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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 21

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-45

Joshua 21:1-45

Unto the Levites . . . these cities.

Ministers liberally treated

The liberality both of God and of His people to the ministers of God is here very marvellous, in giving forty-eight cities to this one tribe of Levi, which was the least of all the tribes, yet have they the most cities given to them (Joshua 21:4; Joshua 21:10; Joshua 21:41), because it was the Lord’s pleasure to have this tribe provided for in an honourable manner, seeing He Himself took upon Him to be their portion and made choice of them for His peculiar service; therefore did He deal thus bountifully with His ministers, partly to put honour upon those whom He foresaw many would be prone to despise, and partly that by this liberality they, being freed from worldly distractions, might more entirely devote themselves to God’s service and to the instruction of souls. (C. Ness.)

Ministers wisely located

God provided for the residence of His ministers in most ample extent and number, and in a way suited to the spiritual instruction and benefit of the nation. In temple service they were round about the habitation of His holiness; and yet, in their ministerial instructions, dispersed over the whole land. How exact a fulfilment of dying Jacob’s prediction, and that even though mercy changed the curse into a blessing: “I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.” What an important appointment! and how adapted to the communication and diffusion of Divine truth for their lips, as the messengers of the Lord of hosts, were to keep knowledge, and at their mouth the people were to seek the law! It is no common privilege, under the more exalted and distinguished dispensation of the gospel, that the ministers of salvation are not removed into a corner, but that as servants of the most high God they have their stations assigned them, as may best promote the increase and instruction of the Church. These are the stars which He holds in His right hand, and which, great in wisdom and power, He numbers and calls by their names, What holy and heavenly light and influence are they ordained to impart in their several spheres! Without them the Christian Church would soon be involved in the most degrading and destructive ignorance, and overwhelmed with the miseries of corruption and error. Who that admits the importance of their services would not yield room to them as being equally a privilege as a duty. Their residence is to be esteemed a mercy, and no intrusion. Thus it has appeared that the Lord has ever paid special regard to His ministers, and as here enjoined upon His people, in obligation the most reasonable, to provide them habitations as well as support. (W. Seaton.)

There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken.

Divine faithfulness

I. The faithfulness of God in accomplishing his engagements toward the tribes of Israel.

The faithfulness of God to his church collectively in subsequent engagements.

The faithfulness of God in his engagements to individual believers. I believe there is no person experiencing the power of religion who has not had an increasing evidence of the faithfulness of God in verifying His promises on which He has caused him to hope. He has found--notwithstanding the dark appearances of Divine providence--he has found that sort of satisfaction which he was taught to expect from the exercise of faith and confidence in Jesus Christ and obedience to Him. He has found, in seasons of pain and difficulty, that kind of assistance on which he was taught to rely. The faithfulness of God in performing His promises at present must, however, be in a great degree obscured by the darkness of our present state; for everything is in perpetual motion. No one can understand the nature of a beautiful building in the rubbish, or, while it is actually rising, in the midst of the complicated instruments used in its erection, but we must wait till it is finished before we can form a just estimate of its beauty. And with respect to that great hope of which the possession of Canaan was but a shadow and figure--the possession of the heavenly inheritance--in a very short time every real believer will be able to put his seal to the truth of the Divine promise. Let us rejoice that we have a covenant of God, and a covenant ordered in all things and sure, which is all our salvation and all our desire. And first, by way of improvement, let us observe the propriety of remembering the way in which the Lord God hath led us. If we consider the trials and sorrows of the present life as a part of that holy dispensation, in that proportion shall we be disposed to glorify God. If we trace the hand of man in these events, this may produce disquietude; but if we could extend our view to the furthest limit, all this would frequently be matter of gratitude, and we should be enabled to give thanks to God in everything. Let us look forward to that state in which we shall have His kindness fully displayed. (R. Hall, M. A.)

The triumphant record of God’s faithfulness

Verses 43-45 are the trophy reared on the battlefield, like the lion of Marathon, which the Greeks set on its sacred soil. But the only name inscribed on this monument is Jehovah’s. Other memorials of victories have borne the pompous titles of commanders who arrogated the glory to themselves; but the Bible knows of only one conqueror, and that is God. “The help that is done on earth, He doeth it all Himself.” The military genius and heroic constancy of Joshua, the eagerness for perilous honour that flamed, undimmed by age, in Caleb, the daring and strong arms of many a humbler private in the ranks, have their due recognition and reward; but when the history that tells of these comes to sum up the whole, and to put the “philosophy” of the conquest into a sentence, it has only one name to speak as cause of Israel’s victory. That is the true point of view from which to look at the history of the world and of the Church in the world. The difference between the “miraculous” conquest of Canaan and the “ordinary” facts of history is not that God did the one and men do the other; both are equally, though in different methods, His acts. In the field of human affairs, as in the realm of nature, God is immanent, though in the former His working is complicated by the mysterious power of man’s will to set itself in antagonism to His; while yet, in manner insoluble to us, His will is supreme. The very powers which are arrayed against Him are His gift, and the issue which they finally subserve is His appointment. It does not need that we should be able to pierce to the bottom of the bottomless in order to attain and hold fast by the great conviction that there is no power but of God, and that from Him are all things and to Him are all things. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The Divine fidelity acknowledged

We may note, too, in these verses, the threefold repetition of the one thought, of God’s punctual and perfect fulfilment of His word. He “gave unto Israel all the land which He sware to give”; “He gave them rest . . . according to all that He sware”; “there failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken.” It is the joy of thankful hearts to compare the promise with the reality, to lay the one upon the other, as it were, and to declare how precisely their, outlines correspond. The finished building is exactly according to the plans drawn long before. God gives us the power of checking His work, and we are unworthy to receive His gifts if we do not take delight in marking and proclaiming how completely He has fulfilled His contract. It is no small part of Christian duty, and a still greater part of Christian blessedness, to do this. Many a fulfilment passes unnoticed, and many a joy, which might be sacred and sweet as a token of love from His own hand, remains common and unhallowed, because we fail to see that it is a fulfilled promise. The eye that is trained to watch for God’s being as good as His word will never have long to wait for proofs that He is. “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even he shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.” And to such an one faith will become easier, being sustained by experience; and a present thus manifestly studded with indications of God’s faithfulness will merge into a future still fuller of these. For it does not need that we should wait for the end of the war to have many a token that His every word is true. The struggling soldier can say, “No good thing has failed of all that the Lord has spoken.” We look, indeed, for completer fulfilment when the fighting is done; but there are brooks by the way for the warriors in the thick of the fight, of which they drink, and, refreshed, lift up the head. We need not postpone this glad acknowledgment till we can look back and down from the land of peace on the completed campaign, but may rear this trophy on many a field, whilst still we look for another conflict to-morrow. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The Supreme Worker

We read that on a pyramid in Egypt the name and sounding titles of the king in whose reign it was erected were blazoned on the plaster facing, but beneath that transitory inscription the name of the architect was hewn, imperishable, in the granite, and stood out when the plaster dropped away. So, when all the short-lived records which ascribe the events of the Church’s progress to her great men have perished, the one name of the true Builder will shine out, and to the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. Let us not rely on our own skill, courage, talents, orthodoxy, or methods, nor try to build tabernacles for the witnessing servants beside the central one for the supreme Lord, but ever seek to deepen our conviction that Christ, and Christ only, gives all their powers to all, and that to Him, and Him only, is all victory to be ascribed. It is an elementary and simple truth; but if we really lived in its power we should go into the battle with more confidence, and come out of it with less self-gratulation. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 21". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/joshua-21.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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