Notes on Joshua, Chapter 21:1-15

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Jos 21:1, KJV 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;


The sons of Levi were Gershom, Kohath, and Merari (Gen 46:11, Ex 6:16, Num 3:17). Each of these sons had families and eventually each son’s descendants had various roles and functions with the Tabernacle (see Numbers 4). The names of these “heads of fathers” are not given in this verse.

2 And they spake unto them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, The LORD commanded by the hand of Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with the suburbs thereof for our cattle.

This was originally recorded in Numbers 35.

3 And the children of Israel gave unto the Levites out of their inheritance, at the commandment of the LORD, these cities and their suburbs.

The Levites had no earthly inheritance. The LORD Himself was their inheritance (Num. 18:23, 24, 26; Josh 18:7). Even so, The LORD gave them cities to live in among the various tribes.

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.

These were in the southernmost area of Israel.

5 And the rest of the children of Kohath (had) by lot out of the families of the tribe of Ephraim, and out of the tribe of Dan, and out of the half tribe of Manasseh, ten cities.

Ephraim’s territory was close to Judah and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Dan, here, probably refers to the original section which was their inheritance. This was most likely before at least some of the tribe of Dan moved far to the northern part of Israel.

6 And the children of Gershon (had) by lot out of the families of the tribe of Issachar, and out of the tribe of Asher, and out of the tribe of Naphtali, and out of the half tribe of Manasseh in Bashan, thirteen cities.

The land of Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali were in the northwestern part of Israel. The other half-tribe of Manasseh lived in Bashan, on the east side of Jordan.

7 The children of Merari by their families (had) out of the tribe of Reuben, and out of the tribe

of Gad, and out of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve cities.

Reuben and Gad settled on the east side of Jordan along with half of Manasseh. Reuben’s land was farthest to the south and Gad’s land was in the middle of Israel’s eastern territory.

Oddly enough, Zebulun’s land extended from the Mediterranean Sea to Naphtali’s southern border, nowhere even close to Reuben’s and Gad’s land. This did give them a chance to minister to many people of Israel!

8 And the children of Israel gave by lot unto the Levites these cities with their suburbs, as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses.

This was the means to choose which cities would be given to the Levites. The casting of lots seemed to be the fairest and most reasonable option available, reducing if not eliminating any human factor or bias..

[9 And they gave out of the tribe of the children of Judah, and out of the tribe of the children of Simeon, these cities which are (here) mentioned by name, 10 Which the children of Aaron, (being) of the families of the Kohathites, (who were) of the children of Levi, had: for theirs was the first lot. 11 And they gave them the city of Arba the father of Anak, which (city is) Hebron, in the hill country of Judah, with the suburbs thereof round about it.]

Hebron was also called Kiriath-Arba (Josh 14:15, 15:54; Judges 1:10), and Kiriath-Jearim was also called Kirjath-Baal (Josh 15:60, 18:14).

12 But the fields of the city, and the villages thereof, gave they to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for his possession.

Caleb had asked for Hebron (Joshua 14) and received it.

13 Thus they gave to the children of Aaron the priest Hebron with her suburbs, (to be) a city of refuge for the slayer; and Libnah with her suburbs,

Libnah was southwest of Jerusalem. Assyria attacked Libnah (2 Kings 19:8) after departing from Lachish (also Isa. 37:8). Hamutal, who was the only woman to be the mother of two kings of Judah, was from here (2 Kings 23:31, 24:18). Libnah was seldom mentioned in the Old Testament.

14 And Jattir with her suburbs, and Eshtemoa with her suburbs, 15 And Holon with her suburbs, and Debir with her suburbs, 16 And Ain with her suburbs, and Juttah with her suburbs, (and) Bethshemesh with her suburbs; nine cities out of those two tribes.

These cities are seldom mentioned in the Old Testament.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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