SynopsisIn this passage, the LORD reminds Joshua to set aside some cities of refuge. (The concept of a “city of refuge” was first introduced in Exodus 21—although the actual term “city of refuge” wasn’t used—and formally in Numbers 35.) Since God reminds us what a city of refuge is, I’ll outline it again here. (This is, after all, a synopsis…)
Anyone who accidentally kills someone can flee to a city of refuge, to be protected from the “avenger of blood” (verse 3). When he does, he’s to stand at the entrance to the city, and plead his case with the city’s elders. Assuming that he does so successfully, they are to let him into the city, and give him a place to live. If the avenger of blood does come after him, the elders of the city are now allowed to surrender him up.
The “accidental killer” (my term, not the Bible’s) is not allowed to leave the city until:
- He has stood trial before the assembly (presumably being found innocent of murder), and
- The High Priest who was in office at the time dies
ThoughtsThe Bible mentions the concept of the “avenger of blood” from time to time, but I don’t think this is something that’s prescribed in the Old Testament laws, per se; I get the impression that this is something more cultural than legal. But God is still protecting the accidental killers from these avengers—they exist, whether it’s legal or not.
Although cities of refuge are given a lot of coverage, in Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and now again in Joshua, I don’t remember a case in the Old Testament of one ever being put to use. I may very well be wrong, though.