Joshua 21

The Word Made Fresh

1The Levite family heads came to Eleazar and Joshua son of Nun and the family heads of the other tribes 2at Shiloh in the land of Canaan. They said, “The LORD told Moses that we should be given towns with pasture lands for our livestock.” 3So, they set apart for the Levites the following towns with their surrounding pastures out of their own inherited lands according to the LORD’s instructions.

4Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin allotted thirteen towns to the Levitical clan of the Kohathites. 5Other Kohathites were given ten towns in lands belonging to Ephraim, Dan, and that part of Manasseh west of the Jordan. 6The Gershonites were allotted thirteen towns in Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and that part of Manasseh in Bashan. 7The Merarites received twelve towns in Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun. 8All these were given to the Levites as the LORD had commanded Moses.

9The towns in Judah and Simeon given to the Kohathites, 10those Levites descended from Aaron’s son Kohath, were these: 11Kiriath-Arba (Arba was the father of Anak), also known as Hebron, in the hill country of Judah along with the pasturelands around it. 12(The fields and villages of Hebron had been given to Caleb, son of Jephunneh.)

13They gave to the descendants of Aaron: Hebron (which was one of the cities of refuge for those accused of murder), Libnah, 14Jattir, Eshtemoa, 15Holon, Debir, 16Ain, Juttah, and Beth Shemesh – nine towns. 17Also, from the tribe of Benjamin they were given Gibeon, Geba, 18Anathoth, and Almon. 19So, thirteen towns with their surrounding pasturelands were given to the descendants of Aaron the priest.

20The other Kohathite families of Levites were given towns from Ephraim. 21They included Shechem (a city of refuge) in the hill country, Gezer, 22Kibzaim, and Beth-Horon – four towns. 23Out of Dan’s territory they were given Elteke, Gibethon, 24Aijalon, and Gath-Rimmon – four towns. 25From Manasseh they were given Taanach and Gath-Rimmon – two towns. 26So, the Korathites had ten towns in all.

27The Gersonites were given Golan, a city of refuge in Bashan, and Beeshterah, two towns. 28In Issachar they were given Kishion, Daberath, 29Jarmuth, and En-Gannim. 30In Asher they were given Mishal, Abdon, 31Helkath, and Rehob – four towns. 32In the territory of Naphtali they were given Kedesh, a city of refuge in Galilee, Hammoth-Dor, and Kartan – three towns. 33In all the Gershonites received thirteen towns.

34The Merarites were given four towns in Zebulun’s territory. They were Jokneam, Kartah, 35Dimnah, and Nahalal. 36From Reuben they were given Bezer, Jahzah, 37Kedemoth, and Mephaath – four towns. 38From Gad they were given Ramoth in Gilead (a city of refuge), Mahanaim, 39Heshbon, and Jazer – four towns. 40So there were twelve towns given the Merarites, and that completed the arrangements made for all the Levites.

41In all, forty towns were given to the Levites, 42plus their surrounding pasturelands.

43So, the LORD gave Israel all the land promised to their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. 44The LORD gave them peace on every side. None of their enemies were able to hold them back. 45Of all the promises the LORD had made to the Israelites, every single one of them was fulfilled.  

Commentary

1-8: Joshua along with the chief priest Eleazar and the other leaders are petitioned by the elders of the tribe of Levi to grant them cities as Moses had planned. It is interesting that for the “cities of refuge” God spoke directly to Joshua (20:1), but not for the Levite cities. Perhaps had they not been in such a hurry God would have gotten around to it. Towns are granted from the territories of all the tribes on both sides of the Jordan. The grants are given to the three main divisions of the Levites: the Kohathites (Aaron’s and Eleazar’s tribe), the Gershonites, and the Merarites – these were the divisions named after the three sons of Aaron, Moses’ brother.

9-12: The first branch of Levites to be considered is the Kohathite clan. Special attention is given to Hebron (also called Kiriath-Arba). Hebron does triple duty now: it is a Levite town, it is also a “city of refuge,” and it is the special reward to Caleb and his descendants for his loyal service to Moses. It appears that the town itself was not part of the gift to Caleb, but only the surrounding fields and villages. Compare this with 14:13-15. Caleb apparently raises no objections.

13-26: The list of towns and cities given for the Kohathites is laid out here. Notice that some of the Philistine cities are named, even though the Israelites have so far been unsuccessful in subduing that area.

27-33: The Gershonite division is given thirteen towns in the territories of Manasseh, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali.

34-40: The Merarite division is given twelve towns out of the territories of Zebulun, Reuben, and Gad. Notice that a number of the “cities of refuge” are given to the Levites. Notice also that their cities are scattered on both sides of the Jordan.

41-45: The chapter ends with an optimistic summary of the progress so far. The land has been conquered and settled, and they are at peace. This won’t last long!

Takeaway

Although the chapter is tedious to read, it reports the fulfillment of God’s promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and these tedious lists were of immense importance to the people of Israel for centuries. Consider God’s promises to us Christians who are reading of this over three thousand years later – forgiveness of our sins, direction for our lives, eternal life in God’s kingdom.