The Cities of Refuge
Joshua 20:1-9
The LORD also spoke to Joshua, saying,…

I. THE RIGHT TO LIFE. Alone among the nations stood Israel in the value set upon human life. Its sacred book enjoined its worth. Philosophically, such a sacred value upon life would be expected of the people of God. The value of life increases in ratio with the belief in God and immortality. Deny immortality and you have prepared the ground for suicide. They who say, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," may voluntarily end the life before to-morrow comes. Greece with all her learning was far behind. Aristotle and Plato both advised putting to death the young and sickly among children. Plutarch records having seen many youths whipped to death at the foot of the altar of Diana. Seneca advised the drowning of disabled children — a course that Cicero commended. Heathenism gives but a dark history. It is one of the last lessons learned that each human life is its own master. No one can take it away except for a transcendent reason.

II. THE SURRENDER OF LIFE TO WHAT IS GREATER. It is a larger condition to be good than to live wrongly. Better surrender life than do wrong. On the other hand, better be murdered than be a murderer. Better suffer wrong than do wrong. Whether in this late century the removal of capital punishment would increase crime we cannot verify; but the old law of the avenger is not yet stricken from the statutes of civilisation. No refuge in God's sight for the hating heart. No palliation of deliberate human deeds of wickedness. No city of refuge for a murderer.

III. THE MOTIVE MARKS THE CHARACTER. It is not the mere deed that reveals the man. Nor is it the catastrophe that marks the deed. Every one's motive is greater than all he does. The man who hates his brother is a murderer as truly as he who kills. Not always what one does, but what he would do, is the standard of his character. Take away every outside restraint; leave one alone with himself; and his unhindered wish and motive mark just what he is. The intentional taking away of life makes murder; the unintentional relieves from all crime. Crime, therefore, does not find its way from the hand, but from the heart. Thus does God look on the heart.

IV. THE DIVINE FORBEARANCE WITH HUMAN BLUNDERINGS. This is what the city of refuge expressly declares. The stain of the deed of shedding blood rests in the fact that the life was made in the Divine likeness. The greatness of the life was evident in its kinship with God. Death by accident does not take away the terrible sorrow that settles like a pall. The careless taker away of life may go insane in his despair; but the awful agony of the blunderer does not make the loss any the less heavy. It will call out pity even for the careless one; but it will not counterbalance the loss.

V. THE CONDITIONS OF REFUGE. Each unfortunate held the keeping of his life in his own hands. The provided city did not alone save the delinquent from the avenger. Mansions in it were provided for all who should enter by right. Handicraft was taught those who found shelter within its walls. Food and raiment were furnished by kind hands outside the gates in addition to what they themselves should gather or earn for themselves. They had much provided; but the conditions they must themselves fulfil. It was not enough to rest within sight of the city; they must enter in. They must not venture forth; only as they remained could they be safe. We have no cities of refuge now; but God is our refuge. He is the hope of the careless who turn to Him. The conditions we cannot disregard. He gives the opportunities, of which we must take advantage for ourselves. We cannot set aside His condition.

VI. THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR LIFE IN THE CHOICES WE MAKE. In a certain sense the safety of each unfortunate rested solely upon himself. It was no time for theories; it was the time for action; and on that action depended his own life. He held his temporal safety in his own care and keeping. In thousands of ways we are thus making choices that will shape our life and conduct in all future time. We have the power to save ourselves or to destroy. Peter had the opportunity to save his Lord even when he denied Him. Judas could have shielded his Master instead of betraying Him. Each one of us can choose whom to serve. The choice of evil made Peter weep, and made Judas become a suicide. We cannot choose evil and live. If we choose God for our refuge, we shall not die. He is our city. It rests with us to choose what we shall be.

(David O. Mears.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying,

WEB: Yahweh spoke to Joshua, saying,

The Cities of Refuge
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