A City on a Hill: What the Levitical Cities Teach the Church About Glorifying God Together (Joshua 20–21)


A City on a Hill: What the Levitical Cities Teach the Church About Glorifying God

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called his followers a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14–16). This title has often been used to speak of America, as well as other institutions of moral influence. Yet, it is most appropriately applied to the church. This is seen throughout the New Testament (cf. 1 Peter 2), but we also find this idea in the Old Testament.

In this week’s sermon on Joshua 20–21, Israel’s role spreading God’s light to the nations is seen in the cities God established for refuge and instruction. In fact, by learning about the purposes the cities of refuge (Josh. 20) and Levitical cities (Josh. 21), we learn much about God’s purposes for his people. This has historical relevance for understanding the nation of Israel. But it also has theological application for Christ and his new covenant people.

You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are additional resources are available below.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Response Questions

  1. What is the purpose and significance of the cities of refuge?
  2. What is the significance of the Levitical cities?
  3. What truths and attributes of God do you observe in this narrative?
  4. What parallels do these cities have for us today?
  5. What does it look like for the church to be a place of refuge, justice, and mercy? (Matt 18)
  6. In what way do we flee for refuge? (Heb 6:18)
  7. How does the New Covenant speak about the church as a city? (See Matt 5:14-16; Heb 12:22)

For Further Study:

  • Exodus 21 is the first place cities of refuge are mentioned.
  • Numbers 35 contains YHWH’s commands to Moses regarding the Levitical cities and cities of refuge.
  • In Deuteronomy 4, Moses establishes three cities of refuge east of the Jordan.
  • In Deuteronomy 19, Moses’ reviews God’s commands for those who will cross the Jordan.

Additional Resources

3 thoughts on “A City on a Hill: What the Levitical Cities Teach the Church About Glorifying God Together (Joshua 20–21)

  1. I haven’t listened to your sermon yet, you may have touched on this.

    I think the “city on the hill” refers to New Jerusalem (Hebrews 11:10) and the holy mountain of God (mountains were dwelling places of gods in Ancient Near East cosmology and thought, as exhibited by Mt. Sinai, Mt. Zion and the sermon on the Mount, among others).

    The city is full of the Lamb’s (Jesus) “light”. This “light” (testimony of Jesus) is what God desires we, as believers, share and exhibit with others in This Age and world.

    • I agree with your view of the mountains, but Matthew 5:14–16 is the only place that “city on a hill” is used. There Jesus is speaking to his New Cov community (= the followers who will be his New Cov community). So the church, in my view, is the eschatological community whose hope is the New Jerusalem. And then of course, Hebrews 12:22–24 speaks of the church militant as participating in the heavenly city. So a right view of Zion helps us here, but the point I made in the sermon focused on the church today — which again is not divorced from, but proleptic of, the New Jerusalem.

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