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Chapters 13-21 The Division of the Land.
The division of the conquered land, and of some not yet conquered, is now outlined. But we must recognise what we mean by conquered. When ancient relatively minor kings moved into a land and conquered it they did not necessarily remain there or station troops there. They followed it up by demanding tribute. The question then was whether the conquest would hold. Would the people accept the position as subject people? That depended both on the strength of the king’s own forces and on the strength or weakness of the conquered people. It was a position that would have to be continually maintained by force.
That was also true in this case. Joshua had conquered the land. But settlement was a different matter. The conquered people might object, especially as they were to be driven out. In the terms of his times Canaan was conquered, but it was certainly not totally under Joshua’s control. He had not left occupying forces. The vacuum left by his invasion would soon be filled by returning refugees and those who had avoided his forces. Thus the conquest would need to be enforced, or otherwise. That was to be the task of the tribes Israel, partly by conquest and partly by slow infiltration. Canaan was a land of forests so that those who chose to do so could advance into a forested part of the land allocated to them and establish themselves there, cutting back the forest and setting up their settlements. This would cause minimal to the present inhabitants. As they then became more settled they could then expand. Others more belligerent could take over smaller cities and settle in them, taking over the fields round about them. Once they grew stronger they could then expand further. The benefit of what Joshua had done lay in the fact that they were now accepted, even if with hostility, as having a right to be in the land. They were a part of the landscape which it was best not to trifle with, because if they were trifled with they had brother tribes whom they could call on for assistance.
The descriptions of the division of the land partly reflect the efficiency of the different surveyors set to the task. Some gave full details of borders, others far sparser details while others merely named cities in the area.
Chapter 21 The Establishment of the Levites Throughout Israel.
This chapter contains the approach of the Levites to the leaders, to have cities and suburbs given to them in accordance with the command of God by Moses. Grants were made by lot out of the different tribes, details of which are given. The chapter is concludes by observing, that God gave Israel all the land of Canaan, and gave them rest in it, according to his promise, and that nothing failed of all that God had promised.
We do not know the time scale for all these events. The first conquests had taken around five to seven years (based on the age of Caleb which was in round numbers - Joshua 14:10). The further surveying of the land and its division according to the size of the tribes must then have taken quite some time, and we must leave time for advancement and settlement, the cutting down of forests, the establishing of the people in various parts of the land, the reconquest of cities, and the discovery that while the conquest had been a success, in that it had enabled this settlement, there remained yet much to be done.
At what stage Joshua 20:0 and Joshua 21:0 occurred we are not told. But it is clear that the central sanctuary was now set up at Shiloh and was regularly visited by the tribes. We need not doubt that under Joshua the regular feasts were held and the covenant constantly renewed, with the regular sacrifices being offered. Israel were becoming established in the land.
‘ Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites, to Eleazar the priest, and to Joshua, the son of Nun, and to the heads of the fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel.’
The land having been allocated, and cities of refuge appointed, the Levites now came to remind the leaders, who had accomplished the work, of God’s promise to them that cities with lands for their use would be allocated to them throughout Israel. Note the hierarchy, ‘the heads of the fathers’. The princes of the sub-tribes (the thousands?) were over the fathers of the extended families (the hundreds?), who were over the fathers of the closer families (the tens?). These princes then approached the priest of the central sanctuary, and Joshua their great leader, and the princes of the other tribes.
‘ And they spoke to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, “YHWH commanded by the hand of Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with their suburbs for our cattle.” ’
The approach would probably be made before the Tent of Meeting with due solemnity. The Levites had a responsibility to Israel in respect of guidance in accordance with the Law, overseeing the tithes, and generally observing that the Law was fulfilled. In return they had to be given cities to dwell in and land for their cattle, but not land to plant and sow.
‘ And the children of Israel gave to the Levites out of their inheritance, in accordance with the commandment of YHWH, these cities with their suburbs.’
The response of the people was immediate, and cities were allocated by lot to the Levites. There was no guarantee that those cities were all available to dwell in. Like the general allocations they had in many cases still to be possessed. It was an act of faith, just like the allocation of the land, that God would give them their inheritance.
The Levites are regularly described as ‘sojourning’ in the land (Deuteronomy 18:6; Judges 17:7-8; Judges 19:1). They were not to have permanent possession like the other tribes for their inheritance was YHWH (Numbers 18:20; 23:62). They had to have places to live in throughout the tribes so that they could fulfil their function, but these were not to be seen as their own but as lent by God. This was the ideal. And at the great feasts theirs was the responsibility of ministering at the Tabernacle (Numbers 18:22 compare Deuteronomy 18:7), although the priesthood itself was restricted to the ‘family’ of Aaron (for example, as well as in Leviticus 8:0 and regularly in Numbers, priests and Levites were clearly represented as distinct from each other in Deuteronomy 18:3-8). It is quite probable that suitably dedicated people could be adopted into the tribe, and indeed into the family of Aaron, as considered appropriate (e.g. Samuel), just as they could be adopted into any of the tribes, but all was no doubt done ‘before YHWH’.
Allocated along with the cities provided for the Levites was to be a certain amount of land for their cattle (Numbers 35:4-5), an ideal probably never fully realised. The distances were ideal representations and not to be treated literally. The idea would seem to be that the city was to be seen as within a square each side of which was 2000 cubits, similar to idea of the square of the Holy of Holies. Thus the first 1000 cubits of land around the city belonged to the Levites. They indicated the ‘holiness’ of the cities as being dwelt in by the representatives of YHWH (compare Joshua 3:4). But this land could never be sold (Leviticus 25:34).
What precisely was meant by the giving of the cities is not absolutely clear. They were certainly not given the cities outright with the inhabitants moving out to make way for them. What was probably given to them was a portion of the city, or selected houses within the city (see Leviticus 25:32-33 which only makes sense if Levite houses were in general walled cities), and land close to the city walls. (Certainly Shechem did not become a totally levitical city - Judges 9:0. Nor could that idea have been in mind in the short, or even middle, term in view of its nature). It is possible that there was in mind in the distant future that eventually most would become wholly levitical cities.
That the cities were spread throughout the land was necessary because the Levites represented the redeemed firstborn of the children of Israel (Exodus 13:2; Exodus 13:13 with Numbers 3:40-44) as separated to the service of YHWH.
The Cities Allocated to Kohath.
‘ And the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites, and the children of Aaron the priest, who were of the Levites, had by lot out of the tribe of Judah, and out of the tribe of the Simeonites, and out of the tribe of Benjamin, thirteen cities.’
The first lot that was drawn out of the pot or urn was for the descendants of Kohath, a son of Levi (Exodus 6:16). We are not told the procedures, nor whether the actual cities were chosen by lot, or whether the lot was simply to determine which of the cities was occupied by whom. The emphasis is on the fact that all was done in accordance with the will of YHWH.
The children of Aaron received thirteen cities, and these were in Judah, Simeon and Benjamin. There would certainly not be sufficient children of Aaron at this stage to fully occupy these cities, even if that had been likely. Clearly here again we are dealing with portions of cities, and dwelling rights. Their portion was given in what seemed at the time the most secure part of the land with access to the centre of the land so that they would always be relatively near the sanctuary wherever it was situated.
Judah was the obvious choice for the sons of Aaron. It had been first to establish itself and was the most surely settled of all the tribes. It is significant that they were not allocated dwelling rights in Jerusalem, which demonstrates that at the stage that this was written there was no conception that Jerusalem would finally become the central sanctuary. There were many Israelites who did dwell in their own section of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:63; Judges 1:21) and other cities were allocated which were not in Israel’s full possession.
‘ 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.’
These were Levites ‘descended’ from Kohath but not descended from the line of Aaron and were spread throughout Ephraim, Dan and Manasseh. The very lack of the presence of priests in the other areas demonstrates why, as things deteriorated covenant-wise, Levites began to be treated as something like priests, especially as they received tithes and would have to give guidance on the slaughter of animals and suchlike matters and on minor interpretations of the Law.
The Allocation of the Other Cities.
‘ 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.’
These Levites, who were ‘descended’ from Gershon, were given responsibility for three northern tribes, including Transjordan Manasseh.
‘ The children of Merari, according to 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.’
These were the ‘descendants’ of Merari, the third son of Levi. They were given responsibility for the Transjordan tribes of Reuben and Gad, and for Zebulun.
Thus were determined and allocated between the Levites the forty eight cities promised by YHWH (Numbers 35:6-7).
Detailed Description of the Cities Given.
‘ And the children of Israel gave by lot to the Levites these cities with their suburbs, as YHWH commanded by the hand of Moses.’
As mentioned above this ‘giving’ of the cities did not indicate that the Levites took full possession of them, although from this point in time they were levitical cities under the final jurisdiction of the Levites. The children of Aaron would not be numerous enough to take full possession of thirteen cities, indeed they were probably stretched to even provide a few inhabitants for each, although of course provision was being made for the future. The ‘suburbs’ were the lands directly surrounding the city, and did not include general lands and the villages round about (verse 12).
“As YHWH commanded by the hand of Moses” (see Numbers 35:2-8).
‘ 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 (literally ‘which one calls by name’), and these were for the children of Aaron, of the families of the Kohathites, who were of the children of Levi, for theirs was the first lot.’
The first lot was for the family of Aaron as priests of the land. The names of the cities allocated to them in Judah and Simeon are to be listed. Their descent is clearly outlined.
‘ And they gave them the city of Arba, the father of Anak, the same is Hebron in the hill country of Judah, with the suburbs thereof round about it, but the fields of the city, and its villages gave they to Caleb the son of Jephunneh, for his possession.’
The giving of Hebron to the Levites as a city of refuge and dwelling place by Aaronids would have to be approved by Caleb, but he was no doubt delighted to do so. It gave his city great prestige and as a godly man he would not be unwilling to provide pasture land for these Levites who, as the children of Aaron, would be few in number. It probably actually cost him very little. While authority theoretically passed to the Levites there is little doubt that he himself retained the main authority, for Hebron oversaw a wide area and it is stressed that he retained authority over that area. For all practical purposes, apart from in religious matters, the Levites in Hebron were probably mainly subject to his control.
Note the emphasis on the antiquity of the city. It accentuated its importance. Kiriath-arba means ‘the city of four’ or ‘city of Arba’ - see Genesis 23:2. LXX described it as ‘the mother-city of the Anakim’. But there is no reason to reject Arba as a name or nickname and it is certainly related to the Anakim in some way, so when we are told here that it was named after a famous ancestor of the Anakim, named Arba, possibly because he had the strength or usefulness of four men (compare Joshua 15:13 which suggests that LXX translated ‘father’ as ‘mother’ because it related the latter more to a city) it makes good sense.
‘ And to the children of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron with her suburbs, the city of refuge for the manslayer, and Libnah with her suburbs, and Jattir with her suburbs, and Eshtemoa with her suburbs, and Holon with her suburbs, and Debir with her suburbs, and Ain with her suburbs, and Juttah with her suburbs, and Beth-shemesh with her suburbs. Nine cities out of those two tribes.’
The repetition of Joshua 21:13 compared with Joshua 21:11 suggests that here the writer is copying an official list and therefore includes Hebron again as part of that list. The repetition was also necessary to bring out that Hebron was a city of refuge. For Libnah see Joshua 10:29, for jos Jattir Joshua 15:48, for Eshtemoa Joshua 15:50, for Holon Joshua 15:51, for Debir Joshua 10:38; Joshua 15:15, for Ain Joshua 19:7, for Juttah Joshua 15:55, for Beth-shemesh Joshua 15:10. Note how the two tribes of Judah and Simeon are spoken of almost as one. There is no other example in the chapter of two tribes being linked in this way. Only Ain was from Simeon directly.
‘ And out of the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with her suburbs, Geba with her suburbs, Anathoth with her suburbs, and Almon with her suburbs. Four cities. All the cities of the children of Aaron, the priests, were thirteen cities with their suburbs ’
With the four cities from Benjamin the priestly cities came to thirteen. Notice the phrase ‘the children of Aaron, the priests.’ The writer is making clear the distinction between priest and Levite. For Gibeon and Geba see Joshua 18:24-25. Anathoth is not mentioned in the list of cities allocated to Benjamin but was the birthplace of the priests Abiathar (1 Kings 2:26) and probably Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1; Jeremiah 32:6-8). It is now known as Anata, five kilometres (three miles) north east of Jerusalem. Almon is probably the Allemeth of 1 Chronicles 6:60 and is probably the ruined site ‘Almit, on the north east of Anathoth, and close by. Into these cities came priestly families to take up permanent residence and to take some form of authority over them, receiving the land that was close to the city boundaries.
‘ And the families of the children of Kohath, the Levites, even the remainder of the children of Kohath, they had the cities of their lot out of the tribe of Ephraim.’
These were the descendants of Moses (see Judges 18:30) and of Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel (1 Chronicles 6:1-3). Their lot was among the Ephraimites. Thus the Kohathites had their dwellings among the two most powerful tribes.
‘ And they gave them Shechem, with her suburbs, in the hill country of Ephraim, the city of refuge for the manslayer, and Gezer with her suburbs, and Kibzaim with her suburbs, and Beth-horon with her suburbs. Four cities.’
The Ephraimite cities were then listed. The first was Shechem, the city of refuge which was with Jerusalem the most powerful of the cities in the hill country. This was probably selected because it was seen as an ancient sanctuary connected with ‘the Lord of the covenant’ (Baalberith - at this time Baal was probably a title that could be used of Yahweh - see Judges 9:0). Gezer was a strong city and never fully occupied by Israel although later subjected to taskwork (Joshua 16:10). It was even later captured by Merenptah of Egypt and then by the Philistines, being given by Egypt to Solomon on his marriage. The listing of this city demonstrates a very early date when the capture and driving out of its inhabitants was still seen as a probability. Kibzaim, perhaps tell el-Mazar, is otherwise unknown. Beth-horon was either Upper or Lower Beth-horon, meaning ‘house of Hauron’, a Canaanite god of the underworld. It controlled the valley of Aijalon and was thus an important city.
These four cities, with the immediate surrounding lands, were placed under Levite control. With Gezer it may never have become an actuality.
‘ And out of the tribe of Dan, Eltekeh with her suburbs, Gibbethon with her suburbs, Aijalon with her suburbs, Gath-rimmon with her suburbs. Four cities.’
For Eltekeh see Joshua 19:44, for Gibbethon see Joshua 19:44, for Aijalon see Joshua 19:42, for Gath-rimmon see Joshua 19:45.
‘ And out of the half tribe of Manasseh, Taanach with her suburbs, and Gath-rimmon with her suburbs. Two cities.’
This was the half tribe of Manasseh west of Jordan. For Taanach see Joshua 12:21; Joshua 17:11. Gath-rimmon means ‘the winepress of Rimmon’. Rimmon was a well known god and it is not unlikely that winepresses in Canaan and Transjordan should have been named after him. 1 Chronicles 7:70 names these cities as Aner and Bileam (= Ibleam - Joshua 17:11) which may well be alternative later names.
(Some consider that Gath-rimmon has accidentally been picked up by a copyist from Joshua 21:24 instead of Ibleam. But without further evidence this is purely hypothetical).
‘ All the cities of the remainder of the children of Kohath were ten, with their suburbs.’
Why should the family of Aaron receive more cities than the remainder of the family of Kohath? Perhaps the answer is that the leaders were desirous of spreading the influence of the relatively few priests as widely as possible.
‘ And to the children of Gershon, of the families of the Levites, out of the half tribe of Manasseh they gave Golan in Bashan, with her suburbs, the city of refuge for the manslayer, and Be-eshterah with her suburbs. Two cities.’
For Golan see Joshua 20:8. Be-eshterah may well be short for Beth-ashterah - ‘the house of Ashterah’. 1 Chronicles 6:71 gives it as Ashteroth, which had been the royal city of Og, king of Bashan (Deuteronomy 1:4). Thus Manasseh gave four cities in all.
‘ And out of the tribe of Issachar, Kishion with her suburbs, Daberath with her suburbs, Jarmuth with her suburbs, En-gannim with her suburbs. Four cities.’
For Kishion see Joshua 19:20, for Daberath (Dabareh) see Joshua 19:12, for Jarmuth and En-gannim see Joshua 19:21. Remeth is probably an abbreviation for Yarmuth (compare 1 Chronicles 6:73).
‘ And out of the tribe of Asher, Mishal with her suburbs, Abdon with her suburbs, Helkath with her suburbs, and Rehob with her suburbs. Four cities.’
For Mishal see Joshua 19:26, for Abdon see Ebron - Joshua 19:28 (‘d’ and ‘r’ are almost the same in Hebrew), for Helkath see Joshua 19:25, for Rehob see Joshua 19:28.’
‘ And out of the tribe of Naphtali, Kedesh in Galilee with her suburbs, the city of refuge for the manslayer, and Hammoth-dor with her suburbs, and Kartan with her suburbs. Three cities.’
For Kedesh in Galilee see Joshua 20:7, for Hammoth-dor see Joshua 19:35, Hammath (‘hot springs’), which was just on the lower part of the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (Chinnereth) as it begins to narrow. They were probably the hot springs to the south of the later city of Tiberias. Kartan is not mentioned in the list of Naphtali’s cities. In 1 Chronicles 6:76 it is Kiriathaim (meaning ‘two cities’). There was another Kiriathaim in Transjordan (Numbers 32:37; Jeremiah 48:1; Jeremiah 48:23; Ezekiel 25:9). With only three levitical cities Naphtali is seen to be a smaller tribe.
‘ All the cities of the Gershonites, according to their families, were thirteen cities with their suburbs.’
So the Gershonites acted as Levites in the northern territories, Asher, Naphtali, Issachar and Manasseh in Transjordan.
‘ And to the families of the children of Merari, the remainder of the Levites, out of the tribe of Zebulun, Jokneam with her suburbs, and Kartah with her suburbs, Dimnah with her suburbs, Nahalal with her suburbs. Four cities.’
For Jokneam see Joshua 19:11; Joshua 12:22. Kartah (possibly Kattath - Joshua 19:15) and Nahalal (see Joshua 19:15) were probably on the north western edge of the plain of Jezreel. Dimnah was not mentioned in the list of cities but is possibly the same as Rimmon in 1 Chronicles 6:77 (compare Joshua 19:13).
‘ And out of the tribe of Reuben, Bezer with her suburbs, and Jahaz with her suburbs, Kedemoth with her suburbs, and Mephaath with her suburbs. Four cities.’
These verses are not in the Massoretic Text but are included in many Hebrew MSS and in versions. (See also 1 Chronicles 6:78-79. Thus they are Scripture whether included here or not). The four cities are required to make up the twelve in Joshua 21:40.
Bezer was a city of refuge, the fifth to be mentioned (see Joshua 20:8). All six were necessarily levitical cities. For Jahazah (Jahaz, Jahzah), Kedemoth and Mephaath see Joshua 13:18. Jahaz is well known as being where Israel defeated Sihon, the Amorite king (Numbers 21:23; Deuteronomy 2:32; Judges 11:20). It was later lost to Moab but Omri reconquered the land ‘as far as Jahaz’. According to the Moabite Stone it was again lost to Israel when Mesha, king of Moab, drove out the Israelites and reclaimed it. Kedemoth gave its name to a nearby desert area (Deuteronomy 2:26). It is probably ez-Za‘feran, about sixteen kilometres north of the Arnon, near the Amorite’s eastern border. For Mephaath Tell el-Yawah has been suggested
‘ And out of the tribe of Gad, Ramoth in Gilead with her suburbs, the city of refuge for the manslayer, and Mahanaim with her suburbs, Heshbon with her suburbs, Jazer with her suburbs. Four cities in all.’
Ramoth in Gilead makes up the sixth of the cities of refuge (see Joshua 20:8). It later features regularly in the conflicts with Syria. It is possibly Tell Ramith. Mahanaim means ‘two camps’. It was on the border of Gad with Manasseh (see Joshua 13:30), probably close to the northern bank of the River Jabbok. (Gad extended some kilometres north of the Jabbok). It was where Jacob met the angels of God before meeting Esau (Genesis 32:2). See also 2 Samuel 2:8; 1 Kings 2:8. Heshbon was taken by Sihon of the Amorites from the Moabites and made his capital city (Numbers 21:26). It was in the mountains some miles north east of the Dead Sea. Its site has not been identified. A Tell Hesban contained buildings from the iron age but no trace of an earlier city. But there are late bronze age sites nearby one of which could be the original Heshbon.
Jazer was a group of towns as well as a city and was frequently mentioned (see Joshua 13:25; Numbers 21:32; Numbers 32:1; Numbers 32:3; Numbers 32:35). It fell on the border between the Amorites and the Ammonites. During David’s time it furnished ‘mighty men of valour’ (1 Chronicles 26:31) and was one of the towns on the route of the census taking (2 Samuel 24:5). In Isaiah 16:6-12 and Jeremiah 48:28-34 it was once more regained by Moab, and even later by Ammon ( 1Ma 5:4 ). It may possibly be identified with Khirbet Gazzir on the Wadi Sza‘ib near es-Salt. These were the four levitical cities of Gad.
‘ All these were the cities for the children of Merari according to their families, who were those remaining of the families of the Levites. And their lot was twelve cities.’
So forty eight cities were set apart as levitical cities, that is were put under the authority of the Levites who were given dwelling and pasturage rights. There were thirteen for the family of Aaron (who would in number be few at that time), ten for the remainder of the Kohathites, thirteen for the Gershonites and twelve for the Merarites.
‘ All the cities of the Levites amongst the possession of the children of Israel, were forty eight cities with their suburbs. These cities were every one with their suburbs round about them. Thus it was with all these cities.’
So the Levites had rights of dwelling and authority in forty eight cities and pasturage rights over the land nearest to each city, its ‘suburbs’. And we are assured that each city had its suburb. With their tithes the Levites were fully provided for.
These cities would be huddles of small dwellings and some larger ones crammed together within their walls or boundaries without much planning. Each would have a main square by the city gate, in most cases probably the only open space within the city. How room was to be made for the Levites we are not told. The theory was that they should be satisfied with their dwellingplace, the right to feed their cattle and their tithes. In practise many moved out of the cities and established themselves prosperously as we discover later. Indeed those assigned to cities lost to Israel such as Gezer had to find somewhere to live. And the theory was certainly not put fully into practise for a long time because the Canaanites were allowed to continue in the land and live in their cities, contrary to God’s commandment.
A Summary of the Situation Preparatory to Releasing the Transjordan Contingents (Joshua 21:43-45 ).
This summary assesses the situation at the end of Joshua’s successful campaign, as he was preparing to release the Transjordan contingents from Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. Canaan was being divided up between the tribes and all looked rosy. They saw the land as given to them, as indeed it was. They did not consider the problems that lay ahead, or if they did they were content that Yahweh could deal with them. In the writer’s view these should not have been problems. If they were faithful to the covenant with YHWH and obeyed all His commandments the future was guaranteed.
‘ So YHWH gave to Israel all the land which he swore to give to their fathers, and they possessed it, and dwelt in it.’
For these words compare Joshua 1:6; Deuteronomy 11:31; Deuteronomy 17:14; Deuteronomy 19:1; Deuteronomy 26:1.
The land was all distributed to them by lot and now they had to go in and settle it. They were securely established in the land and safe. The bridgehead had been established, and more. And the process of settlement was in progress. Indeed they had at present on the whole as much as they could hope to occupy and cultivate. The remainder would become theirs as time progressed, at which point they were to clear it of Canaanites.
‘ And YHWH gave them rest round about according to all that he swore to their fathers and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them. YHWH delivered all their enemies into their hands. There failed not ought of any good thing that YHWH had spoken to the house of Israel. All came about.’
These words are also based on previous statements and promises, compare Joshua 1:13; Joshua 10:8. What God had promised He had done.
The storms ahead were not yet visible, and the writer believed that God could deal with the storms as long as Israel were faithful to the covenant. They were at rest in the land. They had suffered no permanent defeat to this stage. All their enemies had in the end fallen before them. All that God had promised had happened. The Transjordan contingents could now be released to return home.
The writer has in mind chapters 1-12. Chapters 13-21 are viewed as still future in actual fulfilment. That was what yet had to be. Thus he could declare that the land was at rest (Joshua 11:23; Joshua 14:15) although much land remained to be possessed (Joshua 13:1), and even more to be settled.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 21". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26