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Joshua 20-22

Supplemental notes for the Daily Bible Study Bible Reading Plan

by Wayne Blank

Joshua Chapter 20

Although the Israelites had just settled a frontier, "frontier justice" was not tolerated. The Lord's Law and Order prevailed - the guilty were punished, the innocent were protected.


"Then The Lord [see YHVH, Adonai, Jehovah, LORD] said to Joshua, "Say to the people of Israel, 'Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses [see The Trysting Tent] , that the manslayer who kills any person without intent or unwittingly may flee there; they shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood. [see Why Blood?]

He shall flee to one of these cities and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city [see City Gates], and explain his case to the elders [see The Senate] of that city; then they shall take him into the city, and give him a place, and he shall remain with them. And if the avenger of blood pursues him, they shall not give up the slayer into his hand; because he killed his neighbor unwittingly, having had no enmity against him in times past. And he shall remain in that city until he has stood before the congregation for judgment, until the death of him who is high priest at the time: then the slayer may go again to his own town and his own home, to the town from which he fled.'"

So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba, that is, Hebron, in the hill country of Judah.

And beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they appointed Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland, from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh.

These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel, and for the stranger sojourning among them, that any one who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation." (Joshua 20:1-9 RSV)

Joshua Chapter 21

As the priesthood, the Levites had no individual territory of their own; instead, they had cities and property throughout the other tribes.


"Then the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites came to Eleazar the priest [see also The Lines Of Eleazar and Ithamar] and to Joshua the son of Nun and to the heads of the fathers' houses of the tribes of the people of Israel; and they said to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, "The Lord commanded through Moses that we be given cities to dwell in, along with their pasture lands for our cattle." So by command of The Lord the people of Israel gave to the Levites the following cities and pasture lands out of their inheritance." (Joshua 21:1-3 RSV)

The Levite cities were self-sufficient; the Levites could not therefore be financially pressured in matters of religious practice or doctrine.

"The cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the people of Israel were in all forty-eight cities with their pasture lands. These cities had each its pasture lands round about it; so it was with all these cities." (Joshua 21:41-42 RSV)

And so, with all of the tribal allotments done and the Levites settled throughout, the Israelite settlement of the promised land was complete - as promised to Abraham centuries earlier.

"Thus The Lord gave to Israel all the land which he swore to give to their fathers; and having taken possession of it, they settled there. And The Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers; not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for The Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the good promises which The Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass." (Joshua 21:43-45 RSV)

Joshua Chapter 22

The two and one-half tribes from east of the Jordan had come across to help the other tribes win their territory, just as the others had helped the eastern tribes settle their inheritance. With victory in hand, it was time for the eastern tribes to go home.


"Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and said to them, "You have kept all that Moses the servant of The Lord commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded you; you have not forsaken your brethren these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of The Lord your God. And now The Lord your God has given rest to your brethren, as he promised them; therefore turn and go to your home in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of The Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. Take good care to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of The Lord commanded you, to love The Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave to him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul." So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away; and they went to their homes." (Joshua 22:1-6 RSV)

As they were crossing the Jordan to go home, the eastern tribes constructed a monument to a united Israel, east and west of the Jordan. Unfortunately, the western tribes misunderstood, resulting in a near war.

"And when they came to the region about the Jordan, that lies in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of great size. And the people of Israel heard say, "Behold, the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel." And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh, to make war against them." (Joshua 22:10-12 RSV)

Fortunately, the battle commanders were thinking men; rather than rushing blindly to battle, they sought the facts. In doing so, they discovered that it was a misunderstanding.

"Nay, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, 'What have you to do with The Lord, the God of Israel? For The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in The Lord.' So your children might make our children cease to worship The Lord. Therefore we said, 'Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of The Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings; lest your children say to our children in time to come, "You have no portion in The Lord."' (Joshua 22:24-27 RSV)

So Israel was established, in peace.

"Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the chiefs, returned from the Reubenites and the Gadites in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the people of Israel, and brought back word to them. And the report pleased the people of Israel; and the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them, to destroy the land where the Reubenites and the Gadites were settled. The Reubenites and the Gadites called the altar Witness; "For," said they, "it is a witness between us that The Lord is God." (Joshua 22:32-34 RSV)

Fact Finder: (a) What later happened to the two and a half tribes (Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh) east of the Jordan? Who conquered them? Why did The Lord allow it? Where were they taken? (b) Along with the eastern portion of the "lost ten tribes," did the Assyrians also conquer and take into exile the northern tribes west of the Jordan?
(a) 1 Chronicles 5:25-26
(b) See The Galilee Captivity

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