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׃

1 thought on “Joshua 21:34-40: Cities of the Merarites

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘…every tribe of Israel was adorned and enriched with its share of Levites’ cities in proportion to its compass, even those that lay most remote. They were all God’s people, and therefore they all had Levites among them. 1. To show kindness to, as God appointed them, Deuteronomy 12:19; 14:29. They were God’s receivers, to whom the people might give their grateful acknowledgments of God’s goodness, as the occasion and disposition were. 2. To receive advice and instruction from; when they could not go up to the tabernacle, to consult those who attended there, they might go to a Levites’ city, and be taught the good knowledge of the Lord. Thus God set up a candle in every room of his house, to give light to all his family; as those that attended the altar kept the charge of the Lord, to see that no divine appointment was neglected there, so those that were scattered in the country had their charge too, which was to see that no idolatrous superstitious usages were introduced at a distance and to watch for the souls of God’s Israel. Thus did God graciously provide for the keeping up of religion among them, and that they might have the word nigh them; yet, blessed be God, we, under the gospel, have it yet nigher, not only Levites in every county, but Levites in every parish, whose office it is still to teach the people knowledge, and to go before them in the things of God….

    [T]he number of the [cities] in all was more than of most of the tribes, except Judah, though the tribe of Levi was one of the least of the tribes, to show how liberal God is, and his people should be, to his ministers; yet the disproportion will not appear so great as at first it seems, if we consider that the Levites had cities only with their suburbs to dwell in, but the rest of the tribes, besides their cities (and those perhaps were many more than are named in the account of their lot), had many unwalled towns and villages which they inhabited, besides country houses.

    Upon the whole, it appears that effectual care was taken that the Levites should live both comfortably and usefully: and those, whether ministers or others, for whom Providence has done well, must look upon themselves as obliged thereby to do good, and, according as their capacity and opportunity are, to serve their generation.’

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