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;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Joshua 21:1. The heads of the fathers of the Levites — The fathers of the Levites were Kohath, Gershon, and Merari; and the heads of these were the chief persons now alive of these several families. Thus, the princes of the several tribes, who divided the land in conjunction with Joshua, are called, at the conclusion of this verse and elsewhere, the heads of the fathers of the tribes. The whole land being distributed to the several tribes, but not yet actually possessed by them, and this being the proper season for their making such a claim, these principal Levites now come to the princes of the tribes, and remind them of the command of God respecting the cities to be assigned them.1 Chronicles 6:54-81.
Jos 21:1-8. Eight and Forty Cities Given by Lot Out of the Other Tribes unto the Levites.
1-3. Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites—The most venerable and distinguished members of the three Levitical families, on behalf of their tribe, applied for the special provision that had been promised them to be now awarded (see on Nu 35:2). Their inheritance lay within the territory of every tribe. It was assigned in the same place and manner, and by the same commissioners as the other allotments. While the people, knowing the important duties they were to perform, are described (Jos 21:3) as readily conceding this "peculiar" to them, it had most probably been specified and reserved for their use while the distribution of the land was in progress.Cities given out of the other tribes by lot to the Levites, Joshua 21:1-8. Particularly to the priests, the children of Aaron, Joshua 21:9-19; to the Levites, the Kohathites, Joshua 21:20-26, the Gershonites, Joshua 21:27-33, and Merarites, Joshua 21:34-40; in all forty-eight cities, with their suburbs, Joshua 21:41,42. The Israelites quietly enjoy the Promised Land, Joshua 21:43-45.
unto Eleazar the priest, and unto Joshua the son of Nun; the high priest and chief magistrate:
and unto the heads of the fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel; the princes appointed to divide the land with the two great personages before mentioned, Numbers 34:17.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;
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)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.Verse 1. - Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites. We are not to suppose, with Calvin, that the Levites had been overlooked. Such a supposition is little in keeping with the devout spirit of him who now directed the affairs of the Israelites, who had been minister to Moses the Levite, and had but lately been concerned with Eleazar, the high priest, in making a public recognition of that God to whose service the Levites had been specially set apart. The delay in appointing to the Levites their cities arose from the nature of the arrangement which had to be made for the Levitical cities. The prophecy which threatened (Genesis 49:7) to "scatter them in Israel" was to be fulfilled for the benefit of the whole people. Instead of a portion for himself, Levi, as we have been repeatedly informed (Joshua 13:33; Joshua 14:3; Joshua 18:7), was to have "the Lord God of Israel for his inheritance." Since, therefore, their cities were to be assigned them within the limits of the other tribes, it was impossible to apportion them until the other tribes had been provided for. Unto Eleazar the priest. The close connection between the military and the sacerdotal power is kept up throughout the book. Warned by his one act of neglect in the case of the Gibeonites, Joshua never again appears to have neglected to have recourse to the high priest, that he might ask counsel of God for him, as had been prescribed in Numbers 27:21. Eleazar is placed first here, because, as the acknowledged head of the tribe, he was the proper person to prefer its request to the leader. But the whole history shows how entirely Joshua and Eleazar acted in concert. And unto Joshua the son of Nun. In a matter of ecclesiastical organisation the ecclesiastical took precedence of the civil leader. And unto the heads. The position of Joshua was that of a chief magistrate ruling by constitutional methods. The representatives of the tribes were invariably consulted in all matters of moment. Such appear to have been the original constitution of all early communities, whether Aryan or Semitic. We find it in existence among Homer's heroes. It meets us in the early history of Germanic peoples. It took a form precisely analogous to the Jewish in the old English Witan where the chief men in Church and State took counsel with the monarch on all matters affecting the commonweal of the realm; and the remains of this aristocratic system still meet us in our own House of Lords. Numbers 35, as places of refuge for unintentional manslayers. Before describing the appointment and setting apart of these towns, the writer repeats in Joshua 20:1-6 the main points of the Mosaic law contained in Numbers 35:9-29 and Deuteronomy 19:1-13, with reference to the reception of the manslayers into these towns. לכם תּנוּ, "give to you," i.e., appoint for yourselves, "cities of refuge," etc. In Joshua 20:6, the two regulations, "until he stand before the congregation for judgment," and "until the death of the high priest," are to be understood, in accordance with the clear explanation given in Numbers 35:24-25, as meaning that the manslayer was to live in the town till the congregation had pronounced judgment upon the matter, and either given him up to the avenger of blood as a wilful murderer, or taken him back to the city of refuge as an unintentional manslayer, in which case he was to remain there till the death of the existing high priest. For further particulars, see at Numbers 35.
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