Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying,After the distribution of the land by lot among the tribes of Israel, six towns were set apart, in accordance with the Mosaic instructions in Numbers 35, as places of refuge for unintentional manslayers. Before describing the appointment and setting apart of these towns, the writer repeats in Joshua 20:1-6 the main points of the Mosaic law contained in Numbers 35:9-29 and Deuteronomy 19:1-13, with reference to the reception of the manslayers into these towns. לכם תּנוּ, "give to you," i.e., appoint for yourselves, "cities of refuge," etc. In Joshua 20:6, the two regulations, "until he stand before the congregation for judgment," and "until the death of the high priest," are to be understood, in accordance with the clear explanation given in Numbers 35:24-25, as meaning that the manslayer was to live in the town till the congregation had pronounced judgment upon the matter, and either given him up to the avenger of blood as a wilful murderer, or taken him back to the city of refuge as an unintentional manslayer, in which case he was to remain there till the death of the existing high priest. For further particulars, see at Numbers 35.
Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses:
That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.
And when he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of the gate of the city, and shall declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city unto them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them.
And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver the slayer up into his hand; because he smote his neighbour unwittingly, and hated him not beforetime.
And he shall dwell in that city, until he stand before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days: then shall the slayer return, and come unto his own city, and unto his own house, unto the city from whence he fled.
And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjatharba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah.List of the cites: Levitical cities were chosen, for the reasons explained in the Commentary on the Pentateuch.
In the land on this side (viz., Canaan) they sanctified the following cities. In the north, Kedesh (see at Joshua 12:22), in Galil, on the mountains of Naphtali. Galil (a circle) was a district in the northern part of the subsequent province of Galilee; it is called הגּוים גּליל, circle of the heathen, in Isaiah 9:1, because an unusually large number of heathen or Gentiles were living there. In the centre of the land, Shechem, upon the mountains of Ephraim (see at Joshua 17:7). And in the south, Kirjath-arba, i.e., Hebron, upon the mountains of Judah (see at Joshua 10:3).
And on the other side Jordan by Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness upon the plain out of the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh.The cities in the land on the other side had already been appointed by Moses (Deuteronomy 4:41-43). For the sake of completeness, they are mentioned here again: viz., Bezer, Ramoth in Gilead, and Golan (see at Deuteronomy 4:43). The subject is brought to a close in Joshua 20:9. המּוּעדה ערי signifies neither urbes congregationis (Kimchi) nor urbes asyli (Gesenius), but cities of appointment, - those which received the appointment already given and repeated again in what follows.
These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them, that whosoever killeth any person at unawares might flee thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stood before the congregation.