It had been often said that the tribe of Levi should have "no
inheritance with their brethren," no particular part of the country
assigned them, as the other tribes had, no, not the country about
Shiloh, which one might have expected to be appropriated to them as the
lands of the church; but, though they were not thus cast into a country
by themselves, it appears, by the provision made for them in this
chapter, that they were no losers, but the rest of the tribes were very
much gainers, by their being dispersed. We have here,
I. The motion they made to have their cities assigned them, according
to God's appointment,
II. The nomination of the cities accordingly out of the several tribes,
and the distribution of them to the respective families of this tribe,
III. A catalogue of the cities, forty-eight in all,
IV. A receipt entered in full of all that God had promised to his
|The Cities of the Levites.
||B. C. 1444.|
1 Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites unto
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;
2 And they spake unto them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan,
saying, The LORD commanded by the hand of Moses to give us cities
to dwell in, with the suburbs thereof for our cattle.
3 And the children of Israel gave unto the Levites out of their
inheritance, at the commandment of the LORD, these cities and
4 And the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites: and
the children of Aaron the priest, which were of the Levites,
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.
5 And 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.
6 And 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.
7 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.
8 And the children of Israel gave by lot unto the Levites these
cities with their suburbs, as the LORD commanded by the hand of
I. The Levites' petition presented to this general convention of the
states, now sitting at Shiloh,
1. They had not their lot assigned them till they made their claim.
There is an inheritance provided for all the saints, that royal
priesthood, but then they must petition for it. Ask, and it shall be
given you. Joshua had quickened the rest of the tribes who were
slack to put in their claims, but the Levites, it may be supposed, knew
their duty and interest better than the rest, and were therefore
forward in this matter, when it came to their turn, without being
called upon. They build their claim upon a very good foundation, not
their own merits nor services, but the divine precept: "The Lord
commanded by the hand of Moses to give us cities, commanded you to
grant them, which implied a command to us to ask them." Note, The
maintenance of ministers is not an arbitrary thing, left purely to the
good-will of the people, who may let them starve if they please; no, as
the God of Israel commanded that the Levites should be well provided
for, so has the Lord Jesus, the King of the Christian church, ordained,
and a perpetual ordinance it is that those who preach the gospel
should live of the gospel
(1 Corinthians 9:14),
and should live comfortably.
2. They did not make their claim till all the rest of the tribes were
provided for, and then they did it immediately. There was some reason
for it; every tribe must first know their own, else they would not know
what they gave the Levites, and so it could not be such a reasonable
service as it ought to be. But it is also an instance of their
humility, modesty, and patience (and Levites should be examples of
these and other virtues), that they were willing to be served last, and
they fared never the worse for it. Let not God's ministers complain if
at any time they find themselves postponed in men's thoughts and cares,
but let them make sure of the favour of God and the honour that comes
from him, and then they may well enough afford to bear the slights and
neglects of men.
II. The Levites' petition granted immediately, without any dispute, the
princes of Israel being perhaps ashamed that they needed to be called
upon in this matter, and that the motion had not been made among
themselves for the settling of the Levites.
1. The children of Israel are said to give the cities for the Levites.
God had appointed how many they should be in all, forty-eight. It is
probable that Joshua and the princes, upon consideration of the extent
and value of the lot of each tribe as it was laid before them, had
appointed how many cities should be taken out of each; and then the
fathers of the several tribes themselves agreed which they should be,
and therefore are said to give them, as an offering, to the Lord; so
God had appointed.
Every one shall give of his cities to the Levites. Here God
tried their generosity, and it was found to praise and honour, for it
appears by the following catalogue that the cities they gave to the
Levites were generally some of the best and most considerable in each
tribe. And it is probable that they had an eye to the situation of
them, taking care they should be so dispersed as that no part of the
country should be too far distant from a Levites' city.
2. They gave them at the commandment of the Lord, that is, with
an eye to the command and in obedience to it, which was it that
sanctified the grant. They gave the number that God commanded, and it
was well this matter was settled that the Levites might not ask more
nor the Israelites offer less. They gave them also with their suburbs,
or glebe-lands, belonging to them, so many cubits by measure from the
walls of the city, as God had commanded
and did not go about to cut them short.
3. When the forty-eight cities were pitched upon, they were divided
into four lots, as they lay next together, and then by lot were
determined to the four several families of the tribe of Levi. When the
Israelites had surrendered the cities into the hand of God, he would
himself have the distributing of them among his servants.
(1.) The family of Aaron, who were the only priests, had for their
share the thirteen cities that were given by the tribes of Judah,
Simeon, and Benjamin,
God in wisdom ordered it thus, that though Jerusalem itself was not one
of their cities, it being as yet in the possession of the Jebusites
(and those generous tribes would not mock the Levites, who had another
warfare to mind, with a city that must be recovered by the sword before
it could be enjoyed), yet the cities that fell to their lot were those
which lay next to Jerusalem, because that was to be, in process of
time, the holy city, where their business would chiefly lie.
(2.) The Kohathite-Levites (among whom were the posterity of Moses,
though never distinguished from them) had the cities that lay in the
lot of Dan, which lay next to Judah, and in that of Ephraim, and the
half-tribe of Manasseh, which lay next to Benjamin. So those who
descended from Aaron's father joined nearest to Aaron's sons.
(3.) Gershon was the eldest son of Levi, and therefore, though the
younger house of the Kohathites was preferred before his, yet his
children had the precedency of the other family of Merari,
(4.) The Merarites, the youngest house, had their lot last, and it lay
The rest of the sons of Jacob had a lot for every tribe only, but Levi,
God's tribe, had a lot for each of its families; for there is a
particular providence directing and attending the removals and
settlements of ministers, and appointing where those shall fix who are
to be the lights of the world.
9 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 by name,
10 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.
11 And they gave them the city of Arba the father of Anak,
which city is Hebron, in the hill country of Judah, with the
suburbs thereof round about it.
12 But the fields of the city, and the villages thereof, gave
they to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for his possession.
13 Thus they gave to the children of Aaron the priest Hebron
with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and
Libnah with her suburbs,
14 And Jattir with her suburbs, and Eshtemoa with her suburbs,
15 And Holon with her suburbs, and Debir with her suburbs,
16 And Ain with her suburbs, and Juttah with her suburbs, and
Beth-shemesh with her suburbs; nine cities out of those two
17 And out of the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with her suburbs,
Geba with her suburbs,
18 Anathoth with her suburbs, and Almon with her suburbs; four
19 All the cities of the children of Aaron, the priests, were
thirteen cities with their suburbs.
20 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.
21 For they gave them Shechem with her suburbs in mount
Ephraim, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Gezer with
22 And Kibzaim with her suburbs, and Beth-horon with her
suburbs; four cities.
23 And out of the tribe of Dan, Eltekeh with her suburbs,
Gibbethon with her suburbs,
24 Aijalon with her suburbs, Gath-rimmon with her suburbs; four
25 And out of the half tribe of Manasseh, Tanach with her
suburbs, and Gath-rimmon with her suburbs; two cities.
26 All the cities were ten with their suburbs for the
families of the children of Kohath that remained.
27 And unto the children of Gershon, of the families of the
Levites, out of the other half tribe of Manasseh they gave
Golan in Bashan with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for
the slayer; and Beesh-terah with her suburbs; two cities.
28 And out of the tribe of Issachar, Kishon with her suburbs,
Dabareh with her suburbs,
29 Jarmuth with her suburbs, En-gannim with her suburbs; four
30 And out of the tribe of Asher, Mishal with her suburbs,
Abdon with her suburbs,
31 Helkath with her suburbs, and Rehob with her suburbs; four
32 And out of the tribe of Naphtali, 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.
33 All the cities of the Gershonites according to their
families were thirteen cities with their suburbs.
34 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,
35 Dimnah with her suburbs, Nahalal with her suburbs; four
36 And out of the tribe of Reuben, Bezer with her suburbs, and
Jahazah with her suburbs,
37 Kedemoth with her suburbs, and Mephaath with her suburbs;
38 And out of the tribe of Gad, Ramoth in Gilead with her
suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Mahanaim
with her suburbs,
39 Heshbon with her suburbs, Jazer with her suburbs; four
cities in all.
40 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.
41 All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the
children of Israel were forty and eight cities with their
42 These cities were every one with their suburbs round about
them: thus were all these cities.
We have here a particular account of the cities which were given to the
children of Levi out of the several tribes, not only to be occupied and
inhabited by them, as tenants to the several tribes in which they
lay--no, their interest in them was not dependent and precarious, but to
be owned and possessed by them as lords and proprietors, and as having
the same title to them that the rest of the tribes had to their cities
or lands, as appears by the law which preserved the house in the
Levites' cities from being alienated any longer than till the year of
Yet it is probable that the Levites having only the cities and suburbs,
while the land about pertained to the tribes in which they lay, those
of that tribe, for the convenience of occupying that land, might
commonly rent houses of the Levites, as they could spare them in their
cities, and so live among them as their tenants. Several things may be
observed in this account, besides what was observed in the law
I. That the Levites were dispersed into all the tribes, and not
suffered to live all together in any one part of the country. This
would find them all with work, and employ them all for the good of
others; for ministers, of all people, must neither be idle nor live to
themselves or to one another only. Christ left his twelve disciples
together in a body, but left orders that they should in due time
disperse themselves, that they might preach the gospel to every
creature. The mixing of the Levites thus with the other tribes
would be an obligation upon them to walk circumspectly, and as became
their sacred function, and to avoid every thing that might disgrace it.
Had they lived all together, they would have been tempted to wink at
one another's faults, and to excuse one another when they did amiss;
but by this means they were made to see the eyes of all Israel upon
them, and therefore saw it their concern to walk so as that their
ministry might in nothing be blamed nor their high character suffer by
their ill carriage.
II. That 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,
They were God's receivers, to whom the people might give their grateful
acknowledgments of God's goodness, as the occasion and disposition
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.
III. That there were thirteen cities, and those some of the best,
appointed for the priests, the sons of Aaron,
Aaron left but two sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, yet his family was now so
much increased, and it was foreseen that it would in process of time
grow so numerous, as to replenish all these cities, though a
considerable number must of necessity be resident wherever the ark and
the altar were. We read in both Testaments of such numbers of priests
that we may suppose none of all the families of Israel that came out of
Egypt increased afterwards so much as that of Aaron did; and the
promise afterwards to the house of Aaron is, God shall increase you
more and more, you and your children,
He will raise up a seed to serve him.
IV. That some of the Levites' cities were afterwards famous upon other
accounts. Hebron was the city in which David began his reign, and in
Manhanaim, another Levites' city
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,
V. That the number of them 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.
43 And the LORD gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to
give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt
44 And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all
that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of
all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their
enemies into their hand.
45 There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had
spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.
We have here the conclusion of this whole matter, the foregoing history
summed up, and, to make it appear the more bright, compared with the
promise of which it was the full accomplishment. God's word and his
works mutually illustrate each other. The performance makes the promise
appear very true and the promise makes the performance appear very
I. God had promised to give the seed of Abraham the land of Canaan for
a possession, and now at last he performed this promise
They possessed it, and dwelt therein. Though they had often
forfeited the benefit of that promise, and God had long delayed the
performance of it, yet at last all difficulties were conquered, and
Canaan was their own. And the promise of the heavenly Canaan is as sure
to all God's spiritual Israel, for it is the promise of him that cannot
II. God had promised to give them rest in that land, and now they had
rest round about, rest from the fatigues of their travel through the
wilderness (which tedious march, perhaps, was long in their bones),
rest from their wars in Canaan, and the insults which their enemies
there had at first offered them. They now dwelt, not only in
habitations of their own, but those quiet and peaceable ones; though
there were Canaanites that remained, yet none that had either strength
or spirit to attack them, nor so much as give them an alarm. This rest
continued till they by their own sin and folly put thorns into their
own beds and their own eyes.
III. God had promised to give them victory and success in their wars,
and this promise likewise was fulfilled: There stood not a man
They had the better in every battle, and which way soever they turned
their forces they prospered. It is true there were Canaanites now
remaining in many parts of the land, and such as afterwards made head
against them, and became very formidable. But,
1. As to the present remains of the Canaanites, they were no
contradiction to the promise, for God had said he would not drive them
out all at once, but by little and little,
They had now as much in their full possession as they had occasion for
and as they had hands to manage, so that the Canaanites only kept
possession of some of the less cultivated parts of the country against
the beasts of the field, till Israel, in process of time, should become
numerous enough to replenish them.
2. As to the after prevalency of the Canaanites, that was purely the
effect of Israel's cowardice and slothfulness, and the punishment of
their sinful inclination to the idolatries and other abominations of
the heathen, whom the Lord would have cast out before them but that
they harboured and indulged them. So that the foundation of God stands
sure. Israel's experience of God's fidelity is here upon record, and
is an acquittance under their hands to the honour of God, the
vindication of his promise which had been so often distrusted, and the
encouragement of all believers to the end of the world: There failed
not any good thing, no, nor aught of any good thing (so full
is it expressed), which the Lord had spoken unto the house of
Israel, but in due time all came to pass,
Such an acknowledgment as this, here subscribed by Joshua in the name
of all Israel, we afterwards find made by Solomon, and all Israel did
in effect say Amen to it,
1 Kings 8:56.
The inviolable truth of God's promise, and the performance of it to the
utmost, are what all the saints have been ready to bear their testimony
to; and, if in any thing the performance has seemed to come short, they
have been as ready to own that they themselves must bear all the