Cities Of Refuge

From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Holman Bible Dictionary [1]

 Joshua 20:2-6

Four major passages in the Old Testament describe the right of asylum and the sanctuary provided by a city of refuge ( Exodus 21:12-14;  Numbers 35:1-34;  Deuteronomy 19:1-13;  Joshua 20:1-9 ). A literal translation of the Hebrew phrase means “a city of intaking.” This right of asylum was offered before the settlement of the Promised Land, but was available only to one charged with accidental manslaughter.  Exodus 21:12 records that “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.” The passage continues, however, to promise that “if a man did lie not in wait,” a place would be designated to which he could flee (  Exodus 21:13 ). Prior to the establishment of these cities, temporary safety could be gained by fleeing to a sanctuary and grasping the horns of the altar there.  1 Kings 1:50 and   1 Kings 2:28 record two examples of men seeking safety by clinging to the altar in Jerusalem. Neither Adonijah nor Joab were innocent, though, and later were executed.

Moses was commanded to establish six cities of refuge from the total of 48 given to the Levites ( Numbers 35:6-7 ). Three were located on each side of the Jordan. In the east were Bezer in the territory of the Reubenites, Ramoth in Gilead, and Golan in the area of Bashan ( Deuteronomy 4:43 ). On the west side of the Jordan were Kedesh in Galilee, Shechem in Ephraim, and Kirjath-arba or Hebron in the hill country of Judah ( Joshua 20:7-8 ). Sanctuary was not limited to the people of Israel but was extended to the stranger and sojourner among them ( Numbers 35:15 ).

The Old Testament reveals the importance and sacredness of human life by its laws regarding the taking of life. Every shedding of blood, even that committed accidentally, required purification because it polluted the land in which Yahweh lived with His people ( Numbers 35:33-34 ).  Leviticus 24:20 records that “he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.” No sacrifice was available to atone for this crime, nor could a ransom be offered by relatives for the release of one guilty of murder. Two exceptions were allowed. One was for the person guilty of an accidental death who sought sanctuary in a city of refuge. The second was in the case of a murder committed in the open country by someone unknown. Deuteronomy assigns the responsibility of atoning for the unknown death to the elders and judges of the nearest city. Only the Lord could purge the guilt from their midst. The elders prayed on behalf of the community, “Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them” (  Deuteronomy 21:8 ).

The death of a person who did not deserve to die was called “innocent blood” ( Deuteronomy 19:10 ). The next of kin (brother, son, father, uncle) of the dead person was responsible for avenging his death. This kinsman was referred to as the “kinsman redeemer” or the “avenger of blood.” This concept of an “avenger of blood” was closely tied to the law of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” ( Exodus 21:23;  Leviticus 24:20 ). While this law seems harsh, it represented a limitation of the vengeance that could be taken. It can be interpreted, “only an eye for an eye” or “nor more than an eye for an eye.”

The reason for distributing the cities of refuge throughout Israel on both sides of the Jordan was so that a city was easily accessible to a person responsible for an accidental homicide. He needed to find asylum immediately because he would be pursued by a member of the dead man's family. The avenger of blood sought to kill the slayer of his kin for the harm done to the family or clan. In the early period of Israel's history before the development of the cities of refuge, this action could result in a blood feud that terminated only with the extinction of one family. The establishment of the cities of refuge served a humanitarian purpose by transforming a case of homicide from a private feud between two families to a judicial matter settled by a group of elders.

Upon reaching one of the cities of refuge, the slayer stood at the gates and presented his case to the elders of the city ( Joshua 20:4 ). If the elders decided that the man murdered his neighbor with intent to do so, they were required to hand him over to the avenger of blood, who would kill him. The avenger was protected from punishment for this action ( Numbers 35:27 ). The elders, as representatives of the congregation, were responsible for exercising judgment between the manslayer and the avenger of blood.

 Numbers 35:1 lists several requirements to be met prior to seeking sanctuary in a city of refuge. The primary requisite was that the death must have occurred by accident, without premeditation or intent. Case studies are presented in   Numbers 35:16-18 ,  Numbers 35:20-21 ,  Numbers 35:22-23 to provide examples of those incidents which prevented or allowed a slayer to seek refuge in such a place. The first two passages describe unacceptable reasons for seeking asylum. The use of a weapon made of iron, stone, or wood constituted murder. Striking a man from an ambush, or stabbing or striking him in hatred so that death occurred also constituted murder.   Numbers 35:22-23 describe an accidental death. If a man stabbed another without hatred or without lying in wait, or if he threw a stone without seeing him and the person was killed, the death occurred without intent. The Book of Deuteronomy also provides examples. If a man hates his neighbor and attacks him from an ambush and kills him, the man is guilty of murder. If two men are chopping wood in a forest and the ax head falls from one man's ax and kills his neighbor, the death occurred without intent. For a person to be able to find sanctuary in a city of refuge, the homicide must have occurred without premeditation, hatred, use of a weapon, or ambush.

A second major requirement for asylum in a city of refuge was that the slayer, once being admitted to the city, could not leave until the death of the high priest ( Numbers 35:25;  Joshua 20:6 ). If he chose to the leave the city before that time, he could be killed by the avenger of blood ( Numbers 35:26-28 ). In contrast to the temporary sanctuary offered by grasping the horns of an altar, the city of refuge provided a permanent place of asylum for the manslayer. In a punitive way, the city also served as a place of detention. The manslayer was not guiltless. He could not leave under penalty of death by the avenger of blood, nor could he buy his way out by offering a ransom to the relatives of the deceased. A similar example of this punishment may be found in Solomon's confinement of Shimei to Jerusalem under a death threat if he left the city ( 1 Kings 2:36-46 )

The taking of a life imposed a guilt that could not be paid for by any means short of death. The death of the high priest, even as a result of natural causes, served to pay the price of the required penalty. One man died in place of another. During his life, one of the functions of a high priest was to bear the sins of the people ( Exodus 28:38 ). In accordance with this regulation, all the cities of refuge were Levitical cities, given to that tribe during the division of the Promised Land among the Israelites. These locations probably contained local sanctuaries in which a priest served. After the death of the high priest, the one guilty of manslaughter was free to leave the city and return to his home without fear of the avenger of blood.

The establishment of the cities of refuge provided safety for one guilty of killing another accidentally. This represented an improvement over the system of vengeance by affording the opportunity for the elders and judges of the city to stand between the slayer and the avenger. This right of asylum served to limit the rights of the avenger of blood, perhaps because “in hot anger” he might not be able to distinguish between murder and unintentional killing.

Brenda R. Hockenhull

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [2]

(See Blood , Avenging Of ) Kedesh ("holy," so Jesus our city of refuge,  Hebrews 6:18;  Hebrews 7:26), now Kedes , 20 miles E.S.E. from Tyre. Shechem ("shoulder," upon Jesus' shoulder the government is,  Isaiah 9:6), now Nablous . Hebron ("fellowship," so Christ to us,  1 Corinthians 1:9), now El-Khalil. Bezer, perhaps Bozor in the Book of Maccabees ("Fortress," So Is Jesus,  Isaiah 32:2 ;  Isaiah 26:1 ;  Isaiah 26:4 ) . Ramoth Gilead, on the site of Ez-Szalt (Ramoth ("high"), so is Jesus to us,  Acts 5:31). Golan, Jaulan ("Joy"; Jesus Is Our Joy,  Romans 5:11 ) . All the 48 cities of Levi had the right of asylum. But the six of refuge were bound to entertain the involuntary manslayer gratuitously. The cities on each side of the Jordan were nearly opposite one another ( Deuteronomy 19:2;  Numbers 35:6;  Numbers 35:13;  Numbers 35:15;  Joshua 20:2;  Joshua 20:7;  Joshua 20:9).

If manslayers had been driven out of the country as among the Greeks, they would have been exposed to the temptation of worshipping strange gods ( 1 Samuel 26:19). The Levitical cities were to have a space of 1,000 cubits (583 yards) beyond the city walls for pasture and other purposes ( Numbers 35:4-5). The 2,000 cubits also specified mean probably the sum of the two single thousands on opposite sides of the city, exclusive of the city itself; as here shown. Clermont-Ganneau has discovered a bilingual inscription, Greek and Hebrew, "limit of Gezer" (now Tel-El-Jezer ), on a horizontal slab E. of that royal Canaanite city; also a second similarly inscribed stone 1,696 yards due N.W. of the first. This proves that the sacred boundary was a square, having its four angles at the four cardinal points (Palestine Exploration Quarterly Statement, Oct. 1874).

Smith's Bible Dictionary [3]

Cities of Refuge. Six Levitical Cities Specially Chosen For Refuge To The Involuntary Homicide Until Released From Banishment By The Death Of The High Priest.  Numbers 35:6;  Numbers 35:13;  Numbers 35:15;  Joshua 20:2;  Joshua 20:7;  Joshua 20:9. There were three on each side of Jordan.

1. On the west side of Jordan; Kedesh , in Naphtali.  1 Chronicles 6:76.

2. Shechem , in Mount Ephraim.  Joshua 21:21;  1 Chronicles 6:67;  2 Chronicles 10:1.

3. Hebron , in Judah.  Joshua 21:13;  2 Samuel 5:5;  1 Chronicles 6:55;  1 Chronicles 29:27;  2 Chronicles 11:10.

4. On the east side of Jordan; Bezer or Bezer in The Wilderness , in the tribe of Reuben, in the plains of Moab.  Deuteronomy 4:43;  Joshua 20:8;  Joshua 21:36.  1 Maccabees 5:26.

5. Ramoth-Gilead , in the tribe of Gad.  Deuteronomy 4:43;  Joshua 21:38;  1 Kings 22:3.

6. Golan , in Bashan, in the half-tribe of Manasseh.  Deuteronomy 4:43;  Joshua 21:27;  1 Chronicles 6:71.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [4]

Cities of Refuge. Were six Levitical cities specially chosen for refuge to the involuntary homicide until released from banishment by the death of the high priest.  Numbers 35:6;  Numbers 35:13;  Numbers 35:15;  Joshua 20:2;  Joshua 20:7;  Joshua 20:9. There were three on each side of Jordan. 1. Kedesh, in Galilee,  1 Chronicles 6:76. 2. Shechem, in Ephraim,  Joshua 21:21;  1 Chronicles 6:67;  2 Chronicles 10:1. 3. Hebron, in Judah,  Joshua 21:13;  2 Samuel 5:5;  1 Chronicles 6:55;  1 Chronicles 29:27;  2 Chronicles 11:10. 4. On the east side of Jordan—Bezer, in the tribe of Reuben, in the plains of Moab,  Deuteronomy 4:43;  Joshua 20:8;  Joshua 21:36. 5. Ramoth-gilead, in the tribe of Gad,  Deuteronomy 4:43;  Joshua 21:38;  1 Kings 22:3. 6. Golan, in Bashan, in the half-tribe of Manasseh,  Deuteronomy 4:43;  Joshua 21:27;  1 Chronicles 6:71.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [5]

See Refuge .

Morrish Bible Dictionary [6]


Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [7]

See Refuge

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [8]

Places of refuge where, under the cover of religion, the guilty and the unfortunate might find shelter and protection were not unknown among the ancient heathen. The right of shelter and impunity was enjoyed by certain places reputed sacred, such as groves, temples, and altars. This protective power commonly spread itself over a considerable district round the holy spot, and was watched over and preserved by severe penalties. Among the Greeks and Romans the number of these places of asylum became in process of time very great, and led, by abuse, to a fresh increase of criminals. Tiberius, in consequence, caused a solemn inquiry into their effects to be made, which resulted in a diminution of their number and a limitation of their privileges.

This pagan custom passed into Christianity. As early as Constantine the Great, Christian churches were asylums for the unfortunate persons whom an outraged law or powerful enemies pursued. Theodosius, in 431, extended this privilege to the houses, gardens, and other places which were under the jurisdiction of the churches, and the synod of Toledo, in 681, widened the right of asylum to thirty paces from every church. Since then this ecclesiastical privilege prevailed in the whole of Catholic Christendom, and was preserved undiminished, at least in Italy, so long as the papal independence remained. The right acted beneficially in ages when violence and revenge predominated, and fixed habitations were less common than now; but its tendency to transfer power from the magistrate to the priesthood was injurious to the inviolability of law and the steady administration of justice. It has accordingly in recent times been abrogated by most governments.

Among the Jews the 'cities of refuge' bore some resemblance to the asylum of the classic nations, but were happily exempt from the evil consequences to which reference has been made, and afford, even to the present day, no mean proof of the superior wisdom and benignant spirit of the Jewish laws.

The institution was framed with a view to abate the evils which ensued from the old established rights of the blood-avenger [BLOOD-REVENGE], and thereby to further the prevalence in the nation of a mild, gentle, and forgiving spirit.

From the laws on this point (;; ) it appears that Moses set apart out of the sacerdotal cities six as 'cities of refuge.' There were, on the eastern side of the Jordan, three, namely, 'Bezer in the wilderness, in the plain country of the Reubenites, and Ramoth in Gilead of the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan of the Manassites' on the western side three, namely, 'Kedesh in Galilee in Mount Naphtali, and Shechem in Mount Ephraim, and Kirjath-arba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah' . If found desirable, then other cities might be added. An inspection of the map will show how wisely these places were chosen so as to make a city of refuge easy of access from all parts of the land. To anyone of these cities a person who had unawares and unintentionally slain anyone might flee, and if he reached it before he was overtaken by the avenger of blood, he was safe within its shelter, provided he did not remove more than a thousand yards from its circuit, nor quit the refuge till the decease of the high-priest under whom the homicide had taken place. If, however, he transgressed these provisions, the avenger might lawfully put him to death. The roads leading to the cities of refuge were to be kept in good repair. Before, however, the fugitive could avail himself of the shelter conceded by the laws, he was to undergo a solemn trial, and make it appear to the satisfaction of the magistrates of the place where the homicide was committed that it was purely accidental. Should he, however, be found to have been guilty of murder, he was delivered 'into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he might die.' And the Israelites were strictly forbidden to spare him either from considerations of pity or in consequence of any pecuniary ransom. This disallowal of a compensation by money in the case of murder shows a just regard for human life, and appears much to the advantage of the Hebrew legislation when compared with the practice of other countries (Athens, for instance, and Islam), in which pecuniary atonements were allowed, if not encouraged, and where, in consequence, the life of the poor must have been in as great jeopardy as the character of the wealthy.

The asylum afforded by Moses displays the same benign regard to human life in respect of the homicide himself. Had no obstacle been put in the way of the Goel, instant death would have awaited anyone who had the misfortune to occasion the death of another. By his wise arrangements, however, Moses interposed a seasonable delay, and enabled the manslayer to appeal to the laws and justice of his country. Momentary wrath could hardly execute its fell purposes, and a suitable refuge was provided for the guiltless and unfortunate.

Yet as there is a wide space between the innocence of mere homicide and the guilt of actual murder, in which various degrees of blame might easily exist, so the legislator took means to make the condition of the manslayer less happy than it was before the act or the mischance, lest entire impunity might lead to the neglect of necessary precaution and care. With great propriety, therefore, was the homicide made to feel some legal inconvenience. Accordingly he was removed from his patrimony, restricted in his sphere of locomotion, affected indirectly in his pecuniary interests, and probably reduced from an affluent or an easy station to one of service and labor. The benefit of the protection afforded was common to strangers and sojourners with native Israelites.

What ensues rests on the authority of the Rabbins. In order to give the fugitive all possible advantage in his flight, it was the business of the Sanhedrim to make the roads that led to the cities of refuge convenient by enlarging them and removing every obstruction that might hurt his foot or hinder his speed. No hillock was left, no river was allowed over which there was not a bridge, and the road was at least two and thirty cubits broad. At every turning there were posts erected bearing the words Refuge, Refuge, to guide the unhappy man in his flight; and two students in the law were appointed to accompany him, that, if the avenger should overtake him before he reached the city, they might attempt to pacify him till the legal investigation could take place.

When once settled in the city of refuge, the manslayer had a convenient habitation assigned him gratuitously, and the citizens were to teach him some trade whereby he might support himself. To render his confinement more easy, the mothers of the high-priests used to feed and clothe these unfortunate fugitives, that they might not be impatient and pray for the death of their sons, on whose decease they were restored to their liberty and their property. If the slayer died in the city of refuge before he was released, his bones were delivered to his relations, after the death of the high-priest, to be buried in the sepulcher of his fathers.

In addition to this right of asylum, a custom appears to have prevailed from very early times, both among the chosen people and the nations of the world, of fleeing, in case of personal danger, to the altar. With the Jews it was customary for the fugitive to lay hold of the horns of the altar, whether in the tabernacle or temple; by which, however, shelter and security were obtained only for those who had committed sins of ignorance or inadvertence (;; ). From the two last passages it seems that state-criminals also sought the protection of the altar, probably more from the force of custom than any express law. Their safety, however, depended on the will of the king; for in the passages referred to it appears that in one case (that of Adonijah) life was spared, but in the other (that of Joab) it was taken away even 'by the altar.' Compare .

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [9]

Among the Jews; three on the E. and three on the W. of the Jordan, in which the manslayer might find refuge from the avenger of blood.