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׃

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

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘…some of the Levites’ cities were afterwards famous upon other accounts. Hebron was the city in which David began his reign, and in Mahanaim, another Levites’ city (Joshua 21:38), he lay, and had his headquarters when he fled from Absalom. The first Israelite that ever wore the title of king (namely, Abimelech, the son of Gideon) reigned in Shechem, another Levites’ city, Joshua 21:21.’

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