Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites unto Eleazar the priest, and unto Joshua the son of Nun, and unto the heads of the fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel;Ch. Joshua 21:1-3. The Demand of the Levites
1. Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites] “The princes of the meynees of Leuy,” Wyclif. All the descendants of Jacob had now been provided for save the sons of Levi. The dying patriarch had spoken solemnly and sadly of this tribe, as also of that named after his second son (Genesis 49:5-7),
“Simeon and Levi are brethren;
Instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.…
I will divide them in Jacob,
And scatter them in Israel.”
Like other prophecies and promises of Scripture, his words were destined to be moulded and modified by subsequent events. How they were fulfilled in the history of Simeon we have already seen. But though they were still more literally fulfilled in the case of the children of Levi, “the curse was with them turned into a blessing.” Their zeal and fidelity were put to the proof and not found wanting on the occasion of the terrible apostasy at Horeb (Exodus 32:25-29), and although they were still destined to be “divided in Jacob,” it was as the successors of the earlier priesthood of the first-born and representatives of the holiness of the people. “As the Tabernacle was the outward and visible sign of the presence among the people of their invisible King, so the Levites were to be, among the other tribes of Israel, as the royal body-guard that waited exclusively on Him” (Numbers 1:47-54; Numbers 3:5-13).
unto Eleazar the priest] The duties they had already discharged during the wanderings in the wilderness could not fail to be much modified by the settlement in the Promised Land and the establishment of the Tabernacle in a fixed locality. They themselves now needed a fixed abode, and the heads of the tribe, therefore, approached the High Priest and the distributors of the land, and requested that adequate provision might be made for their requirements.
And they spake unto them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, The LORD commanded by the hand of Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with the suburbs thereof for our cattle.2. The Lord commanded] They reminded them of the command of Jehovah respecting themselves, which is found in Numbers 35, and where directions had been given that 48 cities (Numbers 35:6-7), with outlying suburbs of meadow-land for the pasturage of their flocks and herds, should be assigned them.
And the children of Israel gave unto the Levites out of their inheritance, at the commandment of the LORD, these cities and their suburbs.3. And the children of Israel gave] The successor of Moses did not fail to carry out faithfully the Divine Command, and preparations were made for assigning to them certain cities for their possession.
out of their inheritance] “Distinctness and diffusion” were the great points to be attained in their case, and therefore out of the inheritance of their brethren provision was made for them in such a way that, as during the wanderings they had guarded the Tabernacle of Jehovah, so now they should be “scattered” as widely as possible in Israel, to bear witness that the people still owed allegiance to Him.
And the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites: and the children of Aaron the priest, which were of the Levites, had by lot out of the tribe of Judah, and out of the tribe of Simeon, and out of the tribe of Benjamin, thirteen cities.4–8. General Description of the Levitical Cities
4. the lot came out] As in the case of the inheritance of the other tribes, so in the apportioning of their cities to the Levites, recourse was had to the sacred lot. “It had probably been decided beforehand what cities each tribe was to give up, and therefore it only now remained for the lot to determine to which branch of the Levites each city should be given.”
the families of the Kohathites] The Levites were divided into three families, (a) the Gershonites, (b) the Kohathites, (c) the Merarites, so named after the three sons of Levi (Genesis 46:11). The family-tree stood as follows:—
The Kohathites held the first rank, as being the family to which Aaron belonged, and while the priesthood was confined to the house of Aaron, the posterity of Moses were reckoned as Levites, on an equality with the rest of the descendants of Levi (Numbers 3; 1 Chronicles 6:48-49). It had been the duty of the Kohathites, during the wanderings, on the removal of the Tabernacle, to bear all the sacred vessels, including the Ark itself, the table of shewbread, the seven-branched candlestick, the altars of incense and of burnt-offering (Numbers 3:31; Numbers 4:6; Numbers 4:9; Numbers 4:15; Deuteronomy 31:25).
and the children of Aaron the priest] As the first lot was drawn by the Kohathites, so again the first of theirs fell to the Aaronites or priests.
out of the tribe of Judah] To the priests of the line of Aaron thirteen cities were assigned out of the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin.
And the rest of the children of Kohath had by lot out of the families of the tribe of Ephraim, and out of the tribe of Dan, and out of the half tribe of Manasseh, ten cities.5. And the rest of the children of Kohath] i.e. those who sprang from Moses, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, and formed the non-priestly portion, shared ten cities in the land of Ephraim, Dan, and half Manasseh west of the Jordan.
And the children of Gershon had by lot out of the families of the tribe of Issachar, and out of the tribe of Asher, and out of the tribe of Naphtali, and out of the half tribe of Manasseh in Bashan, thirteen cities.6. And the children of Gershon] The eldest of the three sons of Levi during the march through the wilderness had been stationed behind the Tabernacle, on the west side (Numbers 3:23). It had been their duty to take charge of the tapestry of the Tabernacle, all its curtains, hangings, and coverings, the pillars of the hangings, and the implements used in connection therewith (Numbers 3:21-26; Numbers 4:22-28).
had by lot] Thirteen cities out of the tribes of Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and the half-tribe of Manasseh east of the Jordan.
The children of Merari by their families had out of the tribe of Reuben, and out of the tribe of Gad, and out of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve cities.7. The children of Merari] The descendants of the third son of Levi, had been stationed during the encampment to the north of the Tabernacle, being placed together with the Gershonites “under the hand” of Ithamar “the son of Aaron.” They had been entrusted with the heavier portions of the Tabernacle furniture, such as the boards, pillars, and bars, and therefore had been permitted together with the Gershonites to use the oxen and waggons contributed by the congregation, while the Kohathites were only supposed to remove the sacred vessels on their shoulders (Numbers 7:1-9).
had out of the tribe of Reuben] They received twelve cities from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun.
And the children of Israel gave by lot unto the Levites these cities with their suburbs, as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses.
And they gave out of the tribe of the children of Judah, and out of the tribe of the children of Simeon, these cities which are here mentioned by name,9–19. The Cities of the Descendants of Aaron
9. And they gave] We have now first a list of the cities of the priests of the line of Aaron.
out of the tribe of the children of Judah] The list now given divides itself into two parts:
(a) The nine cities which the sons of Aaron received in the country of Simeon and Judah (Joshua 21:9-16);
(b) The four cities which they received in the country of Benjamin (Joshua 21:17-19).
Which the children of Aaron, being of the families of the Kohathites, who were of the children of Levi, had: for theirs was the first lot.
And they gave them the city of Arba the father of Anak, which city is Hebron, in the hill country of Judah, with the suburbs thereof round about it.11. the city of Arbah] See above, Joshua 15:13.
which city is Hebron] See above, Joshua 15:13.
But the fields of the city, and the villages thereof, gave they to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for his possession.12. But the fields of the city] of Hebron and its villages, i.e. the arable land had been already assigned to Caleb (see above ch. Joshua 14:13). Whence we may conclude “that the Levites only received as many houses in the cities assigned them, as their numerical strength required, and that it was these which remained in their hands as an inalienable possession.” See Keil’s Commentary.
Thus they gave to the children of Aaron the priest Hebron with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Libnah with her suburbs,13. Libnah] See above ch. Joshua 10:29; Jattir, see Joshua 15:48; Eshtemoa, see Joshua 15:50.
And Jattir with her suburbs, and Eshtemoa with her suburbs,
And Holon with her suburbs, and Debir with her suburbs,15. Holon] See ch. Joshua 15:51; 1 Chronicles 6:58.
Debir] See ch. Joshua 15:15; Joshua 15:49.
And Ain with her suburbs, and Juttah with her suburbs, and Bethshemesh with her suburbs; nine cities out of those two tribes.16. Ain, see Joshua 15:32, Joshua 19:7; Juttah, Joshua 15:55; Beth-shemesh, Joshua 15:10.
And out of the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with her suburbs, Geba with her suburbs,17. Gibeon] See ch. Joshua 9:3; Geba, Joshua 18:24.
Anathoth with her suburbs, and Almon with her suburbs; four cities.18. Anathoth] lay on or near the great road from the north to Jerusalem. Its modern name is Anâta, on a broad ridge 1¼ hours N.N.E. of the Holy City, (a) Hither Abiathar was banished by Solomon, after the failure of his attempt to raise Adonijah to the throne (1 Kings 2:26); (b) here Jeremiah the prophet was born (Jeremiah 1:1; Jeremiah 11:21-23; Jeremiah 29:27; Jeremiah 32:7-9).
Almon] or Alemeth, according to the parallel list in 1 Chronicles 6:60; now ’Almît or Almuta, about a mile N.E. of Anathoth.
All the cities of the children of Aaron, the priests, were thirteen cities with their suburbs.
And the families of the children of Kohath, the Levites which remained of the children of Kohath, even they had the cities of their lot out of the tribe of Ephraim.20–26. Cities of the rest of the Kohathites
20. And the families of the children of Kohath] i. e. those who were not of the priestly order, received
(a) Four cities in Ephraim,
(b) Four in Dan,
(c) Two in Western Manasseh.
For they gave them Shechem with her suburbs in mount Ephraim, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Gezer with her suburbs,21. Shechem] See above Joshua 17:7, Joshua 20:7; Gezer, see Joshua 10:33.
And Kibzaim with her suburbs, and Bethhoron with her suburbs; four cities.22. Kibzaim = probably to Jokmeam (1 Chronicles 6:68); Beth-horon, see ch. Joshua 10:10.
And out of the tribe of Dan, Eltekeh with her suburbs, Gibbethon with her suburbs,23. Eltekeh] See ch. Joshua 19:44; Gibbethon, ch. Joshua 19:44.
Aijalon with her suburbs, Gathrimmon with her suburbs; four cities.24. Aijalon] See Joshua 10:12; Gath-rimmon, see Joshua 19:45.
And out of the half tribe of Manasseh, Tanach with her suburbs, and Gathrimmon with her suburbs; two cities.25. Tanach] See ch. Joshua 12:21; Gath-rimmon, or Bileam (1 Chronicles 6:70) = Ibleam, see above, ch. Joshua 17:2.
All the cities were ten with their suburbs for the families of the children of Kohath that remained.
And unto the children of Gershon, of the families of the Levites, out of the other half tribe of Manasseh they gave Golan in Bashan with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Beeshterah with her suburbs; two cities.27–33. The Cities of the Gershonites
27. And unto the children of Gershon] were assigned thirteen cities,
(a) Two in Eastern Manasseh,
(b) Four in Issachar,
(c) Four in Asher,
(d) Three in Naphtali.
Golan in Bashan] See ch. Joshua 20:8; Beesh-terah or Beeshterah, without any division of the syllables. The name is a contraction of Beth-Ashterah = the house of Ashterah, or Ashtaroth, a city of Og; see ch. Joshua 12:4, and 1 Chronicles 6:71.
And out of the tribe of Issachar, Kishon with her suburbs, Dabareh with her suburbs,28. Kishon] = the Kishion of ch. Joshua 19:20; Dabareh, see Joshua 19:12.
Jarmuth with her suburbs, Engannim with her suburbs; four cities.29. Jarmuth] Called Remeth in Joshua 19:21; Ramoth in 1 Chronicles 6:73; En-gannim, see Joshua 19:21.
And out of the tribe of Asher, Mishal with her suburbs, Abdon with her suburbs,30. Mishal] See ch. Joshua 19:26 (Heb.); Abdon = Hebron, Joshua 19:28.
Helkath with her suburbs, and Rehob with her suburbs; four cities.31. Helkath] ch. Joshua 19:25; comp. 1 Chronicles 6:75; Rehob, Joshua 19:28.
And out of the tribe of Naphtali, Kedesh in Galilee with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Hammothdor with her suburbs, and Kartan with her suburbs; three cities.32. Kedesh in Galilee] See ch. Joshua 19:37; Hammoth-dor, Joshua 19:35; Kartan = Rakkath, ch. Joshua 19:35, and written Kirjathaim, 1 Chronicles 6:76.
All the cities of the Gershonites according to their families were thirteen cities with their suburbs.
And unto the families of the children of Merari, the rest of the Levites, out of the tribe of Zebulun, Jokneam with her suburbs, and Kartah with her suburbs,34–42. The Cities of the Merarites
34. And unto the families of the children of Merari] were assigned twelve cities, viz.,
(a) Four in Zebulun,
(b) Four in Reuben,
(c) Four in Gad.
Jokneam] See Joshua 19:11; Kartah and Dimnah unknown.
Dimnah with her suburbs, Nahalal with her suburbs; four cities.35. Nahalal] See ch. Joshua 19:15 (Heb.).
And out of the tribe of Reuben, Bezer with her suburbs, and Jahazah with her suburbs,36. Bezer] See ch. Joshua 20:8; Jahazah, ch. Joshua 13:18 (Heb.).
Kedemoth with her suburbs, and Mephaath with her suburbs; four cities.37. Kedemoth] Joshua 13:18; Mephaath, see ch. Joshua 13:18.
And out of the tribe of Gad, Ramoth in Gilead with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Mahanaim with her suburbs,38. Ramoth in Gilead] See ch. Joshua 20:8; Mahanaim, ch. Joshua 13:26.
Heshbon with her suburbs, Jazer with her suburbs; four cities in all.39. Heshbon] ch. Joshua 13:17; Jazer, see ch. Joshua 13:25.
So all the cities for the children of Merari by their families, which were remaining of the families of the Levites, were by their lot twelve cities.
All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of Israel were forty and eight cities with their suburbs.41. All the cities of the Levites … were forty and eight cities] As will be clear from the following table:—
Judah and Simeon
(b) Not priests
Half Manasseh (West)
Half Manasseh (East)
These cities were every one with their suburbs round about them: thus were all these cities.
And the LORD gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.43–45. Conclusion
43. And] These verses conclude the history of the division of the land, and connect the two halves of the Book (a) chapter 1–12; (b) chapter 13–21.
the Lord gave unto Israel] By the distribution of the land amongst the tribes, the promise which Joshua had received after the death of Moses (Joshua 1:2) had been fulfilled, as also that which centuries before he had made to Abraham the ancestor of the Elect Nation (see Genesis 12:7; Genesis 15:18).
and they possessed it, and dwelt therein] Compare the same expression in ch. Joshua 19:47.
And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.44. And the Lord gave them rest] Moreover He gave them rest round about, in accordance with His promise to their forefathers. Comp. (a) Exodus 33:14, “And He said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” (b) Deuteronomy 3:20, “Until the Lord have given rest unto your brethren.” (c) Deuteronomy 25:19, “When the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”
there stood not a man] “Noone of the Enemyes is hardi to withstoond hem,” Wyclif. For even though the Canaanites were not all exterminated, yet those who remained did not venture upon an attack on the Israelites so long as they remained loyal and steadfast to their invisible King, and as long as Joshua and his contemporaries lived. “It was no part of the Divine purpose that the native population should be annihilated suddenly (Exodus 23:29; Deuteronomy 7:22); but they were delivered into the hand of Israel, and their complete dispossession could have been effected at any time by the Divine aid which was never wanting when sought.”
the Lord delivered all their enemies] See above ch. Joshua 2:24. Hence, though Israel after the death of Joshua became slothful in the work, and never obtained complete possession of the land, never, e.g. conquered Tyre and Sidon, still this was no breach of the Divine promise, for its complete fulfilment depended upon Israel’s fidelity.
There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.45. There failed not] Comp. ch. Joshua 23:14-15. None of the gracious promises of God to Israel remained unfulfilled.
any good thing] Or, aught of all the good word = the sum of the reiterated assurances which God had made to the nation. Of these the possession of the land of Canaan was regarded as the essence and central point, because this possession was to be for Israel the foundation of all further blessings, the pledge of the continued fulfilment of the rest of the promises of God.—See Keil’s Commentary.