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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 21

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament CommentaryKeil & Delitzsch

Verses 1-3

After the cities of refuge had been set apart, the towns were also selected, which the different tribes were to give up for the priest and Levites to dwell in according to the Mosaic instructions in Numbers 35:1-8, together with the necessary fields as pasturage for their cattle. The setting apart of the cities of refuge took place before the appointment of the Levitical towns, because the Lord had given commandment through Moses in Numbers 35:6, that they were to give to the Levites the six cities of refuge, and forty-two cities besides, i.e., forty-eight cities in all. From the introductory statement in Joshua 21:1, Joshua 21:2, that the heads of the fathers (see Exodus 6:14, Exodus 6:25) of the Levitical families reminded the distribution committee at Shiloh of the command of God that had been issued through Moses, that towns were to be given them to dwell in, we cannot infer, as Calvin has done, that the Levites had been forgotten, till they came and asserted their claims. All that is stated in these words is, “that when the business had reached that point, they approached the dividers of the land in the common name of the members of their tribe, to receive by lot the cities appointed for them. They simply expressed the commands of God, and said in so many words, that they had been deputed by the Levites generally to draw lots for those forty-eight cities with their suburbs, which had been appointed for that tribe” ( Masius). The clause appended to Shiloh, “ in the land of Canaan,” points to the instructions in Numbers 34:29 and Numbers 35:10, to give the children of Israel their inheritance in the land of Canaan.

Verses 4-8

Number of the cities which the different families of Levi received from each tribe. The tribe of Levi was divided into three branches, - The Gershonites, the Kohathites, and the Merarites (see Num 3 and Exodus 6:16-19). The Kohathites again were divided into the four families of Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel (Exodus 6:18); and the family of Amram into two lines, consisting of the descendants of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 6:20). The priesthood was committed to the line of Aaron (Numbers 18:1-7); but the other descendants of Amram, i.e., the descendants of Moses, were placed on a par with the other descendants of Levi, and numbered among the simple Levites (Num. 3; 1 Chronicles 6:1-7). The towns in which the different families of Levi were to dwell were determined by lot; but in all probability the towns which each tribe was to give up to them were selected first of all, so that the lot merely decided to which branch of the Levites each particular town was to belong.

Joshua 21:4

The first lot came out for the families of Kohath, and among these again for the sons of Aaron, i.e., the priests. They received thirteen towns from the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. “This did not happen by chance; but God, according to His wonderful counsel, placed them just in that situation which He had determined to select for His own temple” ( Calvin).

Joshua 21:5

The rest of the Kohathites, i.e., the descendants of Moses, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, received ten towns from Ephraim, Dan, and half Manasseh.

Joshua 21:6

The Gershonites received thirteen towns from Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and half Manasseh in Bashan.

Joshua 21:7-8

The Merarites received twelve towns from Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun.

The number of towns thus assigned to the Levites will not appear too large, if we consider, (1) that judging from the number of towns in so small a land, the greater part of them cannot have been very large; (2) that the Levites were not the sole possessors of these towns, but simply received the number of dwelling-houses which they actually required, with meadow land for their cattle in the suburbs of the towns, whilst the rest of the space still belonged to the different tribes; and (3) that if the 23,000 males, the number of the Levites at the second census which was taken in the steppes of Moab, were distributed among the thirty-five towns, it would give 657 males, or 1300 male and female Levites for every town. On the other hand, offence has been taken at the statement, that thirteen towns were given up to the priests; and under the idea that Aaron could hardly have had descendants enough in Joshua's time from his two sons who remained alive to fill even two towns, to say nothing of thirteen, the list has been set down as a document which was drawn up at a much later date ( Maurer, etc.). But any one who takes this ground not only attributes to the distribution commission the enormous shortsightedness of setting apart towns for the priests merely to meet their existing wants, and without any regard to the subsequent increase which would take place in their numbers, but also forms too large an estimate of the size of the towns, and too small an estimate of the number of the priests. Moreover, it was never intended that the towns should be filled with priests' families; and the number of priests alive at that time is not mentioned anywhere. But if we bear in mind that Aaron died in the fortieth year of the journeys of the Israelites, at the age of 123 years (Numbers 33:38), and therefore was eighty-three years old at the time of the exodus from Egypt, his descendants might have entered upon the fourth generation seven years after his death. Now his two sons had twenty-four male descendants, who were the founders of the twenty-four classes instituted by David (1 Chron 24). And if we only reckon six males to each of the next generations, there would be 144 in the third generation, who would be between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five when the distribution of the land took place, and who might therefore have had 864 male children living at that time; so that the total number of males in the families of the priests might have amounted to more than 1000, that is to say, might have consisted of at least 200 families.

Verses 9-42

Names of the Levitical Towns.

(Note: There is a similar list in 1 Chron 6:54-81, though in some respects differently arranged, and with many variations in the names, and corruptions of different kinds in the text, which show that the author of the Chronicles has inserted an ancient document that was altogether independent of the book before us. Thus in the Chronicles there are only forty-two towns mentioned by name instead of forty-eight, although it is stated in 1 Chronicles 6:45. that 13 + 10 + 13 + 12, i.e., forty-eight towns in all, were given up to the Levites. The names omitted are (1) Jutta in Judah; (2) Gibeon in Benjamin; (3 and 4) Ethekeh and Gibbethon in Dan; (5 and 6) and Jokneam and Nahalal in Zebulun (compare Joshua 21:16, Joshua 21:17, Joshua 21:23, Joshua 21:34, and Joshua 21:35, with 1 Chronicles 6:59-60, 1 Chronicles 6:68, 1 Chronicles 6:77. In some cases also the author of the Chronicles gives different names, though some of them indeed are only different forms of the same name, e.g., Hilen for Holon, Alemeth for Almon, Ashtaroth for Beeshterah, Mashal for Misheal, Hammon for Hammoth-dor, Kirjathaim for Kartan (compare 1 Chronicles 6:58, 1 Chronicles 6:60, 1 Chronicles 6:71, 1 Chronicles 6:74, 1 Chronicles 6:76, with Joshua 21:15, Joshua 21:18, Joshua 21:27, Joshua 21:30, Joshua 21:32); or in some cases possibly different names of the same town, e.g., Jokmeam for Kibzaim, and Ramoth for Jarmuth, and Anem for En-gannim (1 Chronicles 6:68, 83, and Joshua 21:22, Joshua 21:29); whilst some evidently give the true reading, viz., Ashan for Ain, and Bileam for Gath-rimmon (1 Chronicles 6:59, 1 Chronicles 6:70; Joshua 21:16, Joshua 21:26). The majority, however, are faulty readings, viz., Aner for Tanach, Kedesh for Kishon, Hukok for Helkath, Rimmon and Tabor (compare 1 Chronicles 6:70, 1 Chronicles 6:72, 1 Chronicles 6:75, 1 Chronicles 6:77, with Joshua 21:25, Joshua 21:28, Joshua 21:31, Joshua 21:34-35).)

Joshua 21:9-19

The priests' towns: ( a) in Judah and Simeon (Joshua 21:9-16); ( b) in Benjamin (Joshua 21:17-19).

Joshua 21:9-12

In the tribe of Judah the priests received Kirjath-arba, or Hebron, with the necessary pasturage round about the town (see Numbers 35:2), whilst the field of the town with the villages belonging to it remained in the hands of Caleb and his family as their possession (Joshua 14:12.).

Joshua 21:13-16

Joshua 21:13 contains a repetition of Joshua 21:11, occasioned by the parenthetical remark in Joshua 21:12. They also received Libnah in the lowland (see Joshua 15:42; Joshua 10:29); Jattir (Joshua 15:48), Eshtemoah (Joshua 15:50), Holon (Joshua 15:51), and Debir (Joshua 15:15, Joshua 15:49; Joshua 10:38) on the mountains of Judah; Ain, for which we should read Ashan (1 Chronicles 6:44; cf. Joshua 15:42), in the tribe of Simeon (Joshua 19:7); Juttah on the mountains (Joshua 15:55); and Beth-shemesh in the lowland (Joshua 15:10).

Joshua 21:17-19

In the tribe of Benjamin they received Gibeon (see Joshua 9:3), Geba (Joshua 18:24), also Anathoth and Almon, which are missing in the list of the towns of Benjamin (see at Joshua 18:24).

Joshua 21:20-25

Towns of the Levites. - Joshua 21:20-26. The other Kohathites received four towns from the tribe of Ephraim (Joshua 21:21, Joshua 21:22), four from Dan (Joshua 21:23, Joshua 21:24), and two from the half tribe of Manasseh on this side of the Jordan (Joshua 21:25). From Ephraim they received Shechem (see Joshua 17:7), Gezer (Joshua 10:33), Kibzaim - for which we find Jockmeam in 1 Chronicles 6:68, possibly a different name for the same place, which has not yet been discovered - and Beth-horon, whether Upper or Lower is not stated (see Joshua 10:10). From Dan they received Elthekeh and Gibbethon (Joshua 19:44), Ajalon and Gath-rimmon (Joshua 19:42, Joshua 19:45). From half Manasseh they received Taanach (Joshua 17:11; Joshua 12:21) and Gath-rimmon - eye to the previous verse, for Bileam (1 Chronicles 6:70), i.e., Jibleam (Joshua 17:11).

Joshua 21:26

Thus they received ten towns in all.

Joshua 21:27-33

The Gershonites received two towns from eastern Manasseh: Golan (Joshua 20:8; Deuteronomy 4:43), and Beeshterah. Beeshterah (contracted from Beth-eshterah, the house of Astarte), called Ashtaroth in 1 Chronicles 6:56, may possibly have been the capital of king Og ( Ashtaroth-karnaim, Genesis 14:5), if not one of the two villages named Astaroth, which are mentioned by Eusebius in the Onom. ( s. v. Astharoth-karnaim), and are described by Jerome as duo castella in Batanaea, novem inter se millibus separata inter Adaram et Abilam civitates , though Adara and Abila are too indefinite to determine the situation with any exactness. At any rate, the present Busra on the east of the Hauran cannot be thought of for a moment; for this was called Βόσσορα or Βοσορρά , i.e., בּצרה , in ancient times, as it is at the present day (see 1 Macc. 5:26, and Joseph. Ant. xii. 8, 3), and was corrupted into Bostra by the Greeks and Romans. Nor can it be the present Kul'at Bustra on the north of Banyas upon a shoulder of the Hermon, where there are the ruins of a magnificent building, probably a temple of ancient date ( Burckhardt, Syr. pp. 93, 94; Rob. Bibl. Res. pp. 414-15), as Knobel supposes, since the territory of the Israelites did not reach so far north, the land conquered by Joshua merely extending to Baal-gad, i.e., Banyas, at the foot of the Hermon (see Joshua 11:17), and the land to the east of the Jordan, or Bashan, only to the Hermon itself, or more correctly, merely to the districts of Geshuri and Maacah at the south-eastern border of the Hermon (see at Deuteronomy 3:8, Deuteronomy 3:14).

Joshua 21:28-29

From Issachar they received four towns: Kishon (Joshua 19:20), Dabrath (Joshua 19:12), Jarmuth = Remeth (see Joshua 19:21), and En-gannim (Joshua 19:21, or Anem, 1 Chronicles 6:73).

Joshua 21:30-31

From Asher they received four towns: Mishal or Masal (Joshua 19:26; cf. 1 Chronicles 6:74), Abdon (Joshua 19:28), Helkath (Joshua 19:25, called Hukok in 1 Chronicles 6:75, probably a copyist's error), and Rehob (Joshua 19:28).

Joshua 21:32

From Naphtali they received three towns: Kedesh (Joshua 19:37 and Joshua 12:22), Hammoth-dor (called Hammath in Joshua 19:35, and Hammon in 1 Chronicles 6:76), and Kartan (contracted from Kartain for Kirjatha i m, 1 Chronicles 6:76; like Dothan in 2 Kings 6:13, from Dothain in Genesis 37:17). Kartan is not mentioned among the towns of Naphtali in Joshua 19:33.; according to Knobel it may possibly be Katanah, a place with ruins to the north-east of Safed ( Van de Velde, Mem. p. 147).

Joshua 21:33

They received thirteen towns in all.

Joshua 21:34-35

The Merarites received twelve towns. From the tribe of Zebulun they received four: Jokneam (Joshua 19:11: see at Joshua 12:22), Kartah and Dimnah,

(Note: Many commentators identify Dimnah with Rimmono in 1 Chronicles 6:77, but without sufficient reason; for the next of the Chronicles is no doubt corrupt in this passage, as it has only two names, Rimmono and Tabor, instead of four.)

which are not mentioned among the towns of Zebulun in Joshua 19:11., and are unknown, and Nahalal (Joshua 19:15).

Joshua 21:36-37

From Reuben they received four: Gezer (Joshua 20:8: see Deuteronomy 4:43), Jahza, Kedemoth, and Mephaath (Joshua 13:18).

(Note: R. Jacob ben Chajim has omitted Joshua 21:36 and Joshua 21:37 from his Rabbinical Bible of the year 1525 as spurious, upon the authority of Kimchi and the larger Masora; but upon insufficient grounds, as these verses are to be found in many good MSS and old editions of an earlier date than 1525, as well as in all the ancient versions, and could not possibly have been wanting from the very first, since the Merarites received twelve towns, which included the four that belonged to Reuben. In those MSS in which they are wanting, the omission was, no doubt, a copyist's error, occasioned by the homoioteleuto'n (see de Rossi variae lectt. ad h. l., and J. H. Michaelis' Note to his Hebrew Bible).)

Joshua 21:38-39

From Gad they received four towns: Ramoth in Gilead, and Mahanaim (see at Joshua 13:26), Heshbon (Joshua 13:17) and Jaezer (Joshua 13:25: see at Numbers 21:32).

Joshua 21:40-42

They received twelve towns in all. - In Joshua 21:41 and Joshua 21:42 the list of the Levitical towns is closed with a statement of their total number, and also with the repetition of the remark that “these cities were every one with their suburbs round about them.” ום עיר עיר , city city, i.e., every city, with its pasture round about it.

Verses 43-45

Joshua 21:43-45 form the conclusion to the account of the division of the land in Josh 13-21, which not only points back to Joshua 11:23, but also to Joshua 1:2-6, and connects the two halves of our book together. By the division of Canaan among the tribes of Israel, the promise which Joshua had received from God after the death of Moses was fulfilled (Joshua 1:2.). The Lord had given Israel the whole land which He had sworn to the fathers (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 15:18, compared with Joshua 1:3-4); and they had now taken possession of it to dwell therein.

Joshua 21:44

He had also procured them rest round about, as He had sworn to their fathers, inasmuch as not a man of all their enemies stood against them. The expression “gave them rest,” etc., points back to Deuteronomy 12:9-10, and refers to all the divine promises of the Pentateuch which assured the Israelites of the peaceable possession of Canaan, such as Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 3:20, etc. No enemy had been able to withstand them, as the Lord had promised Joshua (Joshua 1:5). “ The Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand.” It is true the Canaanites were not all exterminated; but those who were left had become so powerless, that they could neither accomplish nor attempt anything against Israel, so long as the Israelites adhered faithfully to their God, or so long as Joshua and the elders who were his contemporaries were alive (Judges 2:6.), because the Lord had overwhelmed them with fear and terror before the Israelites.

(Note: “If any one should raise a question as to their actual peace, the solution is easy enough. The tribes of Canaan were so alarmed and broken down with their fear, that in their opinion nothing could serve their purpose better than to purchase peace from the children of Israel by the most obsequious servility. Clearly, therefore, the land was subdued and their home at peace, since no one disturbed them, or attempted anything against them; there were no threats, no snares, no violence, and no conspiracy.” - Calvin.)

Joshua 21:45

Of all the good words which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel not one had fallen, i.e., remained unfulfilled (Numbers 6:12); all had come to pass (vid., Joshua 23:14). הטּוב כּל־הדּבר relates to the gracious promises of God with regard to the peaceful possession of Canaan, which formed the basis of all the salvation promised to Israel, and the pledge of the fulfilment of all the further promises of God. Notwithstanding the fact that many a tract of country still remained in the hands of the Canaanites, the promise that the land of Canaan should be given to the house of Israel for a possession had been fulfilled; for God had not promised the immediate and total destruction of the Canaanites, but only their gradual extermination (Exodus 23:29-30; Deuteronomy 7:22). And even though the Israelites never came into undisputed possession of the whole of the promised land, to the full extent of the boundaries laid down in Numbers 34:1-12, never conquering Tyre and Sidon for example, the promises of God were no more broken on that account than they were through the circumstance, that after the death of Joshua and the elders his contemporaries, Israel was sometimes hard pressed by the Canaanites; since the complete fulfilment of this promise was inseparably connected with the fidelity of Israel to the Lord.

(Note: With reference to this apparent discrepancy between the promises of God and the actual results, Calvin observes, that “in order to remove every appearance of discrepancy, it is right to distinguish well between the clear, unwavering, and certain fidelity of God in the fulfilment of His promises, and the weakness and indolence of the people, which caused the blessings of God to slip from their hands. Whatever war the people undertook, in whatever direction they carried their standards, there was victory ready to their hand; nor was there anything to retard or prevent the extermination of all their enemies except their own slothfulness. Consequently, although they did not destroy them all, so as to empty the land for their own possession, the truth of God stood out as distinctly as if they had; for there would have been no difficulty in their accomplishment of all that remained to be done, if they had only been disposed to grasp the victories that were ready to their hand.”)

Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Joshua 21". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kdo/joshua-21.html. 1854-1889.
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