The writer finishes the account of land distribution to the 12 tribes in chapters 18 and 19. It is interesting that this whole section concerning the inheritance on the west side of the Jordan running from chapter 14 to chapter 19 is bracketed by the fulfillment of the land promise to Caleb and Joshua. I don’t believe this is accidental but is part of the writers intentional structure to contrast the faithfulness of these two men in with Israel’s general unfaithfulness in the wilderness. God keeps his promises!
Chapter 20 and the account of the cities of refuge is especially interesting. Six cities were chosen as locations where one who was guilty of involuntary manslaughter could flee and be provided refuge from anyone who would desire to seek vengeance on behalf of the deceased. These 6 cities were strategically chosen; three on each side of the Jordan, and on each side, one city in the north, one in the middle, and one in the south. While they provided protection for someone who killed another accidentally, the one guilty of manslaughter was still forced to stay in the city of refuge, or risk being killed, until the high priest died. Why? Dale Davis thinks that this was to reinforce the importance of human life. Even an accidental death was dealt with harshly because people are all created in the image of God and have great value. But I am struck by how these cities of refuge point to Christ. The cities were always readily accessible and were the only places of sure protection. Likewise, no matter how far we have fallen, Christ is always accessible and is the only safe place to run from our sin. Also, the death of the high priest allowed the refugee to walk away free. We too have been freed by the death of our great high priest. As Spurgeon said so eloquently, “Waste no time; do not dillydally, for the avenger of blood (Satan) moves quickly; and it could be that he is at our heels.” We need seek no refuge from sin other than in Christ alone!