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Our City of Refuge 

Flee to the place of safety!

Joshua 20–22

Don Ruhl • Savage Street, Grants Pass, Oregon • September 29, In the year of our Lord, 2013



  1. You killed someone by accident, but 
    1. the family does not believe you,
    2. what do you do?
  2. I can tell you what the ancient Israelite could do! 
    1. Remember that the Law of Moses in Leviticus 24,
      1. declared what happened to an Israelite,
      2. if he harmed his neighbor,

        19 “If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him— 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him” (Lev 24.19–20).

    2. However, what if it had been an accident?
      1. The Lord provided six cities of refuge,
      2. three on each side of the Jordan,
        1. one in the North,
        2. one in the Middle, and
        3. one in the South,
          1. to which an Israelite might flee,
          2. until the truth of the matter could be discerned.


  1. Joshua 20 – The Cities of Refuge 
    1. The Lord made a promise through Moses
      1. to provide cities of refuge and
      2. this chapter shows Him doing that very thing.

        1 The Lord also spoke to Joshua, saying, 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Appoint for yourselves cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, 3 that the slayer who kills a person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there; and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood…’”

        7 So they appointed Kedesh in Galilee, in the mountains of Naphtali, Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and Kirjath Arba (which is Hebron) in the mountains of Judah. 8 And on the other side of the Jordan, by Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness on the plain, from the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh.

    2. Now, remember that Hebrews 10 says,

      1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things… (Heb 10.1).

      1. Thus, these cities of refuge have their true image in Christ and His church,
      2. as the Book of Hebrews declared earlier,

        17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise [that’s us] the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us (Heb 6.17–18).

        1. Satan seeks to slay us, but
        2. in Jesus and in His church, we have safety.
    3. However, the parallel goes further.
      1. This is a personal matter.
        1. Even as the Israelite had to go himself, and could not send another,
        2. so we have to flee to Christ and His church, and no one else can do it.
      2. The matter requires promptness.
        1. If the Israelite delayed, he might lose his life.
        2. If we delay fleeing to our refuge, we might lose our souls.
      3. This is a pressing situation.
        1. If we get distracted along the way,
        2. the devil will pounce on us.
      4. The circumstance required perseverance.
        1. The Israelite could not stop until he reached the city of refuge.
        2. The Christian cannot stop simply because he has been baptized.
    4. Oh, by the way, when Israel entered the Land of Canaan,
      1. automatically they received the three cities of refuge on the West side, but
      2. the three cities of refuge on the East side they received conditionally.
        1. Deuteronomy 19 shows how this was.
          1. First, the western cities they received automatically,

            1 “When the Lord your God has cut off the nations whose land the Lord your God is giving you, and you dispossess them and dwell in their cities and in their houses, 2 you shall separate three cities for yourself in the midst of your land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess (Deu 19.1–2).

          2. Second, the eastern cities they received conditionally,

            8 “Now if the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as He swore to your fathers, and gives you the land which He promised to give to your fathers, 9 and if you keep all these commandments and do them, which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and to walk always in His ways, then you shall add three more cities for yourself besides these three…” (Deu 19.8–9).

        2. Joshua 20 shows the Lord giving Israel six cities of refuge, which means
          1. that the Lord enlarged their territory, as He swore to the fathers,
          2. that He gave them the land He promised to the patriarchs, and
            1. it means that generation up to that point,
            2. kept all that God commanded them.
      3. Therefore, when someone tells you
        1. that the Jews never received all the land God promised Abraham, and
        2. that they will yet get that land, and then
          1. Jesus will return,
          2. such a person has not read Joshua 20, and
            1. that person has not read Joshua 21,
            2. as I will show you now.
  2. Joshua 21 – The Cities of the Levites

    1 Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites came near to Eleazar the priest, to Joshua the son of Nun, and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the children of Israel. 2 And they spoke to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, “The Lord commanded through Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with their common-lands for our livestock.”

    1. Then Joshua listed the cities that the Lord gave the tribe of Levi, because
    2. they did not have a region designated for them,
      1. since the Lord Himself was their inheritance,
      2. which is like us, or the church.
        1. The church does not have a region of the Earth designated for it, but
        2. as the Book of Hebrews said about the patriarchs,
          1. so it is true about us,

            13 …they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Heb 11.13–16).

          2. Like the Levites we are priests, and our home lies beyond the skies.
    3. As Joshua 21 continues,
      1. we find another interesting reference to the land promise.
      2. First, I want to tell you a story.
        1. In 1985, I, and two other brethren from the Nile Street Church,
          1. had a 7 ½ hour Bible study with two women and two men,
          2. who were trying to persuade one of our members
            1. to quit college and to stop trying to be a doctor.
            2. During this discussion, the issue of premillennialism came up.
        2. Premillennialism teaches that before Jesus returns,
          1. the Jews must return to their land, because
          2. allegedly, they never have received all the land promised to them.
        3. Larry Lewis asked these four people three questions:
          1. Did Israel receive all the land the Lord promised to them?
          2. Did Israel have rest in the land as the Lord had promised?
          3. Did Israel defeat their enemies in the land?
            1. They answered no to all three questions.
              1. Then I read Joshua 21.43–45,

                43 So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it. 44 The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. 45 Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.

              2. The younger man flew back in his seat, and asked
                1. what we gained from that,
                2. which was like showing a Mormon
                  1. that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God.
  3. Joshua 22 – Faithfulness 
    1. Then Joshua sent the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh
      1. to their land on the other side of the Jordan,
      2. commending them for obeying the Lord and Joshua.
    2. He encouraged them to remain faithful to the Lord,

      5 “But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

    3. Then verse 10 says,

      10 And when they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan—a great, impressive altar.

    4. When the rest of Israel heard about the altar,
      1. they assumed the two and a half tribes had built an altar to an idol!
      2. Therefore, the tribes gathered to make war with the two and a half tribes.
        1. However, before engaging in the war,
        2. Israel sent a delegation of eleven men to the allegedly rebellious tribes.
          1. The men questioned why the eastern tribes committed treachery.
          2. The eastern tribes explained that it was not a new worship center.
            1. They explained what it was then,
            2. that it was a replica of the altar on the western side,
              1. not for offering sacrifices and such, but
              2. as a witness against the western tribes
                1. in case their descendants ever said
                2. the eastern tribes were not part of Israel.
    5. The answer pleased the delegation of eleven.
      1. Our generation could certainly learn from their example.
      2. We hear things about other people,
        1. assume it is true and
        2. investigate not further.

          25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another (Eph 4.25).


  1. The Land of Canaan prefigures the Land of Canaan to which we go. 
    1. See the journey of Israel:
      1. They left Egypt.
      2. As they crossed the Red Sea, they were baptized into Moses.
      3. They journeyed in the wilderness.
      4. They crossed the Jordan River.
      5. They entered the Land of Canaan.
    2. See the journey of a Christian:
      1. We left the world.
      2. We are baptized into Christ.
      3. We journey in the world.
      4. We cross death.
      5. We enter heaven.
  2. Even as the Israelites followed Joshua, and 
    1. entered the Land of Canaan,
    2. so if we follow Jesus,
      1. we will enter heaven, and
      2. here is how I know this to be true.
        1. In Revelation 14, as John saw the redeemed of Earth in heaven, he said,

          4b These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb (Rev 14.4).

        2. Therefore,
          1. follow Jesus till the day you die, and
          2. you shall be where He went, heaven.
  3. Seek the Lord’s solutions for all your troubles. 
    1. You shall then experience the peace that He desires for you.
    2. Does it seem impossible?
      1. A previous generation of Israelites believed
        1. that they could not conquer the giants of the Land of Canaan, but
        2. the generation that Joshua led did defeat those giants, because
          1. they did what the Lord said to do.
          2. They trusted and obeyed God.
  4. The Lord wants you to go to heaven 
    1. even more than He wanted Israel to inherit the Land of Canaan.
    2. Therefore, do not despair.
      1. It is not too hard for you to do.
      2. You are on the right track.
  5. We have all sinned, but 
    1. we have a city of refuge to which we may flee.
    2. Are you there?