The Book of Joshua

32. The Cities of the Levites.

Joshua 21.

"He . . . gave gifts unto men, .. . and some . . . teachers." — Eph. 4:8-11.

The Levites had no lands nor lot in Canaan as had the other tribes and, upon the cities of refuge being provided by the Lord, they came to the high priest, Eleazar, and to Joshua at Shiloh, and laid claim to the cities and the suburbs, which Moses had commanded should be apportioned to them by the tribes out of their inheritance.

The lots for the families of Levi fell in such a way that the children of Aaron, the priest, obtained their cities out of Judah's portion, in which also Simeon possessed, and out of that of Benjamin. Thus the hand of Jehovah ordered that the families of the priests should be settled in the districts surrounding the royal city, Jerusalem. A design marks every detail of the possession of Israel's inheritance, and divine order and beauty are stamped upon the whole of the nation's portion.

The number of cities that fell to the Levites "within the possession of the children of Israel" — "forty and eight cities," twelve, four times told, has also a divine purpose in it. The number twelve recurs frequently in God's ways with Israel, and signifies administration in His kingdom; the number four runs all through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and as a mark of completeness. Hence these cities, apportioned to the Levites and distributed over Israel's inheritance, indicate that everything was filially ordered in the land, and that God had provided for the complete administration of His word in the possession He had made Israel's.

To the Levites fell the solemn responsibility and high privilege of teaching Israel the law of the Lord. "They shall teach Jacob Thy judgments, and Israel Thy law." (Deut. 33:10.) In the day of blessing to Israel which is yet to come, the prophet declares of Levi, "They shall teach My people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. And in controversy they shall stand in judgment; and they shall judge it according to My judgments" (Ezek. 44:23, 24). For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, and He will carry out His great purpose of promise to the fathers, and will yet establish His word in the Land of Canaan.

The Levites were set apart from the rest of Israel for the service of the sanctuary and the contemplation of God's word; and, as they went up in their courses to attend the worship of God and returned to the cities from their sacred office, the whole of Israel would be kept in mind of the Lord, whose cloud overshadowed the tabernacle at Shiloh.

Thus, in the final ordering of the possessions in the promised land, Jehovah provided for the maintenance of the knowledge of His word amongst His people; without this their prosperity must inevitably cease, for without obedience to the word of God their privileges would be forfeited.

At Ebal and Gerizim the Lord established Israel in the land, in obedience to the solemn words of His law; on that day Israel formally entered into possession of their inheritance; and now, the whole land being apportioned among them, the crowning act is the distribution amongst the nation of the Levites, to whom was entrusted the upholding of the word of God in Israel. The first and the last great acts, in connection with the possession of the land, are, therefore, connected with the law, the Levites being entrusted with teaching Israel the word of Jehovah. Israel's prosperity from first to last depended upon their obedience to that word. The responsible position of the Levites is most marked, and in like manner is that of the ministers of God, whom He has appointed to be the instructors of His people.