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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 21

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2560. B.C. 1444.

The motion of the Levites, to have their cities appointed, which is done, Joshua 21:1-8 . A catalogue of those cities, Joshua 21:9-42 . A testimony that God had fulfilled his word, Joshua 21:43-45 .

Verse 1

Joshua 21:1. The heads of the fathers of the Levites The fathers of the Levites were Kohath, Gershon, and Merari; and the heads of these were the chief persons now alive of these several families. Thus, the princes of the several tribes, who divided the land in conjunction with Joshua, are called, at the conclusion of this verse and elsewhere, the heads of the fathers of the tribes. The whole land being distributed to the several tribes, but not yet actually possessed by them, and this being the proper season for their making such a claim, these principal Levites now come to the princes of the tribes, and remind them of the command of God respecting the cities to be assigned them.

Verse 2

Joshua 21:2. The Lord commanded Observe: the maintenance of ministers is not an arbitrary thing, left purely to the good-will of the people. No: as the God of Israel commanded that the Levites should be provided for, so hath the Lord Jesus ordained (and a perpetual ordinance it is) “that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”

Verse 3

Joshua 21:3. The children of Israel gave Probably they gave the Levites promiscuously such cities as God commanded, and the lot appropriated them to their several houses or families. Out of their inheritance That is, out of their several possessions, that the burden might be equally divided; and that the Levites, being dispersed among the several tribes, according to Jacob’s prediction, (Genesis 49:7,) might more easily and effectually teach the Israelites God’s law and judgments, which they were engaged to do, Deuteronomy 33:10; and that the people might upon all occasions resort to them, and inquire the meaning of the law at their mouths. And suburbs Not only the use, but the absolute dominion of them, as is manifest both from Joshua 21:11-12, where a distinction is made between the city and suburbs of Hebron, and the fields and villages thereof; (the former being given to the Levites, the latter to Caleb;) and from the return of these cities in the jubilee unto the Levites as to their proper owners, Leviticus 25:33-34.

Verse 4

Joshua 21:4. Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin Which three tribes were nearest the temple, where their business lay. Thirteen cities For though the priests were now few enough for one city, yet respect was to be had to their succeeding numbers; this division being made for all future generations. And seeing the Levites might sell their houses until the jubilee, (Leviticus 25:33,) much more might they let them; and therefore it is probable their cities were not long uninhabited, many being inclined to dwell with them, by virtue of relations contracted with them, or out of respect to the service of God, and the good of their souls.

Verse 5

Joshua 21:5. Children of Kohath Who were of Aaron’s family. Ephraim, Dan, and Manasseh Which tribes were nearest to the three former, and so the Kohathites are placed next to their brethren the Aaronites. Ten cities Fewer than they gave out of the three former tribes, because their inheritance was less than the former.

Verses 9-10

Joshua 21:9-10. Judah and Simeon These are mentioned together, because the cities of Simeon lay within Judah’s portion. Families That is, of the family, the plural number being put for the singular which is not unusual.

Verse 12

Joshua 21:12. The fields and villages That is, all beyond the two thousand cubits expressed Numbers 35:5. This is here mentioned, not as his peculiar case, but as one eminent instance, to show that it was so in all the rest of the cities here named; that the fields and villages thereof still belonged to the several tribes from whom the cities and their suburbs were taken. It would make the rest of the Israelites more cheerfully resign part of their possessions to the Levites, considering that even Caleb did so, though his possession had been long before promised, and now actually given to him by God’s special command, as a mark of honour and compensation for his long and faithful service.

Verse 16

Joshua 21:16. And Ain Ain and Gibeon, and some others here named, are not named 1 Chronicles 6:59. Either they were destroyed in some of those invasions wherewith their land was grievously wasted before that time, or they appear there under other names.

Verse 20

Joshua 21:20. Which remained Over and above those who were priests.

Verse 25

Joshua 21:25. Half the tribe Namely, that half which dwelt in Canaan.

Verse 41

Joshua 21:41. Forty and eight cities So God ordered by Moses, Numbers 35:7; and it is a demonstration that Moses was divinely inspired to make such an appointment, before it could be known whether, without straitening the other tribes, they could part with so many cities to the Levites. For when Joshua and Caleb went up to search the land, they could have no opportunity to take any accurate dimensions of the country, whereby Moses might know there would be room enough to allow the Levites so large a portion as this; but he was directed to it by a divine foreknowledge. But why had this tribe, which was the least of all, more cities than any of them? First, it doth not appear that they had more; for though all the cities of the Levites be expressed, it is not so with the other tribes, but divers of their cities are omitted. Secondly, the Levites were confined to their cities and suburbs; the rest had large territories belonging to their cities, which also they were in a capacity of improving, which the Levites were not; so that one of their cities might be more considerable than divers of those of the Levites.

Verse 42

Joshua 21:42. These cities were every one with their suburbs Namely, two thousand cubits on every side round each city, as was ordered, Numbers 35:5; and it certainly was a large proportion for this tribe. But God intended that an ample provision should be made for his ministers, to put honour on those whom he foresaw many would despise; and that, being free from outward cares and distractions, they might more entirely and fervently devote themselves to the service of God.

Verse 43

Joshua 21:43. The Lord gave unto Israel all the land He gave them a right to the whole country, and the actual possession of the greatest part of it. He likewise authorized them to subdue and possess the rest, as soon as it should be needful for them, which was when their numbers were increased; and to exercise absolute dominion over all the people remaining in it. All which was exactly conformable to his promise and oath; for the Israelites not being numerous enough to people the whole land at their first coming into it, God never intended to expel all the old inhabitants at once, but by degrees, as we read expressly, Exodus 23:29.

Verse 44

Joshua 21:44. The Lord gave them rest round about Namely, all the remaining days of Joshua; for afterward it was otherwise with them. The Lord delivered all their enemies into their hands This is not to be understood as if all the people of Canaan were absolutely in subjection to them, but that as long as Joshua lived, all those who attempted to oppose or rise up against them were delivered into their power and subdued.

Verse 45

Joshua 21:45. There failed not aught Which they themselves, as Joshua afterward tells them, (Joshua 23:14,) knew very well, and could not but confess. But it must be understood according to the explication given verse

43. For the time of fulfilling some part of the divine promises was not yet come, and the entire completion of what was already begun was partly conditional, and depended on their obedience to God. All came to pass Such an acknowledgment as this, here subscribed by Joshua, in the name of all Israel, we afterward find made by Solomon; and all Israel did, in effect, say amen to it, 1 Kings 8:56. The inviolable truth of God’s promise, and the performance of it to the uttermost, is what all believers in Christ have been always ready to bear their testimony to. And if in any thing it has seemed to come short, they have been as ready to take all the blame to themselves.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 21". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/joshua-21.html. 1857.
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