Cities of Refuge

This year at Faith West we are studying the books of Joshua and Judges in a series called, Everyone Did Right in Their Own Eyes.  It is going to be incredible to see the contrast between a leader like Joshua who was faithful to the Lord and the people who were seeking their own desires.  It is our hope that by giving you the basic outline of the lesson you can follow up with your teens to see what they have learned and to help them apply those truths in their life.

Joshua 20-21


We have really made a big dent in the book of Joshua.  We have seen so many times when God has been faithful to His promises and we have seen so many times when the Israelites have stepped out and tried to do things on their own.

Last week we saw in the book of Joshua the process of dividing up the land for the 12 tribes.  We saw that some of the tribes complained, some procrastinated and one took on the challenge.

Today we are going to talk about the cities of refuge and the provisions for the Levites.


Small Group Question:  What does the design of your neighborhood tell you about the values of the people who live there?

The subdivision I live in is a giant circle.  There is a pond in my backyard, but there is a loop of sidewalk that goes around the front of my house.  All summer as we would sit outside to eat dinner or to have a bonfire our neighbors would walk by and wave and stop and talk.  My wife and I originally planned to build a fence around our yard to keep our dog and boys in, but as the summer went by we decided not to because we wanted to keep that open feel for our neighbors to be able to talk to us at any time.

I see neighbors that I know want to keep to themselves, I see neighbors who want to know their neighbors.  Our community presence says a lot about us.

As a side note so does the way you walk down the hallways of your church or school.  So does the way you stand when you come into youth group.  So does the way you respond around others.

Cities of Refuge (Let’s Read Joshua 20)

The six “cities of refuge” were needed because society in that day had no police force to investigate crimes. It was the responsibility of each family to see to it that murders were avenged, but how could they tell whether it was a case of premeditated murder or accidental manslaughter? In the heat of anger a relative of the dead person might kill somebody who was really innocent of a capital crime.[1]

The law was really quite simple. Anybody who killed another person could flee to a city of refuge and be protected from “the avenger of blood” until the elders of the city could investigate the circumstances. If they found the fugitive guilty, he or she was put to death; but if they concluded that it was a case of manslaughter, the fugitive was allowed to live in the city and be protected from the avenger. Upon the death of the high priest, the fugitive could go home again. It was a case of forfeiting freedom in order to save his or her life.[2]

Small Group Question:

How does the “city of refuge” protect and allow justice for the victim’s family and the accused?

So why would the Lord set up these cities?  What does that teach us about his character?

Does the idea of a city of refuge apply to how the church should function?

Many students have seen in the cities of refuge a picture of our salvation in Jesus Christ, to whom we “have fled for refuge” (Heb. 6:18). The lost sinner, of course, is in danger of judgment because “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The avenger of blood is after him or her! God’s appointed Savior is Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12), but the sinner must come to Him by faith in order to be saved (Matt. 11:28–30; John 6:37). The way to each city was kept open with roads that were cared for and marked (Deut. 19:3, NIV). God wanted it to be easy for the fugitives to find their way to safety.[3]

Taking care of the Levites (Read Joshua 21:1-42)

The Levites were priests and so they were to spread throughout all the land in order to have a spiritual influence in every city.

There were forty-eight levitical cities, six of which were also cities of refuge. Each of the tribes contributed four cities, except Judah and Simeon, who together contributed nine, and Naphtali, who contributed three. The descendants of the three sons of Aaron—Kohath, Gershon and Marari—were assigned to the various cities, although other Jews also lived in them. In Numbers 26:62, the writer states that there were 23,000 Levites before Israel entered the land, a big crowd to distribute among forty-eight cities.

It was important that Israel have qualified and authorized people to minister in the tabernacle and later in the temple, and we must never minimize the teaching ministry of the priests and Levites (2 Chron. 17:7–9). Since the common people didn’t own copies of the Scriptures, it was important that the Levites identify with the people and explain the Law to them. These levitical cities were so located that nobody was too far away from a man who could help them understand and apply the Law of Moses.[4]

Small Group Questions

How did God meet the needs of His servants the Levites?

If God took care of the Levites so well what can we assume about the way we should be taking care of those who minister His Word?

The Faithfulness of God is Evident (Read Joshua 21:43-45)

So this last section summarizes all the ways that God kept His Word to the Israelites.  Let’s just look at the ways God was faithful.

God Fulfilled His Covenant (43)

Way back in Genesis God told Abraham that He would give his nation this land as their own.

Genesis 12:7 (NASB95)

7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.

God Provided Victory (44)

God had promised Joshua that he would take the land and the enemies would be defeated.

Joshua 1:13–15 (NASB95)

13 “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God gives you rest and will give you this land.’

14 “Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle shall remain in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but you shall cross before your brothers in battle array, all your valiant warriors, and shall help them,

15 until the Lord gives your brothers rest, as He gives you, and they also possess the land which the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to your own land, and possess that which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

And God was faithful and true.

God Kept All His Promises (45)

None of the promises made to Israel did not come true.  God was faithful to them all the way to the end.


[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Strong, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 128.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Strong, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 129.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Strong, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 129.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Strong, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 131-32.

Johnny Kjaer
Johnny is married to Tori. They have 4 children Leif, Tryggve, Kjirsti and Hroarr. He has been a part of the youth ministry at Faith since his internship began in 2010. He served as the Pastor of Student Ministries from 2013-2023 and now serves as the Pastor of Faith East Community Ministries. Johnny is an ACBC certified counselor. He also serves the church by directing the Lafayette Living Nativity.