Joshua 21:1
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;
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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.

21:1-8 The Levites waited till the other tribes were provided for, before they preferred their claim to Joshua. They build their claim upon a very good foundation; not their own merits or services, but the Divine precept. The maintenance of ministers is not a thing left merely to the will of the people, that they may let them starve if they please; they which preach the gospel should live by the gospel, and should live comfortably.A list of the Levitical cities, varying in some particulars from that given in this chapter, is also, given in 1 Chronicles 6:54-81. CHAPTER 21

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 [203]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.

Then, i.e. when the whole land was distributed unto the several tribes, but not actually possessed by them; which was the proper season for them to put in their claim.

The fathers of the Levites were Kohath, Gershom, and Merari, and the heads of these were the chief persons now alive of these several families.

Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites,.... When the land was divided to the several tribes, and everyone knew the cities that belonged to them, and what they could and should part with to the Levites, and when the six cities of refuge were fixed; the Levites came to put in their claim for cities of habitation, they having no share in the division of the land; and yet it was necessary they should have habitations; the persons that undertook to put in a claim for them were the principal men among them; the fathers of them were Kohath, Gershon, and Merari; the heads of those were the chief men that were then living: these came

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;
Ch. 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. Joshua 21:1After the cities of refuge had been set apart, the towns were also selected, which the different tribes were to give up for the priest and Levites to dwell in according to the Mosaic instructions in Numbers 35:1-8, together with the necessary fields as pasturage for their cattle. The setting apart of the cities of refuge took place before the appointment of the Levitical towns, because the Lord had given commandment through Moses in Numbers 35:6, that they were to give to the Levites the six cities of refuge, and forty-two cities besides, i.e., forty-eight cities in all. From the introductory statement in Joshua 21:1, Joshua 21:2, that the heads of the fathers (see Exodus 6:14, Exodus 6:25) of the Levitical families reminded the distribution committee at Shiloh of the command of God that had been issued through Moses, that towns were to be given them to dwell in, we cannot infer, as Calvin has done, that the Levites had been forgotten, till they came and asserted their claims. All that is stated in these words is, "that when the business had reached that point, they approached the dividers of the land in the common name of the members of their tribe, to receive by lot the cities appointed for them. They simply expressed the commands of God, and said in so many words, that they had been deputed by the Levites generally to draw lots for those forty-eight cities with their suburbs, which had been appointed for that tribe" (Masius). The clause appended to Shiloh, "in the land of Canaan," points to the instructions in Numbers 34:29 and Numbers 35:10, to give the children of Israel their inheritance in the land of Canaan.
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