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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 7: Joshua, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at


Joshua 21:1-19

1. Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites unto Eleazar the priest, and unto Joshua the son of Nun, and unto the heads of the fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel;

1. Accesserunt autem principes patrum Levitarum ad Eleazar sacerdotem, et ad Josue filium Nun, et ad principes patrum tribuum filiorum Israel.

2. And they spoke unto them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, The LORD commanded by the hand of Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with the suburbs thereof for our cattle.

2. Loquutique sunt ad eos in Silo in terra Chanaan, dicendo, Jehova praecepit per manum Mosis ut daretis nobis urbes ad habitandum, et suburbana earum pro animalibus nostris.

3. And the children of Israel gave unto the Levites out of their inheritance, at the commandment of the LORD, these cities and their suburbs.

3. Dederunt ergo filii Israel Levitis de haereditate sua, secundum sermonem Jehovae, urbes istas et suburbana earum.

4. And the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites: and the children of Aaron the priest, which were of the Levites, had by lot out of the tribe of Judah, and out of the tribe of Simeon, and out of the tribe of Benjamin, thirteen cities.

4. Egressa est autem sors per familias Caethitarum: fueruntque filiis Aaron sacerdotis de Levitis, de tribu Juda, et de tribu Simeon, et de tribu Benjamin per sortem, urbes tredecim.

5. And the rest of the children of Kohath had by lot out of the families of the tribe of Ephraim, and out of the tribe of Dan, and out of the half tribe of Manasseh, ten cities.

5. Filiis autem Ceath reliquis, de familiis tribus Ephraim, et de tribu Dan, et de dimidia tribu Manasse, per sortem, urbes decem.

6. And the children of Gershon had by lot out of the families of the tribe of Issachar, and out of the tribe of Asher, and out of the tribe of Naphtali, and out of the half tribe of Manasseh in Bashan, thirteen cities.

6. Filiis vero Gerson de familiis tribus Issachar, et de tribu Aser, et de tribu Nephthali, et de dimidia tribu Manasse in Basan per sortem, urbes tredecim.

7. The children of Merari by their families had out of the tribe of Reuben, and out of the tribe of Gad, and out of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve cities.

7. Filiis Merari per familias suas, de tribu Ruben, et de tribu Gad, et de tribu Zabulon, urbes duodecim.

8. And the children of Israel gave by lot unto the Levites these cities with their suburbs, as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses.

8. Dederunt, inquam, filii Israel Levitis urbes has, et suburbana earum, sicut praeceperat Jehova per manum Mosis, per sortem.

9. And they gave out of the tribe of the children of Judah, and out of the tribe of the children of Simeon, these cities which are here mentioned by name,

9. Dederunt ergo de tribu filiorum Juda, et de tribu filiorum Simeon, urbes istas quas vocavit nomine.

10. Which the children of Aaron, being of the families of the Kohathites, who were of the children of Levi, had: for theirs was the first lot.

10. Fueruntque filiis Aaron de familiis Ceath, de filiis Levi: illis enim fuit sors prima.

11. And they gave them the city of Arba the father of Anak, which city is Hebron, in the hill country of Judah, with the suburbs thereof round about it.

11. Dederuntque eis Ciriath-arba patris Anac (ipsa est Hebron) in monte Juda, et suburbana ejus per circuitum ejus.

12. But the fields of the city, and the villages thereof, gave they to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for his possession.

12. Agrum vero ejus urbis et villas ejus dederunt Caleb filio Jephune in possessionem ejus.

13. Thus they gave to the children of Aaron the priest Hebron with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Libnah with her suburbs,

13. Filiis, inquam, Aaron sacerdotis dederunt urbem refugii homicidae, Hebron, et suburbana ejus, et Libna et suburbana ejus.

14. And Jattir with her suburbs, and Eshtemoa with her suburbs,

14. Et Jathir et suburbana ejus, et Esthemoa et suburbana ejus.

15. And Holon with her suburbs, and Debir with her suburbs,

15. Holon et suburbana ejus, et Debir et suburbana ejus.

16. And Ain with her suburbs, and Juttah with her suburbs, and Bethshemesh with her suburbs; nine cities out of those two tribes.

16. Et Ain et suburbana ejus, et Jutta et suburbana ejus: et Bethsemes et suburbana ejus: urbes novem de duabus tribubus istis.

17. And out of the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with her suburbs, Geba with her suburbs,

17. De tribu vero Benjamin, Gibeon et suburbana ejus, et Geba et suburbana ejus.

18. Anathoth with her suburbs, and Almon with her suburbs; four cities.

18. Anathoth et suburbana ejus, Almon et suburbana ejus: urbes quatuor.

19. All the cities of the children of Aaron, the priests, were thirteen cities with their suburbs.

19. Omnes urbes filiorum Aaron sacerdotum, tredecim urbes et suburbana earum.


1. Then came near the heads, etc Here we have at a later period a narrative of what ought to have preceded. For no cities of refuge were appointed before they had been assigned to the Levites. To this may be added what was formerly said, that Joshua and Eleazar had made an end of dividing the land. Now, the land was not truly divided till the habitation of the Levites was fixed. We must understand, therefore, that when the lot was cast in the name of the ten tribes, a reservation was made of cities in the land of Canaan for the habitation of the Levites. Beyond the Jordan their portion had already been assigned to them. But as the Levites come forward and request a ratification of the divine grant, it is probable that they were neglected till they pleaded their own cause. For so it is apt to happen, every one being so attentive in looking after his own affairs that even brethren are forgotten. It was certainly disgraceful to the people that they required to be pulled by the ear, and put in mind of what the Lord had clearly ordered respecting the Levites. But had they not demanded a domicile for themselves, there was a risk of their being left to lie in the open air; although, at the same time, we are permitted to infer that the people erred more from carelessness and forgetfulness than from any intention to deceive, as they make no delay as soon as they are admonished; nay, they are praised for their obedience in that they did what was just and right according to the word of the Lord.

4. And the lot came out for the families, etc Here is first described the number of cities of which we shall have to speak by and bye. Secondly, it is distinctly said that the lot fell out to the children of Aaron in the tribe of Judah. This did not happen fortuitously, because God in his admirable counsel placed them in that locality where he had determined to choose a temple for himself. Thirdly, the narrative proceeds to give the exact names of the cities, of which the first mentioned is Hebron, of which Caleb, with great equanimity, allowed himself to be deprived. Should any one object that the first city of all that ought to have been given them was Jerusalem, where they were to have their future station, it is easy to answer, that moderate sized cities were delivered to them as their condition required. Moreover, Jerusalem was not then subjugated, as it continued under the power of the Jebusites. In short, it would have been absurd to assign a royal seat to priests. And their religion and faith was the better proved by this, that they migrated of their own accord from their native soil to devote their attention to sacred things. For no priest performed the office without becoming a stranger. Their weakness, however, was so far indulged by giving them a grant of neighboring cities, that they might not have the fatigue of a long journey in going to perform their function. Moreover, the giving of thirteen cities for a habitation to one family, and that not very numerous, confirms what I have elsewhere said, that the other tribes possessed very many cities,  175 of which no mention is made; in a short time this will be more certainly confirmed.

Joshua 21:20-45

20. And the families of the children of Kohath, the Levites which remained of the children of Kohath, even they had the cities of their lot out of the tribe of Ephraim.

20. Familiis vero filiarum Cahath Levitarum, qui residui erant de filiis Cahath (fuerunt autem urbes sortis eorum de tribu Ephraim.)

21. For they gave them Shechem with her suburbs in mount Ephraim, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Gezer with her suburbs,

21. Dederunt, inquam, illis urbem refugii homicidae Sechem, et suburbana ejus in monte Ephraim: et Geser et suburbana ejus.

22. And Kibzaim with her suburbs, and Bethhoron with her suburbs; four cities.

22. Et Cibsaim et suburbana ejus: et Beth-horon et suburbana ejus: urbes quatuor.

23. And out of the tribe of Dan, Eltekeh with her suburbs, Gibbethon with her suburbs,

23. De tribu vero Dan, Elthece et suburbana ejus: et Gibbethon et suburbana ejus.

24. Aijalon with her suburbs, Gathrimmon with her suburbs; four cities.

24. Et Ajalon et suburbana ejus, et Gath-rimmon et suburbana ejus: urbes quatuor.

25. And out of the half tribe of Manasseh, Tanach with her suburbs, and Gathrimmon with her suburbs; two cities.

25. De dimidia vero tribu Manasse Thaanach, et suburbana ejus: Gathrimmon et suburbana ejus: urbes duae.

26. All the cities were ten with their suburbs for the families of the children of Kohath that remained.

26. Omnes urbes decem, et suburbana earum, familiis filiorum Cahath residuis.

27. And unto the children of Gershon, of the families of the Levites, out of the other half tribe of Manasseh they gave Golan in Bashan with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Beeshterah with her suburbs; two cities.

27. Porro filiis Gerson de familiis Levitarum, de dimidia tribu Manasse urbem refugii homicidae, Golan in Basan, et suburbana ejus, Beesthera et suburbana ejus: urbes duae.

28. And out of the tribe of Issachar, Kishon with her suburbs, Dabareh with her suburbs,

28. De tribu Issachar, Cision et suburbana ejus: Dabrath et suburbana ejus.

29. Jarmuth with her suburbs, Engannim with her suburbs; four cities.

29. Iarmuth et suburbana ejus: Engannim et suburbana ejus: urbes quatuor.

30. And out of the tribe of Asher, Mishal with her suburbs, Abdon with her suburbs,

30. De tribu autem Aser, Misal et suburbana ejus: Abdon et suburbana ejus.

31. Helkath with her suburbs, and Rehob with her suburbs; four cities.

31. Helcath et suburbana ejus, et Rehob et suburbana ejus: urbes quatuor.

32. And out of the tribe of Naphtali, Kedesh in Galilee with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Hammothdor with her suburbs, and Kartan with her suburbs; three cities.

32. De tribu vero Nephthaliurbem refugii homicidae, Cedes in Galil et suburbana ejus: et Hamoth-dor et suburbana ejus: et Carthan et suburbana ejus: urbes tres.

33. All the cities of the Gershonites according to their families were thirteen cities with their suburbs.

33. Omnes urbes Gersonitarum per familias suas, tredecim urbes, et suburbana earum.

34. And unto the families of the children of Merari, the rest of the Levites, out of the tribe of Zebulun, Jokneam with her suburbs, and Kartah with her suburbs,

34. Familiis autem filiorum Merari Levitarum residuorum, de tribu Zabulon: Jocneam et suburbana ejus: Cartha et suburbana ejus.

35. Dimnah with her suburbs, Nahalal with her suburbs; four cities.

35. Dimnah et suburbana ejus, Nahalal et suburbana ejus: urbes quatuor.

36. And out of the tribe of Reuben, Bezer with her suburbs, and Jahazah with her suburbs,

36. De tribu vero Ruben, Beser et suburbana ejus: et Jehasa et suburbana ejus.

37. Kedemoth with her suburbs, and Mephaath with her suburbs; four cities.

37. Cedemoth et suburbana ejus: Mephaath et suburbana ejus: urbes quatuor.

38. And out of the tribe of Gad, Ramoth in Gilead with her suburbs, to be a city of refuge for the slayer; and Mahanaim with her suburbs,

38. Et de tribu Gad, urbem refugii homicidae, Ramoth in Gileath et suburbana ejus: et Mahanaim et suburbana ejus.

39. Heshbon with her suburbs, Jazer with her suburbs; four cities in all.

39. Hesbon et suburbana ejus: Jaazer et suburbana ejus: urbes quatuor.

40. So all the cities for the children of Merari by their families, which were remaining of the families of the Levites, were by their lot twelve cities.

40. Omnes urbes filiorum Merari per familias suas qui residui erant de familiis Levitarum, ut fuit sors eorum, urbes duodecim.

41. All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of Israel were forty and eight cities with their suburbs.

41. Omnes urbes Levitarum, in medio possessionis filiorum Israel, urbes quadraginta octo et suburbana earum.

42. These cities were every one with their suburbs round about them: thus were all these cities.

42. Fuerunt urbes istae singulae, et suburbana earum per circuitum ipsarum: sic omnibus urbibus istis.

43. And the LORD gave unto Israel all the land which he swear to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.

43. Dedit itaque Jehova Israeli universam terram de qua juraverat se daturum eam patribus eorum: et possederunt eam, habitaveruntque in ea.

44. And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he swear unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.

44. Requiem quoque dederit eis Jehova in circuitu prosus ut juraverat Jehova patribus eorum: neque fuit quisquam qui resisteret illis ex omnibus inimicis eorum: omnes inimicos eorum tradidit Jehova in manum eorum.

45. There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.

45. Non cecidit ullum verbum ex omni bono quod loquutus fuerat Jehova ad domum Israel, omnia evenerunt.


20. And the families of the children of Kohath, etc Why it was necessary that the Levites should be dispersed among the different tribes, the reader may see in my Commentaries on the Books of Moses. This dispersion had, indeed, been imposed on their progenitor as a punishment for the cruelty and perfidy of which he had been guilty toward the children of Shechem, but the disgrace of it had been converted into the highest honor by their appointment as a kind of guardians in every district to retain the people in the pure worship of God. It is true, they were everywhere strangers; but still it was with the very high dignity of acting as stewards for God, and preventing their countrymen from revolting from piety. This is the reason for stating so carefully how many cities they obtained from each tribe; they were everywhere to keep watch, and preserve the purity of sacred rites unimpaired.

41. All the cities of the Levites, etc This passage more especially shows what I have already more than once adverted to, that the boundaries of the other tribes were not so confined as not to comprehend a far larger number of cities than is actually mentioned. It is perfectly well known that Levi was the least numerous of all the tribes. With what equity, then, could it have been allowed to expand itself over four times the space allowed to the tribe of Zebulun, which, though more populous, is mentioned as only possessing twelve cities. Only sixteen are enumerated as belonging to the tribe of Issachar, nineteen to the tribe of Naphtali, and twenty-two to the tribe of Asher. It would surely have been an unequal division to give the greater number of cities for habitation to the smaller population. Hence we infer, that not only the villages which are here set down as accessories of the cities were fit for habitation, but that other cities also, of which no mention is made, were included. In short, the extent of the lot of Levi makes it perfectly obvious how large and ample the territories of the other tribes must have been.

43. And the Lord gave unto Israel, etc Should any one raise a question as to this rest, the answer is easy. The nations of Canaan were so completely overcome with fear, that they thought they could not better consult their interest than by servility flattering the Israelites, and purchasing peace from them on any terms.  176 Plainly, therefore, the country was subdued and rendered peaceful for habitation, since no one gave any annoyance, or dared to entertain any hostile intentions, since there were no threats, no snares, no violence, no conspiracies.

A second point, however, raises some doubt,  177 namely, how the children of Israel can be said to have been settled in the possession of the land promised to them, and to have become masters of it, in such a sense that in regard to the enjoyment of it, not one syllable of the promises of God had failed. For we have already seen that many of the enemy were intermingled with them. The divine intention was, that not one of the enemy should be permitted to remain; on the other hand, the Israelites do not drive out many, but admit them as neighbors, as if the inheritance had been common to them; they even make pactions with them. How then can these two things be reconciled, that God, as he had promised, gave possession of the land to the people, and yet they were excluded from some portion by the power or obstinate resistance of the enemy?

In order to remove this appearance of contradiction, it is necessary to distinguish between the certain, clear, and steadfast faithfulness of God in keeping his promises, and between the effeminacy and sluggishness of the people, in consequence of which the benefit of the divine goodness in a manner slipped through their hands. Whatever war the people undertook, in whatever direction they moved their standards, victory was prepared; nor was there any other delay or obstacle to their exterminating all their enemies than their own voluntary torpor. Wherefore, although they did not rout them all so as to make their possession clear, yet the truth of God came visibly forth, and was realized, inasmuch as they might have obtained what was remaining without any difficulty, had they been pleased to avail themselves of the victories offered to them. The whole comes to this, that it was owing entirely to their own cowardice that they did not enjoy the divine goodness in all its fullness and integrity. This will be still clearer from the following chapter.



Latin, “Plurimis urbibus.” French, “Plusieurs villes:” “Several cities.” — Ed.


French, “Ils penserent qu’il n’y avoit rien meilleur pour eux ni plus expedient, que de racheter la paix avec les enfans d’Israel, en faisans les chiens couchans (comme l’on dit) devant eux, et leur gratifiant en toutes choses;” “They thought there was nothing better for them, nor more expedient, than to purchase peace with the children of Israel by acting (so to speak) like fawning dogs before them, and gratifying them in all things.” — Ed.


Latin, “Verum de secundo ambigitur.” French, “Mais il y a plus grande difficulte sur le second point;” “But there is greater difficulty as to the second point.” — Ed.

Next: Chapter 22