THEME: An Ordained Safety
This week’s lessons teach about the priestly cities of refuge, and how they point the way to our own refuge found only in the Lord Jesus Christ.
SCRIPTURE: Joshua 20:1-3
I suppose it’s true to say that in some way or another, everyone is proud of the city or town in which he or she grew up, which is a way of saying that from the point of view of the native, every place is special in some way. I grew up in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, which is a mill town out in the western part of the state on the junction of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers. Living in the shadow of the big city of Pittsburgh, McKeesport maybe was not known for a whole lot. But we were proud of our football team, and every fall, everybody used to go over to watch the games. I have a very good feeling for the way Garrison Keillor feels when he writes about his mythical hometown of Lake Wobegon, the little town where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”
Sometimes cities try to capture their special flavor in a slogan. Dallas is the “Big D.” New York is the “Big Apple.” Chicago is the “Windy City.” Way out in the middle of Kansas, there’s a place called “mid-America.” Everybody has a way of being proud about their own place.
The Israelites had special cities, too, only their cities were special for very spiritual reasons. I’m sure in the sense of which I’ve already been speaking, all these towns of Israel were special to the people who lived there. We already know from the case of Caleb, for example, how he got his mind set on the town of Hebron in Judah in the south, and how when his role in the conquest was over, he asked if he could just have one more opportunity to prove the power of God. He said, “I want Hebron. Give me that place. I want that mountain.” And so, by the grace of God, he took it. And Joshua was certainly proud of Timnath-serah, the town which had been given to him. The other people fought for their cities. They drove out the inhabitants, taking the cities one by one. And when they looked over those cities, they would have said, “Well, this is now my city.”
And yet, there were special cities even among all these other cities. They’re described in Joshua 20 and 21. Chapter 21 tells about the towns that were given to the Levites. The Levites, the priests, didn’t have any land of their own; they were not given a tribal territory. Instead, God scattered the priests throughout Israel as a blessing to the whole people. And they were given these priestly cities in which they lived. There were 48 of them, and chapter 21 lists them. And then at the very end, there’s a summation, which says, “The towns of the Levites and the territory held by the Israelites were 48 in all, together with their pasture lands.”
From those 48 cities, there were six that were picked out and made cities of refuge in the kind of arrangement that is described for us very carefully in chapter 20. Of these six cities, three of them were to the west of the Jordan River, and they’re listed first. Kadesh was up north in Galilee, in the hill country of Naphtali; Shechem was in the central part of the country, in the hill country of Ephraim; and finally, there was Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), which is to the south in Judah. There were also three cities on the east of the Jordan River. In the desert to the south, within the tribe of Reuben, there was Bezer; in the middle part of the country was Ramoth in Gilead, which is in the tribe of Gad; and lastly there was Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh.
These were very special cities, and the Old Testament describes them in several places. You find them in Exodus 21, verses 12 and following; and they are also mentioned briefly in Deuteronomy 4:41-43. There are also two passages which describe these cities at length, Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 19. We can see here that their establishing and function was delineated carefully in the Old Testament law. So here in Joshua 20 is the fulfillment of what was already predetermined by God through revelation to Moses and recorded in the Jewish Scriptures.
The lesson mentioned that the Israelites may have felt similarly about their cities in the Promised Land as we do about our own towns or cities. But in what ways were the Israelites’ experience different from our own?
What significant thing do you notice about the location of these six cities?
What important point does Dr. Boice make about the establishment and function of these cities?