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JOSHUA 21

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Cities of the Levites Cities of the Levites The Levitical Cities The Cities of the Levites The Levitical Cities
21:1-4 21:1-8 21:1-3 21:1-3 21:1-3
21:4 21:4-5 21:4-7
21:5 21:5
21:6 21:6 21:6
21:7 21:7 21:7
21:8 21:8 21:8 21:8
The Portion of the Kohathites
21:9-19 21:9-19 21:9-12 21:9-12 21:9-19
21:13-19 21:13-19
21:20-26 21:20-26 21:20-26 21:20-26 21:20-25
21:26
The Portion of the Sons of Gershon
21:27-33 21:27-33 21:27-33 21:27-33 21:27-32
21:33
The Portion of the Sons of Merari
21:34-40 21:34-42 21:34-40 21:34-40 21:34-39
21:40
21:41-42 21:41-42 21:41-42 21:41-42
Not One Promise Failed The Promise Fulfilled Another Summary Israel Takes Possession of the Land End of the Distribution
21:43-45 21:43-45 21:43-45 21:43-45 21:43-45

READING CYCLE THREE(from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

The timing and method of the composition of Joshua is unclear. Many of the accounts go back to Joshua's time. However, some of the events could not have occurred until later. This is especially true of some of the forty-eight Levitical cities. Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament, p. 210, lists several cities not under Israelite control until the United Monarchy.

1. Gezer

2. Ibleam

3. Taanach, Jos. 21:25

4. Rehob in Asher, Jos. 21:31

5. Jokneam, Jos. 21:34

6. Nahalal, Jos. 21:35

7. Elteke, Jos. 21:23

8. Gibbethon, Jos. 21:23

9. Anathoth

10. Allemeth (pp. 201-211)

It is also possible that the six cities of refuge were not fully functional until David's day (p. 210).

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:1-4
 1Then the heads of households of the Levites approached Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of households of the tribes of the sons of Israel. 2They spoke to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, "The Lord commanded through Moses to give us cities to live in, with their pasture lands for our cattle." 3So the sons of Israel gave the Levites from their inheritance these cities with their pasture lands, according to the command of the Lord. 4Then the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites. And the sons of Aaron the priest, who were of the Levites, received thirteen cities by lot from the tribe of Judah and from the tribe of the Simeonites and from the tribe of Benjamin.

21:1 "the heads of households of the Levites" There are going to be forty-eight Levitical cities (cf. Jos. 21:41 and Num. 35:1-8). There are three major households (sons) of the tribe of Levi (cf. Gen. 46:11; Exod. 6:16). The first is the Kohathites, found in Jos. 21:10-19 and 20-26. The second major group is the Gershonites, found in Jos. 21:27-33, the third group is the Merarites, found in Jos. 21:34-40.

When discussing "Levites" in the historical literature of early Israel, there is no distinction made between "Levites" and "priests"; both are allowed to serve YHWH and eat from His offerings (cf. Deuteronomy 18). As the years passed, there developed a specialized recognition of the family of Aaron as denoting priests (which was for life and passed on through families).

▣ "Joshua the son of Nun" The Hebrew word for "son" is fluid. The Hebrew ben (BDB 119-122) can mean

1. son begotten by a father

2. children (even cousins, e.g., Num. 36:11)

3. grandson (e.g., Gen. 31:28,55)

4. member of a professional guild

5. ancestor/descendant (genealogies)

6. member of a tribe/nation (e.g., "sons of Israel")

7. common people (sons of the land)

8. member of a religion (son of [name of a god]). The Hebrew king, Psalm 2; 2 Sam. 7:14

9. angels (cf. Gen. 6:2,4; Job 2:1)

10. an idiom of characterization (e.g., "sons of Belial," "sons of the wise," "sons of valor")

In this chapter the term is used several times:

1. of an individual - Joshua, the son of Num, Jos. 21:1

2. of a tribal/national group - sons of Israel, Jos. 21:1,3,8,41

3. of a professional guild (i.e., priests/Levites)

a. sons of Aaron, Jos. 21:4,10,13,19

b. sons of Levi, Jos. 21:10 (cf. Jos. 21:27)

4. of members of individual tribes

a. sons of Judah, Jos. 21:9

b. sons of Simeon, Jos. 21:9

5. of members of family groups

a. sons of Kohath, Jos. 21:5,20.26

b. sons of Gershon, Jos. 21:6,27

c. sons of Merari, Jos. 21:34

This kind of fluidity makes it impossible to add up the dates of ancestors and come up with a date for creation (i.e., Usshur's 4004 b.c.). Often, only the significant dates (either of evil or good or some remembered action) are listed. Several generations are often omitted (e.g., the genealogies of Jesus).

21:2 "Shiloh" We learn from Jos. 18:1 that Joshua had moved the camp and the tabernacle to Shiloh.

21:3

NASB"these cities with their pasture lands"
NKJV"these cities and their common-land"
NRSV"the following cities and pasture lands"
TEV"certain cities and pasture lands"
NJB"towns with their pasture lands"

We learn from Num. 35:4 that around the walls of the Levitical cities each Levitical family was given land extending a thousand cubits (for "cubit," see Special Topic at Jos. 3:4). This was apparently to be used for growing crops or to keep a few animals in order to supplement their food supply which was provided by one of the three tithes of the people.

It is not certain how to translate "pasture lands" (BDB 177). It could simply denote common land or open space (i.e. NKJV). Context seems to denote a special usage for priests/Levites, possibly

1. a place to bury the dead

2. a place to grow a garden

3. a place to raise animals for domestic use

4. a place of separation symbolizing a holy place (i.e., Levitical city/city of refuge)

See note by James Barr in NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 1140

21:4 "the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites" The "lot" is not understood exactly. Some believe that it refers to the Urim and Thummim (see note at Jos. 19:51) in the breastplate of the High Priest, while others believe it refers to black or white stones which were cast like dice or drawn from a pouch.

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:5
 5The rest of the sons of Kohath received ten cities by lot from the families of the tribe of Ephraim and from the tribe of Dan and from the half-tribe of Manasseh.

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:6
 6The sons of Gershon received thirteen cities by lot from the families of the tribe of Issachar and from the tribe of Asher and from the tribe of Naphtali and from the half-tribe of Manasseh in Bashan.

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:7
 7 The sons of Merari according to their families received twelve cities from the tribe of Reuben and from the tribe of Gad and from the tribe of Zebulun.

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:8
 8Now the sons of Israel gave by lot to the Levites these cities with their pasture lands, as the Lord had commanded through Moses.

21:8 This is an example of the repetitive style of Hebrew historical narrative.

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:9-12
 9They gave these cities which are here mentioned by name from the tribe of the sons of Judah and from the tribe of the sons of Simeon; 10and they were for the sons of Aaron, one of the families of the Kohathites, of the sons of Levi, for the lot was theirs first. 11Thus they gave them Kiriath-arba, Arba being the father of Anak (that is, Hebron), in the hill country of Judah, with its surrounding pasture lands. 12But the fields of the city and its villages they gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh as his possession.

21:10 "the sons of Aaron" This is the special family from the tribe of Levi from which the High Priest and Priests would come (cf. Exod. 28:1).

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:13-19
 13So to the sons of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron, the city of refuge for the manslayer, with its pasture lands, and Libnah with its pasture lands, 14and Jattir with its pasture lands and Eshtemoa with its pasture lands, 15and Holon with its pasture lands and Debir with its pasture lands, 16and Ain with its pasture lands and Juttah with its pasture lands and Beth-shemesh with its pasture lands; nine cities from these two tribes. 17From the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with its pasture lands, Geba with its pasture lands, 18Anathoth with its pasture lands and Almon with its pasture lands; four cities. 19All the cities of the sons of Aaron, the priests, were thirteen cities with their pasture lands.

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:20-26
 20Then the cities from the tribe of Ephraim were allotted to the families of the sons of Kohath, the Levites, even to the rest of the sons of Kohath. 21They gave them Shechem, the city of refuge for the manslayer, with its pasture lands, in the hill country of Ephraim, and Gezer with its pasture lands, 22and Kibzaim with its pasture lands and Beth-horon with its pasture lands; four cities. 23From the tribe of Dan, Elteke with its pasture lands, Gibbethon with its pasture lands, 24Aijalon with its pasture lands, Gath-rimmon with its pasture lands; four cities. 25From the half-tribe of Manasseh, they allotted Taanach with its pasture lands and Gath-rimmon with its pasture lands; two cities. 26All the cities with their pasture lands for the families of the rest of the sons of Kohath were ten.

21:20 "the sons of Kohath" This is a group which numbered 8,600 at Sinai (cf. Num. 3:28). During the movement of the tabernacle they were to move the ark and its furniture with the altars and the vessels of the tabernacle. We learn from Num. 16 that some of this group, along with part of the tribe of Reuben, rebelled against Moses and Aaron and were destroyed.

21:23 "the tribe of Dan" This refers to the southern allotment of Dan in the coastal southwest part of Canaan. It is obvious from looking at a map that Dan had a difficult time possessing its land because of the Philistines, therefore, part of the tribe had moved north (cf. Jos. 19:47; Judges 18).

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:27-33
 27To the sons of Gershon, one of the families of the Levites, from the half-tribe of Manasseh, they gave Golan in Bashan, the city of refuge for the manslayer, with its pasture lands, and Be-eshterah with its pasture lands; two cities. 28From the tribe of Issachar, they gave Kishion with its pasture lands, Daberath with its pasture lands, 29Jarmuth with its pasture lands, En-gannim with its pasture lands; four cities. 30From the tribe of Asher, they gave Mishal with its pasture lands, Abdon with its pasture lands, 31Helkath with its pasture lands and Rehob with its pasture lands; four cities. 32From the tribe of Naphtali, they gave Kedesh in Galilee, the city of refuge for the manslayer, with its pasture lands and Hammoth-dor with its pasture lands and Kartan with its pasture lands; three cities. 33All the cities of the Gershonites according to their families were thirteen cities with their pasture lands.

21:27 "Gershon" They numbered 7,500 at Sinai (cf. Num. 3:22). When the tabernacle was moved, they were in charge of the covering, the curtains, and the boards (cf. Num. 3:25-26).

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:34-40
 34To the families of the sons of Merari, the rest of the Levites, they gave from the tribe of Zebulun, Jokneam with its pasture lands and Kartah with its pasture lands. 35Dimnah with its pasture lands, Nahalal with its pasture lands; four cities. 36From the tribe of Reuben, they gave Bezer with its pasture lands and Jahaz with its pasture lands, 37Kedemoth with its pasture lands and Mephaath with its pasture lands; four cities. 38From the tribe of Gad, they gave Ramoth in Gilead, the city of refuge for the manslayer, with its pasture lands and Mahanaim with its pasture lands, 39Heshbon with its pasture lands, Jazer with its pasture lands; four cities in all. 40All these were the cities of the sons of Merari according to their families, the rest of the families of the Levites; and their lot was twelve cities.

21:34 "Merari" They numbered 6, 200 at Sinai (cf. Num. 3:34). When the tabernacle was moved they were in charge of the boards, the bars, the pillars, the sockets and the pins (cf. Num. 3:36).

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:41-42
 41All the cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the sons of Israel were forty-eight cities with their pasture lands. 42These cities each had its surrounding pasture lands; thus it was with all these cities.

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 21:43-45
 43So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. 44And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. 45Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.

21:43-45 This is another summary paragraph about the conquest of Canaan. In a sense, the following chapters (22-24) are an appendix.

21:43 "which He had sworn to give to their fathers" This again is an allusion to the Abrahamic covenant of Gen. 12 which was later reaffirmed to Isaac, Jacob, and the people of Israel through Moses.

21:44 Not only did YHWH give the land to the Patriarchs and their descendants (cf. Jos. 21:43; Gen. 12:7; 15:18-19; 17:7-8; 26:1-5; 28:10-15; 35:12), but He also gave them the military victories to conquer it (e.g., Deut. 7:24; 11:25; Jos. 1:5; 10:8; 23:9; Jdg. 3:28; 11:21). The conquest was an act of YHWH, using natural, supernatural, and military means.

21:45 "Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass" This is our great hope: when God speaks, we can depend upon His word (cf. Jos. 23:14; 1 Kgs. 8:56; and note Isa. 55:11). Yet covenant disobedience can negate the blessings of the promises of God! There is an inseparable bond between a faithful God and a faithful people. Covenant has privileges and responsibilities. Israel's inability to perform the covenant will require a "new covenant" (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38; Galatians 3; and the book of Hebrews).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. List the families of the Levites.

2. What is the difference between a priest and a Levite?

3. Why were the Levites spread out among the tribes?

4. Why is verse 45 so important?

 

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