Joshua 21


The Levites apply to Eleazar, Joshua, and the elders, for the

cities to dwell in which Moses had promised, 1, 2.

Their request is granted, 3.

The priests receive thirteen cities out of the tribes of Judah,

Simeon, and Benjamin, 4.

The Levites receive ten cities out of the tribes of Ephraim,

Dan, and the half tribe of Manasseh, 5;

and thirteen out of the other half tribe of Manasseh, and the

tribes of Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali, 6.

The children of Merari had twelve cities out of the tribes of

Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun, 7.

The names of the cities given out of the tribes of Judah and

Simeon, 8-16.

Those granted out of the tribe of Benjamin, 17-19.

Out of Ephraim, 20-22.

Those out of Dan, 23, 24.

Those out of both the halves of the tribe of Manasseh, 25-27.

Those out of the tribe of Issachar, 28, 29.

Those out of Asher, 30, 31.

Those out of Naphtali, 32.

These were the cities of the Gershonites, 33.

The cities of the Merarites, 34-40.

The sum of the cities given to the Levites, forty-eight, 41, 42.

The exact fulfilment of all God's promises, 43-45.


Verse 1. The heads of the fathers of the Levites] The Levites

were composed of three brand families, the Gershonites, Koathites,

and Merarites, independently of the family of Aaron, who might be

said to form a fourth. To none of these had God assigned any

portion in the division of the land. But in this general division

it must have been evidently intended that the different tribes

were to furnish them with habitations; and this was according to a

positive command of God, Nu 35:2, &c. Finding now that each tribe

had its inheritance appointed to it, the heads of the Levites came

before Eleazar, Joshua, and the chiefs of the tribes who had been

employed in dividing the land, and requested that cities and

suburbs should be granted them according to the Divine command.

Verse 3. And the children of Israel gave unto the Levites] They

cheerfully obeyed the Divine command, and cities for habitations

were appointed to them out of the different tribes by lot, that it

might as fully appear that God designed them their habitations, as

he designed the others their inheritances.

Verse 4. Out of the tribe of Judah-Simeon, and-Benjamin,

thirteen cities.] These tribes furnished more habitations to the

Levites in proportion than any of the other tribes, because they

possessed a more extensive inheritance; and Moses had commanded,

Nu 35:8,

From them that have many, ye shall give many; and from them that

have few, ye shall give few: every one shall give of his cities

unto the Levites, according to his inheritance. It is worthy of

remark, that the principal part of this tribe, whose business was

to minister at the sanctuary, which sanctuary was afterwards to be

established in Jerusalem, had their appointment nearest to that

city; so that they were always within reach of the sacred work

which God had appointed them.

Verse 5. And the rest of the children of Kohath] That is, the

remaining part of that family that were not priests, for those who

were priests had their lot in the preceding tribes. Those,

therefore, of the family of Kohath, who were simply Levites, and

not of the priests or Aaron's family, (see Jos 21:10,) had their

habitations in Ephraim, Dan, and the half tribe of Manasseh.

It has been asked in what sense did the Levites possess those

cities, seeing they had no inheritance? To which it may be

answered that it is not likely the Levites had the exclusive

property of the cities in which they dwelt, for it is evident that

the other Israelites dwelt among them. We know, says Calmet, by

history, that the cities of the Levites were almost entirely

filled with Israelites of other tribes. For instance, Gibeah of

Benjamin, which is here given to the Levites, Jos 21:17, was

always peopled by the Benjamites, as appears from the history of

the Levite, whose wife was so horribly abused by them;

Jud 19:22-27. Saul and all his family dwelt in the same city;

and David and his court spent the first years of his reign at

Hebron, which was also a city of the Levites, Jos 21:10. It

appears, therefore, that they had no other property in those

cities than merely the right to certain houses, which they might

sell, but always with the right of perpetual redemption, for they

could finally alienate nothing; and if the possessor of such a

house, having sold it, did not redeem it at the year of jubilee,

it reverted to the Levites. And as to their lands for their

cattle, which extended two thousand cubits without the city, these

they were not permitted to sell: they were considered as the

Lord's property. See Le 25:32-34, and the notes there. It is

therefore very likely that, in the first instance, the Levites had

simply the right to choose, in all the cities assigned them, the

houses in which they were to dwell, and that those of the tribe to

which the city belonged occupied all the other dwellings. There is

also reason to believe that in process of time, when the families

of the Levites increased, they had more dwellings assigned to

them, which were probably built at the public expense.

We may also observe that the Levites were not absolutely bound

to live in these and no other cities: for when the tabernacle was

at Nob, priests and Levites dwelt there, see 1Sa 21:1, &c.; and

when the worship of God was established at Jerusalem, multitudes

both of priests and Reviles dwelt there, though it was no

Levitical city: as did the courses of priests afterwards at

Jericho. This was a circumstance which Moses had foreseen, and for

which he had provided. See De 18:6, &c.

Verse 11. The city of Arba] See Clarke on Jos 14:15.

Verse 12. The fields of the city-gave they to Caleb] This was an

exclusive privilege to him and his family, with which the grant to

the Levites did not interfere. See Clarke on Jos 14:14.

Verse 18. Anathoth.] Celebrated as the birthplace of Jeremiah,

about three miles northward of Jerusalem, according to St. Jerome.

Verse 19. Thirteen cities with their suburbs.] At the time

mentioned here certainly thirteen cities were too large a

proportion for the priests, as they and their families amounted to

a very small number: but this ample provision was made in

reference to their great increase in after times, when they formed

twenty-four courses, as in the days of David.

Verse 22. Beth-horon] There were two cities of this name, the

upper and the nether; but which is intended here, cannot be


Verse 24. Aijalon] See Clarke on Jos 10:12.

Verse 27. Golan in Bashan] On this and the other cities of

refuge mentioned here, See Clarke on Jos 20:7.

Verse 35. Dimnah with her suburbs, &c.] It is well known to

every Hebrew scholar that the two following verses are wholly

omitted by the Masora; and are left out in some of the most

correct and authentic Hebrew Bibles. Between critics there is no

small controversy relative to the authenticity of these verses;

and those who wish to see the arguments at large on both sides,

must consult the Variae Lectiones of De Rossi on this place. Dr.

Kennicott, who is a strenuous advocate for their authenticity

argues thus in their behalf: "Verses 41 and 42 of this chapter

tell us that the Levitical cities were forty-eight, and that they

had been all as such described; so that they must have been all

specified in this chapter: whereas now in all the Hebrew copies

printed in full obedience to the Masora, which excludes two verses

containing four of these cities, the number amounts only to


"The cities are first mentioned, in the general, as being

thirteen and ten, with thirteen and twelve, which are

certainly forty-eight. And yet when they are particularly named,

Jos 21:13-19 gives

thirteen cities; Jos 21:20-26 gives

ten cities; Jos 21:27-33 gives

thirteen; Jos 21:34-36 gives

four cities; and Jos 21:35-36 gives

four more, all which can make but forty-four. And what still

increases the wonder is, that Jos 21:40 infers from the verses

immediately preceding, that the cities allowed to the Merarites

were twelve, though they here make eight only, unless we admit the

four other cities expressed in those two verses, which have been

rejected by that blind guide the Masora. In defiance of this

authority these two verses, thus absolutely necessary, were

inserted in the most early editions of the Hebrew text, and are

found in Walton's Polyglot, as well as in our English Bible. But

they have scarce ever been as yet printed completely, thus, And

out of the tribe or Reuben, A CITY OF REFUGE FOR THE SLAYER,

Bezer, IN THE WILDERNESS, with her suburbs, and Jahazah with

her suburbs, Kedemoth with her suburbs, and Mephaath with her

suburbs; four cities. See on this place my edition of the Hebrew

Bible, where no less than one hundred and forty-nine copies are

described, which happily preserve these verses, most clearly

essential to the truth and consistency of this chapter. See also

General Discourse, pp. 19, 26, 54."

Though this reasoning of Dr. Kennicott appears very conclusive,

yet there are so many and important variations among the MSS. that

retain, and those that reject these verses, as to render the

question of their authenticity very difficult to be determined. To

Dr. Kennicott's one hundred and forty-nine MSS. which have these

two verses, may be added upwards of forty collated by De Rossi.

Those who deny their authenticity say they have been inserted here

from 1Ch 6:78, 79, where they are found it is true, in general,

but not exactly as they stand here, and in Dr. Kennicott's Hebrew


Verse 36. Jahazah] See Clarke on Jos 13:18.

Verse 41. Forty and eight cities] At the last census of the

Hebrew people, related Num. 26, we find from Nu 26:62 that the

tribe of Levi amounted only to 23,000; and it is supposed that

forty-eight cities were too great a proportion for this tribe,

the other tribes having so very few. But, 1. All the cities of the

other tribes are not enumerated. 2. They had the circumjacent

country as well as the cities. 3. The Levites had no other cities

than those enumerated. 4. They had no country annexed to their

cities, the 2,000 cubits for their cattle, &c., excepted. 5.

Cities in those ancient times were very small, as most villages

went under this appellation 6. The Levites had now the appointment

that was suited to their consequent increase. The other tribes

might enlarge their borders and make conquests, but this was not

suitable to the mere servants of God; besides, had they made

conquests, they would have become proprietors of the conquered

land; and God determined that they should have no inheritance in

Israel, HE himself being their portion.

Verse 43. And the Lord gave-all the land which he sware] All was

now divided by lot unto them, and their enemies were so completely

discomfited that there was not a single army of the Canaanites

remaining to make head against them; and those which were left in

the land served under tribute, and the tribute that they paid was

the amplest proof of their complete subjugation. Add to this, they

had as much of the land in actual possession as they could occupy;

and, as they increased, God enabled them to drive out the rest of

the ancient inhabitants; but in consequence of the infidelity of

the Israelites, God permitted their enemies often to straiten

them, and sometimes to prevail against them. It should also be

remembered, that God never promised to give them the land, or to

maintain them in it, but on condition of obedience; and so

punctually did he fulfil this intention, that there is not a

single instance on record in which they were either straitened or

subjugated, while obedient and faithful to their God.

The cavil is as foolish as it is unprincipled which states, "The

Israelites never did possess the whole of the land which was

promised to them, and therefore that promise could not come by

Divine revelation." With as much reason might it be urged that

Great Britain has not subdued the French West India Islands and

Batavia, (Feb. 1812,) because the ancient inhabitants still remain

in them; but is not their serving under tribute an absolute proof

that they are conquered, and under the British dominion? So was

the whole land of Canaan conquered, and its inhabitants subdued,

though the whole of the ground was not occupied by the Israelites

till the days of David and Solomon. In the most correct and

literal sense it might be said, There failed not aught of any good

thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel: all came

to pass. Nor shall one word of his ever fail to any of his

followers while the sun and moon endure.

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