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  • Debbie HRM

Shoftim: Cities of Refuge

Updated: Apr 10, 2022

Debbie HRM

Deuteronomy 19:1 to 21:9

When I first looked at this section this year, my thoughts went straight to the current 6 cities of refuge, mentioned in Numbers 35:9-34.

In all our years studying together, I don’t believe we have really dissected Chapter 19 before.

How can these cities of refuge be so relevant to us today?

They are mentioned 6 times that I can find:

  • Exodus 21:13-14

  • Numbers 35:1-34

  • Deuteronomy 4:41-43

  • Deuteronomy t 19: 1-13

  • Joshua expands on this subject in Joshua 20; 21:27, 32

  • 1 Chronicles 6:57, where the sons of Aaron are given Hebron.

To start, what we can see:

Deuteronomy 19: 1-13 is an expansion of the 6th Commandment: “Thou shall not murder”.

We find this commandment is first found in Genesis 4:8-11 when Adonai told Cain he was now cursed from the ground for committing the murder of Abel.

Deuteronomy 19: 14 is about the 8th Commandment:” Thou shall not steal”.

Deuteronomy 19: 16 – 21 is an expansion of the 9th Commandment: “Thou shall not bear false witness”.

On the surface it seems odd, but also very interesting, that Chapter 20 lies between Chapters 19 and 21. Why? Particularly verses 5 – 7? Huh???

Time permitting, Hopefully, I would like to expand on these verses in Chapter 20 too.

Why is Chapter 20 placed here? For what reason? Does it seem odd to anyone else?

Well! This made me convinced there must be so much more to chapter 19 than what I first read on the surface…. there must be stuff HIDDEN in this chapter, so let’s dig a little more!

I asked Yahovah to open the eyes of my understanding to see what is hidden here.

I hope I can do His Word justice!

These cities of refuge are mentioned in so many places, they MUST be important, but why?

How can these cities of refuge be so relevant to us today?

They are mentioned 6 times that I can find: Now there is a hint!!!

  • Exodus 21:13-14

  • Numbers 35:1-34

  • Deuteronomy 4:41-43

  • Deuteronomy 19: 1-13

  • Joshua expands on this subject in Joshua 20:1-9 – note the killer was judged at the gate, but set free upon the death of the High Priest. Why? (He bore all our sins upon Himself)

Who is the High Priest?

  • Joshua 21:27, 32

  • 1 Chronicles 6:52(67), where K’Hat, the sons of Aaron are given Hebron.

Note also that these 6 cities of refuge were given to the Levites. Numbers 36:6

Firstly, let’s break down Deuteronomy 19:9 for a moment…

  1. “If thou shall keep all these commandments to do/observe them, which I command you this day,”

This phrase signifies the putting into practice the several laws:

  • moral,

  • ceremonial

  • and judicial,

which Moses is now repeating to the Children of Israel and connecting the observance of them by Adonai’s Divine authority, not his own:

  1. “to love Adonai your God”

This is the source and spring of genuine obedience to His commands.

If we love Him ….

  1. “And to follow/walk ever in His ways”.

Note the constancy and perseverance in His ways.

Now all this is mentioned as the condition of enlargement of their land, which would be the case if a due and constant regard was had to the laws of Adonai.

  1. THE CONDITIONAL PROMISE: And then you shall add three more besides these.


NOTE that in Deuteronomy 19:8-9, Adonai swore to our ancestors that He would expand Israel’s territories and add 3 more cities of refuge, making a total of 9 cities of refuge. (9 = Truth)

The additional three cities allowed for "the anticipated enlargement of the borders of Israel to the utmost limits promised by God, from the river of Egypt, the Nile, to the river Euphrates"

(Genesis 15:18) This promise, however, was conditional upon Israel’s obedience in :

  • keeping

  • and observing ALL these mitzvot He gave the children of Israel

  • and loving Adonai our God

  • and following His Ways.

Can we see Israel walking in the fullness of Truth yet?

Looking back in history, we can actually see a shrinking of our promised Land inheritance (due to sin), and not the promised expansion of the Land due to walking in obedience and truth. As our sin increases, in fact, Israel keeps giving away Land for ‘so-called peace’.

Well, we can see how well this has worked out!

For now though, we are given the 3 cities on the east side of the Jordan, and 3 cities on the west side of the Jordan, totalling 6 cities.

6 = humanity; man

East = walking away in rebellion from Yah

West = returning to Yah with a heart of repentance.

They were, and we are, told to prepare roads to these cities to make an unobstructed way to flee to these cities. How? Does this mean to cleanse ourselves of sin?

This I an exert from the Jewish Encyclopedia:

The Talmud states that, in accordance with the requirement to especially build roads to the cities of refuge, the roads to these cities were not only marked by signposts saying "Refuge", but the roads were wide—twice the regulation width—and were particularly smooth and even, in order that fugitives were as unhindered as possible.

Isaiah 40: 3 -5 says,

“A voice cries out:

‘Clear a road through the desert for Adonai!

Level a highway in the Aravah for our God!

Let every valley be filled in,

Every mountain and hill be lowered,

The bumpy places made level

And the crags become a plain’.

Then the glory of Adonai will be revealed;

All humankind together will see it,

For the mouth of Adonai has spoken.”

Malachi 3:1

“Look! I am sending My messenger to clear the way before Me;

And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His Temple”.

Mark 1:3 (quoted from Isaiah 40:3)

“The Voice of someone crying out:

‘In the desert prepare the way for Adonai!

Make straight paths for Him!’”

I would also propose these cities are a reference to, or acts as a type of, our Messiah.

‘He is our refuge and strength’.

Other scriptures related to this Psalm 46:1; Psalm 91:2; Psalm 18:2; Exodus 33:22; Deuteronomy33:27

Let’s look at the Biblical Hebrew meaning of each of the 6 cities name, in order as stated in Scripture:

On the eastern side of the Jordan –

We have Bezer, Ramoth – Giliad, and Golan

  1. Bezer (for Reuben – See a son!)

  • Vine branch (Branch of Jesse – Isaiah 11:1 - 2)

  • Fortress (He is our fortress and strength – Psalm 18:3; 91:2; Psalm 144:2; )

In other words, Yeshua.

  1. Ramoth Giliad (for Gad – company)

  • Hill of witness

  • Heights of testimony

“In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” 2 Corinthians 13:1

Deuteronomy 19: 15, we see that “one witness will not be sufficient…”

Who are these witnesses?

  • First, we read in Numbers 35: 24 “Then the community will judge…”

Note that there is a distinct difference between a murderer (who is to be stoned to death) and a killer.

The 6th Commandment is talking about a murderer, not a killer.

The killer, not murderer, was to flee to the gate of the city of refuge. Joshua 20:4

“He is to flee to one of those cities, stand at the entrance to the city gate and state his cause to the city leaders.”

If the perpetrator is guilty of murder, the elders of the town in which the crime was committed should demand the perpetrator's return and hand him over without pity to the avenger of blood to be killed.

I propose to you today, through the reading of Scripture, that we are all guilty of ‘killing’.

We have probably all spoken words of death, committed sin worthy of death, and we stand all guilty as charged.

  • Secondly, in Deuteronomy 30:19 we see,

“I call on Heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have presented you with life and death, the blessing and the curse.”

Could these 2 instances represent 2 judgements? I think so!

First, we stand judged at the time we give our life to Him and repent of all our sin, and then in Matthew we are told of our final judgement.

The Final Judgment – Matthew 25: 14-46 the parable of the ten talents, but now with eyes to see and ears to hear!

But specifically, in Verse 31- 33 it tells us, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne”. Before him, all the nations will be assembled and He will separate the sheep from the goats.

  1. Golan (for Manasseh – to forget)

  • Passage

  • Their captivity

  • or their rejoicing – we see there is a choice, heh?

Golan comes from the verb root ‘Galah’- to remove, deliver, or pass away.

There is also the verb root closely connected, ‘Gai’, which means ‘to rejoice’.

Now we go to the west side of the Jordan – the crossing over in repentance and humility, having been washed in the waters of life (the Jordan) to come before Yahovah!

We have Kedesh, Shechem and Hebron.

  1. Kedesh (for Naftali – which is from ‘pathal’- my wrestling)

Remember, Jacob wrestled all night and won the battle against the Angel.

  • To make holy

  • To set apart,

  • consecrate,

  • sanctify

Adonai is the One who sets us apart to be holy before Him. HalleluYah!

  1. Shechem (for Ephraim – fruitful)

  • Burden bearer

  • Shoulder

Matthew 11: 28-30

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.


  1. Hebron (for Judah - praised, celebrated)

  • To join; unite in fellowship

  • The binding friendship place

What a journey we are all on….?


So as we walk through these cities of refuge on our journey back, we find ourselves fleeing to the Son who promises to sustain us and lift us up in the company of witnesses to the Truth.

We are always given a choice: East or west?

Do we walk eastward in rebellion, yielding always to the works of the flesh?


Do we head west, with a heart of true repentance and rejoicing?

We can then be united in fellowship with Adonai, and each other, under His protective wings as He carries our burdens and grants us LIFE and INCREASE, and ultimate deliverance!!

I hope these thoughts help you further understand this piece of our Father’s Word.

Debbie HRM


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