the other three in the lot of the other two tribes and a half, which was made by Moses (Deuteronomy 4:43), but (as bishop Patrick thinks) they had not the privilege till now. 1. They are said to sanctify these cities, that is the original word for appointed, Joshua 20:7. Not that any ceremony was used to signify the consecration of them, only they did by a public act of court solemnly declare them cities of refuge, and as such sacred to the honour of God, as the protector of exposed innocency. If they were sanctuaries, it was proper to say they were sanctified. Christ, our refuge, was sanctified by his Father; nay, for our sakes he sanctified himself, John 17:19. 2. These cities (as those also on the other side Jordan) stood in the three several parts of the country, so conveniently that a man might (they say) in half a day reach some one of them from any corner of the country. Kedesh was in Naphtali, the most northern tribe, Hebron in Judah, the most southern, and Shechem in Ephraim, which lay in the middle, about equally distant from the other two. God is a refuge at hand. 3. They were all Levites’ cities, which put an honour upon God’s tribe, making them judges in those cases wherein divine Providence was so nearly concerned, and protectors to oppressed innocency. It was also a kindness to the poor refugee, that when he might not go up to the house of the Lord, nor tread his courts, yet he had the servants of God’s house with him, to instruct him, and pray for him, and help to make up the want of public ordinances. If he must be confined, it shall be to a Levite-city, where he may, if he will, improve his time. 4. These cities were upon hills to be seen afar off, for a city on a hill cannot be hid; and this would both direct and encourage the poor distressed man that was making that way; and, though therefore his way at last was uphill, yet this would comfort him, that he would be in his place of safety quickly, and if he could but get into the suburbs of the city he was well enough off. 5. Some observe a significancy in the names of these cities with application to Christ our refuge. I delight not in quibbling upon names, yet am willing to take notice of these. Kedesh signifies holy, and our refuge is the holy Jesus. Shechem, a shoulder, and the government is upon his shoulder. Hebron, fellowship, and believers are called into the fellowship of Christ Jesus our Lord. Bezer, a fortification, for he is a stronghold to all those that trust in him. Ramoth, high or exalted, for him hath God exalted with his own right hand. Golan, joy or exultation, for in him all the saints are justified, and shall glory. Lastly, Besides all these, the horns of the altar, wherever it was, were a refuge to those who took hold of them, if the crime were such as that sanctuary allowed. This is implied in that law (Exodus 21:14), that a wilful murderer shall be taken from God’s altar to be put to death. And we find the altar used for this purpose, 1 Kings 1:50; 2:28. Christ is our altar, who not only sanctifies the gift, but protects the giver.’

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