After seven chapters about dividing the land, Joshua 20–21 focuses on two types of cities in Israel—cities of refuge (ch. 20) and cities of Levites (ch. 21). From the role of these cities, we learn a great deal about God and his plans for his people—both in Israel and today. Here are ten things about Joshua 20–21.
1. Joshua 20–21 are unified with Joshua 13–19.
While many commentators legitimately distinguish the distribution of the cities in Joshua 20–21 from the distribution of the land, the order of the chapters shows us how Joshua 20–21 provides balance to a chiastic structure that ranges from Joshua 13–21.
A Introduction (13:1) – Joshua was old and advanced in years
B1 Remaining Lands (13:2–7)
B2a Eastern Lands with Moses (13:8–33)
B2b Western Lands with Joshua (14:1–5)
C Caleb (14:6–15) – Son of Judah Receives the Future Royal City of Hebron
D1 Judah (15:1–63) – The Greatest Emphasis is Placed on Judah
D2 Joseph (16:1–17:18) – Ephraim and Half of Manasseh
E Levi (18:1–10) – The Center of Israel’s Worship at Shiloh
D1’ Benjamin/Simeon (18:11–19:9) – 2 tribes associated with Judah
D2’ Five (19:10–48) – 5 tribes associated with Joseph
C’ Joshua (19:49–51) – Son of Ephraim
B1’ The Cities of Refuge (20:1–9)
B2a’ The Levitical Cities Outlined (21:1–8) – Primary Focus on Sons of Aaron
B2b’ The 48 Levitical Cities Listed (21:9–42) – Primary Focus on Aaron and Hebron (vv. 9–19)
A’ Conclusion (21:43–45) — All that God had promised the forefathers has been fulfilled
The importance of this literary structure is what comes in the middle, namely the arrangement of the land around the tabernacle (Josh 18:1–10). From this central feature, we are keyed to see how the association of Aaron with Hebron foreshadows the later connection between David and the priesthood. Moreover, the role of the Levitical cities helps us to understand how the whole nation was blessed by the Levitical priesthood and how the Levites directed the attention of the people to God’s dwelling place.
In what follows, we will see how these priestly themes recur in Joshua 20–21. Continue reading