Wesley's Notes on the Bible
The LORD also spake unto Joshua, saying,
Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses:
20:2 Appoint - The possessions being now divided among you, reserve some of them for the use which I have commanded. Cities of refuge - Designed to typify the relief which the gospel provides for poor, penitent sinners, and their protection from the curse of the law and the wrath of God, in our Lord Jesus, to whom believers fly for refuge.
That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.
20:3 Unwittingly - Heb. Through ignorance, or error, or mistake, and without knowledge. The same thing twice repeated to cut off all the expectations that wilful murderers might have of protection here; God having declared, that such should be taken even from his altar, that they might be killed. It is strange that any Christians should make their sanctuaries give protection to such persons whom God hath so expressly excepted from it! Avenger - The nearest kinsman, who had right or power to demand, or take vengeance of the slaughter.
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.
20:4 The gate - Where the judges used to sit. His cause - Shall give them a true relation of the fact, and all its circumstances. They shall take him - If they are satisfied in the relation he makes, concerning the fact, otherwise it had been a vain thing to examine. Give a place - Which they might well allow him, because God gave them the city with a reservation for such persons.
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.
20:6 Stand - Which was the posture of the accused and accusers. The congregation - The council appointed to judge of these matters, not the council of the city of refuge, for they had examined him before, ver.4, but of the city to which he belonged, or in or nigh which the fact was committed, as appears from Numb 35:25.
And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjatharba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah.
20:7 And they appointed - Concerning these cities note, That they were all upon mountains, that they might be seen at a great distance, and so direct those who fled thither. That they were seated at convenient distance one from another, for the benefit of the several tribes; for Kedesh was in the north, Hebron in the south, and Shechem between them. That they all belonged to the Levites; partly that these causes might be more impartially examined, and justly determined by them who are presumed best able to understand the law of God, and most obliged to follow it and not to be biass'd by any affection or corrupt interest, and partly, that their reputation with the people, and their good counsels, might lay a restraint upon revengeful persons, who might be inclined to follow the man - slayer thither, and endeavour to kill him there. It was likewise an advantage to the poor refugee, that when he might not go up to the house of the Lord, yet he had the servants of God's house with him, to instruct him, and pray for him, and help to make up the want of public ordinances.
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.
20:8 They assigned - Or, had assigned or given; for they were given by Moses, Deut 4:41, and c. or, they applied them to that use to which Moses designed them.
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.
20:9 The stranger - Not only proselytes, but others also; because this was a matter of common right, that a distinction might be made between casual man - slayers, and wilful murderers.