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Monday, October 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 21

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Verses 1-2


The forty-eight Levite cities are scattered throughout the land. The Levites have the task of teaching the law in Israel. Because each tribe gives a few cities to the Levites, all Israelites can benefit from the service of the Levites. It is important that God’s servants – today’s Levites – are everywhere among God’s children to serve them with God’s Word.

From Joshua 21:43 comes a summary of the division of the land. The LORD gets the honor of all. He gives the land, He gives rest and He gives their enemies in their hands. The only conclusion is: “Not one of the good promises … failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). He also wants to make Himself known to us in this way in view of the blessings He has given us.

The division of the land has happened. The people may rest. All Christians have received blessings, but not all have taken possession of them. For every step, an enemy must be driven out of our practical life of faith. Then we can take possession of the fruits in the land, the spiritual blessings, that is to say enjoy in our hearts. This is the condition the people have reached here. In our spiritual life we can also come so far that we know and enjoy the spiritual blessings.

The Levites Ask for Their Cities

In these cities of the Levites we reach a climax. This is in a way higher than anything we have seen so far. We understand this when we think about the Levites’ inheritance. They have not got a certain territory, they do not inherit like the other Israelites. Their possession consists of three great blessings that grow in size: the priesthood, a portion of the offerings by fire, and the LORD Himself (Joshua 13:14; Joshua 13:33Joshua 18:7). All that they do, their whole effort, is directed entirely to the LORD, not to the land.

Verses 3-8

Cities for the Priests and Levites

The Levites must be spread throughout the land, in forty-eight cities. This shows that they have a task for the whole people, or in the name of the whole people. Of the forty-eight, six are cities of refuge. The remaining forty-two, that is seven times six cities, are divided among the families of the three sons of Levi. With the cities the Levites also get pasture lands for their cattle.

Verses 9-19

Cities for the Priests

The first Levites to be assigned their share are the Kohathites. Among them, Aaron’s sons, the priests, occupy a special place. They get thirteen cities. Of these, nine are in Judah, including Simeon, including the city of refuge of Hebron, and four are in Benjamin. This division means that they will live in the right place, near Jerusalem, near the temple. Jerusalem is not yet known as such, but God places them there in view of the time He will dwell there.

The task of the Levites is to teach and to offer incense (Deuteronomy 33:10). Their task is a task towards the people and a task towards God. In their duty to the people, they must teach the people the whole truth of God. Their duty to God is to bring Him offerings. In our life as Christians, the two aspects of the Levites are connected. We have a task to God and a task to the people around us. To God we are “a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). To the people we are “a royal priesthood”, to proclaim the excellencies of God (1 Peter 2:9).

As said, dividing the cities among the Levites is in a way a climax. We have seen everything God has prepared for His people so far. He gave the people the strength to conquer the land and also gave them the wisdom to divide the land. But this is not all. The most important thing is not what we have received, but what God receives. We see that in the Levites.

Levites are given to the priests to help them to bring offerings. Through the teaching they give, the people learn how they can bring to God something that is pleasing to Him. They always show the people to Whom they owe the blessings. That also applies to us. Every service among the believers must be aimed at creating true worship.

The service of worship rises above gratitude for what we have received. For example, the Levite of the New Testament is the servant who explains God’s Word. In his teaching he presents to the people the blessing that the church in Christ has received. That will work in the hearts of the believers’ worship of God. For all that we have received is for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 1:12Ephesians 1:14). When we have seen some of the blessings, we honor, praise, worship. For this we “have our access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). We see it in Paul himself, how he bows his knees before the Father of the Lord Jesus (Ephesians 3:14).

It is the wonderful task of the Levites among all the people to get the people to worship the Father (John 4:23-Jeremiah :). How much do we personally owe to brothers who have shown the blessings to us, to turn our hearts from the blessings to Him from Whom these blessings are given.

Verses 20-26

Cities for the Sons of Kohath

The remaining Kohathites (possibly descendants of Moses) get ten cities, including - the city of refuge Shechem, in the territories of Ephraim, Dan and Manasseh that lies on the west side of the Jordan, that is in the land.

Verses 27-33

Cities for the Sons of Gershon

The Gershonites get thirteen cities in the territory of Issachar, Asher and Manasseh which lies on the eastern side of the Jordan, the wilderness side of the Jordan. Among their cities are two cities of refuge: Golan in Basan and Kedes in Galilee.

Verses 34-40

Cities for the Sons of Merari

The sons of Merari get twelve cities in the territory of Zebulun in the land, and in Reuben and Gad in the wilderness side of the Jordan. The city of refuge among their cities, Ramoth, is located in Gad, in the wilderness side of the Jordan. Of the forty-eight Levite cities, ten are in the wilderness side of the Jordan.

Verses 41-42

The Territory of the Levite Cities

This final count does not quite fit with the enumeration in 1 Chronicles 6:39-66. A simple explanation for this difference can be that at the time of the allocation of the cities, some of them still have to be conquered. Like the other tribes, the Levites may not have succeeded in driving out all enemies.

Verses 43-45

The LORD Has Fulfilled His Promise

When the land and the cities are divided, it is said again emphatically: “So the LORD gave Israel all the land.” The fact that they have taken possession of it is its consequence. Everything has gone out from the LORD. The people have not yet overcome all enemies, but they do have control over the whole land.

There is talk of a special rest (Joshua 21:44). Joshua 11 also speaks of rest (Joshua 11:23). That is the rest after the battle, a first rest, after conquering the land and taking possession of it, although there are still some enemies left. In Joshua 14 we find a second rest (Joshua 14:15). Then we had already had something to do with the division of the land. We experience this second rest after fighting in personal fidelity (Caleb) and in this way discovering and enjoying the blessings.

The rest here, in Joshua 21, goes furthest (Joshua 21:44). It is the rest which the LORD gives to his people. The Levites have taken their cities. Now there rises from the people through their service worship to God. There the rest is not focused on the blessings, but on Him Who has given the blessings. This is the best rest: in the presence of God Himself.

In a literal sense Joshua did not bring them in the rest either, “for if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that” (Hebrews 4:8). Even under David and Solomon there is no question of constant rest. The true and undisturbed rest will be brought by the Lord Jesus when He establishes His kingdom of righteousness and peace: the thousand-year realm of peace.

Now that everything of the land is divided and every tribe has taken possession of what they have received, the fulfillment of “the good promises” of the LORD has come. His “good promises” are the promises He has made and with which He has begun to make them to Abraham: “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land”” (Genesis 12:7).

What He promises is good. He will not leave any promise unfulfilled, but will make everything come true. We will say this once we are with Him in His glory. Looking forward to this will give strength to walk now in faith and hope.

With entering into the rest of God, the book is actually over. What follows are three chapters containing warnings and encouragements.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Joshua 21". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/joshua-21.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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