Sunday, September 19, 2010

Joshua 21

The request of the Levites (vs. 1-3)--The tribe of Levi, because it was the priestly tribe, had no lot given to it. The Lord had commanded that certain cities, scattered through Israel, be provided for this tribe. That way priests could be spread throughout the other 11 tribes in order to assist them in service to God. This chapter delineates the various cities given to the Levites, through the descendants of Levi's three sons, Kohath, Gershon, and Merari.

In conjunction with the concept of "city-state," the Levites were given cities with their "common land"--the land surrounding the city. Given the agricultural/pastoral nature of the ancient world, this was necessary. There were some artisans in the towns, but the vast majority of people made their living through agricultural pursuits. And it was largely a subsistence living for most. Thus, when the rains did not come, famine was frequent. Such events are read about all through Scripture and other ancient literature.

The cities given to Kohath (vs. 4-26)--Kohath appears to have been the second son of Levi (Gen. 46:11), but Moses and Aaron descended from him, thus he listed first here. Aaron being from Kohath, the high priesthood will thus come from his family. Thirteen cities were given to Aaron's people from Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. The temple, of course, will eventually be located in Judah, and these three tribes will be the only ones who remain loyal to the house of David after the division of the kingdom (I Kings 12). Simeon, whose lot was totally within the borders of Judah, appears to have been absorbed completely by the latter tribe and disappears from history. Thus, actually only nine tribes rebelled against David, though the number given is always 10, in order to keep the total number of tribes intact. Indeed, since Levi only had cities and no geographical territory, it would be more appropriate to say that only eight tribes were in the Northern Kingdom, though the land of the tribe of Manasseh was divided in two, one part east of the Jordan River and the other part west.

Kohath had 23 cities total, 10 more which were located In Ephraim Dan, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (west--v. 5). Gershon had 13 cities (v. 6), found in Issachar, Asher, Naphtali and the eastern half of Manasseh (v. 6). Merari's 13 cities were divided among Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun. Only Zebulun was west of the Jordan River. All of the cities of Kohath are listed in verses 9-26. Some important ones include Hebron, or Kirjath Arba, the home of Anak, father of the Anakim, the "giants" which scared the 10 weak spies in Numbers 13. Gibeon (see Joshua 9) was in Korath's territory, as was Anathoth, the home of the prophet Jeremiah, and Shechem, the place where Simeon and Levi had killed all the men because one of them had raped their sister Dinah. That interesting, and gory, tale is found in Genesis 34.

The cities of Gershon (vs. 27-33)--Gershon had 13 cities, and they are named in these verses. There are no cities here with much history of interest, at least in the rest of the Bible.

The cities of Merari (vs. 34-42)--Merari was given 12 cities, mostly east of the Jordan. This made for 48 cities total.  The last two verses here, 41 and 42, sum the matter up.

The Lord's promises fulfilled (vs. 43-45)--The Lord gave the land of Canaan to the children of Israel, the land "which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it" (v. 43). For a while, they had peace and none of their enemies could defeat them, for "the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand" (v. 44), the writer rightly attributing the victory to Jehovah. All that He had told them He had done (v. 45). The full extent of the land, promised to Abraham in Genesis 15, will finally be realized under David and Solomon, but some of that territory was not within the borders of ancient Palestine.

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