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Eight and forty cities are given by lot out of the other tribes, to the Levites. God giveth rest unto the Israelites.
Before Christ 1444.
Ver. 1. Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites unto Eleazar— Immediately after the designation of the cities of refuge, the heads of the Levites, i.e. the chiefs of the families of Levi, who descended from Kohath, Gershom, and Merari, came and presented themselves before Eleazar, Joshua, and the princes of the tribes, (Numbers 34:18.,) whom God had commissioned to divide the country. They related the orders which God had formerly issued in their favour, Numbers 35:2; Num 35:34 and therefore begged that the council at Shilo would be pleased to assign them cities in the several tribes. It is to be observed, that the Lord, displeased at the violence used by Simeon and Levi towards the Shechemites, had denounced against them, that he would divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel. This sentence had been already executed towards the descendants of Simeon, whose portion was placed within that of Judah. It would have been the same with respect to the descendants of Levi, but for the fidelity of that tribe at the time of the idolatry of the golden calf. Without revoking, therefore, the sentence pronounced against Levi's posterity, the Lord so disposed matters, that what had at first been a disgrace to the Levites, became a mark of honour. By commanding that they should be divided in Jacob, and scattered in Israel, he had declared, that he himself would be their portion; and that being dispersed, as his ministers, among the rest of their brethren, they should be maintained by them, as the interpreters of his word and will. To effect this arrangement, so honourable to them, they here solicit Joshua and the commissioners with him on the subject.
Ver. 4. Thirteen cities— Providence caused to fall to the portion of the Kohathites, (i.e. to the branch of the house of Kohath, and of the whole tribe of Levi, which alone could pretend to the priesthood,) all those cities nearest to Jerusalem, in which the divine worship was one day to be fixed. By this plan the priests were, as much as it was possible, within reach of the regular performance of the service at the house of the Lord, and enabled to repair thither conveniently, each in his turn.
REFLECTIONS.—As the Levites were to have cities in all the tribes, they wait till the land is divided, and now put in their claim, founded on the divine appointment. Note; (1.) What we pray for, pleading the promise, we may be confident shall be granted. (2.) Provision for a gospel ministry is a Divine institution. They who are backward to support it, not only defraud men, but rob God. (3.) The Levites were last provided for: worldly interests must be among the least and last concerns of a godly minister.
Their plea was immediately complied with, and each tribe, according to its extent, assigned a proportionable number of their cities, to make up the complement of forty-eight, which was God's appointment. These, with their suburbs, and a space of circumjacent land, were allotted them; and being thus dispersed through the tribes, they were a general blessing.
Ver. 10-18. Which the Kohathites had; for their's was the first lot— Thus the Levite priests had for their part, as well in Simeon as in Judah, Hebron, excepting the country about it, which was already given to Caleb; ch. Joshua 14:14. Libnah, Jattir, Eshtemoa, Holon, Debir, Ain, Juttah, and Beth-shemesh; and in the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon, Geba, Anathoth, and Almon, all which cities have been mentioned before, particularly in ch. 15: Of these, as well as of the other cities assigned to the Levites, we have a catalogue in 1 Chronicles 6:0 but that is imperfect; and, it should be observed, that the cities there are sometimes named otherwise than here. This may proceed from two causes: first, that, it being impracticable, to take some of these cities from the Canaanites, there was a necessity of substituting others in their stead, which are named in the list inserted 1 Chronicles 6:0. Secondly, that some of these cities had probably two names, or else had changed their names in the course of time. We also meet with differences in the names of the cities which fell to the Levites, on reading them in the version of the LXX. The copies printed from the Alexandrian manuscript render the Hebrew with the utmost exactness; but several names are there omitted. On the contrary, the copies which follow the Vatican manuscript omit very few names of cities, but those are mostly disfigured, or wholly different.
Ver. 19. All the cities of the children of Aaron, the priests, were thirteen— But why thirteen cities to the priests, it may be asked, who were then so few in number? To which we may reply, it is the right, the lordship of these cities which is given them, and that not according to what they then were, but with a view to what they should one day be, and to supply them plentifully with subsistence, when, according to the divine promises, they should be multiplied in the extraordinary degree that they afterwards were. See Psalms 12:8. We are greatly deceived, if we think that the cities given to the Levites were given merely for their habitation, and to dwell in only by themselves: the right which they already had of selling the houses in them, evidently supposes the contrary; and it is easy to conceive, that many private people took a delight in residing there, in order to have more of their acquaintance. Besides, it is plain from the history, that some cities of the Levites were almost entirely filled with Israelites of other tribes. Geba, in Benjamin, for instance, was constantly peopled by Benjamites, as appears from what happened to the Levite who lodged there, and whose concubine was dishonoured in so scandalous a manner, Judges 19:0. All the other tribes declared war against the single tribe of Benjamin, without ever mentioning a word of the priests and Levites, who, probably, had no concern in this wickedness, and who were so few in number in that city, that no attention was paid to them. We afterwards see Saul and his whole family residing in this same city of Geba. David, and all his court, dwelt at Hebron during the first years of his reign; so that the Levites had the right of choosing for themselves the houses which suited them, in the cities appropriated for their use; and the rest of the houses were let to private persons in the tribe, to whose portion such or such a city fell out; and if the Levites rather chose to reside elsewhere, they were the masters, and might suit themselves; and we know, that after the building of the temple, most of the priests remained at Jerusalem, or in the places adjacent.
Ver. 36, 37. And out of the tribe of Reuben, &c.— These two verses are not in the oldest Hebrew copies. The Massoretes themselves say as much: they mention, however, that they are found in several very ancient copies; and the learned Hottinger, who has carefully entered into the subject, remarks, that they are found in the incomparable manuscript of the duke of Roan, found in Italy, A.C. 1495. See his Thesaur. Philolog. lib. 1: cap. 2 qu. 4 p. 181. Besides, the whole connection evidently shews that these two verses belong to the text; (see Bishop Walton's Considerator considered, ch. 6: sect. 14.) and we read them in the version of the LXX. They are also found in other manuscripts. See Houbigant's note, and Kennicott's Dissert. vol. 1, &c.
Ver. 41, 42. All the cities of the Levites—were forty and eight—with their suburbs— Here we are to observe, 1. That Moses could never have assigned to the Levites beforehand the forty-eight cities contained in the lift above-mentioned, without prejudicing the tribes, had he not been inspired by God in the determination of this number. Joshua, Caleb, and the other Israelites who had been with them to discover the country, could not have taken the dimensions of it, so as to be able to judge beforehand whether the Levites could have so many cities as are here given them. We must, therefore, once more acknowledge Moses to be immediately directed in this whole affair by the spirit of the Lord. 2. We are not to be surprised at this great number of cities assigned to the tribe of Levi, which, though least numerous of all, seems possessed of more cities than any of the rest. This is only so in appearance; for whereas the numeration of the Levitical cities is precise and exact, that of the cities of the other tribes is not so; the historian contenting himself with naming the principal ones, as we have before remarked. Besides, the Levites had only their cities, with a small circuit of ground about them, without either villages or fields adjacent; and even these cities were peopled by as many of the laity as could settle there, as was observed on ver. 19. Their portion then was not by any means excessive; but it was worthy the liberality of God, whose ministers they had the honour to be.
REFLECTIONS.—The Levites were dispersed, that all the tribes might share the benefit of their instructions, and behold the exemplariness of their conduct. They were near in every division, that their brethren might shew them kindness, as commanded, Deu 12:19 and receive that counsel and instruction which, as daily more conversant in God's law, they were qualified to administer. Their portion of cities was great, and these too of the best; because God would have his peculiar servants honourably and comfortably lodged and cared for, that they might wait upon God without distraction, and be utterly inexcusable if they neglected their ministry, for which they were so liberally paid, and to which they were wholly dedicated.
Ver. 45. There failed not ought of any good thing, &c.— Whatever God had promised them was effected in proportion to the efforts they had made on their part, under sanction of the right which God had given them, and in order to the drawing down upon them his blessing by their obedience to his laws. On this obedience depended the final accomplishment of the divine promises in future times, according as their necessities required, and, to use Pelican's words, "all this process, in a very evident manner, shows the faithfulness of God, the confidence which his children should place in his promises, and the reliance they ought to have thereon even when he seems slow in the performance of them."
REFLECTIONS.—The experience of God's Israel will ever confirm the faithfulness of his promises. The land which had been so long expected is now possessed; their enemies are subdued, their habitations large and peaceable; no foe remained to interrupt their quiet, or endanger their persons. Some Canaanites indeed were left, but they only were spared to keep possession against the beasts of the field, till Israel were multiplied to occupy the land; and if they afterwards prevailed, the Israelites would have only to blame their own sloth, cowardice, unbelief, and sin, which robbed them of their portion. All the people solemnly acknowledge the exact accomplishment of the Divine promises; which is repeated, 1 Kings 8:56.; and all who are faithful to him shall find, to their everlasting comfort, that one jot or tittle shall never pass away from his word until the whole be fulfilled.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Joshua 21". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30