Notes on Joshua, Chapter 21:17-45
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Jos 21:17, KJV 17 And out of the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with her suburbs, Geba with her suburbs,
Gibeon was the headquarters or perhaps the chief city of the
Gibeonites, who tricked Joshua and Israel into signing, basically, a peace treaty instead of risking annihilation (see Joshua 9).
Geba seems to be the same as Gibeah (compare this verse with Judges 20:10 and 1 Sam 14:5.
18 Anathoth with her suburbs, and Almon with her suburbs; four cities.
Jeremiah the prophet/priest was from Anathoth (Jer. 1:1). Almon is only mentioned here.
[19 All the cities of the children of Aaron, the priests, were thirteen cities with their suburbs.]
Each city, out of each of these tribes, which was given to the Levites, is listed here.
20 And the families of the children of Kohath, the Levites which remained of the children of Kohath, even they had the cities of their lot out of the tribe of Ephraim.
Ephraim bordered Judah and Benjamin to the north and west.
21 For they gave them Shechem with her suburbs in mount Ephraim, (to be) a city of refuge for the slayer; and Gezer with her suburbs,
Shechem dates back to at least the time of Jacob. In Genesis 33-34, Jacob and his household settled there. Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, was raped and kept by the crown prince, son of the king of Shechem. When Jacob’s sons heard about this, Simeon and Levi killed all the men (we are not told if any others helped them) and rescued Dinah—who apparently had made no effort to leave her captors! Shechem and several significant events are also recorded in the Old Testament.
Gezer eventually fell to the Canaanites (Ephraim seems to have never completely driven out the Canaanites during the time of Joshua and the judges) sometime after this. Many years later, Pharaoh and the Egyptian army conquered Gezer and then gave it to Solomon and his wife (Pharaoh’s daughter) as a wedding gift (1 Kings 9:16).
22 And Kibzaim with her suburbs, and Bethhoron with her suburbs; four cities.
Kibzaim is only mentioned here. Beth-horon is only mentioned a few times.
23 And out of the tribe of Dan, Eltekeh with her suburbs, Gibbethon with her suburbs, 24 Aijalon with her suburbs, Gathrimmon with her suburbs; four cities.
This reference to Dan, here, probably refers to the original tract of land they had received by lot (Josh 19:40-46) before an unspecified number of the tribe migrated to the far north of Canaan.
25 And out of the half tribe of Manasseh, Tanach with her suburbs, and Gathrimmon with her suburbs; two cities. 26 All the cities (were) ten with their suburbs for the families of the children of Kohath that remained.
This was the half-tribe of Manasseh remaining on the west side of Jordan, near Ephraim’s territory.
27 And unto the children of Gershon, of the families of the Levites, out of the (other) half tribe of Manasseh (they gave) Golan in Bashan with her suburbs, (to be) a city of refuge for the slayer; and Beeshterah with her suburbs; two cities.
This was the half-tribe of Manasseh remaining on the east side of Jordan.
28 And out of the tribe of Issachar, Kishon with her suburbs, Dabareh with her suburbs, 29 Jarmuth with her suburbs, Engannim with her suburbs; four cities.
Issachar received land in the northwestern part of Israel. The eastern border was the Jordan River and the land itself was north of Manasseh’s territory.
Kishon refers to not just a city but also a river. The other cities in these verses are seldom mentioned.
30 And out of the tribe of Asher, Mishal with her suburbs, Abdon with her suburbs, 31 Helkath with her suburbs, and Rehob with her suburbs; four cities.
Asher received the northwest corner of Israel.
32 And out of the tribe of Naphtali, Kedesh in Galilee with her suburbs, (to be) a city of refuge for the slayer; and Hammothdor with her suburbs, and Kartan with her suburbs; three cities.
Naphtali bordered Asher to the east.
33 All the cities of the Gershonites according to their families (were) thirteen cities with their suburbs.
According to Numbers 4:24-28, the Gershonites were responsible for carrying the curtains and related items when the tabernacle moved from one place to another. The Kohathites were to carry the Ark of the Covenant and other related items. The Merarites were responsible for carrying the boards and those related items. God made sure that each family was involved but He restricted them to certain duties.
34 And unto the families of the children of Merari, the rest of the Levites, out of the tribe of Zebulun, Jokneam with her suburbs, and Kartah with her suburbs, 35 Dimnah with her suburbs, Nahalal with her suburbs; four cities.
Zebulun’s territory was in north-central Israel. The cities listed here are seldom mentioned elsewhere.
36 And out of the tribe of Reuben, Bezer with her suburbs, and Jahazah with her suburbs, 37 Kedemoth with her suburbs, and Mephaath with her suburbs; four cities.
Reuben’s territory was east of the Jordan and was located about as far south as from Jerusalem to Hebron. The cities listed here are not mentioned very often in the Old Testament.
38 And out of the tribe of Gad, Ramoth in Gilead with her suburbs, (to be) a city of refuge for the slayer; and Mahanaim with her suburbs,
Gad’s territory was also on the east side of Jordan, north of Reuben’s inheritance. Ramoth-Gilead would later be the site of several battles.
Mahanaim received its name when Jacob stopped there (Gen. 32:1-2). This city, although a good distance from Jerusalem, was the place where David and those loyal to him fled after Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam 17-19).
39 Heshbon with her suburbs, Jazer with her suburbs; four cities in all.
Heshbon is mentioned several times, usually in connection with Israel’s victory over Sihon and the other Amorites (Numbers 21, Deut 1:4, 2:24, e.g.). Jazer is mentioned about 13 times.
40 So all the cities for the children of Merari by their families, which were remaining of the families of the Levites, were (by) their lot twelve cities.
The Merarites received four cities each Reuben’s territory, plus Gad’s and Zebulun’s.
41 All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of Israel (were) forty and eight cities with their suburbs. 42 These cities were every one with their suburbs round about them: thus (were) all these cities.
The Levites received 48 cities “with suburbs”: the Merarites received 12; the Gershonites, 13; and the Kohathites the rest.
43 And the LORD gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. 44 And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand. 45 There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)