Reference: Refuge, Cities Of
To provide security for those who should undesignedly kill a man, the Lord commanded Moses to appoint six cities of refuge, or asylums, that any one who should thus shed blood might retire thither, and have time to prepare his defence before the judges, and that the kinsmen of the deceased might not pursue and kill him, Ex 21:13; Nu 35:11-34. Of such cities there were three on each side Jordan. On the west were Kedesh of Naphtali, Shechem, and Hebron; on the east, Golan, Ramoth-Gilead, and Bezer, Jos 20:7-8. These cities served not only for Hebrews, but for all strangers who resided in the country, De 19:1-10. The Lord also commanded that when the Hebrews should multiply and enlarge their land, they should add three other cities of refuge. But this command was never fulfilled.
The custom of blood-revenge appears to have been an institution or principle very early introduced among the nomadic oriental tribes. So firmly was this practice established among the Israelites before their entrance into the promised land, and probably also even before their sojourning in Egypt, that Moses was directed by Jehovah not to attempt to eradicate it entirely, but only to counteract and modify it by the institution of cities of refuge. The custom of avenging the blood of a member of a family or tribe upon some member of the tribe or family of the slayer, still exists in full force among the modern Bedaweens, the representatives in a certain sense of the ancient Israelites in the desert. They prefer this mode of self-vengeance. Niebuhr informs us that "the Arabs rather avenge themselves, as the law allows, upon the family of the murderer; and seek an opportunity of slaying its head, or most considerable person, whom they regard as being properly the person guilty of the crime, as it must have been committed through his negligence in watching over the conduct of those under his inspection. From this time the two families are in continual fears, till some one or other of the murderer's family be slain. No reconciliation can take place between them, and the quarrel is still occasionally renewed. There have been instances of such family feuds lasting forty years. If in the contest a man of the murdered person's family happens to fall, there can be no peace until two others of the murderer's family have been slain." How far superior to this was the Mosaic institution of cities of refuge, where the involuntary homicide might remain in peace till the death of the high-priest, and then go forth in safety, while a really guilty person did not escape punishment.
Among most of the nations of antiquity, temples, and particularly the altars within them, were regarded as proffering an asylum for fugitives from violence. Among the Hebrews we find indications of the custom on the part of the culprit of fleeing to the Lord's altar. But this was not allowed to screen the guilty from deserved punishment, Ex 21:14; 1Ki 2:28-34.
There is an appointed city of refuge for sinners exposed to the second death, and an altar of refuge sprinkled with atoning blood. Happy the soul that flees and is safe in Christ, ere it is overtaken by the avenging law of God.
were six in number (Nu 35). 1. On the west of Jordan were (1) Kadesh, in Naphtali; (2) Shechem, in Mount Ephraim; (3) Hebron, in Judah. 2. On the east of Jordan were, (1) Golan, in Bashan; (2) Ramoth-Gilead, in Gad; and (3) Bezer, in Reuben. (See under each of these names.)
REFUGE, CITIES OF
1. Origin of the right of asylum.
Six cities were appointed under the law, three on each side of the Jordan, to which any one who had killed a person unintentionally could flee. They were given to the Levites, and the elders of these cities were to judge if the death had been caused accidentally, and if so, the avenger of blood was not allowed to take the manslayer's life. He must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest who 'was anointed with the holy oil,' and then he could return to his possession. Prior to that if he went outside the city and the avenger found him, he might put him to death. Nu 35:6-32; Jos 20:2-9; 21:13-38; 1Ch 6:57,67.
Typically the manslayer doubtless represents the Jews: they put the Lord Jesus to death, yet they were not at once slain as murderers, but in grace were treated as manslayers, and the assembly became the city of refuge for them, its hope being connected with heaven and not with an earthly inheritance. Peter said they did it ignorantly, Ac 3:17; and the Lord prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." The preaching of the gospel was to 'begin at Jerusalem,' as it did on the day of Pentecost. The people of Israel are still out of their possession, and will not be restored to it in blessing so long as Christ retains His present position of actual Priesthood on high.
The Cities of Refuge on the west of Jordan were KADESH, in mount Naphtali, in Galilee; SHECHEM, in mount Ephraim; and KIRJATH-ARBA, which is HEBRON, in the mountain of Judah. And on the east of the Jordan they were BEZER, in the wilderness, in the tribe of Reuben; RAMOTH-IN-GILEAD, in the tribe of Gad; and GOLAN, in Bashan, in the tribe of Manasseh. Jos 20:7-8. It has been calculated that the distance of these from city to city would be about 70 miles, so that no one would in any part be farther than about 35 miles from one of them.