Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
jos 21:1Then - When the whole land was distributed to the several tribes, but not actually possessed by them; which was the proper season for them to put in their claim. Fathers of the Levites - The fathers of the Levites were Kohath, Gershom, and Merari, and the heads of these were the chief persons now alive of these several families.
jos 21:2The Lord commanded - Observe: the maintenance of ministers is not an arbitrary thing, left purely to the good will of the people. No: as the God of Israel commanded, that the Levites should be provided for, so hath the Lord Jesus ordained, (and a perpetual ordinance it is) that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
jos 21:3The children of Israel gave - Probably they gave the Levites promiscuously such cities as God commanded, and the lot appropriated them to their several houses or families. Out of their inheritance - That is, out of their several possessions; that the burden might be equally divided; and, that the Levites being dispersed among the several tribes, according to Jacob's prediction, Gen 49:7, might more easily, and effectually teach the Israelites God's law and judgments, which they were engaged to do, Deu 33:10, and that the people might upon all occasions resort to them, and enquire the meaning of the law at their mouths. And suburbs - Not only the use, but the absolute dominion of them, as is manifest both from Jos 21:11-12, where a distinction is made between the city and suburbs of Hebron, and the fields and villages thereof; (the former given to the Levites, the latter to Caleb;) and from the return of these cities in the Jubilee, unto the Levites as to their proper owners, Lev 25:33-34.
jos 21:4Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin - Which three tribes were nearest the temple, where their business lay. Thirteen cities - For though the priests were now few enough for one city, yet respect was to be had to their succeeding numbers; this division being made for all future generations. And seeing the Levites might sell their houses until the Jubilee, Lev 25:33, much more might they let them; and therefore it is probable their cities were not long uninhabited, many being inclined to dwell with them by virtue of relations contracted with them; or out of respect to the service of God, and the good of their souls.
jos 21:5Children of Kohath - Who were of Aaron's family. Ephraim, Dan, and Manesseh - Which tribes are nearest to the three former, and so the Kohathites are placed next to their brethren the Aaronites. Ten cities - Fewer than they gave out of the three former tribes, because their inheritance was less than the former.
jos 21:9Judah and Simeon - These are mentioned together, because the cities of Simeon lay within Judah's portion.
jos 21:10Families - That is, of the family, the plural number for the singular, which is not unusual.
jos 21:12The fields and villages - That is, all beyond the two thousand cubits expressed, Num 35:5. This is here mentioned, not as his peculiar case, but as one eminent instance, to shew, that it was so in all the rest of the cities here named; that the fields and villages thereof still belonged to the several tribes from whom the cities and their suburbs were taken; and to make the rest of the Israelites more chearfully resign part of their possessions to the Levites, because even Caleb did so, though his possession had been long before promised, and now actually given to him by God's special command, as a mark of honour and compensation for his long and faithful service.
jos 21:16And Ain - Ain and Gibeon, and some others here named are not named, Ch1 6:59. Either they were destroyed in some of those invasions wherewith their land was grievously wasted before that time; or they appear there under other names.
jos 21:20Which remained - Over and above those who were priests.
jos 21:25Half the tribe - Namely, that half which dwelt in Canaan.
jos 21:41Forty eight cities - Why hath this tribe, which was the least of all, more cities than any of them? First, it doth not appear that they had more: for though all the cities of the Levites be expressed, it is not so with the other tribes, but divers of their cities are omitted. Secondly, the Levites were confined to their cities and suburbs; the rest had large territories belonging to their cities, which also so they were in a capacity of improving, which the Levites were not; so that one of their cities might be more considerable than divers of the Levites. Thirdly, God, was pleased to deal liberally with his ministers, to put honour on those whom he foresaw many would be prone to despise; and, that being free from outward distractions, they might more entirely and fervently devote themselves to the service of God.
jos 21:43All the land - He gave them the right to all, and the actual possession of the greatest part of it, and power to possess the rest, as soon as it was needful for them, which was when their numbers were increased, and the absolute dominion of all the people remaining in it.
jos 21:44Gave them rest - Namely, all the days of Joshua; for afterwards it was otherwise with them.
jos 21:45All came to pass - Such an acknowledgment as this, here subscribed by Joshua, in the name of all Israel, we afterward find made by Solomon; and all Israel did in effect say amen to it, Kg1 8:56. The inviolable truth of God's promise, and the performance of it to the uttermost, is what all believers in Christ have been always ready to bear their testimony to. And if in any thing it has seemed to come short, they have been as ready to take all the blame to themselves.