Then the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘Designate the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who kills any person unintentionally, without premeditation, may flee there, and they shall become your refuge from the avenger of blood. ‘He shall flee to one of these cities, and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and state his case in the hearing of the elders of that city; and they shall take him into the city to them and give him a place, so that he may dwell among them. ‘Now if the avenger of blood pursues him, then they shall not deliver the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor without premeditation and did not hate him beforehand. ‘He shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, until the death of the one who is high priest in those days. Then the manslayer shall return to his own city and to his own house, to the city from which he fled.'” So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. Beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plain from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan from the tribe of Manasseh. These were the appointed cities for all the sons of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them, that whoever kills any person unintentionally may flee there, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until he stands before the congregation. Joshua 20:1-9
‘The cities which you are to give shall be your six cities of refuge. ‘You shall give three cities across the Jordan and three cities in the land of Canaan; they are to be cities of refuge. Numbers 35:13-14
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God told Joshua to provide six cities of refuge where those who had accidentally killed someone (committed manslaughter) could flee for refuge until a trial could determine the facts and render a verdict. This was a process that God put in place to protect innocent people who made mistakes.
There’s a bigger picture here: the cities of refuge are a picture of Jesus, because Jesus is our refuge. This morning we’ll look at the names of the six cities, which represent qualities of Christ, and how these six cities together are a foreshadow of Jesus.
1. Kedesh – The Hebrew word Kedesh means holy or holy place. Jesus is the Holy One, completely set apart unto Himself. We are called saints because we are set apart in Him. Angels cry, “Holy! holy! holy!” (Isaiah 6:3) and demons on earth were compelled to exclaim, “We know you who you are—the HOLY ONE of God!” (Mark 1:24)
When Jesus Himself was on earth, He challenged those who accused Him: “Who among you can convict Me of sin?” (John 8:46). Jesus is holy and worthy of praise. It is through Him and His work on the cross that makes us holy. We find refuge and safety in Him because He is holy and has made us holy.
2. Shechem – Shechem means to shoulder. Jesus bore our sins upon His shoulder. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows!” (Isaiah 53:4) Jesus Himself bore our sins in His body, and carried or shouldered the weight and penalty of our sin (1 Peter 2:24).
Now Jesus is at God’s right hand and the government is upon His shoulder (Isaiah 9:6). The whole world is upheld by Him! As His followers, we are continually upheld by Him. We find refuge in Him because He bore our sin and now He advocates for us at the right hand of the Father. He is our strong shoulder.
3. Hebron – In Hebrew, Hebron means fellowship or friendship. Jesus has brought guilty man into fellowship with God. Through our sin, we forfeited this fellowship and we made God our enemy – we were cut off from fellowship with all that is holy.
But Jesus reconciled things on earth and things in heaven (Colossians 1:20). He has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6). We who were once “far off” have been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit work together to restore our fellowship with God.
4. Bezer – Bezer means stronghold or rock. Jesus is the believer’s Bezer. The sinner is in danger everywhere else, but in Jesus he is safe. A rock is something solid we can depend on, and we can depend on Jesus as our stronghold or refuge.
The LORD also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, A stronghold in times of trouble; 10 And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You. Psalm 9:9-10
5. Ramoth – Ramoth means exaltation, and Jesus is the true Ramoth who was exalted to be a Prince and a Savior. He was despised and rejected, but He was exalted on the cross as a suffering servant. He willingly left glory and was obedient even to death on a cross, and He is now exalted on the throne as King. “God has highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2:9). Angels exalt Him, seraphs adore Him, saints praise Him, the Church on earth magnifies Him, and the Church redeemed in heaven will magnify and exalt Him forever and ever!
6. Golan – Golan means joy, and Jesus is truly our Golan. Just as we can find safety and refuge in many different things, we may also have many other joys, but Jesus is our great joy. At His birth, the angel cried out, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!” (Luke 2:10) The good news is that Jesus Christ came! God descended into human flesh, walked the perfect life as a man, and bore our sins on the cross. We find our ultimate joy in Him.
Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
Shout for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done it! Shout joyfully, you lower parts of the earth; Break forth into a shout of joy, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it; For the LORD has redeemed Jacob And in Israel He shows forth His glory. Isaiah 44:23
We have joy because of salvation, and we shout for joy because He is our joy.
So the ransomed of the LORD will return And come with joyful shouting to Zion, And everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away. Isaiah 51:11
“Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the LORD. Zechariah 2:10
We have joy because the Lord is returning! All of these cities of refuge represent a different part of Jesus and the ultimate refuge that we find in Him.
The Gospel Refuge
The gospel of refuge is that the whole Bible is about Jesus. As we’ve walked through Joshua, we’ve seen time after time that this book points to Jesus. These cities are a picture and a description of Jesus. The walls and the buildings of the cities have fallen down and broken, but they are just a type of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t fall apart or change – He continues to be our refuge. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
This morning Jesus wants to be your refuge. He will care for you, protect you, and give you whatever you need. He will be your refuge. Our responsibility is to step out in faith and trust Him to be our refuge, even in times of relational turmoil, physical illness, or financial uncertainty.
Jesus is the ultimate refuge and He says, “Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” It’s a great promise and a great picture of all that Jesus is. We will find joy in Him, we will exalt Him, He will be our stronghold, we will have fellowship with the Father through Him, He will be our strong shoulder that bears our sin and stands as an advocate for us, and He is our Holy Place who has set us apart in Him and His work.