Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(b) THE REST OF THE LEVITICAL CITIES.
(2) Suburbs.—The extent of these is described in Numbers 35 (See on that passage.)
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;
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) The order of the distribution—viz., (1) to priests, (2) to Kohathites, (3) to Gershonites, (4) to Merarites—is in strict agreement with the order of priority observed in the exodus. In the camp of Israel there were two squares surrounding the tabernacle: an inner square of priests and Levites, an outer square of the tribes of Israel, three on each side. The inner square was arranged thus:—The priests, with Moses and Aaron, on the east, by the entrance of the tabernacle; the Kohathites on the south, the Gershonites on the west, and the Merarites on the north. On the march the priests were the chief officers of this portion of the army. The Kohathites carried the sacred vessels, the Gershonites the curtains and various fabrics of the tent and tabernacle, and the Merarites the bars and boards. When they received their inheritances in Palestine, the same relative order was preserved.
INHERITANCE OF THE PRIESTS (Joshua 21:9-19).
(9) Out of the tribe of . . . Judah . . . and Simeon; and (17) out of the tribe of Benjamin.—It is worthy of notice that, with the exception of a single city in the tribe of Simeon (viz., Ain, Joshua 21:16), all the priestly cities are so arranged as to fall ultimately within the kingdom of Judah, of which the capital was Jerusalem, the city which the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to put His name there. The Levites also left their cities and their suburbs in the reign of Jeroboam (2Chronicles 11:14), and came over to Judah. But the fact that all the priests, with the trifling exception noted above, were already settled in that kingdom, must have been a great attraction.
When these facts are observed, it is hardly possible not to be struck with the undesigned agreement between the Book of Joshua and the later history, as well as with the Divine foresight which arranged the distribution of the people thus.
(13) Hebron (El Khalil).
(14) Jattir (Attir).
Eshtemoa (Es Semû’a).
(15) Debir.—Probably identical with the town of this name in Joshua 15:49 (Edh. Dhâherîyeh), south-west of Hebron.
(16) Juttah (Yuttah).
Beth-shemesh (Ain Shemes).
(17) Gibeon (El Jib).
(18) Anathoth (‘Anâta).
(20) The children of Kohath . . . had the cities . . . out of the tribe of Ephraim.—In this instance the most honoured among the families of the Levites (after the house of Aaron) is grouped with the tribe next in honour after Judah. The tribes of Dan and Manasseh (Joshua 21:23-25) also were highly honoured, as they received Kohathites to settle among them.
(21) Shechem . . . in mount Ephraim, to be a city of refuge.—The metropolis of Israel for the time being is made a city of refuge; and there is an obvious convenience in this. In the same way Solomon made Jerusalem a city of refuge for Shimei, binding him not to leave the city under penalty of death (1Kings 2:36-46).
Gezer (Tell Jezer).
(22) Kibzaim (Tell el-Kabûs).
(23, 24) For these Danite cities, see Joshua 19:40-46.
(25) Tanach—i.e., Taanach—a city of Manasseh, in the territory of Isaachar.
(27) Unto the children of Gershon . . . out of the other half tribe of Manasseh . . . in Bashan, and (28) out of the tribe of Issachar, and (30) out of the tribe of Asher.—Each of the four divisions of the house of Levi is made a bond to cement three of the twelve tribes together. Sometimes the association is obvious. In this case the two. sides of Jordan are bound together by the Gershonites.
(28) Dabareh—i.e., Daberath (Debûrieh).
(29) Jarmuth—i.e., Remeth.
(30) Mishal.—See Joshua 19:46.
Abdon.—Also mentioned there.
(32) For Kedesh see Joshua 19:37. The other two are not identified with any certainty.
(34) Unto the . . . . children of Merari . . . . out of the tribe of Zebulun, and (36) out of the tribe of Reuben, and (38) out of the tribe of Gad.—In the case of the Ger shonites, we saw two tribes on the west of Jordan united to one on the east. The Merarites are employed to connect two tribes on the east of Jordan with one upon the west, and the south-east of the Israelitish territory with the north. Thus “the whole body by joints and bands” was “knit together, that it might grow with a growth of God.” It is not a little interesting to observe that Joshua’s work of dividing the land of Canaan was so much directed to preserve the union of the several parts. The name of Levi (joined) thus received a spiritual emphasis. He was divided in Israel that he might be a bond of union, bringing the tribes of Israel together, and joining all of them to their God.
Jokneam (Tell Keimûn, near Carmel).
(35) Nahalal (‘Ain Mahil).
(43) And the Lord gave unto Israel.—Although the conquest of Canaan was not completed in the time of Joshua, as it was afterwards under David, yet we see by this statement that the expectations of Israel were abundantly satisfied. They received all that they hoped for.