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.

1 thought on “Joshua 21:41, 42: The Sum of the Levitical Cities

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘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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