As we saw throughout the law so we have also seen in this distribution of land: the LORD is a God who loves details. This second act of Joshua has reflected God’s intimate knowledge of the land and his devotion to just provision.
Now that the land has been divided among the tribes of Israel, there are two final Mosaic commands to fulfill: designating cities of refuge and making provision for the Levites. These divide neatly between chapters 20 and 21.
You’ll remember that the cities of refuge were set aside by Moses to provide space for justice to take its course. These cities, within a day’s journey of every Israelite, were a refuge for someone who kills another accidentally. You can review Numbers 35 for the details, but the basic purpose was to protect a manslayer from impulsive, unjust vengeance, and there await trial.
Chapter 21 contains an exhaustive list of the 48 cities given to the Levites, whose portion is the LORD. Their special calling is to assist the priests in carrying out the sacrificial duties and in managing the Tabernacle. They were to be provided for by the other Israelites, and thus were not permitted to accumulate wealth that would pass down through the generations.
There might be additional significance in Joshua, rather than Moses, completing this task. Moses, you’ll remember, was a Levite. Joshua, of Judah, has no vested interest – beyond simple fairness – in looking out for the Levites. By placing nine Levitical cities within the combined borders of Judah and Simeon, Joshua’s tribe is at least carrying, if not exceeding, its fair share.
Chapter 22 records the homecoming of the Eastern tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh. Place yourself among them, crossing the Jordan for perhaps the final time, leaving behind the land that they had been promised. Did they see this as a natural expansion of Israel’s territory? Were they indifferent, and just glad to be going home? Did they see themselves as part of one great nation?
And most importantly, how did they view their relationship with Yahweh, whose promises they had been following for decades? Hold onto these questions at the end of today’s reading, when yet another inter-tribal crisis emerges.
Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:30: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.
Joshua chapters 20 through 22. Now let’s read it!
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.