The Dividing Line Between the Six Cities of Refuge

Sometimes I like to listen to scripture as I fall asleep. The modern convenience of smart phones and YouTube (thank you, Alexander Scourby) make it easy for me to listen to any book of the Bible I want and there are thankfully no paid ads in the middle of those selections.

The book of Joshua was playing a couple of nights ago. It’s one of my favorite books and is the first one in which I had a big “ah-ha!” moment while studying God's word. I woke up just as the cities of refuge were being described and marveled that I had never really considered the significance of the cities before. Actually, I don’t even remember realizing they were mentioned in the book of Joshua. And I probably passed right by the quick mention in Deuteronomy.

Joshua 20

1 The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying,

2 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses:

3 That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.

4 And when he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of the gate of the city, and shall declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city unto them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them.

5 And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver the slayer up into his hand; because he smote his neighbour unwittingly, and hated him not beforetime.

6 And he shall dwell in that city, until he stand before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days: then shall the slayer return, and come unto his own city, and unto his own house, unto the city from whence he fled.

7 And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjatharba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah.

8 And on the other side Jordan by Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness upon the plain out of the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh.

9 These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them, that whosoever killeth any person at unawares might flee thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stood before the congregation.

Deuteronomy 4

41 Then Moses severed three cities on this side Jordan toward the sunrising;

42 That the slayer might flee thither, which should kill his neighbour unawares, and hated him not in times past; and that fleeing unto one of these cities he might live:

43 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.

44 And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel:

As soon as I heard the list of refuge cities, I was wide awake. I wasn’t groggy-eyed, yawning, snuggling back into the warm covers… WIDE AWAKE. So, I thought I should invest a little time into reading the verse, then looking for videos of studies that had already been completed. The studies didn’t contain everything I wanted to learn, but they were interesting. Here are some facts:

  1. The cities were scattered strategically around Israel – with three on the west side of the Jordan, and three on the east side.
  2. They were a place of refuge to which one could flee if he/she had accidentally killed someone. If the death was truly accidental (determined by the high priest of the refuge city and the officials of the town from which they had fled) then the refugee would be safe from harm within that city of refuge for the remainder of their days. If they left the city, they were fair game
  3. The gates to these cities were to remain unlocked at all times, so that someone could get into them before they were killed by an avenger.
  4. The roads to these cities were well maintained and signs posted to make them easy to get to. Bridges were erected over washes and such, to ensure quick travel across.
  5. The refugee was allowed to return to their home town only after the high priest of the town had died.
  6. The cities of refuge were open to Israel and strangers.

You can see where this is going, right? What a great picture of salvation through Jesus these cities of refuge paint for us. I had learned enough in my quick, late-night study, and made a note to study the names of each of the cities, and the gematria, to see if there were more beautiful and hidden clues in these cities of refuge. This is one of the reasons I so eagerly look forward to Sabbath. It’s a day that I can sit down and study something without feeling guilty about not keeping busy with day to day tasks of life. Well, here’s what I learned.

The first city mentioned is Kedesh. The word is used in 153 verses of the KJV. The word means to sanctify, prepare, or set apart. The first time this word is used in the Bible is in Genesis, when God sanctifies the 7th day, immediately following the 6 days of creation.

If that didn’t knock your socks off, I don’t know what will.

The next city is Shechem. This word is literally “shoulder” but the connotation is not only the figurative shouldering of a burden, but also the expression of willingly shouldering it (maybe because it's so light?). The first of the 54 times it’s used in scripture is where Abram sets off with his family toward Canaan, being obedient to God’s command. Shechem is the location of the first altar that Abram built to God.

The third city has a dual name: Kiriath-arba and Hebron. Kiriath is “city” and “arba” means four, or fourth. This word is used in 9 verses in the KJV and the first time is where Sarah died at age 127 (cool connection: Esther’s hubby was a ruler over 127 countries), immediately following the proving of Abraham’s faithfulness to God by offering up his son Isaac. Sarah is the first Jewish mother of the first Jewish child, and is the only woman in scripture to have the age of her death specified. Abraham mourned for her. Hold on to that thought, because I’ll come back to it.

The other name for that town is Hebron, which means joining or conjunction. This wonderful city is named in 66 verses in the KJV. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there are also 66 books in the Bible, and the Bible perfectly details the entire story of our joining with the Living God. Hebron is the second stop of Abram in Canaan and the location of his second altar and the second time God promises to give him the Promised Land.

This came right after Abram was sent packing from Egypt by Pharoah, where he had initially been driven by famine, much like his grandson Jacob many years later. Of course, Jacob’s family had a lot more trouble leaving Egypt than did Abram.

That’s it for the towns that are on the west side of the Jordan. Eventually, Israel would cross into this territory under the leadership of Joshua, passing through the Jordan River and being circumcised on the other side. They celebrated their Passover in the long-awaited Promised Land, and also marched around Jericho six days, in total silence. On that fateful seventh day, they gave a great shout and seven trumpet blasts, and the walls came down. Moses was not allowed to enter into the land with them, and we’ll come back to that, too. Let’s look at the names of the first three cities of refuge all together:

Sanctified/set apart, willingly shouldering a burden, the fourth, joins.

Well, you’ve probably heard me say this before, but the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is dalet, or door. Jesus is the door. Look at that! There’s a picture of salvation in the first three cities of refuge.

There are three more cities of refuge to look at. All of them are located on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Interestingly, each of the cities’ names are first mentioned together in Deuteronomy 4:43. Take note that the verse is just one little verse short of a perfect 4:44.

Bezer is the first city of refuge mentioned by Moses, if we start counting them in Deuteronomy before Israel entered the Promised Land. Hebrew words are complicated when broken down into their roots. The concept of Bezer is gold ore, but can also mean fortress or protected. When these two ideas are joined, the idea becomes something that is separated and protected for extraction. It’s rare, it’s refined, and it’s of great value.

The next city is Ramoth, which can mean heights, difficulty, or peak. Essentially, the idea is some pinnacle accomplished through difficulty. The word is found in 4 verses in the Bible. The city is also within the region of Gilead.

Gilead is translated into rocky place or perpetual fountain, in some of the more popular translations. It contains “gil” which is wheel, cycle, or round and round. The ending –ad is sometimes translated into testimony. So, Gilead could also be translated wheel (or pile) of testimony. This word is used in 123 verses in the KJV. Gilead is the place that Jacob turned toward, when he fled the manipulations of Laban, his sneaky father in law.

Finally, we have the last city, called Golan. This is a great word because it can mean exile (kicked out) and captivity (taken by force), and also…rejoicing! Now, if I were kicked out of Egypt, for example, I would rejoice. If I were kicked out of the Promised Land, I would mourn. If I were taken captive by Jesus, I would rejoice. However, if I were taken captive by Pharoah, I’d be pretty bummed out. Unless, of course, I was actually an Egyptian. Then my perspective would be completely different. It gets confusing pretty quickly. But take a moment to think of it in terms of end times. Some of us are going to be pretty happy, and some of us are not.

Golan is located in Bashan, home of the infamous giant Og. God tells Moses that he need not fear this hybrid, and that He will deliver this enemy into the hand of Israel. And indeed God did so. His track record of keeping promises is perfect. And the name Golan means fruitful.

To summarize the cities on the east side of the Jordan, they are gold, protected and separated for extraction, pinnacle accomplished through difficulty, (in?) a rocky place (with a) cycle of testimony, removed or taken by force, and finally…fruitful.

This is where I finally make my point, assuming you’re still awake.

I am suggesting that the three cities on the Promised Land side, as mentioned in Joshua (important to note that this is the same as Yahowshua, or salvation of God), represent people who are saved by willingly accepting Jesus prior to the Great Tribulation. We’re sanctified and set apart, have willingly shouldered our easy yoke, and have been joined by The Four – The Door.

IF I’m correctly interpreting what woke me out of a sound sleep and what I’ve studied today, then that would mean the cities on the east side of the Jordan are telling a different story. I see some confirmation of this idea in the fact that the first three cities of refuge are mentioned well before Joshua leads the crew through the Jordan. 

If they’re the Remnant, then they are indeed extremely valuable to God. He’s going to protect and separate them for extraction when they reach their hard-won pinnacle down a road that has certainly been rocky and has provided all of us with a beautiful cycle of testimony. They’ll be removed or taken by force, and will finally bear the fruit that they have been intended to produce all along.

I have long thought that Moses represents Israel and Joshua (salvation) of Nun (fish) are believers in Christ Jesus. Unless I missed it, Moses didn’t make it to any of the cities of refuge, even on the east side of the Jordan. Have you noticed that when God asked Moses to remove his sandals at the burning bush, no mention was made of his obedience? Instead, Moses turned his face away. 

By contrast, Joshua removed his sandals immediately when asked. And sandals, as with the story of Ruth and Boaz, represent a redemption. I hope all of Israel removes their sandals when they get a second chance to do so.

Thank you for reading this far. Pray over this and see if it’s right. If you hear a “Yes!” then feel free to share it. You never know who it will lead to a deeper study in scripture and a closer connection to God.

Maybe there's even a relationship to the design of the Menorah here. Wouldn't that be something?

Eyes up!











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