Joshua 21:4
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(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).

Geba (Jeb’a).

(18) Anathoth (‘Anâta).

Almon (’Almit).

(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).

Beth-horon (Beit-’Ur).

(23, 24) For these Danite cities, see Joshua 19:40-46.

(25) Tanachi.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.

En-gannim (Jenin).

(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.

Joshua 21:4. Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin — Which three tribes were nearest the temple, where their business lay. Thirteen cities — For though the priests were now few enough for one city, yet respect was to be had to their succeeding numbers; this division being made for all future generations. And seeing the Levites might sell their houses until the jubilee, (Leviticus 25:33,) much more might they let them; and therefore it is probable their cities were not long uninhabited, many being inclined to dwell with them, by virtue of relations contracted with them, or out of respect to the service of God, and the good of their souls.

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.Thirteen cities - This number is said to be too great for the single family of Aaron. But it appears 1 Chronicles 24 that the two surviving sons of Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar, had together 24 sons, the heads of the priestly families. Since Aaron was 123 years old when he died Numbers 33:39, his sons' grandchildren and great grandchildren were no doubt living in the elapsing years of Joshua's course, and had to he provided with dwellings. They might altogether number several thousands. The "cities" of Canaan were for the most part small; as is manifest from the astonishing number of them in proportion to the area of the land, more particularly in the south, where the portion of the priests was situated. The priests or Levites would not occupy the whole of the dwellings in any city, nor all its "fields," nor necessarily and always all its "villages" (compare Joshua 21:12). Non-Levites, to whom the cultivation of their land, and other secular concerns, were entrusted, no doubt resided in the Levitical cities or their precincts. It appears, further, that several of the cities here enumerated were only wrested from the Canaanites at a later date. 4-8. the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites—The Levites were divided into Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites. Among the former the family of Aaron were exclusively appointed to the priesthood, and all the rest were ranked in the common order of Levites. The first lot was drawn by the Kohathites; and the first of theirs again by the priests, to whom thirteen cities were granted, and ten to the rest of the Kohathites (Jos 21:5); thirteen to the Gershonites (Jos 21:6), and twelve to the Merarites (Jos 21:7). Which three tribes were nearest to the temple, where their business lay.

Thirteen cities; for though the priests were now few enough for one city, yet respect was to be had to their succeeding numbers; this division being made for all future generations. And seeing the Levites might sell their houses until the jubilee, Leviticus 25:33, much more might they let them; and therefore it is probable their cities were not very long uninhabited, many being inclined to dwell with them by virtue of relations contracted with them, or dependence upon or expectation from them; or out of respect to the service of God, and the good of their souls.

And the lot came out for the family of the Kohathites,.... The first lot that was drawn out of the pot or urn was for the descendants of Kohath, a son of Levi:

and the children of Aaron the priest, which were of the Levites; who descended from Amram, the eldest son of Kohath, and these were not only Levites, but priests: these

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; which are after mentioned by name; and as these were priests, whose business was to serve in the temple, and at the altar, the cities assigned them by the lot, were, by the wise disposal of divine Providence, ordered them out of those tribes which lay nearest to Jerusalem; the place God had chosen to put his name in, where the temple would be built, and the altars erected for sacrifices and incense.

And the lot came out for the families of the {b} 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, {c} thirteen cities.

(b) He means those that were priests: for some were but Levites.

(c) Every tribe gave more or fewer cities according to the size of their inheritance, Nu 35:8.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4–8. General Description of the Levitical Cities

4. the lot came out] As in the case of the inheritance of the other tribes, so in the apportioning of their cities to the Levites, recourse was had to the sacred lot. “It had probably been decided beforehand what cities each tribe was to give up, and therefore it only now remained for the lot to determine to which branch of the Levites each city should be given.”

the families of the Kohathites] The Levites were divided into three families, (a) the Gershonites, (b) the Kohathites, (c) the Merarites, so named after the three sons of Levi (Genesis 46:11). The family-tree stood as follows:—

The Kohathites held the first rank, as being the family to which Aaron belonged, and while the priesthood was confined to the house of Aaron, the posterity of Moses were reckoned as Levites, on an equality with the rest of the descendants of Levi (Numbers 3; 1 Chronicles 6:48-49). It had been the duty of the Kohathites, during the wanderings, on the removal of the Tabernacle, to bear all the sacred vessels, including the Ark itself, the table of shewbread, the seven-branched candlestick, the altars of incense and of burnt-offering (Numbers 3:31; Numbers 4:6; Numbers 4:9; Numbers 4:15; Deuteronomy 31:25).

and the children of Aaron the priest] As the first lot was drawn by the Kohathites, so again the first of theirs fell to the Aaronites or priests.

out of the tribe of Judah] To the priests of the line of Aaron thirteen cities were assigned out of the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin.

Verse 4. - And the lot came out. As in the distribution of the land among the tribes, so in the division of the cities among the tribes of Levi, the whole matter was referred to the judgment of God. Thus solemnly placed in His hands, the division would not afterwards become the occasion of jealousy or dispute. The division was first made between the descendants of the three sons of Levi, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari (see Exodus 6:16-25), and then, as regards the Kohathites, between the priests, the descendants of Aaron, and the rest of the Levites. We have remarked above (Joshua 19:50) on the disinterestedness of Joshua. We have now to remark on the same characteristic as displayed by Moses. There was no attempt on the part of Moses to "found a family," the object of ambition with most men, whether kings or private persons possessed of wealth. No special privileges belonged to his descendants. They merged in the undistinguished herd of the Levites generally. In this Moses contrasts favourably with most public men in our own day; he stands out prominently before nearly all the great leaders and conquerors before or even after the Christian era. The same may be said of Joshua, his successor. Cincinnatus may be in some measure compared with them, but as a dictator simply in time of danger, his power was by no means so absolute, nor were his temptations so great as those of the two successive leaders of the Israelites. Thirteen cities. It has been contended by Maurer and others that this number of cities was largely in excess of what could possibly be required for the descendants of Aaron in so short a time. But we have to consider

(1) that the cities were probably not, at least at first, inhabited exclusively by the priests;

(2) that the Israelites multiplied rapidly, and that the number of descendants in the fourth generation would probably be nearly a thousand, and in the fifth, above five thousand;

(3) that all the cities were not, as yet, actually taken from the Canaanites at all, and so therefore were in all probability only intended as an eventual possession of the priests, and

(4) that the cities themselves were probably not of any very great size. It may be worthy of remark, as a proof of the accuracy of the writers of the Old Testament, and as a means of approximately ascertaining the date of the Book of Joshua, that Nob, mentioned as a priestly city in 1 Samuel 22:11, 19, is not found in the list given here. For the number of priests being sure to increase, it is not surprising that in the course of time additional cities should be assigned to them. And since Nob is not mentioned here, we have good grounds for concluding that the Book of Joshua was not a compilation put together after the reign of Saul Calvin does not fail to remark on the prescience of God here demonstrated. He had fixed upon Jerusalem as the place where he would "put His Name." He therefore directed that the lot of the priests should fall within the limits of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, on whose borders Jerusalem stood. Simeon is also mentioned, but the territory of that tribe (Joshua 19:1, 9), was contained within the borders of Judah. For theirs was the first lot. Not because Kohath was the firstborn, for this Gershon appears to have been, but because to Aaron and his sons had the priesthood been reserved. Joshua 21:4Number of the cities which the different families of Levi received from each tribe. The tribe of Levi was divided into three branches, - The Gershonites, the Kohathites, and the Merarites (see Numbers 3 and Exodus 6:16-19). The Kohathites again were divided into the four families of Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel (Exodus 6:18); and the family of Amram into two lines, consisting of the descendants of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 6:20). The priesthood was committed to the line of Aaron (Numbers 18:1-7); but the other descendants of Amram, i.e., the descendants of Moses, were placed on a par with the other descendants of Levi, and numbered among the simple Levites (Numbers 3; 1 Chronicles 6:1-7). The towns in which the different families of Levi were to dwell were determined by lot; but in all probability the towns which each tribe was to give up to them were selected first of all, so that the lot merely decided to which branch of the Levites each particular town was to belong.

Joshua 21:4

The first lot came out for the families of Kohath, and among these again for the sons of Aaron, i.e., the priests. They received thirteen towns from the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. "This did not happen by chance; but God, according to His wonderful counsel, placed them just in that situation which He had determined to select for His own temple" (Calvin).

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