Sanctuary Cities in the Bible


I recently heard a liberal activist claim that modern day sanctuary cities are in the Holy Bible.  He was partly right.  God invented cities of sanctuary of a sort but they were places of refuge where criminal justice could be administered.

Anyone accused of a crime (the biblical example given was murder vs. manslaughter) could find protection from an avenger of the deceased.  Even today the first impulse of family members of a crime victim is to seek vengeance against the accused slayer.  Leave it to God in his wisdom to command In Deuteronomy 19, the designation of these special places, refuges, or “sanctuaries” to use the modern term, to slow things down so the accused whether innocent or guilty would have a fair trial.  Our own American criminal system of justice follows this idea (and others from the Holy Bible by the way) of letting enough time come and go before hasty decisions born of emotional impulses about who lives or dies or goes to prison are made.

Foster Story’s “Fleeing to the City of Refuge”

There were six of these cities, three on each side of the Jordan River.  They were Bezer, Ramoth-gilead, and Golan on the east side, Hebron, Schecum and Kedesh west of the Jordan.  They were spaced strategically within the kingdom so wherever an accused was he was as close as possible to one of them.   But no matter how far he had to travel it was up to the accused to out-run an avenger to one of them.

Roadways to these cities were to be kept open and signs posted to facilitate access to them.  If the main gate was closed there was to be at least one smaller entrance so one could enter at any time.

When the accused made it inside he was arrested but humanely housed and fed to await his trial.  It was held before the local congregation as soon as all witnesses could be in attendance.  God’s law calling for two accusers to convict was followed.  To ensure justice if one of them was found to have lied he suffered the fate that the accused would or did (after all this was before DNA, CSI, fingerprinting and all the rest) suffer.  If found guilty the murderer was turned over to the avenger to be executed.

If he was found innocent he was to remain inside the city of refuge until the high priest (whether in Jerusalem or the refuge city isn’t clearly known) died after which he can then return to the homeland he fled from.  However, if he left the refuge city BEFORE the high priest died he could be killed by the avenger without being guilty of murder.

This system was designed to avoid the possibility of an endless “blood feud” between families.  These cities WERE NOT places where law breakers could go and live as long as they wanted and escaped accountability.  

Today we see immigrants illegally enter our nation.    Some report their arrival, receive a temporary visa and a court date to demonstrate how they should be given permanent residence but they just skip town.  Others just come and go as they please,  They disappear and roam at the country at will.  Unlike the modern so called “Sanctuary Cities” the biblical cities were temporary stopping points the refuge seeker stayed put in under strictly held rules.

They also weren’t places where a refuge seeker would be supported on the public dime.  Even after being found innocent one was required to work and support himself, and to live under and peaceably accept the laws God handed down to the nation.

William Blake’s “Day of Judgment”

Liberals, especially liberal clergy and those duped by them should beware that God does not take kindly to His scriptures being twisted to promote an earthly agenda.  In fact he does have a special place of eternal refuge for them if they don’t repent, just like he does for the pagans!  It’s called Hell.


Exodus 21:13;
Deuteronomy 4:41-43; 19:1-9

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, William B; Eerdman’s Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan; 1988.
Joshua 20:1-9;

Larson, Gary N., The New Ungers Bible Handbook, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1998.

Numbers 35:11, 24;
Wycliff Biblical Commentary, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1962.

Images courtesy of

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