Cities of Refuge

Text: Numbers 35:9-15

Since the Levites were not given a territory like the other tribes, they were given forty-eight cities (Numbers 35:7). Six of them would be cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6). If someone killed someone else unintentionally, he could flee to one of these cities. In this lesson, we will consider five points about these cities of refuge and see how they parallel the church today.

Key Points About the Cities of Refuge

  • They were specifically designated (Numbers 35:6, 11) – six cities were chosen (Joshua 20:1-3, 7-9); someone who accidentally killed someone and wanted to flee to safety had to go to one of them; if he went to another city, he would not be protected
  • They were accessible to everyone (Numbers 35:14-15) – three on each side of the Jordan; everyone in the land would be close enough to reach a city; also open to all (sons of Israel, aliens, and sojourners among them)
  • Not everyone could be accepted into the cities (Numbers 35:15-21) – those guilty of murder were to be put to death; the manslayer was to state his case to the elders at the gate of the city (Joshua 20:4-5); this was not the final trial (Joshua 20:6; Numbers 35:12), but there had to be reasonable cause to accept him
  • One had to reach the city to be safe (Numbers 35:11-12) – only safe in the six designated cities; the “blood avenger” was seeking to kill him “when he meets him” (Numbers 35:21); this means that he was not safe anywhere (not in his home, his own land, etc.)
  • On had to stay in the city to remain safe (Numbers 35:24-28) – after judgment had been handed down, he would have to remain in the city of refuge to which he fled; if he left the city, he would no longer be protected; it would be his own fault if he was killed

Parallel to the Church

  • Safety is only found in the Lord’s church (Ephesians 5:23) – Jesus only built one church (Matthew 16:18); we cannot join the church of our choice and be safe (Matthew 15:13)
  • The Lord’s church is open to everyone (Isaiah 2:2) – the gospel went into all the world (Mark 16:15; Colossians 1:23); it is how God calls people to Him (2 Thessalonians 2:14); through the word of God, the Lord’s church is accessible to everyone wherever they are; open to all people (Acts 10:34-35); all are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:10-11)
  • Not everyone can be part of the church – because not everyone is willing to meet the conditions (Matthew 23:13, 37); God adds people to the church (Acts 2:47), so we must meet His conditions of salvation; as a side point, this also applies to the local church in that members can only accept those they can confirm are faithful Christians (Acts 9:26-28; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 John 10-11)
  • We have to be in the church to be safe (Ephesians 5:23) – salvation only in Christ (Acts 4:12); we get into Christ through baptism (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27); not enough to simply be a good person (Acts 10:1-2, 48) or even believe (Acts 2:36-38)
  • We have to remain in the church to be safe – as a faithful member serving the Lord (Philippians 2:12); if we depart, we will be lost (Hebrews 2:1-3); it is possible to shrink back to destruction (Hebrews 10:35-39); we cannot say we have been in the church long enough, we must endure until the end (Matthew 24:13)


  • Examples in the Old Testament like the instructions about the cities of refuge are helpful to us – they help explain principles about how we can be saved and what our responsibility is in that
  • If we want to be saved today, we need to be in the Lord’s church
  • Once there, we need to remain faithful to the Lord so that we do not forfeit our salvation

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