Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Joshua 21

Joshua 21: Towns for the Levites

Synopsis

This chapter outlines all of the towns—with their surrounding pastureland—that were given to the Levites. As you may recall, from earlier books, the Levites were not to have land of their own; instead, they were to be given land from the other eleven tribes, because the LORD is their inheritance. (See, for example, Numbers 18:20–21.)

The chapter starts with the Levites coming to Joshua to remind him to give them towns:

Now the family heads of the Levites approached Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun, and the heads of the other tribal families of Israel at Shiloh in Canaan and said to them, “The LORD commanded through Moses that you give us towns to live in, with pasturelands for our livestock.” So, as the LORD had commanded, the Israelites gave the Levites the following towns and pasturelands out of their own inheritance: (verses 1–3)

This leads me to wonder if Joshua had forgotten to give them their towns, or if they were just being impatient, or if nothing negative was going on, and I’m just reading too much into it.

I won’t bother to go through all of the towns that were allocated. From each tribe, the passage mentions what towns were set aside for the Levites, and which ones were dedicated as cities of refuge. The only exception is here:

They gave them Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), with its surrounding pastureland, in the hill country of Judah. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) But the fields and villages around the city they had given to Caleb son of Jephunneh as his possession. (verses 11–12)

It seems they didn’t give the Levites some of the area that they were supposed to, because it had already been allocated to Caleb. (I say “it seems” because the passage that I’m going to quote below seems to disagree. So I might be misinterpreting this.)

The chapter sums up thusly:

The towns of the Levites in the territory held by the Israelites were forty-eight in all, together with their pasturelands. Each of these towns had pasturelands surrounding it; this was true for all these towns.

So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

(verses 41–45)

Thoughts

There’s not much to say about this passage; I have to admit that I don’t have a lot of interest in which towns were allocated to the Levites. I do find the last quoted passage interesting, though; going along with the theme of Joshua being a “feel good” book, this passage is perhaps painting a rosier picture than what actually exists. Did the LORD give the Israelites rest on every side? Yes He did. Did any of their enemies withstand them? No, not one of their enemies withstood them. But there is still the fact that the Israelites didn’t do all that they were supposed to do; although none of their enemies withstood them, we can’t ignore the fact that they didn’t take on some of their enemies in the first place, because they were too lazy or too scared to fight them.

One might—of course—use this as a modern-day analogy; God gives us all that we need to follow Him, but we don’t always take advantage of these gifts, which is why we let Him down so often. The Israelites could have defeated the remaining people living in the Promised Land, but they didn’t.
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