The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD said to Joshua, 2“As I explained to Moses, tell the Israelites to designate ‘refuge cities.’ 3They are for the protection of anyone who accidentally kills another from the dead person’s ‘blood avenger’. 4The one who caused the death can flee to one of these cities, stand at the gate and explain the situation to the city elders, and the elders will allow him to enter the city and be given a place to stay. 5If the ‘blood avenger’ comes, the elders must not hand the accused man over, because the death was unintentional, and there was no history of disagreements between them. 6He must remain in that city until he has been tried by the city officials, and then stay until the death of the high priest. Then he may return to his home.”
7So, they designated Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-Arba (also known as Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. 8East of the Jordan beyond Jericho they designated Bezer in the plateau wilderness in Reuben, Ramoth of Gilead in Gad’s territory, and Golan in Bashan belonging to Manasseh. 9Anyone who accidentally caused the death of another could then run to any of these towns where the blood avenger of the deceased could not kill him before his being tried by the town’s officials.
1-7: God reminds Joshua to establish “refuge cities” to protect those who might have accidentally caused a death from the revenge of the family of the one killed. See Numbers 35:9-15, where the general idea is outlined but the actual cities are not named. Now that the land has been subdued, more or less, Joshua can identify which towns will suffice, and designates three cities on the west side of the Jordan — one in the north (Kadesh), one in the central highlands (Shechem, which later became the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel after the time of Solomon), and one in the south (Hebron, a dozen or so miles south/southwest of Jerusalem).
8-9: Three cities on the east side of the Jordan are also set apart as “cities of refuge,” one in each tribal territory — Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh.
Notice that God did not specify which cities should be chosen. The general idea (that there should be “cities of refuge”) comes from God, the details have to be worked out by the “boots on the ground.” That is how God often works, isn’t it? God gives us the big idea; we have to figure out how to live into the big idea.