In this chapter, God told Joshua to speak to the Israelites about the towns that were to be designated as places of refuge. God told Joshua to do this through Moses. These refuge towns were to be a place where someone could flee if they had unintentionally or accidentally killed a person so they could be protected from vengeance.
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Refugees To Be Accepted
God said that whenever someone flees to one of the refuge cities, they were to stand at the front of the city’s gate and then plead their case before all of the elders in that city. The elders were then to admit the fugitive into their town as well as give the refugee some place to reside.
If an avenger comes to the town to pursue the refugee, the elders are not permitted to surrender the fugitive, since the fugitive may have killed someone without malice, aforethought, or unintentionally. The refugee is to remain in the town so they can be tried before the entire assembly or until the serving high priest has died. Then the refugee was allowed to go back to the town that they had fled.
Towns Set Aside for Refugees
The Israelite’s made Kedesh in Galilee, Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill area of Kiriath Arba and Ephraim as refugee towns. They also designated Bezer which was located in the wilderness area on a plateau that belonged to the Reuben tribe, Ramoth in Gilead that belonged to the Gad tribe, along with Golan in Bashan that belonged to the Manasseh tribe as refugee towns.
Any Israelites or foreigners living with them that accidentally killed someone could flee to these selected cities and be protected. They were not to be killed by anyone seeking vengeance because they were to receive a trial before the assembly.
Joshua 20 (King James Version)
1 The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying,
2 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses:
3 That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.
4 And 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.
5 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.
6 And 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 fled.
7 And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjatharba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah.
8 And 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 of Manasseh.
9 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, until he stood before the congregation.