Matthew Henry's Commentary
his short chapter is concerning the cities of refuge, which we often read of in the writings of Moses, but this is
the last time that we find mention of them, for now that matter was thoroughly settled. Here is, I. The law God gave concerning
them (v. 1-6). II. The people’s designation of the particular cities for that use (v. 7-9). And this remedial law was
a figure of good things to come.
Verses 1-6 Many things
were by the law of Moses ordered to be done when they came to Canaan and this among the rest, the appointing of sanctuaries
for the protecting of those that were guilty of casual murder, which was a privilege to all Israel, since no man could be
sure but some time or other it might be his own case; and it was for the interest of the land that the blood of an innocent
person, whose hand only was guilty but not his heart, should not be shed, no, not by the avenger of blood: of this law, which
was so much for their advantage, God here reminds them, that they might remind themselves of the other laws he had given them,
which concerned his honour. 1. Orders are given for the appointing of these cities (v. 2), and very seasonably at this time
when the land was newly surveyed, and so they were the better able to divide the coasts of it into three parts, as God had
directed them, in order to the more convenient situation of these cities of refuge, Deu. 19:3 . Yet it is probable that it
was not done till after the Levites had their portion assigned them in the next chapter, because the cities of refuge were
all to be Levites’ cities. As soon as ever God had given them cities of rest, he bade them appoint cities of refuge,
to which none of them knew but they might be glad to escape. Thus God provided, not only for their ease at all times, but
for their safety in times of danger, and such times we must expect and prepare for in this world. And it intimates what God’s
spiritual Israel have and shall have, in Christ and heaven, not only rest to repose themselves in, but refuge to secure themselves
in. And we cannot think these cities of refuge would have been so often and so much spoken of in the law of Moses, and have
had so much care taken about them (when the intention of them might have been effectually answered, as it is in our law, by
authorizing the courts of judgment to protect and acquit the manslayer in all those cases wherein he was to have privilege
of sanctuary), if they were not designed to typify the relief which the gospel provides for poor penitent sinners, and their
protection from the curse of the law and the wrath of God, in our Lord Jesus, to whom believers flee for refuge (Heb. 6:18
), and in whom they are found (Phil. 3:9 ) as in a sanctuary, where they are privileged from arrests, and there is now
no condemnation to them, Rom. 8:1 . Instructions are given for the using of these cities. The laws in this matter
we had before, Num. 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 (v. 3), not only whom he hated not, but whom he truly
loved beforetime (v. 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, v. 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’
Verses 7-9 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 (v. 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 (Deu. 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, v. 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,
Jn. 17:19 . 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 up-hill, 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 strong-hold 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 (Ex. 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 Ki. 1:50 1 Ki. 2:28 . Christ is our altar, who not only sanctifies the
gift, but protects the giver.
City of Refuge
Each day we walk through the Bible chapter by chapter making an application of our text to help us grow in the Lord.
Many applications can be made from each day's text. Today we Continue in the book of Joshua with Chapter 20 and we see the establishment of the cities of refuge in the Promised Land. A place established in
the law by Moses in previous books of the old testament under instruction of the Lord. Here a person killing someone
unawares could escape the judgement of others. In making application we see the Lord being our city of refuge. A place
where we can run and escape the judgement of our sinful condition. It reminds me of when I first found myself a lost
sinner and I ran to that city of refuge which is Jesus-Christ my Lord. How about you? Have you found that city of refuge
for your sinful condition? Let us learn from today's text and run to our city of refuge.
LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying,
to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses:
3That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither:
and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.
when he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of 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.
5And 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.
6And he shall dwell
in that city, 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
7And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee
in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjatharba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah.
8And on the other side Jordan by Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness
upon the plain out of the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan out of the tribe
9These 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, until he stood before the congregation.