What were the cities of refuge in the Bible?

Author: BibleAsk Team

The Cities of Refuge

In the Old Testament, the Lord ordained that there should be levitical cities of refuge to protect those that committed accidental murder (Numbers 35: 6-34; Deuteronomy 4:41-43; 19:1-13; Joshua 20:2-9). The cities of refuge protected the slayer from the blood revenge of the dead person’ kinsman.

These cities were to be dispersed according to population of the nation of Israel (Numbers 26:54; 33:54; Joshua 21:16–32). There were three cities in Canaan, and three on the east side of Jordan: Golan, Ramoth, and Bosor, on the east of the Jordan River (Deuteronomy 4:43), and Kedesh, Shechem, and Hebron on the western side (Joshua 20:7).

The cities of refuge were sanctuaries that resembled Christ, who protects the sinner that runs to Him by faith. And, thus, the sinner is saved from the deadly consequences of his sins (Exodus 21:13; Deuteronomy 19:2–9; Psalms 46:1; 142:5; Isaiah 4:6; Romans 8:1, 33, 34; Philippians 3:9; Hebrews 6:18, 19).


If a man accidentally murdered another, he would flee to these cities and appeal his case before the leaders of the city. Obviously, the process was forensic and included providing proof, examination, and verdict by jury (Numbers 27:2; Deuteronomy 19:17; Joshua 20:6). Then, the man accused of the crime was sent out of the city of refuge, with the protection of an attendant, to a certain location where the community would consider the proof in the case (Exodus 21:12–14; Deuteronomy 19:1–13).

The safety of the suspect was dependent on his abidance by the laws of the city of refuge and in staying there. He was under Levitical, or religious protection, and under the rule of the high priest. This new rule would, symbolically, give him a new chance in life.

To the suspect, living in the city of refuge was a penalty for his negligence in committing the unintentional murder. He was not permitted to return to his city, old life, and family. This was a deterrent to inculcated acts of anger and quarrels. In the city of refuge, the slayer was not to be redeemed by paying a ransom of money. This law showed the dignity of a human and the worth of his life in the eyes of his Creator (Numbers 35:31).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

Categories Law

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