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Joshua - Chapter 21
Levity Cities, Vs. 1-8
When all the tribes had received their land allotment the chief men of the tribe of Levi came to request their cities as had been promised them.
Over and over it has been emphasized that they were to receive no inheritance of land, but that their inheritance was to be the Lord. They had been promised homes in the cities of the tribes, with the adjoining suburbs, or rural areas in which to keep their flocks and herds.
Aaron was the first to be informed of this arrangement of the Lord (Numbers 18:20), and afterwards to that particular time it had been mentioned in the Scriptures eight more times in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. However, the Levitical law had anticipated the fact earlier (Leviticus 25:32 ff) and provided for their welfare.
There were three families of the Levites, Kohath, Gershon, and Merari. But the Kohathites also contained the families of the priests, who formed a fourth division. In the assignment of the cities the priest families received thirteen in the bounds of the three southernmost tribes.
The rest of the Kohathite families received ten cities in the central tribes, the Gershonites thirteen in two northern tribes and the half tribe of Manasseh in the east. The Merarites had their twelve cities in the other eastern tribes and Zebulun in the north.
Priest Cities, Vs. 9-19
Now the thirteen cities of the priests are listed. The famous city of Hebron is the first mentioned. It had been the chief city of the giants, and had been given to Caleb for his inheritance.
In assigning it to the Levites it is not meant that Caleb was dispossessed. The Levites merely lived among the regular inhabitants of the cities they were assigned, where they had their houses.
The pasture areas immediately adjacent to the city walls were for the exclusive use of the Levites, but the outlying lands remained in the possession of Caleb, or in the case of other cities, whomever had been allotted them.
In Judah Hebron was also a city of refuge, and later the chief center of the tribe of Judah during the period of the judges and until the time of David, (see 2 Samuel 2:1 ff). Debir was another former giant city, conquered by Othniel, Caleb’s relative, (Joshua 15:16 ff).
Beth-shemesh lay in the west, and was the city to which the Philistines sent the ark when they returned it (1 Samuel 6:12 ff). In the tribe of Benjamin the priest were assigned Gibeon, the old Hivite city, whose deceiving inhabitants had been made servants of the tabernacle, (Joshua 9:27). Anathoth was the residence of the Prophet Jeremiah, who was of a priest family, (Jeremiah 1:1).
Kohathite Cities, vs. 20-26
Among the cities assigned the rest of the Kohathites was another of the cities of refuge, Shechem. Shechem was a very prominent city, the chief of the tribe of Ephraim.
It was notable throughout Israel’s history. Aijalon is memorable as the reference point of Joshua’s call to the moon to stand still (Joshua 10:12). Two Gath-rimmons are named, one in Dan, the other in Manasseh west.
Since no Gath-rimmon in Manasseh has ever been located, Bible scholars think the reference in verse 25 is due to a copyist’s error in the long ago when scribes copied the Scriptures. What city was meant is not now ascertainable.
Gershonite Cities, vs. 27-33
Two cities of refuge were among the cities assigned to the Gershonites. Golan was the northernmost city of refuge on the east side of Jordan. The other was Kedesh-naphtali, one of the larger cities of the area, having been wrested from the Canaanites in Joshua’s northern conquest. It remained prominent throughout Israel’s history. There is nothing notable in the Bible about any other of this group of Levite cities.
Merarite Cities, vs. 34-40
The Merarite family of the Levites had in their borders two of the cities of refuge also. Ramoth-gilead is specifically identified as such. This city was very prominent in the later history of the Israelites, perhaps the most famous of all those east of Jordan.
During the Israelitish wars with Syria it was often the center of conflict. Here King Ahab was slain (1 Kings 22:34 ff), and here Jehu was anointed king of Israel (2 Kings 9:1 ff). The city of Bezer, in the tribe of Reuben, was also one of those cities designated as a city of refuge, (see Joshua 20:8). But it is not so designated here, though all the other five are so named. The reason for this omission is unaccountable.
Summary Statement, vs. 41-45
The first summary statement of these verses relates to the Levite cities. These numbered forty-eighty, but were not equally divided among the tribes.
In the larger tribes there were four or five, while some of the smaller had only two. Yet there were some Levites living in all the tribes.
The second statement is the summation of all the land possession and its division.
It is emphasized that 1) the Lord gave Israel all the land He had promised, and they possessed it; 2) all their enemies were vanquished, and not a one was left to oppose them, so that there was peace in the land; 3) not one good thing of which the Lord had spoken to Israel had failed to come to pass.
Among the lessons which may be gleaned from this chapter are 1) the Lord requires proper respect and care for the welfare of those who minister to His people; 2) the people of Israel were blessed with having the Lord’s ministers in their very midst, which was accomplished by the Levites’ scattering; thus the Lord has ministers for His people, so there should be no dearth of witness on His behalf; 3) all the Lord’s promises will come to pass as He has made them, (Hebrews 13:5).
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Joshua 21". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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