Joshua 21:41, 42: The Sum of the Levitical Cities

Verse 41:[1] (Num. 35:7) All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of Israel were forty and eight cities with their suburbs.

[Forty-eight cities] Yest this Tribe was the least of all, having only twenty-three thousand, Numbers 26:62. Why then are so many cities given to the Levites, while to the other tribes, in which there are nearly twice as many tribesmen, are attributed only twelve, sixteen, or twenty towns? Responses: 1. Not all the cities of the remaining tribes are enumerated in those lists of cities obtained by lot; but all those of the Levites are mentioned by name. 2. It was not permitted to the Levities to dwell in the country, nor in the municipalities of their cities (Masius). 3. This was done for the honor of the priesthood, and so that they might give themselves completely to the worship of God, says Philo (Lapide). Moreover, it is to be noted that in the cities of the Levites others also dwelt. 1. Visitors and strangers. What city would be so barbarous as to refuse these? 2. Unintentional manslayers in some of them. 3. Various workmen for necessary uses (Serarius). Now, the Levites were dispersed throughout the individual cities: 1. lest the worship of God should appear to pertain to one tribe only (Lyra); 2. so that they might be sustained by all the people, and lest one Tribe be excessively burdened; 3. So that they might teach all more conveniently (Estius out of Lyra).

Forty and eight cities: Question. Why hath this tribe, which was the least of all, more cities than any of them? Answer. First, It doth not appear that they had more; for though all the cities of the Levites be expressed, it is not so with the other tribes, but divers of their cities are omitted, as is evident. Secondly, The Levites were confined to their cities and suburbs; the rest had large territories belonging to their cities, which also they were in a capacity of improving, which the Levites were not; so that one of their cities might be more considerable than divers of the Levites. Thirdly, God was pleased to deal liberally with his ministers, partly to put honour upon those whom he foresaw many would be prone to despise; and partly, that being free from all outward distractions, they might more entirely and fervently devote themselves to the service of God, and the instruction of souls.


Verse 42:[2] These cities were every one with their suburbs round about them: thus were all these cities.

[With their suburbs, etc.,תִּֽהְיֶ֙ינָה֙ הֶעָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה עִ֣יר עִ֔יר וּמִגְרָשֶׁ֖יהָ סְבִיבֹתֶ֑יהָ כֵּ֖ן לְכָל־הֶעָרִ֥ים הָאֵֽלֶּה׃] Those were (are [Junius and Tremellius]) the cities individual (each one [Junius and Tremellius]; Hebrew, a city a city[3] [Junius]) and their suburbs round about them: thus to all those cities (Pagnine), or, thus it was concerning these individual cities (Munster, similarly the English, Dutch, Arabic, Junius and Tremellius, Vatablus); which is to say, To all those cities suburbs were adjoined (Vatablus). Now, these cities were situated in such a way that to each city its own towns were round about; and all those cities were thus established (Syriac).

[1] Hebrew: כֹּ֚ל עָרֵ֣י הַלְוִיִּ֔ם בְּת֖וֹךְ אֲחֻזַּ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל עָרִ֛ים אַרְבָּעִ֥ים וּשְׁמֹנֶ֖ה וּמִגְרְשֵׁיהֶֽן׃

[2] Hebrew: תִּֽהְיֶ֙ינָה֙ הֶעָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה עִ֣יר עִ֔יר וּמִגְרָשֶׁ֖יהָ סְבִיבֹתֶ֑יהָ כֵּ֖ן לְכָל־הֶעָרִ֥ים הָאֵֽלֶּה׃

[3] Hebrew: עִ֣יר עִ֔יר.

Joshua 21:34-40: Cities of the Merarites

Verse 34:[1] (Josh. 21:7; see 1 Chron. 6:77) 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…

[Jokneam, etc.] But in 1 Chronicles 6:77, there are only two cities, and, as far as it appears, diverse from these. Response: It is possible that they received these two on loan, while the Barbarians held those four (Masius).


Verse 35:[2] Dimnah with her suburbs, Nahalal with her suburbs; four cities.


Verse 36:[3] And out of the tribe of Reuben, (Josh. 20:8) Bezer with her suburbs, and Jahazah with her suburbs…

[Out of the tribe of Reuben, etc.] These two verses were not in the most ancient Hebrew codices: and so the Masorah does not number these. Hence they appear to have been added out of Chronicles (Grotius). They are not found in the Venetian edition, but in its margin[4] (Drusius). But these verses are necessarily to be supplied, so that even from this those exemplars of the Massoretes ought to be reckoned as mutilated and less pure (Bonfrerius). For, 1. the Hebrew codices everywhere now have them, and Kimchi testifies that he read them in some most ancient exemplars (Bonfrerius). I myself found them in the other Venetian edition (Drusius). 2. The Septuagint has them, as do the Chaldean and Jerome [add both the Syriac and Arabic], but whence except from the Hebrew (Bonfrerius)? Grotius responds that they had them from Chronicles (Grotius). 3. Otherwise this text of Scripture will be mutilated, neither will the number either of twelve cities in verse 40 or forty-eight cities in verse 41 agree (Bonfrerius, similarly Masius). 4. It was said above (verse 7), that they were going to give cities out of the inheritance of Reuben to the Merarites (Masius, Bonfrerius). 5. They are found in 1 Chronicles 6:78, 79 (Bonfrerius).

Bezer, a city of refuge, as it is called Joshua 20:8, and therefore needless to be here repeated.


Verse 37:[5] Kedemoth with her suburbs, and Mephaath with her suburbs; four cities.

[Bezer in the wilderness, Misor, and Jaser, and Jethson, and Mephaath[6]] Here there are five names; but at the end of the verse they are said to be four. Neither will the number of twelve cities of the Merarites, verse 40, or of forty-eight cities of the Levites, verse 41, otherwise stand (Bonfrerius). Response: Misor is the same with Bezer, that is to say, Bezer, which is Misor (Menochius, Tirinus, Serarius). [But they give themselves unnecessary trouble; for in the Hebrew text Misor is not found, neither in Jonathan, the Syriac, nor the Arabic.] From the text of the Septuagint it crept into the Latin (Serarius).


Verse 38:[7] And out of the tribe of Gad, (Josh. 20:8) Ramoth in Gilead with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Mahanaim with her suburbs…


Verse 39:[8] Heshbon with her suburbs, Jazer with her suburbs; four cities in all.

[Heshbon] Question: How was this taken from the Gadites, when previously it was attributed to the Reubenites, Joshua 13:17? Response: It was positioned on the border of those two tribes. Cities of which sort are wont to be ascribed now to one Tribe, now to the other. I would prefer to assert this than to pretend two Heshbons with no authority (Masius).


Verse 40:[9] 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.

[1] Hebrew: וּלְמִשְׁפְּח֣וֹת בְּנֵֽי־מְרָרִי֮ הַלְוִיִּ֣ם הַנּוֹתָרִים֒ מֵאֵת֙ מַטֵּ֣ה זְבוּלֻ֔ן אֶֽת־יָקְנְעָ֖ם וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ אֶת־קַרְתָּ֖ה וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ׃

[2] Hebrew: אֶת־דִּמְנָה֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ אֶֽת־נַהֲלָ֖ל וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ עָרִ֖ים אַרְבַּֽע׃

[3] Hebrew: וּמִמַּטֵּ֣ה רְאוּבֵ֔ן אֶת־בֶּ֖צֶר וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ וְאֶת־יַ֖הְצָה וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ׃

[4] Daniel Bomberg (c. 1483-c. 1549) established a printing press in Venice.  Although a Christian, he devoted much of his effort to the printing of Hebrew books, including a Rabbinical Hebrew Bible.  Bomberg’s work was revised by Jacob ben Hayyim of Tunis (1525).

[5] Hebrew: אֶת־קְדֵמוֹת֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ וְאֶת־מֵיפָ֖עַת וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ עָרִ֖ים אַרְבַּֽע׃

[6] Thus the Vulgate.

[7] Hebrew: וּמִמַּטֵּה־גָ֗ד אֶת־עִיר֙ מִקְלַ֣ט הָרֹצֵ֔חַ אֶת־רָמֹ֥ת בַּגִּלְעָ֖ד וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ וְאֶֽת־מַחֲנַ֖יִם וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ׃

[8] Hebrew: אֶת־חֶשְׁבּוֹן֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ אֶת־יַעְזֵ֖ר וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ כָּל־עָרִ֖ים אַרְבַּֽע׃

[9] Hebrew: כָּל־הֶ֙עָרִ֜ים לִבְנֵ֤י מְרָרִי֙ לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֔ם הַנּוֹתָרִ֖ים מִמִּשְׁפְּח֣וֹת הַלְוִיִּ֑ם וַיְהִי֙ גּוֹרָלָ֔ם עָרִ֖ים שְׁתֵּ֥ים עֶשְׂרֵֽה׃

Joshua 21:27-33: Cities of the Gershonites

Verse 27:[1] (Josh. 21:6; 1 Chron. 6:71) And unto the children of Gershon, of the families of the Levites, out of the other half tribe of Manasseh they gave (Josh. 20:8) Golan in Bashan with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Beeshterah with her suburbs; two cities.


Verse 28:[2] And out of the tribe of Issachar, Kishon with her suburbs, Dabareh with her suburbs…


Verse 29:[3] Jarmuth with her suburbs, En-gannim with her suburbs; four cities.


Verse 30:[4] And out of the tribe of Asher, Mishal with her suburbs, Abdon with her suburbs…


Verse 31:[5] Helkath with her suburbs, and Rehob with her suburbs; four cities.


Verse 32:[6] And out of the tribe of Naphtali, (Josh. 20:7) Kedesh in Galilee with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Hammoth-dor with her suburbs, and Kartan with her suburbs; three cities.


Verse 33:[7] All the cities of the Gershonites according to their families were thirteen cities with their suburbs.

[1] Hebrew: וְלִבְנֵ֣י גֵרְשׁוֹן֮ מִמִּשְׁפְּחֹ֣ת הַלְוִיִּם֒ מֵחֲצִ֞י מַטֵּ֣ה מְנַשֶּׁ֗ה אֶת־עִיר֙ מִקְלַ֣ט הָרֹצֵ֔חַ אֶת־גָּלוֹ֤ן בַּבָּשָׁן֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ וְאֶֽת־בְּעֶשְׁתְּרָ֖ה וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ עָרִ֖ים שְׁתָּֽיִם׃

[2] Hebrew: וּמִמַּטֵּ֣ה יִשָּׂשכָ֔ר אֶת־קִשְׁי֖וֹן וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ אֶת־דָּֽבְרַ֖ת וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ׃

[3] Hebrew: אֶת־יַרְמוּת֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ אֶת־עֵ֥ין גַּנִּ֖ים וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ עָרִ֖ים אַרְבַּֽע׃

[4] Hebrew: וּמִמַּטֵּ֣ה אָשֵׁ֔ר אֶת־מִשְׁאָ֖ל וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ אֶת־עַבְדּ֖וֹן וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ׃

[5] Hebrew: אֶת־חֶלְקָת֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ וְאֶת־רְחֹ֖ב וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ עָרִ֖ים אַרְבַּֽע׃

[6] Hebrew: וּמִמַּטֵּ֙ה נַפְתָּלִ֜י אֶת־עִ֣יר׀ מִקְלַ֣ט הָֽרֹצֵ֗חַ אֶת־קֶ֙דֶשׁ בַּגָּלִ֤יל וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֙הָ֙ וְאֶת־חַמֹּ֥ת דֹּאר֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ וְאֶת־קַרְתָּ֖ן וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ עָרִ֖ים שָׁלֹֽשׁ׃

[7] Hebrew: כָּל־עָרֵ֥י הַגֵּרְשֻׁנִּ֖י לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֑ם שְׁלֹשׁ־עֶשְׂרֵ֥ה עִ֖יר וּמִגְרְשֵׁיהֶֽן׃

Joshua 21:20-26: Cities of the Kohathites

Verse 20:[1] (Josh. 21:5; 1 Chron. 6:66) 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.

The families which remained of the children of Kohath, over and above those of them who were priests.


Verse 21:[2] For they gave them (Josh. 20:7) Shechem with her suburbs in mount Ephraim, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Gezer with her suburbs…


Verse 22:[3] And Kibzaim with her suburbs, and Beth-horon with her suburbs; four cities.


Verse 23:[4] And out of the tribe of Dan, Eltekeh with her suburbs, Gibbethon with her suburbs…


Verse 24:[5] Aijalon with her suburbs, Gath-rimmon with her suburbs; four cities.


Verse 25:[6] And out of the half tribe of Manasseh, Tanach with her suburbs, and Gath-rimmon with her suburbs; two cities.

The half tribe of Manasseh: To wit, that half which dwelt in Canaan, by comparing this with Joshua 21:27.


Verse 26:[7] All the cities were ten with their suburbs for the families of the children of Kohath that remained.

[Ten cities] But in 1 Chronicles 6 only eight are named. Response: It was not the purpose of the writer of that book to pursue this matter with accuracy, which could be supplied from another source, if anything be missing. Moreover, that book does not make mention of the Tribe of Dan among them, but only of Ephraim and Manasseh; apparently comprehending the Danites under the Ephraimites (Bonfrerius).

[They were given to the children of Kohath, לְמִשְׁפְּח֥וֹת] Something is to be understood; either, they were of the families, etc., or, which they have to the families (Vatablus).

[1] Hebrew: וּלְמִשְׁפְּח֤וֹת בְּנֵֽי־קְהָת֙ הַלְוִיִּ֔ם הַנּוֹתָרִ֖ים מִבְּנֵ֣י קְהָ֑ת וַֽיְהִי֙ עָרֵ֣י גֽוֹרָלָ֔ם מִמַּטֵּ֖ה אֶפְרָֽיִם׃

[2] Hebrew: וַיִּתְּנ֙וּ לָהֶ֜ם אֶת־עִ֙יר מִקְלַ֧ט הָרֹצֵ֛חַ אֶת־שְׁכֶ֥ם וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֖הָ בְּהַ֣ר אֶפְרָ֑יִם וְאֶת־גֶּ֖זֶר וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ׃

[3] Hebrew: וְאֶת־קִבְצַ֙יִם֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ וְאֶת־בֵּ֥ית חוֹרֹ֖ן וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ עָרִ֖ים אַרְבַּֽע׃

[4] Hebrew: וּמִמַּ֙טֵּה־דָ֔ן אֶֽת־אֶלְתְּקֵ֖א וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ אֶֽת־גִּבְּת֖וֹן וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ׃

[5] Hebrew: אֶת־אַיָּלוֹן֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ אֶת־גַּת־רִמּ֖וֹן וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ עָרִ֖ים אַרְבַּֽע׃

[6] Hebrew: וּמִֽמַּחֲצִית֙ מַטֵּ֣ה מְנַשֶּׁ֔ה אֶת־תַּעְנַךְ֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ וְאֶת־גַּת־רִמּ֖וֹן וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ עָרִ֖ים שְׁתָּֽיִם׃

[7] Hebrew: כָּל־עָרִ֥ים עֶ֖שֶׂר וּמִגְרְשֵׁיהֶ֑ן לְמִשְׁפְּח֥וֹת בְּנֵֽי־קְהָ֖ת הַנּוֹתָרִֽים׃

Joshua 21:13-19: Cities of the Priests, Part 2

Verse 13:[1] Thus (1 Chron. 6:57, etc.) they gave to the children of Aaron the priest (Josh. 15:54; 20:7) Hebron with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and (Josh. 15:42) Libnah with her suburbs…

[He gave, therefore…Hebron, etc.] If you compare 1 Chronicles 6 with these lists, there is certainly a great discrepancy in the names of many (of the cities): For there the city of Juttah is omitted; and in the place of Ain,[2] there it is Ashan[3] (Masius). According to the Hebrews, the variety arose from this, that, while some of the allotted cities were under the power of the Canaanites, others were provided, until those that had been appointed would come into the power of the Israelites: and so in one text the substitute cities are read, but in the other those designated initially. Perhaps it might be able to be said more truly that some places are called by a twofold name, or that over the course of time changes were made in the names (Menochius out of Masius).


Verse 14:[4] And (Josh. 15:48) Jattir with her suburbs, (Josh. 15:50) and Eshtemoa with her suburbs…


Verse 15:[5] And (Josh. 15:51) Holon (Hilen, 1 Chron. 6:58[6]) with her suburbs, (Josh. 15:49) and Debir with her suburbs…

Holon, called Hilen, 1 Chronicles 6:58, as Juttah here is called Ashan, 1 Chronicles 6:59, and Kibzaim called Jokmeam, 1 Chronicles 6:68, and so some others, the names of the places being changed by length of time, and upon special occasions, as was frequent among the Jews; though their doctors add, that some of these places here mentioned, being now in the Canaanites’ possession, and not speedily recovered from them, there were others put in their stead.


Verse 16:[7] And Ain (Ashan,[8] 1 Chron. 6:59; Josh. 15:42) with her suburbs, (Josh. 15:55) and Juttah with her suburbs, and (Josh. 15:10) Beth-shemesh with her suburbs; nine cities out of those two tribes.

Ain here, and Gibeon verse 17, and some others here named, are not named 1 Chronicles 6, either because they were destroyed in some of those hostile invasions and wars wherewith their land was grievously harassed and wasted before that time; or they appear there under other names, as was said.


Verse 17:[9] And out of the tribe of Benjamin, (Josh. 18:25) Gibeon with her suburbs, Geba (Gaba, Josh. 18:24[10]) with her suburbs…


Verse 18:[11] Anathoth with her suburbs, and (Alemeth,[12] 1 Chron. 6:60) Almon with her suburbs; four cities.


Verse 19:[13] All the cities of the children of Aaron, the priests, were thirteen cities with their suburbs.

[1] Hebrew: וְלִבְנֵ֣י׀ אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֗ן נָֽתְנוּ֙ אֶת־עִיר֙ מִקְלַ֣ט הָרֹצֵ֔חַ אֶת־חֶבְר֖וֹן וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ וְאֶת־לִבְנָ֖ה וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ׃

[2] Joshua 21:16.

[3] 1 Chronicles 6:59.

[4] Hebrew: וְאֶת־יַתִּר֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ וְאֶת־אֶשְׁתְּמֹ֖עַ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ׃

[5] Hebrew: וְאֶת־חֹלֹן֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ וְאֶת־דְּבִ֖ר וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ׃

[6] 1 Chronicles 6:58:  “And Hilen (חִילֵז, but חִילֵן in many manuscripts) with her suburbs, Debir with her suburbs…”

[7] Hebrew: וְאֶת־עַ֣יִן וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֗הָ וְאֶת־יֻטָּה֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ אֶת־בֵּ֥ית שֶׁ֖מֶשׁ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ עָרִ֣ים תֵּ֔שַׁע מֵאֵ֕ת שְׁנֵ֥י הַשְּׁבָטִ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה׃

[8] Hebrew: עָשָׁן.

[9] Hebrew: וּמִמַּטֵּ֣ה בִנְיָמִ֔ן אֶת־גִּבְע֖וֹן וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ אֶת־גֶּ֖בַע וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶֽׁהָ׃

[10] Joshua 18:24:  “And Chephar-haammonai, and Ophni, and Gaba (וָגָ֑בַע); twelve cities with their villages…”

[11] Hebrew: אֶת־עֲנָתוֹת֙ וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֔הָ וְאֶת־עַלְמ֖וֹן וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֑הָ עָרִ֖ים אַרְבַּֽע׃

[12] Hebrew: עָלֶמֶת.

[13] Hebrew: כָּל־עָרֵ֥י בְנֵֽי־אַהֲרֹ֖ן הַכֹּֽהֲנִ֑ים שְׁלֹשׁ־עֶשְׂרֵ֥ה עָרִ֖ים וּמִגְרְשֵׁיהֶֽן׃

Joshua 21:9-12: Cities of the Priests, Part 1

Verse 9:[1] 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 (Heb. called[2]) by name…

[From Judah and Simeon] The Divine providence is here to be noted in superintending the lots. Gershon went before Kohath in age,[3] but Kohath is preferred to him because of the dignity of Aaron.[4] Besides, the Aaronites are placed in Judah and Benjamin, so that they might thus be near the Temple. Then, the rest of the Kohathites, so that they might be most closely to those in their own clan, thus obtain by lot the closest places, namely, in Ephraim, Manasseh, and Dan. Finally, the Gershonites are set before the Merarites: for the latter nature itself had willed to be born last (Masius).

Judah and Simeon are mentioned together, because the cities of Simeon lay within Judah’s portion.


Verse 10:[5] (Josh. 21:4) 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.

Of the families, that is, of the family, the plural number for the singular, which is not unusual.


Verse 11:[6] (1 Chron. 6:55) And they gave them the city of Arba (or, Kirjath-arba,[7] Gen. 23:2) the father of (Josh. 15:13, 14) Anak, which city is Hebron, (Josh. 20:7; Luke 1:39) in the hill country of Judah, with the suburbs thereof round about it.

[Kirjath-Arba of the father of Anak] That is, the greatest of the giants (Vatablus). The Septuagint refers the אֲבִ֧י/father to the dignity of the city, and render it μητρόπολιν/metropolis (Masius). Arba begat Anak. See what things were said on Joshua 14:15 (Bonfrerius).


Verse 12:[8] But (Josh. 14:14; 1 Chron. 6:56) the fields of the city, and the villages thereof, gave they to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for his possession.

[But the fields] But why is this repeated with such consistency? Inasmuch as it would indeed be absurd for a city, previously allotted to another, to be now allotted to the Levites; and for not all the cities, presently given to them, previously to fall by lot to others. And yet they had fallen by lot, but they had not yet been distributed among the families; otherwise some would have been disinherited from them (Masius). Some praise here the modesty of Caleb, who allowed Hebron to be taken from him (Serarius and Tostatus in Menochius). But the city of Hebron was not bestowed upon Caleb, but only its fields, etc. (Estius, Menochius, Masius), and places not fortified with walls: and so Debir was not his, which it is evident was heavily fortified, because he offered rewards to the one capturing it. Question: Why then did he offer rewards to on taking another’s city? Responses: 1. If he was wishing to take possession of his own field, the enemies certainly had to be expelled (Masius). 2. Because it was a public concern that it be captured (Menochius).

The fields of the city, that is, all beyond the two thousand cubits expressed Numbers 35:5. This is here mentioned, not as his peculiar case, but as one eminent instance, to show that it was so in all the rest of the cities here named; that the fields and villages thereof still belonged to the several tribes from whom the cities and their suburbs were taken; and to make the rest of the Israelites more contentedly and cheerfully resign so great a part of their possessions to the Levites, because even Caleb did so, though his possession had been long before promised, and now actually given to him by God’s special command, as a mark of honour and compensation for his long and faithful service.

[1] Hebrew: וַֽיִּתְּנ֗וּ מִמַּטֵּה֙ בְּנֵ֣י יְהוּדָ֔ה וּמִמַּטֵּ֖ה בְּנֵ֣י שִׁמְע֑וֹן אֵ֚ת הֶֽעָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה אֲשֶׁר־יִקְרָ֥א אֶתְהֶ֖ן בְּשֵֽׁם׃

[2] Hebrew: יִקְרָא.

[3] See Genesis 46:11; Exodus 6:16; Numbers 3:17; 26:57; 1 Chronicles 6:1; 23:6.

[4] See Exodus 6:18, 20; Joshua 21:4, 10.

[5] Hebrew: וַֽיְהִי֙ לִבְנֵ֣י אַהֲרֹ֔ן מִמִּשְׁפְּח֥וֹת הַקְּהָתִ֖י מִבְּנֵ֣י לֵוִ֑י כִּ֥י לָהֶ֛ם הָיָ֥ה הַגּוֹרָ֖ל רִיאשֹׁנָֽה׃

[6] Hebrew: וַיִּתְּנ֙וּ לָהֶ֜ם אֶת־קִרְיַת אַרְבַּ֙ע֩ אֲבִ֧י הָֽעֲנ֛וֹק הִ֥יא חֶבְר֖וֹן בְּהַ֣ר יְהוּדָ֑ה וְאֶת־מִגְרָשֶׁ֖הָ סְבִיבֹתֶֽיהָ׃

[7] Hebrew: קִרְיַת אַרְבַּע.

[8] Hebrew: וְאֶת־שְׂדֵ֥ה הָעִ֖יר וְאֶת־חֲצֵרֶ֑יהָ נָֽתְנ֛וּ לְכָלֵ֥ב בֶּן־יְפֻנֶּ֖ה בַּאֲחֻזָּתֽוֹ׃

Joshua 21:3-8: The Nomination of Cities for the Levitical Families

Verse 3:[1] And the children of Israel gave unto the Levites out of their inheritance, at the commandment of the LORD, these cities and their suburbs.

[And they gave, etc.] Either, 1. for use and habitation, with absolute dominion remaining in the power of the Tribe, as it is evident from Hebron, verse 11-13 (Junius). But Hebron was simply given to them, even if the field of Hebron remained to Caleb himself (Malvenda). The territory was remaining under the power of the Tribe; but the habitations in the towns, and the nearby pasture-lands, fell to the Levites. Thus on Sicily; Jurisdiction in the fields that were distributed remained under the power of those from whose territory they were taken. See Concerning the Law of War and Peace 2:3:4 (Grotius). Or, 2. as far as dominion. They not only had the right of use of these possessions, but also ownership. Which is confirmed out of Leviticus 25:33, 34 (Drusius, similarly Masius, Malvenda). Now, they gave by use of the lot, as it is evident from verses 4, 6, 10 (Menochius). Cities were not assigned to them by the will of the people; for then they had given to them only the worst. Moreover, just as in the establishment of cities of refuge equal spacing was to be observed, so also in the case of the habitations of the Levites, lest they should be farther away from some assemblies of men; since from the the Law of God was to be sought, Malachi 2:7. Therefore, it was the proper function of the dividers’ prudence to subtract certain cities from the inheritance of the individual tribes, seats by their very location suitable for the Levites, and to distribute them into four classes; so that then those four clans of the Levites might appoint them by lot among themselves (Masius).

The children of Israel gave, etc.: It seems most probable that they gave to the Levites promiscuously such cities as God commanded, and that the lot appropriated them to their several houses or families. Out of their inheritance, that is, out of their several possessions; partly that the burden and loss might be equally divided; and principally, that the Levites being dispersed among the several tribes, according to Jacob’s prediction, Genesis 49:7, might more easily, and frequently, and effectually teach the Israelites God’s law and judgments, which they were engaged to do, Deuteronomy 33:10; and that the people might upon all occasions resort to them, and require the meaning of the law at their mouths, Malachi 2:7. These cities and their suburbs; not only the use, but the absolute dominion of them, as is manifest both from Joshua 21:11, 12, where a distinction is made between the city and suburbs of Hebron, and the fields and villages thereof, and the former are given to the Levites, the latter to Caleb; and from the return of these cities in the jubilee unto the Levites, as to their proper owners, Leviticus 25:33, 34.


Verse 4:[2] And the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites: and (Josh. 21:8, 19) the children of Aaron the priest, which were of the Levites, (see Josh. 24:33) 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.

[And the lot went forth, etc.] In this verse, וַיְהִי, and it was,[3] is in the singular instead of the plural, they were. Because the use of this word is so very frequent, number or gender is not marked in it (Vatablus). From this passage it is demonstrated that these cities were distributed by lot to the Levites, supposing it to be the case that without regard to the lot these cities were separated from the other cities (Bonfrerius).

Judah…Simeon…Benjamin: Which three tribes were nearest to the temple, where their business lay.

[Thirteen cities] It is remarkable that so many cities were allotted to so few priests. For in the crossing of Jordan there were not more than twenty-four. And so, even if in the fourteen years [following] they be multiplied fourteen times, they will still not yet be four hundred, whom, if you divide by thirteen, will only be thirty-one priests in each city (Menochius out of Serarius). But the people desired to be bountiful with the Levites, and regarded, not how much they had increased, but how much they would be able to increase in time coming (Menochius).

Thirteen cities; for though the priests were now few enough for one city, yet respect was to be had to their succeeding numbers; this division being made for all future generations. And seeing the Levites might sell their houses until the jubilee, Leviticus 25:33, much more might they let them; and therefore it is probable their cities were not very long uninhabited, many being inclined to dwell with them by virtue of relations contracted with them, or dependence upon or expectation from them; or out of respect to the service of God, and the good of their souls.


Verse 5:[4] And (Josh. 21:20, etc.) 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.

[And to the rest of the children of Kohath] That is, who were not of the sons of Aaron, but were only Levites (Vatablus, Drusius, Menochius).

The children of Kohath were of Aaron’s family, or priests, but Levites only. These tribes are nearest to the three former, and so the Kohathites are placed next to their brethren the Aaronites. Ten cities; fewer than they gave out for the three former tribes, because their inheritance was less than the former. See Numbers 35:8.


Verse 6:[5] And (Josh. 21:27, etc.) 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.


Verse 7:[6] (Josh. 21:34, etc.) 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.


Verse 8:[7] (Josh. 21:3) And the children of Israel gave by lot unto the Levites these cities with their suburbs, (Num. 35:2) as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses.

These cities with their suburbs; of which see on Numbers 35:2.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּתְּנ֙וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֧ל לַלְוִיִּ֛ם מִנַּחֲלָתָ֖ם אֶל־פִּ֣י יְהוָ֑ה אֶת־הֶעָרִ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה וְאֶת־מִגְרְשֵׁיהֶֽן׃

[2] Hebrew: וַיֵּצֵ֥א הַגּוֹרָ֖ל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹ֣ת הַקְּהָתִ֑י וַיְהִ֡י לִבְנֵי֩ אַהֲרֹ֙ן הַכֹּהֵ֜ן מִן־הַלְוִיִּ֗ם מִמַּטֵּ֣ה יְ֠הוּדָה וּמִמַּטֵּ֙ה הַשִּׁמְעֹנִ֜י וּמִמַּטֵּ֤ה בִנְיָמִן֙ בַּגּוֹרָ֔ל עָרִ֖ים שְׁלֹ֥שׁ עֶשְׂרֵֽה׃

[3] Joshua 21:4:  “And the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites:  and it was (וַיְהִי) to the children of Aaron the priest, which were of the Levites, by lot out of the tribe of Judah, and out of the tribe of Simeon, and out of the tribe of Benjamin, thirteen cities.”

[4] Hebrew: וְלִבְנֵ֙י קְהָ֜ת הַנּוֹתָרִ֗ים מִמִּשְׁפְּחֹ֣ת מַטֵּֽה־אֶ֠פְרַיִם וּֽמִמַּטֵּה־דָ֞ן וּמֵחֲצִ֙י מַטֵּ֧ה מְנַשֶּׁ֛ה בַּגּוֹרָ֖ל עָרִ֥ים עָֽשֶׂר׃

[5] Hebrew: וְלִבְנֵ֣י גֵרְשׁ֗וֹן מִמִּשְׁפְּח֣וֹת מַטֵּֽה־יִשָּׂשכָ֣ר וּמִמַּטֵּֽה־אָ֠שֵׁר וּמִמַּטֵּ֙ה נַפְתָּלִ֜י וּ֠מֵחֲצִי מַטֵּ֙ה מְנַשֶּׁ֤ה בַבָּשָׁן֙ בַּגּוֹרָ֔ל עָרִ֖ים שְׁלֹ֥שׁ עֶשְׂרֵֽה׃

[6] Hebrew: לִבְנֵ֙י מְרָרִ֜י לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֗ם מִמַּטֵּ֙ה רְאוּבֵ֤ן וּמִמַּטֵּה־גָד֙ וּמִמַּטֵּ֣ה זְבוּלֻ֔ן עָרִ֖ים שְׁתֵּ֥ים עֶשְׂרֵֽה׃

[7] Hebrew: וַיִּתְּנ֤וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לַלְוִיִּ֔ם אֶת־הֶעָרִ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה וְאֶת־מִגְרְשֵׁיהֶ֑ן כַּאֲשֶׁ֙ר צִוָּ֧ה יְהוָ֛ה בְּיַד־מֹשֶׁ֖ה בַּגּוֹרָֽל׃

Joshua 21:1, 2: The Levites Ask for Their Cities

Verse 1:[1] Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites unto (Josh. 14:1; 17:4) 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 princes of the families of the Levites came near, רָאשֵׁי֙ אֲב֣וֹת הַלְוִיִּ֔ם] The heads (or princes [Pagnine]) of the fathers of the Levites (Montanus, Jonathan, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Munster); princes of the priests and Levites (Syriac); nobles of the paternal families of the Levites (Junius and Tremellius); ἀρχιπατριῶται τῶν υἱῶν Λευῒ (Septuagint), which they render, the princes of the families of the sons of Levi: for πατριὰ is family. The Fathers of the Levites were those that were in charge of their families. Now, there were four families or clans, the Aaronites, the remaining Kohathites, the Gershonites, and the Merarites. Those that were in charge of them were called heads of the fathers (Drusius). The Levites were not neglected by Joshua, etc., but first to the tribes was to the assigned their portion of the region, and only then out of each tribe cities were to be chosen that would be given to the Levites (Menochius, Masius). And the Levites honorable ask for that which was due to them by right (Menochius).

Then, that is, when the whole land was distributed unto the several tribes, but not actually possessed by them; which was the proper season for them to put in their claim. The fathers of the Levites were Kohath, Gershom, and Merari, and the heads of these were the chief persons now alive of these several families.


Verse 2:[2] And they spake unto them at (Josh. 18:1) Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, (Num. 35:2) The LORD commanded by the hand of Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with the suburbs thereof for our cattle.

[1] Hebrew: וַֽיִּגְּשׁ֗וּ רָאשֵׁי֙ אֲב֣וֹת הַלְוִיִּ֔ם אֶל־אֶלְעָזָר֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְאֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֖עַ בִּן־נ֑וּן וְאֶל־רָאשֵׁ֛י אֲב֥וֹת הַמַּטּ֖וֹת לִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

[2] Hebrew: וַיְדַבְּר֙וּ אֲלֵיהֶ֜ם בְּשִׁלֹ֗ה בְּאֶ֤רֶץ כְּנַ֙עַן֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר יְהוָה֙ צִוָּ֣ה בְיַד־מֹשֶׁ֔ה לָֽתֶת־לָ֥נוּ עָרִ֖ים לָשָׁ֑בֶת וּמִגְרְשֵׁיהֶ֖ן לִבְהֶמְתֵּֽנוּ׃

Joshua 21 Outline

Cities given out of the other tribes by lot to the Levites, 1-8. Particularly to the priests, the children of Aaron, 9-19; to the Levites, the Kohathites, 20-26, the Gershonites, 27-33, and Merarites, 34-40; in all forty-eight cities, with their suburbs, 41, 42. The Israelites quietly enjoy the Promised Land, 43-45.