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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Joshua 21

Verses 1-45

Designation of Levitical Cities (21:1-45)

The Levites were set apart for priestly service, pledged by vow to the Lord. (For the function of the Levites see the comment on Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22.) They were to have no tribal inheritance as such but were to be scattered through the tribes to officiate at the local sanctuaries. When the local sanctuaries were destroyed in the time of Josiah and worship was centralized in Jerusalem (see comment on Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17), the Levites were offered a place at the Jerusalem sanctuary and an appropriate share of the sacrifices and first fruits.

The number of Levitical cities is said to have been forty-eight (vs. 41). The list of them here probably dates to the tenth century B.C. The list seems originally to have located four of them in each of the twelve tribes. It is likely that Hebron and Shechem were not in the original list but are secondary additions. Note that nine cities (including Hebron) are listed from Judah and Simeon (vss. 9-16), where one would expect eight. Shechem is included as being in Ephraim (vs. 21), but in actuality it was in Manasseh. In the original list Jokmeam (see 1 Chronicles 6:66-68) seems to have been included, Shechem later taking its place. The list thus has experienced alterations in the process of transmission and editing.

It is unlikely that the Levites were the exclusive possessors and inhabitants of all the towns mentioned. Debir, for example, was captured by Othniel—a non-Levite—and was thus his possession (15:15-19). When Debir is listed here as a Levitical city (vs. 15), it can mean little more than that Levites lived in it along with others. Whatever may have been the exact situation concerning the settlement of the Levites at the beginning of the occupation of Palestine by the Hebrews, it appears that the Levites soon scattered themselves widely throughout the land.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Joshua 21". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/joshua-21.html.