Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. The priest, who seems to have presided, as he is always placed first. A select number of the tribe of Levi came to represent the priests, and those of an inferior order; and to obtain what God had promised them, Numbers xxxv. 2. There was one family of priests who sprang from Aaron, the son of Caath. The rest of Caath’s family, with the children of Gerson and Merari, were simply Levites, constituting three other families. God was pleased that they should be dispersed through Israel, that they might instruct the people both by word and by example, 1 Paralipomenon xxvi. 29. (Calmet) — Josue would not have neglected them. (Menochius) — But they were naturally solicitous to know where they were to live, as the tribes had now all received their portions. (Haydock)
Ver. 3. Gave, by lot, ver. 4, &c. (Menochius) — Whether any changes were afterwards made, to grant more or less, in proportion to the numbers of the four families, (as seems to have been done with regard to the other tribes) or the cities were specified in four parcels, and the priests received the first lot, the text does not explain. (Calmet) — It is also uncertain what right the Levites had to these 48 cities. Some say that they had only the use of them, while others maintain that the cities were their property entirely, so that no other could live there without their consent. They could sell the houses, which returned to them in the year of the jubilee, if not redeemed before; but the suburbs were a common property of all the Levites, and could not be sold by any, Leviticus xxv. The cities, therefore, belonged to God, and he abandoned the property to his ministers. Other people might live among them, as they were not debarred from choosing their habitation in places which were not originally allotted to them. Thus we find that Gabaa was chiefly peopled by the tribe of Benjamin, when the outrage was offered to the Levite’s wife, and no blame attached to the latter, Judges xix. Saul and his family were of the same town, though it belonged to the Levites, and David kept his court at Hebron, a sacerdotal city, for the first seven years of his reign. (Calmet) — Here also Caleb had probably resided, chap. xiv. 14. The priests and Levites were not indeed at this time sufficiently numerous to people all these cities; and Calmet supposes that they only received as many houses as they might occupy, being supplied with more by the magistrates as their numbers increased. But might not they let the houses, which they did not want to occupy, and receive the profits, so as to take possession of them when they had occasion? Were these 48 cities, which were the only part of the land to which the Levites had any claim, too many or too rich to compensate the labours of this most deserving tribe? It seems, therefore, unnecessary to call in the aid or interference of the magistrate, except any person were so bold as to refuse to give up what the law had so positively assigned to the Levites. Their rights were as well defined as those of any of the other tribes. (Haydock) — The land beyond the suburbs, was cultivated by the proprietors, who might either live in the town or country. Many of the priests and Levites chose to reside near the tabernacle, as Moses had encouraged them to do, Deuteronomy xviii. 6. Thus Nobe became a sacerdotal city; (1 Kings xxi. 1,) and after the temple was built, Jerusalem and its environs were the places of abode for most of the priests. (Calmet)
Ver. 4. Thirteen. These three tribes give more cities than any of the others, because their territories were the largest, Numbers xxxv. 8. Juda in particular, had a most extensive portion allotted to him at first; so that a part was afterwards taken away to accommodate Simeon and Dan, and now so many cities are appointed for the priests, (Calmet) who would thus have their residence near the temple, when it should be built. (Haydock) — God ordered the lots according to the designs of his providence; and gave the priests, though so few in number, more than what fell to the share of all the rest of the family of Caath. (Calmet) — This family had in all twenty-three cities, lying south of Dor and Bethsan, and leaving the tribe of Issachar on the north. Gerson had thirteen cities among the three other northern tribes, and that of Manasses on the east side of the Jordan; while Merari had twelve, more southward on the same side, in the tribes of Gad and of Ruben, and on the west of the Jordan, in the tribe of Zabulon. Thus these two families were more intermixed. (Haydock)
Ver. 12. Possession. Only the houses which the priests occupied, were taken from him. (Calmet) — Caleb enjoyed all the dependencies of Hebron, and took the city, as he would not have been secure while the Chanaanites dwelt there. (Magalian.) — Serarius thinks that he abandoned the city to the priests, in which he follows Tostat, who supposes that they had to pay tribute to the tribes among whom they lived; and that mines, &c., belonged to the latter. (Menochius)
Ver. 16. Ain and Jeta. Septuagint of Grabe agrees with the Vulgate. But the Vatican copy (Haydock) has, “Asa….and Tanu.” In 1 Paralipomenon vi. 59, only Asan and Bethsemes are mentioned. Several other variations may also be observed, which may be attributed either to the changes which were afterwards made when the Chanaanites kept their hold, (Rabbins) or to the different places having two names, or to the mistakes of transcribers, &c. See chap xv. 62. Only eleven cities are specified in the Book of Paralipomenon, though it observes that there were thirteen. (Calmet) — As hath, &c., words added by St. Jerome, or rather expressing more fully the Hebrew, “those” two tribes. (Haydock)
Ver. 21. One of, (urbes confugii Sichem….and Gazer.) Literally, ” cities of refuge, Sichem,….Gazer,” &c., as if all the Levitical cities had enjoyed this privilege, which we have seen (Numbers xxxv. 6,) is the opinion of some. But the Hebrew, Septuagint, and Chaldean read in the singular, “Sichem, a city of refuge;” and interpreters generally allow only six cities of this description. (Calmet) — Without extending this privilege to all the rest, we may observe that all the cities of refuge were given to the Levites, ver. 11, 21, 27, 32, 36, 37. Protestants, “For they give them Shechem, with her suburbs in Mount Ephraim, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Gazer,” &c. By inserting to be, they seem to countenance the opinion that all the subsequent towns were of the same nature as Sichem. The text would be clearer without the addition, to prove the contrary sentiment. (Haydock) — See Bonfrere how the Vulgate may be vindicated. (Menochius)
Ver 22. Beth-horon. Grabe’s Septuagint adds, “the upper,” which is the received opinion. (Calmet)
Ver. 23. And of, &c. This verse is omitted in Paralipomenon, (Haydock) whence we find Helon and Gethremmon (probably the same as Aialon and Beth-remmon, ver. 24, assigned to Ephraim. — Eltheco. See chap. xv. 59., and xix. 44. — Gabathon continued a long time in the hands of the Philistines, 3 Kings xv. 27.
Ver. 25. Cities. Instead of these, Aner and Balaam are mentioned in Paralipomenon. (Calmet)
Ver. 26. Degree, who were not priests. Caath is placed before his eldest brother Gerson, on account of the honour of the priesthood and of Moses. (Menochius)
Ver. 27. Refuge. Literally, “the cities of refuge, Gaulon…and Bosra.” See ver. 21. (Haydock) — The latter gives place to Asteroth, in Paralipomenon.
Ver. 29. Cities. These are called Cedes and Daboreth, Ramoth and Anem, in Paralipomenon.
Ver. 35. Suburbs. Paralipomenon only mentions two, Remmono and Thabor.
Ver. 36. Four cities. There are no more, though there be five names: for Misor is the same city as Bosor, which is to be observed in some other places, where the number of names exceeds the number of cities. (Challoner) — With regard to the 36th and 37th verses, there seems to have been great confusion in the Hebrew manuscripts both ancient and modern. In some they have been totally omitted, in others only a part. (Haydock) — The famous manuscript of Hillel, and the Masorets, reject them, (Calmet) because they had reckoned only 656 verses in Josue, and these two verses would destroy their authority. Hence they erased them wherever they might be found; and Kimchi assures us, that he never could meet with them “in any manuscript (thus) corrected.” Yet the Paralipomena universally acknowledge them, (Kennicott) as the context of Josue must also do, otherwise there will be only eight cities instead of twelve, and four will be wanting to complete the number of forty-eight. The Protestant version therefore is forced to admit them, (Haydock) as they are found in the Eng. Polyglot, on the authority of some ancient manuscripts. They do not, however, express them so fully as the Septuagint have done. (Kennicott) — These read, “And beyond the Jordan, over-against Jericho, out of the tribe of Ruben, the city of refuge for the slayer, Bosor, in the wilderness, (Misor) and her suburbs, and Jazer and her suburbs, (37) and Gedson and her suburbs, and Mapha (Alexandrian copy reads Maspha) and her suburbs, four cities.” (Grabe) — Protestants only admit, “And out of the tribe of Ruben, Bezer with her suburbs, and Jahazah….Kedemoth….and Mephaath with her suburbs, four cities.” Kennicott finds in some Hebrew manuscripts, “the city of refuge for the slayer, Bosor;” one manuscript has, “in the wilderness,” &c. (Haydock) — These verses were not in the Hebrew text of the Hexapla, as they are obelized in the Septuagint and in the Syriac manuscript of Masius; and yet, as they are found in the old Greek and Syriac versions, and in the Chaldean paraphrase, they were probably omitted between the year 100 and 200. They are left out in several printed editions of the Hebrew Bible, and even in that of Jablonski, (1699) though in opposition to his better judgment and all the manuscripts which he had consulted: legunt omnia nostra manuscripts. Michaelis (1720) reprinted this text, with some few emendations, particularly with these two verse very laudably inserted. (Kennicott, 2 Diss.) — In the Bened.[Benedictine?] edition of St. Jerome, Martianay observes, that the Hebrew manuscripts of St. Jerome seem to have been mutilated, for if they had admitted this 36th verse, St. Jerome would have translated it, and it would have been found in the more ancient manuscripts of the Latin edition, where it is wanting. Hence this editor leaves it out. He also remarks that other Hebrew manuscripts omit “a city of refuge for the slayer, in the desert.” The last word, he says, occurs in several copies of the best note; and Houbigant inserts it on the authority of the oratorian manuscript 54. (Haydock) — In some editions of the Vulgate, this verse is transposed, and placed after the cities of Gad. (Louvain; R. Steph.; &c.) — It is therefore, probable that St. Jerome found it not in Hebrew but, if he inserted it, he borrowed it from the Septuagint. The Syriac version places these verses before the 34th and 35th. All this shews that the Hebrew manuscripts have not been kept with great care in this place. Some have surmised that the Septuagint have inserted this necessary supplement from Paralipomenon. But they do not entirely agree with that book, so that it seems that they found these verses in their Hebrew copies. (Calmet) — We have already given the Hebrew and Septuagint as it is found in the common editions. In Paralipomenon (vi. 78,) it is thus expressed: Beyond the Jordan also, over-against Jericho, on the east side of the Jordan, out of the tribe of Ruben, Bosor in the wilderness, with its suburbs, and Jassa….79. Cademoth also….and Mephaath with its suburbs. The word Misor, which Grabe’s Septuagint and the Vulgate leave untranslated, is the Hebrew word which denotes a plain, (Haydock) as Aquila and Symmachus agree, and as appears [in] chap. xx. 8. Deuteronomy iv. 43, where Bosor is said to have been upon the plain of the wilderness. This city was the famous Bosra, in the desert Arabia, between Philadelphia and Jazer, towards the east. (Calmet) — We might translate, “the cities of refuge, Bosor in the wilderness, which is also the plain” of Moab, ver. 21. (Haydock) — Jaser, or Jassa, (chap. xiii. 18,) different from that [in] ver. 37, which lay on the river of the same name in the tribe of Gad. (Calmet)
Ver. 40. Families, the four great ones, which parcelled out the cities among the several branches. (Haydock) — The Levites were only 23,000, (Numbers xxvi. 62,) yet they receive more cities than what are specified for any other tribe. It must be observed, however, that all the cities of the different tribes are not mentioned, and the Israelites might live along with those of the tribe of Levi, ver. 3. Moreover, these had only the cities, with 2000 cubits of land round them. The Septuagint here insert that Josue divided the land, and received the city of Thamnasachar; (Grabe substitutes Thamnasarach) where he deposited the knives of stone with which he had circumcised those who were born in the desert. (Haydock) — They farther remark, that they were buried in his tomb, chap. xxiv. 30.
Ver. 43. Pass. How then did the Chanaanites keep possession of so many places? St. Augustine (q. 21,) answers, that they were suffered to do it for the “utility and trial” of the Israelites. For the latter were not sufficiently numerous at first to cultivate all the land. God had therefore promised that the nations should not be driven out all at once, lest the country should fall a prey to wild beasts, Exodus xxiii. 29. (Masius) — During the life-time of Josue, none of them durst make head against him; and if many of the tribes did not take possession of all their cities, it was owing to their own negligence. After this hero was no more, the natives took courage, and greatly harassed the Israelites; but it is plain that the latter were not straitened for room, while Josue lived, since they invited the other tribes east of the Jordan to come and reside with them on the west, if they thought proper, chap. xvii. 19. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Cities, with their suburbs, are assigned for the priests and Levites.
1 Then *the princes of the families of Levi came to Eleazar, the priest, and to Josue, the son of Nun, and to the princes of the kindreds of all the tribes of the children of Israel:
2 And they spoke to them in Silo, in the land of Chanaan, and said: *The Lord commanded by the hand of Moses, that cities should be given us to dwell in, and their suburbs to feed our cattle.
3 And the children of Israel gave out of their possessions, according to the commandment of the Lord, cities and their suburbs.
4 And the lot came out for the family of Caath, of the children of Aaron the priest, out of the tribes of Juda, and of Simeon, and of Benjamin, thirteen cities.
5 And to the rest of the children of Caath, that is, to the Levites who remained, out of the tribes of Ephraim, and of Dan, and the half tribe of Manasses, ten cities.
6 And the lot came out to the children of Gerson, that they should take of the tribes of Issachar, and of Aser, and of Nephthali, and of the half tribe of Manasses in Basan, thirteen cities.
7 And to the sons of Merari, by their kindreds, of the tribes of Ruben, and of Gad, and of Zabulon, twelve cities.
8 And the children of Israel gave to the Levites the cities and their suburbs, as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses, giving to every one by lot.
9 Of the tribes of the children of Juda and of Simeon, Josue gave cities: *whose names are these,
10 To the sons of Aaron, of the families of Caath, of the race of Levi, (for the first lot came out for them)
11 The city of Arbe, the father of Enac, which is called Hebron, in the mountain of Juda, and the suburbs thereof round about.
12 *But the fields and the villages thereof he had given to Caleb, the son of Jephone, for his possession.
13 He gave therefore to the children of Aaron the priest, Hebron a city of refuge, and the suburbs thereof: and Lobna with the suburbs thereof,
14 And Jether, and Estemo,
15 And Holon, and Dabir,
16 And Ain, and Jeta, and Bethsames, with their suburbs: nine cities out of the two tribes, as hath been said.
17 And out of the tribe of the children of Benjamin, Gabaon, and Gabae,
18 And Anathoth, and Almon, with their suburbs: four cities.
19 All the cities together of the children of Aaron the priest, were thirteen, with their suburbs.
20 And to the rest of the families of the children of Caath, of the race of Levi, was given this possession.
21 Of the tribe of Ephraim, Sichem one of the cities of refuge, with the suburbs thereof in Mount Ephraim, and Gazer,
22 And Cibsaim, and Beth-horon, with their suburbs, four cities.
23 And of the tribe of Dan, Eltheco and Gabathon,
24 And Aialon and Gethremmon, with their suburbs, four cities.
25 And of the half tribe of Manasses, Thanac and Gethremmon, with their suburbs, two cities.
26 All the cities were ten, with their suburbs, which were given to the children of Caath of the inferior degree.
27 To the children of Gerson also, of the race of Levi, out of the half tribe of Manasses, Gaulon, in Basan, one of the cities of refuge, and Bosra, with their suburbs, two cities.
28 And of the tribe of Issachar, Cesion, and Dabereth,
29 And Jaramoth, and Engannim, with their suburbs, four cities.
30 And of the tribe of Aser, Masal, and Abdon,
31 31And Helcath, and Rohob, with their suburbs, four cities.
32 Of the tribe also of Nephthali, Cedes in Galilee, one of the cities of refuge: and Hammoth Dor, and Carthan, with their suburbs, three cities.
33 All the cities of the families of Gerson, were thirteen, with their suburbs.
34 And to the children of Merari, Levites of the inferior degree, by their families, were given of the tribe of Zabulon, Jecnam, and Cartha,
35 And Damna and Naalol, four cities, with their suburbs.
36 Of the tribe of Ruben, beyond the Jordan over-against Jericho, Bosor in the wilderness, one of the cities of refuge, Misor, and Jaser, and Jethson, and Mephaath, four cities, with their suburbs.
37 Of the tribe of Gad, Ramoth in Galaad, one of the cities of refuge, and Manaim, and Hesebon, and Jaser, four cities, with their suburbs.
38 All the cities of the children of Merari by their families and kindreds, were twelve.
39 So all the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of Israel were forty-eight,
40 With their suburbs, each distributed by the families.
41 And the Lord God gave to Israel all the land that he had sworn to give to their fathers: and they possessed it, and dwelt in it.
42 And he gave them peace from all nations round about: and none of their enemies durst stand against them, but were brought under their dominion.
43 Not so much as one word, which he had promised to perform unto them, was made void, but all came to pass.
1: Year of the World 2562.
2: Numbers xxxv. 2.
9: 1 Paralipomenon vi. 2.
12: Josue xiv. 14.; 1 Paralipomenon vi. 56.