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DESIGNATION OF THE LEVITICAL CITIES, Joshua 21:1-42.
1. Heads of the fathers The most venerable and influential of the three Levitical families. These applied to the same commissioners for the cities promised by Moses, (Numbers 35:1-5.) It is not enough that God makes special promises and provisions. The very persons to whom these promises are made will fail to receive them unless they exert themselves to secure them. Prayer is the key to God’s treasury.
2. With the suburbs thereof The area of these suburbs is laid down in Numbers 35:4-5, but so obscurely that great diversity of computation has arisen among expositors. The suburbs were to reach a thousand cubits from the wall of the city on each of the four sides, and yet the measure on each side of the city was to be two thousand cubits. This Keil explains, as in the following diagram by picturing the city and its suburbs in squares, with the city in the midst, and understanding the two thousand cubits as the length of each outer side of the suburbs, apart from the walls of the cities, which latter, of course, might vary in size. Or we may understand with Maimonides that the two thousand cubits were added to the one thousand as “fields of the suburbs,” (Leviticus 25:34,) and lay outside the suburbs proper.
4. Kohathites The first of the families of the Levites among whom the family of Aaron were exclusively appointed to the priesthood. These by virtue of their office had the precedence in the assignment of the lots, and received thirteen cities in contiguous territory; the rest of the Kohathites ten cities, (Joshua 21:5,) in tribes also adjoining. There was a divine prescience displayed in so locating the priests that in the future great schism of the State under Rehoboam the seceding tribes found themselves destitute of the divinely-appointed priesthood.
6. Gershon The second division.
7. Merari The third division of the Levites. The three families take their names from the sons of Levi. See the genealogy at Exodus 6:16-19, also Numbers 3:17-39, and 1 Chronicles 6:0.
11. Hebron See on Joshua 10:3, and Joshua 14:12. We here meet the difficulty of a double proprietorship. We have seen in Joshua 14:13, that Joshua gave Hebron to Caleb as a reward for his fidelity, but now we find that the same city is bestowed upon the priests. Our solution of this difficulty is, that the Levites did not have exclusive ownership of these cities. From Numbers 3:39, we learn that the census of the Levites was about twenty-two thousand males of a month old and upward.
This would give less than five hundred males, adult and children, to each of the forty-eight cities. As Hebron and Shechem and several others were large and important, the inference is, that the Levites had ample inheritance in these cities sufficient to give a sacred character to them. We have an intimation of this in Joshua 21:12. For the Hebrews who tilled the fields of Caleb’s sons must have resided in Hebron for protection. Again, in the law requiring the alienated house and pasture land of the Levite to revert to him in the year of jubilee, there is implied that others than Levites lived with them. Leviticus 25:32-34.
13. Libnah See on Joshua 10:29. In the following list no comment is made on those cities that are now unknown.
14-17. Jattir Joshua 15:48.
Eshtemoah Joshua 15:50.
Debir Joshua 10:38.
Juttah Joshua 15:55.
Beth-shemesh Joshua 15:10.
Gibeon Joshua 9:3.
Geba Joshua 18:24.
18. Anathoth was the place to which King Solomon banished Abiathar, (1 Kings 2:26,) and the birthplace of Jeremiah. Jeremiah 1:1. It is represented by the modern village Anata, four miles northeast of Jerusalem. It is now a small village, but contains remains of the walls and foundations of the ancient city.
21-24. Shechem Joshua 17:7.
Gezer Joshua 10:33.
Beth-horon Joshua 10:10.
Aijalon Joshua 10:12.
Tanach Joshua 12:21.
27. Beeshterah seems to be a contraction of Beth-Ashterah house of Astoreth the residence of Og. See Joshua 9:10.
28-39. Dabareh Joshua 19:12.
En-gannim Joshua 19:21.
Kedesh Joshua 12:22.
Jokneam Joshua 12:22.
Ramoth Joshua 13:26.
Heshbon Joshua 13:17; Joshua 13:26.
Jazer Joshua 13:25.
42. To this verse the LXX add the following, partly taken from Joshua 19:49-50, and partly legendary: “And Joshua finished dividing the land in their borders, and the children of Israel gave a portion to Joshua according to the commandment of the Lord; they gave him the city which he asked for, Timnath-serah gave they him in Mount Ephraim, and Joshua fortified the city and dwelt in it. And Joshua took the stone knives with which he circumcised the children of Israel who were born during the journey in the wilderness, and he deposited them in Timnath-serah.”
THE DIVINE PROMISES FULFILLED, Joshua 21:43-45.
As the wicked are prone to forget the divine threatenings, so the people of God are inclined to neglect the divine promises. Hence the necessity of calling special attention to them, that their fulfilment may exert a salutary influence upon us.
44. There stood not a man The many were humbled and rendered tributary, and all their enemies would have been expelled if the Hebrews had had faith in Jehovah, their unfailing ally. [Some rationalistic critics affirm that this passage is contradicted by other statements of the ancient history which affirm that Israel’s enemies were not all subdued, and considerable portions of the land were never in possession of the Israelites. But they forget that the promise to the fathers was accompanied also with the express statement that the Canaanites should be gradually exterminated. See note on next verse. This passage affirms a thorough subjugation of all Canaan, and a division of it for a possession among the Israelites, but not, as some would assume, an extermination of all its original inhabitants. Even Ewald admits, as unquestionable, “that this first irruption into Canaan under Joshua was decisive for all future time, and that the Canaanites were never able in succeeding ages to rally permanently from the losses and disasters which they then underwent.” In another place the same rationalistic critic affirms: “There can be no doubt that Joshua, during the first years of the entrance into Canaan, subdued the country on every side, and received the submission of all the Canaanites whose lives were spared. It is very possible that in the first terror of surprise the Philistines, and even the men of Zidon and the rest of the Phenicians, may have paid homage, although these last could never again be subdued.”]
45. There failed not aught of any good So far as Jehovah was concerned, for he had expressly said, “I will not drive them out from before thee in one year, lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.” Exodus xxiii, 29, 30. Comp. Deuteronomy 7:22. Israel’s subsequent failure to possess all the land was, as the history itself shows, largely owing to their cowardice. Tribal jealousies also had much to do with their failure.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Joshua 21". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26