This article provides an exposition of Joshua 20-Joshua 21, along with study questions on the chapters.

3 pages.

Joshua 20-21 – The Completion of the Division

We have come to the completion of the division of the land. This is clear from the ending of chapter 21 (v.43‑45). However, in the passages preceding these verses we encounter a detailed account of the cities of refuge and of Levitical cities. All tribes had received their inheritance, but what exactly was the inheritance of Levi?

1. The cities of refuge (20:1‑9)🔗

Through Joshua, the LORD tells the Israelites to appoint cities of refuge (20:1,2). The LORD had already spoken to the Israelites about that through Moses. In order to understand why it was necessary to choose cities of refuge, we need to know more about the avenging of blood, a practice often encountered in Middle Eastern countries and in Israel. The following Bible passages describe what the avenging of blood entailed: Exodus 21:13, Numbers 35:9‑28, Deuteronomy 4:41‑43 and 19:3.

The avenging of blood was a way in which punishments used to be executed. That is the reality that the Israelites were faced with. However, the danger existed that a person was punished even though he had not committed the crime. In this way, innocent blood would be shed. It would be terrible if that happened in Canaan (Num 35:33,34; Deut 19:10)!

The LORD wants to curb this danger through the appointment of cities of refuge. Yet, justice must run its course. Chapter 20:3‑6 explains the purpose of the cities of refuge once again, and why they had to be appointed in Canaan.

Question 1:     What was the purpose of the cities of refuge? (See 20:9 and Num 35:24.)

Three cities of refuge are appointed in Canaan and three cities on the other side of the Jordan (vv.7,8).

Question 2:     Find the three cities of refuge on a map of Canaan and answer this question: Why were three cities of refuge appointed on the other side of the Jordan? You will be able to find the answer in Deuteronomy 19:3 and 5‑10.

2. The Levitical cities (21:1‑42)🔗

Instead of all the firstborn in Israel, the tribe of Levi was set apart in order to serve the LORD on behalf of all the people. For that reason they did not receive a portion of the promised land, in which they would have employed their skills and from which they would have obtained their sustenance. The LORD was Levi's inheritance! Naturally, they had to be able to make a living in Canaan. They owned cattle as well. The LORD provided for them a place to live. In Numbers 35:1‑8 you can read how he did that.

Now that the land is divided, the heads of the families of Levi remember the command of the LORD. They go to Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun, and the leaders of Israel at Shiloh (vv.1,2).

The Israelites are obedient to the LORD's command and give them a total of 48 cities, according to the size of their inheritance (Num 35:8).

The tribe of Levi comprised three clans: the Kohathites, the Gershonites, and the Merarites (named after the sons of Levi). Each clan had their own particular responsibilities. (We can read about those in Numbers 1‑4.) Each of the clans receives their own priestly city.

The sons of Aaron, the priests, belonged to the clan of the Kohathites; yet the descendants of Aaron are mentioned separately here.

Question 3:     From which of the tribes did the descendants of Aaron receive cities? Can you think of a reason for the location of those cities in Canaan?

It is striking that the cities of refuge are Levitical cities at the same time. Among the Levitical cities, they are always the first ones that are mentioned.

Question 4:     Why are the cities of refuge Levitical cities as well? Remember that justice had to be maintained in those cities. Read Malachi 2:6 and 7, which deals with one of the tasks of the tribe of Levi. Cities of refuge and priestly cities belonged to the LORD and therefore to his sanctuary. Fleeing to a city of refuge can be compared to catching hold of the horns of the altar (1 Kings 1:50; 2:28). The altar provides salvation.     

The Levitical cities, with their pasturelands, were given by lot as the LORD had commanded through Moses (v.8).

Gibeon, where the Gibeonites lived, became a Levitical city as well (v.17). For whom had the Gibeonites become hewers of wood and drawers of water?

In chapter 17:11 and 12, we read that the Manassites had been unable to take possession of Taanach, among other cities.

Question 5:     What danger did this pose?

3. God's promises fulfilled! (21:43‑45)🔗

The observations made in these verses are very important; they form the core of the book of Joshua.

Question 6:     Who receives all honour?

These verses deal with the land (v.43), with the enemies (v.44), and with the promises (v.45).

Question 7:     What is being said about these three matters?

The LORD, the (fore)fathers, and Israel are repeatedly mentioned in these three verses.

Question 8:     In what context are the forefathers mentioned?

Notice the authority with which vv.44 and 45 speak about the work of the LORD. Concerning Israel's enemies, v.44 says that 'the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands.' In connection with God's promises we read in v.45 that 'not one of all the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.' We are reminded of the promises that the LORD gave to Abraham (Gen 15:13,18). The LORD keeps his promises, for always. He maintains them through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. 'All came to pass’; they are valuable words indeed.

Question 9:     What do we read in Deuteronomy 12:10? What had to happen after all God's promises were fulfilled? (See Deut 12:11.) How was Israel supposed to react to the fulfillment of God's promises? (See Deut 12:12.)  Therefore, what was one of God's aims? Is that still the same today? In connection with this matter, refer to the song of praise of Zachariah (esp. Lk 1:74,75). These verses underline the eternal blessedness of God's own people.

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