Cities of Refuge/Houses of Refuge Joshua 20

1 Then the Lord said to Joshua:
2 "Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses,
3 so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.
4 When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them.
5 If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought.
6 They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled."
7 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah.
8 East of the Jordan (on the other side from Jericho) they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh.
9 Any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.

The book of Joshua is famous for it's amazing stories of conquest. The battle at Ai, the tumbling of the Jericho walls, wherever the Israelites set their foot, the land was theirs! But that's just the first half. The rest of the book deals with land allotment. Once the Israelites had possession of the land, God Himself gave instructions to Joshua as to which tribe got what as far as land went. All the tribes inherited land except for one, the Levites.

To understand why, we go back to the tribe's patriarch, the son of Israel named Levi. Levi, along with his brother Simeon, devised and carried out a massacre against neighbor's of theirs at the time, the Shechemites (see Genesis 34). Although the Simeonites did later receive a small portion of land, the Levites did not.

The Levites however, were not forgotten, or left out. Instead of inheriting something physical like land, they inherited something spiritual, purpose. God said to Aaron (a Levite):

"You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the Israelites." Numbers 18:20

So the Levites were now the priests of this new nation called Israel. They were the bridges between the people and God. They were in charge of the temple, of the worship, of interpreting the law… Everything that had to do with God communicating to the people, and the people communicating with God, was facilitated by the Levites. And while every other tribe received their own "province", the Levites received cities within each province. 48 cities total. The Levites had a presence in every province of every tribe throughout the nation. Each city was supported by the tithes of each tribe. This is important because out of these 48 Levitical cities, six of them were designated as cities of refuge.

A city of refuge served a very specific purpose. It was there to ensure the safety of an unintentional offender of an act that was punishable by death (see Numbers 35). If the fugitive was able to reach the gates of the city of refuge they were safe. They would remain there until their day in court came when they were judged. If they were found guilty of premeditated murder they would be put to death. But if the court ruled it was an accident, or involuntary, they would only be guilty of manslaughter. In this case, they could live in the city of refuge and be safe for the rest of their life. Or, while living in the city of refuge, should the high priest die, every person in the city would be cleared of all wrong doing, receive a clean slate and a fresh start, and could return home without worrying about the blood avenger.

The avenger of blood was the next of kin of the person killed. It was the next of kin's right and responsibility to be the executioner of the person charged with causing the death of their loved one. This was who the offender was fleeing from when fleeing to a city of refuge. These were times of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", God was teaching them about punishment fitting the crime, while also putting a limit on vengeance, which God tells us belongs to Him.

Our human trafficking project correlates with this biblical concept on a few different levels.

1. We see prostitution as a terrible sin, it destroys the lives of everyone and anyone involved with it. But we believe those who have been trafficked or enslaved are participating unwillingly, unintentionally, and therefore qualify specifically for this unique service of providing divinely ordained refuge. A place where they can flee to, and be safe.

2. Cities of refuge were strategically placed and easy to find. There was a city of refuge within a day's run from no matter where you were in Israel. The goal is to one day have a house of refuge in every human trafficking hot spot. We are starting by focusing on Southeast Asia.

3. The good news about the high priest. Once we take in someone seeking refuge, the ultimate goal is to share with them the Gospel. That Jesus, our high priest, took all of our sin and shame to the grave and left it there.