Joshua 20.1-9 is a chapter that deals with the renewal of the order to appoint six cities of refuge for those who have committed manslaughter (Num 35.6-34). They can flee there and have protection from the avenger of blood until the death of the High Priest. This only applies to one involved in manslaughter. This does not apply to a murderer. But there is another aspect to this that is a picture of the unbeliever. A sinner has boundaries and he can’t leave. He is separated from his family because of unbelief and if he died before he heard of the death of the High Priest, he never went home. His life was destroyed because he never heard about the death of the High Priest. That is what happens to a sinner who never gets to leave that life because he has never heard about the death of Yeshua the High Priest. The concept of the cities of refuge is very eschatological.
Psa 46.1 says that the Lord is our refuge, a very present help in times of trouble, or in other words, a city of refuge. Heb 6.18-20 says that we have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope before us. This hope is an anchor to the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast. We have entered within the veil where Yeshua has entered before us. He is our High Priest forever according to the order (by God’s word) of Melchizedek (Psa 110.4). So, lets look at the phrase “according to the order of Melchizedek.” The word “order” is the word “davar” meaning “word” or “speak.” A priest speaks the word to God on behalf of the people, and vice versa. Paul has a midrash on this concept in Heb 4.12 through 7.28. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek so his priesthood supersedes the priesthood of Levi because he was in the loins of Abraham. As a result, the priesthood of Yeshua is after Melchizedek by God’s word. It comes with an oath that Aaron never had and Yeshua will never die, but Aaron and all the priests did. Yeshua is the only direct descendant and link to the heavenly Temple and the Olam Haba. As a result, his priesthood supersedes the Levitical priesthood.
In the Mishkan, there were six boards on the western wall in the Kodesh Ha Kodeshim (Holy of Holies). So, Heb 6.18-20 relates to our salvation. Besides the six cities of refuge, the Mishkan was a seventh place to seek refuge. Heb 6.18-20 tells us to “flee inside the veil” for refuge into God’s presence. Are we guilty of manslaughter with Yeshua? The avenger of blood will take us out and slay us if we reject Yeshua deliberately. His blood is on our hands. The person who has faith in God’s word accepts the offer of refuge in Yeshua, even though his sin caused his death and is guilty of manslaughter, not realizing the end result. Consequently, he is allowed to stay in the place of refuge as long as the High Priest lives. Since Yeshua will never die, that means he is safe forever (Heb 7.24; John 3.18).
The cities of refuge are not jails or detention centers, and they were in reach of anyone that needed help, open to all. They were environments in which the reckless person became aware that careless actions have consequences. The person was constantly under the influence of his neighbors, the Levites. They would observe the Levite, pray with the Levite, learn and teach others. They would see what caring for others really was. The influence of the Levites would have a tremendous impact on the one finding refuge. The goal was to mold a new person whose activities were kinder and more careful. They were the “signs” that clearly marked the way to God and the Messiah.
Josh 20.7-9 tells us about the cities set apart. On the west side (the direction of the heavenly, spiritual side) of the Jordan (death). They set apart Kedesh (sanctuary) in Galilee (circle) in the mountain country of Naphtali (my wrestling) and Shechem (shoulder) in Ephraim (fruitfulness) and Hebron (communion) in the mountain country of Judah (praise). These names teach us that we killed Yeshua because of our sins. However, we return (repent) while a sanctuary (Kedesh) is found by the circle (Galilee) of days (life) and its wrestlings (Naphtali). Yeshua puts us on his shoulders (Shechem) to the kingdom and the Olam Haba (the mountain country) with our fruits (Ephraim), where we have communion (Hebron) and praise (Judah) with God.
The other three cities were beyond the Jordan east (the direction of the earthly, practical side) of Jericho (fragrance) and they designated Bezer (fortress) in the wilderness on the plain from the tribe of Reuben (see, a son), and Ramoth (heights) in Gilead (heap of testimony) from the tribe of Gad (invader, troop), and Golan (enclosed) in Bashan (fruitful) from the tribe of Manasseh (to forget). These names teach us that we are enclosed (Golan) in the fruits of sin (Bashan) and spiritually dead. Satan is an invader (Gad) and tries to get us to forget our state (Manasseh) because sin refuses to call itself sin, and being a sinner makes it hard to see ourselves as sinners. But then we see Yeshua as the Messiah (Reuben) and the heavenly (Ramoth) plan of the cross (Gilead) and he causes us to forget our past (Phil 3.13-14) and we are a sweet fragrance (Jericho) to God and he is our fortress (Bezer).
In Part 13 we will pick up in Joshua 21 and the cities and common lands appointed for the Levites. They did not have land set aside for them like the other tribes, but they had to live somewhere. So each tribe gave certain cities and common lands surrounding those cities. God was the inheritance of the Levites (Josh 13.14, 13.33).