Joshua 21 – “The 48 Levitical Cities”

hammock rest vacationHebrew-English Text

I. Summary

The Levites are given forty eight cities from the territories of the twelve tribes. The conquest and settlement of the land comes to an end.

II. Photo

The conquest of the land is complete: “Yahweh gave them rest on all sides, just as He had promised to their fathers on oath.” (v. 42)

III. Select Verses

1-3: The heads of the ancestral houses of the Levites approached the priest Eleazer, Joshua son of Nun, and the heads of the ancestral houses of the Israelite tribes,  and spoke to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, as follows: “The LORD commanded through Moses that we be given towns to live in, along with their pastures for our livestock.”  So the Israelites, in accordance with the LORD’s command, assigned to the Levites, out of their own portions, the following towns with their pastures:

4-7: The [first] lot among the Levites fell to the Kohathite clans. To the descendants of the priest Aaron, there fell by lot 13 towns from the tribe of Judah, the tribe of Simeon, and the tribe of Benjamin;  and to the remaining Kohathites [there fell] by lot 10 towns from the clans of the tribe of Ephraim, the tribe of Dan, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. To the Gershonites [there fell] by lot 13 towns from the clans of the tribe of Issachar, the tribe of Asher, the tribe of Naphtali, and the half-tribe of Manasseh in Bashan. [And] to the Merarites, by their clans — 12 towns from the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad, and the tribe of Zebulun.

39: All the towns of the Levites within the holdings of the Israelites came to 48 towns, with their pastures.

41-43: The LORD gave to Israel the whole country which He had sworn to their fathers that He would assign to them; they took possession of it and settled in it.  The LORD gave them rest on all sides, just as He had promised to their fathers on oath. Not one man of all their enemies withstood them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hands.  Not one of the good things which the LORD had promised to the House of Israel was lacking. Everything was fulfilled.

IV. Outline

1-2. The Levites ask for their cities

3. The leaders decide to grant their wish

4-7. Introduction

    4. The Aaronite Kohathites receive 13 cities 

    5. The remaining Kohathites receive 10 cities 

    6. The Gershonites receive 13 cities

    7. The Merarites receive 12 cities 

Levitical Cities9-19. The Aaronite Kohathite cities

    9-16. The cities from Reuben and Simeon

    17-18. The cities from Benjamin

    19. Summary statement

20-26. The other Kohathite cities

    20-22. The cities from Ephraim

    23-24. The cities from Dan

    25. The cities from Half Manasseh

    26. Summary statement

27-33. The Gershonite cities

    27. The cities from Half Manasseh

    28-29. The cities from Issachar

    30-31. The cities from Asher

    32. The cities from Naphtali

    33. Summary statement

34-38. The Merarite cities

    34-35. The cities from Zebulun

    36-37. The cities from Gad

    38. Summary statement

39-40. Summary statement regarding the Levitical cities

41. Summary statement of the tribal allotments

42. Peace in the land

43. Affirmation regarding Yahweh’s promises

V. Comment

Note that Reuben, who is supposed to give cities to the Merarites (v. 7), is missing in verses 34-38. According to the parallel in 1 Chronicles 6:63-64, Reuben gave the cities of Bezer, Jahaz, Kedemoth, and Mephaath.

For help with the geography, see the map on page 162 of A. F. Rainey and R S. Notley, The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006).

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

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