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Cities for the Levites (20:1-21:45)
The Levites were given forty-eight cities throughout Israel, along with surrounding pasture lands for their cattle (see 21:41-42; Numbers 35:1-8). Among these cities were six cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6). These were cities where a person who had killed another could flee for safety until he had been lawfully judged (Exodus 21:12-14). If he was found guilty of murder he was to be executed, but if he was found to have caused the death accidentally, he could live in the city of refuge under the protection of the chief priest as long as that priest lived. This limited his freedom, but at the same time it ensured that he was safe from the revenge of the dead person’s family (20:1-6; Numbers 35:9-34).
Three of the cities of refuge were west of Jordan and three east. In both the western and eastern regions one city was in the northern section, one in the central and one in the southern (7-9; Numbers 35:14-15).
Levi had three sons, Kohath, Gershon and Merari. Aaron was of the family of Kohath, and all Aaron’s descendants, and no others, were priests (Exodus 6:16,Exodus 6:18,Exodus 6:20; Numbers 3:10). The forty-eight cities of the Levites were therefore divided into four groups, which corresponded to the four divisions of the Levitical tribe: the priestly Kohathites, the non-priestly Kohathites, the Gershonites and the Merarites (21:1-7).
The drawing of lots decided the allocation of the cities (8), but God controlled the outcome so that the cities given to the priestly Kohathites were all within easy reach of Jerusalem, where the temple would one day be built (9-19). The non-priestly Kohathites were farther from Jerusalem (20-26), the Gershonites were mainly in the north (27-33) and the Merarites were mainly in the north and east (34-40). Once the Levites had received their cities, the allotment of Canaan was complete (41-45).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Joshua 21". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany