Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
jos 20:2Appoint - 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.
jos 20:3Unwittingly - 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.
jos 20:4The 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.
jos 20:6Stand - 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, Jos 20:4, but of the city to which he belonged, or in or nigh which the fact was committed, as appears from Num 35:25.
jos 20:7And 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.
jos 20:8They assigned - Or, had assigned or given; for they were given by Moses, Deu 4:41, &c. or, they applied them to that use to which Moses designed them.
jos 20:9The 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.