JOSHUA - CHAPTER 21
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“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;”
Levites, meaning joined, who had been given no lot with the other tribes, were
now to receive their portion according to the command of God to Moses in Nu 35:1-8.
is generally recognized that the Levites are the OT types of the gifted men, the
evangelists, elders and teachers, given as gifts to the Church, Eph 4:11, the
ministry of the Levites being but the pattern of the ministry of the other; and as
the Levites were to live off the offerings presented by their brethren in the other
tribes, so are the evangelists and teachers, and where necessary, the elders also, to
be supported by those to whom they minister. Regarding
the elders, it is to be noted that their ministry is different from that of the
evangelists and teachers in several respects, (1) their ministry is settled, in
contrast with the itinerant ministry of the other two, (2) they are always seen as a
plurality. Scripture knows nothing of
the rule of one elder or pastor in the local church.
These two distinctions almost invariably render it unnecessary for elders to
give up secular employment in order to carry on their ministry, so that it is the
exception, rather than the rule, for them to require the temporal support of their
brethren and sisters.
approach of the fathers of the Levites declares their faith to appropriate what God
had promised them; and inasmuch as Eleazar, meaning God is helper, is a type
of Christ as our Great High Priest; and Joshua, a type of Him as the Captain of our
salvation, the truth being declared is that it is He Who appoints each servant his
work, and He Who provides for the servant’s needs.
fathers of the tribes, however, represent the elders of the local churches, and
inasmuch as they too were witnesses of the assignment, the truth being taught is that
the elders have a part in connection with the work of the evangelists, teachers, and
other elders - they are to be watching out for the manifestation and use of these
spiritual gifts in the local church, and, at the proper time, are to testify to the
man’s faithfulness as it becomes evident that he has received the gift from God,
and is diligent in using it. In the case of evangelists and teachers, this testimony of the
elders may be given in the form of a letter of commendation, which serves the
additional purpose of introducing the gifted men to assemblies where they may be
unknown. Obviously no such letter of
commendation is needed for elders, since their ministry is within their own assembly,
and the sheep soon recognize the shepherds whom the Holy Spirit has set over them.
“And they spake 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.”
means peace-bringer: bringer of prosperity.
It was the place where the tabernacle was set up shortly after Israel entered
Canaan, and hence the place of God’s presence - where He is, there is peace and
spiritual prosperity; and their assembling there reminds us that this provision for
the Levites was to be done under the eye of God, as is also the matter of providing
for the needs of those whose ministry today corresponds to that of the Levites.
“And the children of Israel gave unto the Levites out of their inheritance,
at the commandment of the Lord, these cities and their suburbs.”
appears to have been a ready obedience, a willing giving on the part of the other
tribes, a reminder that the same spirit is to mark us in providing for the needs of
those who minister to us spiritually.
“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.”
use of the lot in the assignment of the cities to be given them, assures us that it
was God, not man, Who gave them their portion. So
is it in connection with the work of the evangelists, elders and teachers.
Man has nothing to do with the assignment of their work.
That is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit alone.
means waiting: obedient: assembly, and since they were to serve the other
tribes in regard to spiritual matters
relevance of the meanings of their name is apparent.
As spiritual Kohathites, we are to display that same submissive spirit that
waits for God’s leading, and then yields a ready obedience to what He commands; and
it is scarcely necessary to note that it is by the reading of the Word that the mind
and will of God are almost invariably discerned.
the years in the wilderness the Kohathites were to pitch on the south side (direction
that speaks of faith) of the Tabernacle, Nu 3:29; and their special work was in
connection with the transport of the Tabernacle furniture: the ark, table,
candlestick, altars, the vessels, and the hangings, Nu 3:31.
This is not the place to discuss the details of Kohath’s service, but there
is much spiritual profit in such a study, and I would recommend it to every believer
desiring to serve the Lord more intelligently.
is significance also in the fact that the Kohathites were the children of Aaron, and were the first to receive their
allotment, v.10. We who are the sons of
Him Whom Aaron represents, have also received a preeminent portion.
fact that they received their cities in the portion of Judah he shall be praised,
Simeon hearkening, and Benjamin son of the right hand, has also
something to teach us. These combine to
declare that where there is a praising (worshipping), obedient spirit, there will be
also the spiritual power which is represented by the son of the right hand.
He is a wise man who sets his heart on such a portion.
should we miss the significance of their having been given thirteen cities, for the
method of ascertaining the meaning of such prime numbers greater than seven
seems to be that we separate one, the number of God, and then read the meaning
of the remainder, which in the present instance is twelve, the number that
speaks of Divine government on display. Those
who manifest the thankful, obedient spirit represented by Judah and Simeon, will
possess also the power represented by Benjamin.
It will be evident to all that they are men and women enjoying the blessings
promised those who are obedient under God’s government.
“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.”
other Kohathites were given their cities in the midst of Ephraim, meaning double
ash-heap: I shall be doubly fruitful; Dan, meaning judging: a judge; and
Manasseh, meaning, causing to forget; and having examined these meanings in
detail in earlier studies, it is unnecessary to do more here than note the general
truth being declared. The application is
first to the evangelists, elders and teachers in our midst; but certainly the lesson
applies to every believer: as spiritual Kohathites we are to be fruitful for God;
discriminating in our judgment; and living as those, who “forgetting those things
which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before ... press
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” Php
number of the cities given, ten, has also a lesson for us.
As twelve is the governmental number related to the governed, ten
is the governmental number related to the Governor, God.
Our lives are to be the living demonstration of the truth that He does indeed
“And the children of Gershon an outcast had by lot out of the
families of the tribe of Issachar he will be hired: there is reward: he will bring
reward, and out of the tribe of Asher happy, and out of the tribe of
Naphtali my wrestling: my tortuosity, and out of the half tribe of Manasseh causing
to forget in Bashan the shame of them: the fertile: the one in sleep,
with the Kohathites, the Gershonites are meant to set before us what ought to mark us
as spiritual Gershonites. In the meaning
of the name an outcast, God would remind us that the Lord Himself was an
outcast here on earth, “despised and rejected of men,” coming unto His own, but
receiving only rejection at their hands. If
we are walking in obedience, we will find that the world assigns us the same place as
it did the Lord Jesus Christ. We too will be outcasts.
the years in the wilderness they camped on the west side of the Tabernacle (the
direction which speaks of approach to God), Nu 3:23; and their special service had to
tent, the coverings, the hangings for the door, for the court, the door of the court,
and the cords.
the Gershonites, because they too were Levites, and had no lot assigned them similar
to what was given the other tribes, had a special portion given them among the other
tribes. First mentioned as those who
were to provide cities for the Gershonites was the tribe of Issachar, the meanings of
whose name speak clearly of service, and the reward which that service would bring.
As spiritual Gershonites we too are to serve our brethren, remembering that
the Lord we serve will be no man’s Debtor, but will abundantly recompense all that
is done for Him.
fact that Asher was also to provide cities for these Gershonites to dwell in their
midst, reminds us that as spiritual Gershonites, we too are to be a happy people,
finding that happiness first in the privilege of serving the Lord, and then of
serving our brethren, that happiness being unaffected by our being treated by an
unbelieving world as outcasts.
being commanded to furnish cities for the Gershonites, would remind us that that
service which we are privileged to render as we dwell in the midst of our brethren,
will of necessity involve the wrestling of which Naphtali speaks, for in Eph 6:12 we
are reminded that, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against
principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world,
against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
There is, however, no uncertainty about the outcome of our wrestling, for we
have the repeated assurances of Scripture, e.g., “In all things we are more than
conquerors through him that loved us,” Ro 8:37; “I can do all things through
Christ who strengtheneth me” Php 4:13, etc.
being given cities also by Manasseh would teach us that as spiritual Gershonites we
too are to render our service in the same spirit of forgetfulness of the past as is
represented by Manasseh, and enjoined by Paul in Php 3:13-14, “This one thing I do,
forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which
are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in
should we miss the significance of their being given these cities in that half of the
lot of Manasseh which lay in Bashan east of Jordan, for Bashan means the shame of
them: the fertile: the one in sleep. As
noted in earlier studies, what was given Israel east of Jordan represents our literal
circumstances here on earth, while the portion west of Jordan represents what is ours
to be enjoyed here and now, but in our spirits, rather than literally.
God Who gave Gershon the cities east of Jordan, is the same God Who assigns us our
portion here on an earth peopled by men whose sin is their shame, who are fertile in
the production of evil, and who are asleep, unconscious of their true spiritual
is in the midst of such circumstances that we are to render our service, and live
lives to God’s glory.
number of cities given them was thirteen, the same number as were given to the
Kohathites, and it has the same spiritual significance.
“The children of Merari my bitterness by their families had out of
the tribe of Reuben see ye, a son, and out of the tribe of Gad an invader:
a troop: fortune, and out of the tribe of Zebulun dwelling twelve
the Merarites, whose camping place during the wilderness years was on the north side
of the Tabernacle, the side that speaks of human intelligence (but in the present
context having a good connotation), was assigned the privilege of carrying the
boards, bars, pillars, sockets, pins, and cords when the Tabernacle was being moved,
Nu 3:35-37. Their work is symbolic of
that which has been assigned to us as spiritual Merarites, for since the Tabernacle
is first a figure of Christ, and then of the Church which is His body, corresponding
to Merari’s care of the boards, etc., is our duty to minister to those who
constitute the body of Christ.
tribes who gave cities to the Merarites point to what should characterize us as
spiritual Reubenites, Gadites, and Zebulunites, but before looking at the meanings of
those tribal names we should note the meaning of Merari, i.e., bitterness.
While the lesson isn’t readily apparent, one thought at least, suggests
itself: we are to live remembering that all we have for time and eternity has been
secured for us by the bitterness of death which Christ endured when He took our
guilty place at Calvary. This appears to
be the same truth as is taught in the bitter herbs which were to be eaten with the
Passover lamb. That memory ought to have
a sanctifying effect on our lives.
Merarites living in the cities given them by their brethren the Reubenites, would be
reminded daily that those amongst whom they lived, and to whom they were to minister,
were those who also belonged to God. We
are to remember that those of the household of faith to whom it is our duty and
privilege to minister, are, like ourselves, those who also belong to God, having been
redeemed by the same precious blood as has made us His sons.
Merarites living in cities furnished by the Gadites an invader: a troop: fortune
would perhaps be reminded that they had entered Canaan as God’s invaders,
dispossessing the enemy to take possession of what God had given His redeemed people
Israel. The presence of the enemy still
in the land, however, would remind them of their failure to drive out that enemy, and
take possession of what God had given them. We
too have been given our portion here on earth in what once belonged to the enemy; but
like Israel, we too have failed to appropriate all that has been made available to us
through Christ’s victory at Calvary. The
enemy, through our delinquency, still occupies much that God wants us to possess.
We are to continue to be God’s invaders, fearlessly carrying the Gospel into
the strongholds of the enemy, bringing liberty to Satan’s captives, and enlarging
the kingdom of Christ.
second meaning of Gad a troop, must surely have reminded the Merarites of the
words of Jacob recorded in Ge 49:19, “Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall
overcome at the last.” That prophecy
must have encouraged many a faithful Merarite as he watched the deepening apostasy of
Israel in the years that followed the days of Joshua.
Those same words are meant to encourage us in a day when the apostasy of the
professing church is as deep as was that of earthly Israel during the era of the
third meaning fortune speaks to spiritual ears, not of mere chance, but of the
sovereignty of God working all things together for good to them that love Him, Ro
8:28. So perhaps may the spiritual among
the Merarites have been encouraged in a day when there was much to discourage.
That same encouragement is much needed today.
finally there were those Merarites who dwelt in the cities furnished by Zebulun dwelling.
They answer to those believers who today live in the enjoyment of knowing that
however much earthly circumstances may seem to declare otherwise, the words of the
Psalmist describe their position, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most
High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.... He shall cover thee with his
feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and
buckler” Ps 91:1-4. And beyond this
spiritual dwelling place to be enjoyed by faith for the years of our earthly
pilgrimage, is the further assurance of the Psalmist, “I will dwell in the house of
the Lord for ever,” Ps 23:6.
noted at the beginning of this section that Merari’s campsite was on the north side
of the Tabernacle. The north, however,
is the scriptural direction that speaks of intelligence: either the mere natural
intelligence which is always opposed to God, or the spiritual intelligence which
works in harmony with Him. As spiritual
Merarites we are to live as becomes those who camp spiritually “on the north side
of the Tabernacle” - we are to demonstrate by our lives that we are governed by
the significance of the number twelve, the number of cities given Merari, see
notes on vv.4-5.
“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.”
“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.”
to this point we have been given the names of the tribes who gave cities to the
Levites, but now we are given the names of the cities themselves; and as noted
throughout our studies, the names of these cities have much to teach us.
we should note that in verse four Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin are listed together,
but here in verse eight only Judah and Simeon are mentioned, while Benjamin is listed
separately in verse seventeen. Since God
does nothing capriciously, there is obviously reason for this change, and that reason
isn’t difficult to discover. Judah, speaking of praise and worship; and Simeon, of obedience,
belong together, for you can’t have worship without obedience; and in putting them,
not only together, but also first, God would remind us that worship and obedience
precede service, for Benjamin, the warrior tribe, clearly speaks of that conflict
with the forces of evil which is the concomitant of service.
fact that the cities were given by lot - and God controls the lot - would
remind us that it is God Who assigns each man his lot in life, that assignment being
governed by perfect love and perfect wisdom, a fact that should make us content with
what our Father has chosen to give each of us.
their suburbs” reminds us that He Who had assigned the Levites to minister
to their brethren in the other tribes, was also careful to provide for their temporal
needs. They were given more than just houses to dwell in.
So is it in the Church. He Who
calls some to relinquish secular employment in order to minister to their brethren,
provides also for the temporal needs of those servants, and where that provision is
given in the manner legislated by God, and not according to the order found generally
in Christendom today, it is one of the evidences that the man has indeed been called
of God. When what is given is
insufficient to meet the man’s needs, he should consider well whether perhaps God
is showing him that his ministry has come to an end.
“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.”
being emphasized that “theirs was the first lot” continues to point to the
importance which God attaches to worship, for it is with worship that the Levites are
specifically connected. For the
spiritual significance of Kohath, see the notes on verse 4.
And inasmuch as Aaron means light bringer, we are being reminded that
the true Aaron, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is our great High Priest, is not only the
light of the world, but also the One, Who by His death at Calvary, has brought us
out of spiritual darkness into spiritual light, making us the sons of light.
“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.”
considered in our studies of chapters 14 and 15 the spiritual significance of these
things, it is necessary just to note briefly that Arba and Anak speak of pride; and
the change of
to Hebron when the city passed from Canaanite to Israelite possession, is meant to
teach us that every vestige of pride must be put away before there can be that
communion which Hebron represents.
in the hill country of Judah.” The
hill country, like the mountain, speaks of separation from the world, reminding us of
the need to maintain that separation if we would enjoy communion with God.
with the suburbs thereof round about” tells us that that communion is no narrowly
circumscribed thing limited to special times or places: it is to extend to every
facet of life. There should be no part
of the believer’s life exempt from God’s control, and in which He is not welcome.
“But the fields of the city, and the villages thereof, gave they to Caleb
the son of Jephunneh for his possession.”
have already looked at the significance of Caleb in our study of chapters 14 and 15,
so that it is necessary only to note here that he represents that spirit of lowliness
and wholeheartedness that ought to mark every believer.
Such a man will enjoy, not only fullness of communion, but will in addition be
fruitful for God, for the field is the Biblical symbol of the believer’s sphere of
service in which he is to produce fruit for God’s glory, and for his own eternal
enrichment. Since the field is also a
picture of the world, Mt 13:38, the reference here to fields would remind us of all
the many avenues of service in the Gospel; while the villages, symbolic pictures of
the assemblies of believers, would speak of equally varied opportunities for service
to the household of faith.
“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,”
repeated references to Hebron indicate the importance of communion.
Apart from unbroken communion with God, we will know nothing of that peace
“which passeth understanding,” nor will we be able to render any effective
the children of Aaron the priest,” would remind us that we are the children of the
true Aaron, and are also a royal kingdom of priests privileged to render priestly
service, first worship, and then ministry to saint and sinner alike.
to be a city of refuge for the
slayer,” reminds us that Hebron was one of the cities in which the accidental
manslayer could find refuge from the avenger of blood.
But inasmuch as Hebron means communion, God would continue to teach us
the necessity of abiding in communion with Him if we and our local assemblies are to
be “cities of refuge” for the sinner, i.e., if we are to be men and women in
whose assemblies they will hear the Gospel and be led to the Savior, finding there
the fellowship God wants every believer to enjoy with Him and with every other
and Libnah with her suburbs.”
It is no mere chance that finds Libnah linked with Hebron, for it means whiteness,
and speaks of righteousness. The lesson
is easily read. Communion and holiness
cannot be separated. There can be no
communion apart from holy living.
“And Jattir with her suburbs, and Eshtemoa with her suburbs,”
means excellent: he will search out, and would teach us that the portion which
is ours in Christ is also excellent. The obedient believer will attain to excellence,
for his desire to please God will impel him to “search out” the meaning of the
written Word in which God reveals Himself and His will.
The second meaning, however, would warn us that we must all one day stand at
the judgment seat of Christ to render an account of our stewardship over that same
excellent portion. In view of that
coming day of reckoning we would be well advised to pause now and examine our
stewardship while there may be time to amend what is revealed, under the searchlight
of Scripture, to be wrong with it.
meaning I will make myself heard, is identical with Eshtemoh which means I
shall cause my own ruin: fire of astonishment: I shall soar aloft.
Looking first at Eshtemoa: since the meaning doesn’t disclose the identity
of the one who will make himself heard, we are required to examine two possibilities.
The first one is that the reference may be to us, in which case we must surely
remember our responsibility to make ourselves heard in the Gospel, and it is all too
apparent that most of us have failed to fulfill that responsibility.
We are likewise responsible to make ourselves heard in worship, and in
ministry to the household of faith, two other areas in which there has unfortunately
been more default than obedience.
second possibility is that the reference is to God, in which case we are being warned
of that coming day when the Lord will make Himself heard at the Bema as He judges our
alternative spelling Eshtemoh, meaning I shall cause my own ruin: fire of
astonishment: I shall soar aloft, is also related to the idea of obedience, and
is also difficult to interpret because of these seemingly contradictory meanings.
It may be, however, that this city is intended to remind us that the
alternative to obedience which causes us metaphorically to “soar aloft,” is
disobedience which will cause our ruin, not in the sense of losing our salvation but
our reward when we stand at the Bema. It
is to be feared that that day, when our works are judged, will bring astonishment to
many of us as we learn that much of what we considered the equivalent of gold,
silver, and precious stones, was but wood, hay, and stubble to be consumed in the
fire, see 1 Co 3:12-15.
“And Holon with her suburbs, and Debir with her suburbs,”
meaning anguished: sandy, seems to be intended to remind us of the Lord’s
words, “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” Jn 16:33.
This in no way diminishes the excellence of the portion that is ours in
Christ; but offers the timely reminder that if we are walking in the enjoyment of
spiritual things, there will inevitably be the mental or physical anguish occasioned
by the world’s enmity.
second meaning sandy is easily translated, for sand, associated as it is with
the desert, would remind us that the world in which our lot is cast, and through
which we are to pass as pilgrims and strangers on our way home to heaven, is a
spiritual desert incapable of furnishing anything to sustain the new life.
It is our privilege, however, to “walk in the spirit,” Ga 5:25, so that in
spite of anguish caused by the world’s hatred, we shall enjoy “the peace of God,
which passeth all understanding,” Php 4:7.
an oracle represents the Word of God, and its being given to the Kohathite
branch of the family of Aaron, assures us that we who are a royal family of priests,
have been given the written Word for our instruction and upbuilding.
As the Kohathites dwelt literally in Debir, so are we to “dwell”
spiritually in the Word, that is, we are not only to study it, but also to obey it
additional comments on Debir please review the notes on 10:3, 38-39; 11:21; 12:13;
15:7, 15, 49.
“And Ain with her suburbs, and Juttah with her suburbs, and Beth-shemesh
with her suburbs; nine cities out of those two tribes.”
means an eye: fountain, and since it has been discussed in our study of 15:32,
the reader may wish to review those notes.
means he will be turned aside. Certainly
those who believe the Gospel will be turned from the broad way that leads to
destruction, on to the narrow way that leads to heaven; but being turned aside
suggests the turning of disobedience, so that the reference may be to a believer, or
to Satan; and while certainly any believer may turn aside, only of Satan can
it be said that he will be turned aside: God will turn him aside, first into
the abyss during the Millennium, and finally into the eternal torment of the lake of
fire. This is for our encouragement.
However often we in our folly heed Satan’s enticements, and turn aside from
the path of obedience, the seducer is already a defeated foe who will soon be
“turned aside” from his nefarious activity by the omnipotent hand of the God he
has so long defied.
means house of the sun, and is easily interpreted, for it points not only to
what we are here on earth, but to where we will dwell for all eternity.
As indwelt by the Holy Spirit Who is Light, each believer is a “house of the
sun” here on earth. We are responsible to let that light be seen.
And when our earthly course is finished, we shall “dwell in the house of the
Lord for ever,” Ps 23:6, for heaven is the house of the sun, because “the
Lamb is the light thereof,” Re 21:23.
additional comments on Beth-shemesh, please review the notes on 15:10; 19:22,38.
nine cities out of these two tribes Judah and Simeon.”
Since nine is simply a multiple of three the Biblical number of
resurrection, the number of the cities given the Kohathites by Judah and Simeon,
declares symbolically that the spiritual blessings represented by the cities, have
been given to us who through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, stand on resurrection
ground, having been raised up out of spiritual death.
And inasmuch as the two donor tribes represent praise and obedience
respectively, we learn that the spiritual riches represented by the cities, are the
concomitant of praise and obedience.
“And out of the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with her suburbs, Geba with her
noted already, Benjamin, meaning son of the right hand, is first a figure of
Christ in His coming glory; and, as the warrior tribe, a figure of us as those who
are to fight against the forces of darkness that would keep us from enjoying our
spiritual inheritance, and that would hinder us from doing the Lord’s work.
meaning a little hill: hilly, is first mentioned in chapter 9 which records
the ruse of the Gibeonites to save themselves by pretending to be from a far country.
They would seem to represent that feeble, but saving faith that realizes the
imperative need of salvation. Gibeon’s
being given to the Levites therefore would remind us that before there can be any
conflict with the powers of darkness, there must be faith in Christ as Savior, for
there is no enmity between those powers and the old corrupt nature with which we are
all born, and which remains with us even after the new nature is received.
mountains and hills are symbols of rule, a further lesson being taught in the giving
to the Levites of this former Canaanite city, is that we are to rule over our old
nature so that it is permitted no activity in our lives.
9:3 for additional comments on Gibeon.
means elevation, and in Scripture “elevation” may have reference either to
the high ground on to which faith has lifted us; or it may refer to the high place
desired by pride. Clearly, the former
truth is the one that applies here, so that the lesson of Geba’s being given to the
Levites is that, through faith, we stand spiritually on ground that is elevated above
the vain things of earth, and are therefore to live accordingly.
“Anathoth with her suburbs, and Almon with her suburbs; four cities.”
means affliction: answers, and would remind us that here on earth affliction
will be the portion of every obedient believer.
But if this is the scene where affliction awaits us, as Paul said in Ac 20:23,
it is also the place where God answers the cry of the afflicted.
means concealment, and while that meaning is admittedly ambiguous, it is not
without its lessons, one of those lessons having to do with the contrast between our
present, and our future state, for, “It doth not yet appear (it is concealed) what
we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we
shall see him as he is,” 1 Jn 3:2.
thing frequently concealed from our eyes is the reason for some of the circumstances
which God orders or permits in our lives, our comfort being found in the knowledge
that His will is, “good, and acceptable, and perfect,” Ro 12:2; and that “All
things work together for good to them that love God,” Ro 8:28.
another thing presently concealed is the magnitude of the blessings reserved for us
in heaven, for “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the
heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” 1 Co 2:9.
list could be extended, but sufficient has been indicated to encourage the reader to
explore further the spiritual truths connected with the meaning of Almon.
being said that the cities given by Benjamin were four in number has also its lesson,
for four is the Biblical number of earth and testing. The warfare of which Benjamin speaks, and in which we are to
engage, is for our testing: not only the testing of our faith and courage, but of our
wisdom, for there is ever present the temptation to distrust spiritual methods in
favor of those suggested by mere human intelligence.
We are not, however, to succumb to the temptation to substitute carnal methods
for spiritual, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: for
the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down
of strong holds,” 2 Co 10:3-4.
“All the cities of the children of Aaron, the priests, were thirteen cities
with their suburbs.”
the method of discerning the meaning of prime numbers greater than seven
appears to be that we separate one the number of God, and then read the
meaning of the remainder, the lesson here has to do with government, for as ten
is the number of God as Governor, twelve is the number of the governed, e.g.,
the twelve tribes of Israel; the Church, built upon the foundation of the doctrine of
the twelve Apostles. The repetition of
the number here (it first appears in verse four) is to emphasize the importance God
attaches to the spiritual lesson. We are to be obedient under His government, for obedience and
blessing are inseparable.
is to be noted in fact that in verses 1 through 8, which record the number of cities
given by the different tribes, all the numbers are related to government, see verse 4
where the number is thirteen; verse 5, ten; verse 6, thirteen;
and verse 7, twelve.
“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
the significance of Kohath, the reader is referred to the notes on verse four.
It was the privilege of Ephraim to furnish these remaining Kohathites with
cities to dwell in; but since Ephraim means double ash-heap: I shall be doubly
fruitful, the lesson God would teach is that as spiritual Kohathites who have
their portion spiritually in “Ephraim,” we are to be fruitful for God down here
on earth. The reference to double
fruitfulness ought to remind us that we are not only to produce the fruits of the
Spirit listed in Ga 5:22-23; we are responsible also to produce fruit in the Gospel:
we are to seek to lead others to the Savior, each man thus won becoming our spiritual
son; each woman, our spiritual daughter. These
spiritual children are the NT counterparts of the literal children of the Israelites;
and we do well to remember that numerous children were one of the evidences of
God’s blessing on His earthly people. The
standard still applies. The number of
our spiritual children indicates our own spiritual state.
seeming contradiction between the two meanings of Ephraim is easily explained.
The ash-heap indicated the prosperity of the city.
The larger the ash-heap, the greater the prosperity.
A double ash-heap bespoke exceptional abundance.
The spiritual lesson is that the more of the worthless things of earth we
throw on the “ash-heap” the richer we will be spiritually. For additional
comments on Ephraim please review the notes on 14:4; 16:4,5,8,9; 17:8,9,15,17; 20:7;
“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,”
means shoulder literally early rising: diligence. The shoulder is one of the Biblical symbols of strength, so that
Shechem’s being given as a dwelling place for the Levites, reminds us of the place
of strength in which we dwell through faith. Each one of us, like the lost sheep mentioned in Luke 15, has been
found by the Good Shepherd, and it is significant that that recovered sheep was laid
on the shepherd’s shoulders, symbolic of the place of strength and safety to which
we have been lifted by the Lord Jesus Christ.
association of Shechem with early rising and diligence would remind us
further, that inseparable from that place of strength and security in which we dwell,
is responsibility to be about our Father’s business. This is not the time for ease and pleasure.
It is the time for work, and everything points to the fact that there is
little time left. The age of grace is almost ended. The need to be productive workers is emphasized by the fact that
Shechem was in mount Ephraim, which, as noted already, speaks of fruitfulness.
a major part of our work is to be the proclamation of the Gospel is made clear by the
fact that Shechem was also one of the cities of refuge. Men and women must be warned of their danger, and urged to find
refuge in Christ before it is eternally too late.
additional comments on Schechem, please consult the notes on 17:2,7; 20:7.
second city given by Ephraim was Gezer meaning a piece: a portion as cut
off, and while these meanings are more ambigious than some others, one lesson at
least is easily read: our portion in Christ is one that is cut off from the world in
which our lot is cast. Our blessings are
not to be measured in temporal things; nor are circumstances the barometer of God’s
love for us. Our blessings are
spiritual, Ep 1:3; and however adverse the circumstances may seem, we are assured
that, “All things work together for good to them that love God,” Ro 8:28.
additional comments on Gezer, please review the notes on 10:33 and 12:12.
“And Kibzaim with her suburbs, and Beth-horon with her suburbs; four cities.”
lesson of Kibzaim, meaning double gathering: two heaps, is easily read.
He who gives himself wholeheartedly to the Lord’s business finds that his
“gathering” is indeed doubled, and his “heaps” multiplied.
He has peace and blessing here, beyond the power of the world to take away;
and in heaven, a treasure of such magnitude that the human mind can’t comprehend
its worth, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart
of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” 1 Co 2:9.
has a very different connotation, for it means consumer’s house: cavernous house.
Its being also one of the cities given to the Levites, may be intended to
remind us that this earth where our lot is cast, but where we are nevertheless to
enjoy our heavenly portion, is still the domain of Satan, and as such is a
“cavernous house” that will “consume” us unless we keep ourselves separate
additional comments on Beth-horon please review the notes on 10:10-11, and 16:3.
is to be noted that in connection with these cities given to the Levites, the number
four occurs seven times; but since four is the number of earth and testing, the
lesson being taught is that our days on earth are a time of testing.
God commands us to enjoy our spiritual blessings as we walk in separation from
the godless scene around us; but Satan would entice us to abandon our separation, and
enjoy the things of the world. Our
obedience is tested by our response.
“And out of the tribe of Dan, Eltekeh with her suburbs, Gibbethon with her
list of cities given to the Kohathites continues with the enumeration of those given
here by Dan judging: a judge. First
is Eltekeh, meaning let God spue thee out.
There is great need to maintain that reverential fear of God that will guard
us against the ever present tendency to sin. We do well to remember what is written in the letter to Laodicea,
“I will spue thee out of my mouth,” Re 3:16.
The warning is the more appropriate inasmuch as Eltekeh lay in the territory
of Dan. If we fail to judge ourselves,
we will be judged by God, both here on earth, and at the Bema.
He who has no fear of God in his heart would do well to examine himself as to
whether he has eternal life, for reverential awe is characteristic of the new life.
next city is Gibbethon the lofty. This
may speak of the lofty position we occupy as men and women in Christ; but it must not
be forgotten that there is also the height to which pride would aspire.
And again, appropriate to that which belongs to Dan, is the need of continual
self judgment according to the Word of God.
high ground we occupy is ours only because the Lord Jesus Christ was willing to stoop
from the glory of heaven to be born in a cattle shed, and to die on the cross
“numbered with the transgressors.” That
knowledge kept ever before us will fill our hearts with gratitude, and adorn our
lives with the humility so highly prized by God, so that we will have the power to
“walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye have been called,” Ep 4:1.
“Aijalon with her suburbs, Gath-rimmon with her suburbs; four cities.”
meaning deer-field: a large stag, conveys a message easily read, for the deer
or hart is one of the Biblical symbols both of Christ and of the believer, e.g., Ca
2:9, “My beloved (Christ) is like a roe or a young hart,” Ps 42:1 “As the hart
panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.”
This city is a figure of the world or the field, Mt 13:38, in which our lot is
cast. We are to conduct ourselves as
becomes those who are God’s “deer”; and again we are to remember that that will
be accomplished only as we judge ourselves by God’s Word.
also notes on 10:12 and 19:42.
meaning wine-press of the pomegranate, has been discussed in some detail in
our study of 19:45, and those notes should be reviewed here.
keeping with the thought of judgment and testing, the number of cities given the
Kohathites by Dan was four, the Biblical number of testing, testing itself
being simply a form of judgment.
“And out of the half tribe of Manasseh, Tanach with her suburbs, and
Gath-rimmon with her suburbs; two cities.”
as Manasseh, meaning causing to forget, speaks of the need to forget the
things which are behind, while pressing on toward the mark for the prize of the high
calling of God, Php 3:14, the lesson of the two cities given by the half tribe of
Manasseh west of Jordan, ought to reinforce that spiritual lesson.
generally taken to be a variant spelling of the more common Taanach, means she
will afflict thee; and this Gath-rimmon, though different from the Gath-rimmon of
verse 24, has the same meaning, i.e., wine-press of the pomegranate, and
teaches the same spiritual lesson. It is
the forgetting of the things that are behind, and the fixing of the eye on the
eternal prize, that gives the courage to endure the “wine-press” of the world’s
of the spiritual lesson of Taanach hinges on the identity of the one referred to as
“she.” If, as seems likely, the
believer is the one in danger of being afflicted, the antagonist can scarcely be
anyone except the great false church, and history confirms that God’s people have
suffered affliction, of longer duration, and more venomous character, at her hand
than from any other source. The
believer, however, is to remain the master, showing himself the overcomer by being
willing to die rather than submit to her false claims.
“All the cities were ten with their suburbs for the families of the children
of Kohath that remained.”
ten is the Biblical number of Divine government, these ten cities given the
Kohathites waiting: obedient: assembly, and symbol of what believers ought to
be, remind us that we are to be submissive under that government, accepting gladly
God’s ordering of our lives, and glorifying Him in the midst of every earthly
circumstance, having the faith to believe that because those circumstances are
ordered or permitted by perfect love and wisdom, “All things (even seeming
adversity) work together for good to them that love God,” Ro 8:28.
review the notes on 21:4-5 for additional comments on Kohath.
“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 Besh-terah with her suburbs; two cities.”
Gershonites were those to whose care were committed the tabernacle curtains and
coverings, see Nu 4:21-28; and now they were to be given cities, first by the half
tribe of Manasseh dwelling east of Jordan.
noted in our study of verse 6, Gershon, meaning an outcast, is a figure of
believers as those who are but outcasts in the eyes of the world that also made the
Lord an outcast. Their worth to God is
very different, however.
the tabernacle hangings and coverings all spoke of Christ, and emphasized
particularly His righteousness and glory, the Gershonites would remind us that it is
the responsibility of every believer to see that His righteousness and glory are
jealously guarded, a charge that requires us to manifest righteousness in our own
lives, so that the glory of Christ will not be diminished in the eyes of the world as
a result of failure on the part of His people.
noted already, the territory assigned by Moses to the two and a half tribes east of
Jordan, represents our portion in Christ relative to our earthly, rather than our
spiritual circumstances. Since therefore
the first city was given by Manasseh, meaning causing to forget, the lesson
being taught is that here in the midst of earthly circumstances, our portion in
Christ will be rich only as we are willing to follow the example of Paul who
declared, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and
reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the
prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” Php 3:13-14.
Our response to the earthly circumstances, ordained by perfect love and
wisdom, will be right only as we are occupied, not with the circumstances themselves,
but with the Lord, and the eternal portion that is ours as joint heirs with
first city given was Golan, meaning their captivity: their rejoicing, meanings
far less disparate than would at first appear, for the spiritually rich are those who
recognize that their greatest freedom and blessing are secured by “bringing into
captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Co 10:5.
Our greatest liberty and joy lie in our own wills being completely subservient
to the will of Christ, so that the Lord’s own words, “Not my will, but thine, be
done,” Lk 22:42, become the true expression of our own heart attitude.
being in Bashan has also much to teach us, for Bashan means the shame of them: the
fertile: the one in sleep. It
represents the world in which our lot is cast. It
is a place of shame; a place whose people are fertile in the production of evil; and
the place whose inhabitants are spiritually asleep, totally unaware of their terrible
Golan was also one of the cities of refuge, a city into which the accidental
manslayer could flee and find refuge until the death of the high priest, at which
time he was then free to return to his own city again.
cities of refuge are almost invariably taken, wrongly I believe, to represent the
safety which the sinner finds in Christ. There
is much against this. The safety was
restrictive, for the man might not go beyond the boundary of the city; it was far
from perfect for it separated him from his family and his inheritance; and there was
the possibility that he could have died before the high priest, so that he would
never have returned to his own place. I believe the more accurate picture is of the safety which the
sinner finds here on earth during God’s day of grace. His safety is restricted, for once he passes beyond the boundary
of the city, i.e., dies in unbelief, he is doomed. He remains separated from God’s family, and from the eternal
inheritance God wants every man to enjoy eternally. He may die without ever hearing of the death of the true High
Priest, i.e., without hearing the Gospel believingly. And finally, he may hear of the death of the High Priest, but have
become so settled down in the “city of refuge” that he has no desire to return to his God-allotted inheritance.
being a city of refuge, and its being the first city given, reminds us therefore that
our greatest responsibility as spiritual Gershonites is to be busy in the spread of
second city given was Beesh-terah, meaning in Ashtoreth: in her flock.
There is disagreement among scholars regarding the correct spelling of this
place, so that there is necessarily also disagreement as to the meaning of the name.
It has been pointed out that it is very unlikely a city in the possession of
Israel would have continued to be known by its Canaanite name, particularly when that
name was of the heathen goddess of fertility, love, and war, and whose worship
involved some of the most immoral practices imaginable.
Those who contend for the one meaning, in her flock, are therefore
probably correct, so that the meaning speaks of “the flock” which constitutes the
Church. But connected with a flock is
the thought of feeding, care, and multiplication, reminding us that as spiritual
Gershonites each one of us has a responsibility towards the flock of God.
The feeding, care, and increase of the flock are to be our chief concern.
“And out of the tribe of Issachar, Kishon with her suburbs, Dabareh with her
means he will be hired: there is reward: he will bring reward, and like all
the tribes of Israel, is symbolic of a feature that ought to mark us as spiritual
Israelites, for every believer is offered employment in the Lord’s service.
There is no compulsion about that employment, but those who willingly
undertake it are assured of an abundant recompense.
is simply an alternative spelling of Kishion, meaning hardness, a meaning
which is particularly apt, for the spiritual lesson is that the employment which
Issachar represents, produces “hardening” in the best sense of the word.
See additional comments on 19:20.
second city given by Issachar was Dabareh or Daberath, meaning pasture; and it
teaches us that the work which we undertake for God produces not only
“hardening,” but it furnishes also rich pasture for our souls, for no man can do
God’s work without being also a student of the Word.
It is a spiritual anomaly running counter to the reasoning of the world, that
the more spiritual food we prepare for others, the more we have for ourselves.
“Jarmuth with her suburbs, Engannim with her suburbs; four cities.”
last two cities furnished by Issachar were Jarmuth, meaning he will be lifted up:
elevation; and Engannim, meaning fountain of gardens.
lifting up or elevation of which Jarmuth speaks, applies first to
Christ. It is He Who is to be lifted up
through the work of those who serve Him here on earth; but the other side of that
coin is that no man can exalt Christ without being himself also exalted.
Just because of this, however, there is great need to guard against the subtle
danger of seeking our own exaltation under the guise of seeking Christ’s.
More than one believer has stumbled on this rock.
additional comments on Jarmuth please see the notes on 12:11 and 15:35.
lesson of Engannim will be more easily discerned if we keep in mind that in Scripture
a garden is the figure of a local assembly, and also of the individual life of each
believer. As the literal garden produces
a variety of products for the pleasure of the gardener, so is each assembly, and each
believer, to be a spiritual garden producing those things that will delight the
Engannim is the figure, not of a garden itself, but of a fountain to water, not just
one garden, but gardens. As the place of
water, apart from which the garden would be barren, Engannim as a city given by
Issachar to the Gershonites, speaks of that result of labor for Christ, which
promotes the production of spiritual fruit in the lives of those who constitute a
local assembly, for each one of those lives is a “garden” meant to produce fruit
how may an assembly be a spiritual “Engannim”?
Very simply: where the water of the Word is continually “bubbled up,”
i.e., read, preached, meditated upon, turned to for guidance, and obeyed, that
assembly will be a spiritual “Engannim.” It
will be the fountain from which the garden of each individual life is watered.
giving this city to the Gershonites, reminds us that it is willing labor for Christ,
which Issachar represents, that makes an assembly “a fountain of gardens.”
See also comments on 15:34.
as Issachar furnished four cities for the Gershonites, and four is the
number of earth and testing, the lesson being taught is that it is here in this
earthly scene that we are privileged to render our service, the reality of our
profession being measured by the extent to which we are willing to do the Lord’s
“And out of the tribe of Asher, Mishal with her suburbs, Abdon with her
as Asher means happy, the spiritual lesson is that the happiness, which is the
concomitant of willing service, will furnish the obedient believer with the rewards
represented by the cities given to the Gershonites by the tribe of Asher, the nature
of those rewards being disclosed in the meanings of the names of the places given.
first is Mishal, meaning enquiry, a meaning less ambiguous than at first
appears, for it prompts the question, With what is the “enquiry” concerned? and
no spiritual mind will fail to remember the frequent references in Scripture to the
need to enquire of God, i.e, seek His guidance; and of the evil that attended
activity in regard to which His guidance wasn’t sought.
The good king Josiah, for example, sought counsel from God, 2 Ki 22:13; and
the evil king Saul was slain because he “inquired not of the Lord,” 1 Ch
lesson of Mishal, then, is easily read. The
happiness of the obedient believer, even though he be an “outcast” in the eyes of
the world, is linked inseparably with that spirit of enquiry that continually seeks
God’s direction regarding every detail of life. The imperative of that enquiry is
the more readily seen in the light of the knowledge that Satan is constantly tempting
us to act according to the dictates of the flesh.
Our walk, our worship, and our service, however, must be according to the Word
of God, otherwise we are in danger of becoming like Israel of whom Paul declared that
“they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge,” Ro 10:2.
In that misguided zeal they slew the Lord, as Paul, prior to his conversion,
slew those who belonged to Him.
of the havoc being wrought in the Church today is the result of failure to enquire of
God, for it is painfully obvious that much that purports to be Christian service is
nothing but the activity of the flesh.
second city was Abdon, meaning servitude, and reminding us that it is in
willing service to Christ that true happiness exists.
In regard to that service, it was the Lord Himself Who gave the assurance,
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye
shall find rest unto your souls,” Mt 11:29. The
anomaly which the natural man can’t comprehend, is clearly understood by every
obedient believer: perfect rest is found, not in indolence, but in Spirit-directed
is to be noted, however, that the Lord links learning with the yoke of service, and
not without good reason. Service, apart
from the knowledge of God’s will, becomes an intolerable burden.
Many today are giving up a service upon which they had but recently entered,
and it is apparent in many of these cases that they had undertaken that work without
enquiring of God. No man can do God’s
work who isn’t prepared to spend a great deal of time in God’s Word. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy applies to every believer, but
particularly to those who are called to a full-time ministry, “Study to shew
thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing
the word of truth,” 2 Tim 2:15.
there is a warning also in the meaning of Abdon, for significantly servitude
is mentioned only twice in Scripture, and in both cases it is in a bad context, 2 Ch
10:4; La 1:3. As noted already,
assumption of work to which we have not been called, will result in its becoming
simply bitter bondage; but refusal to do work to which we have been called,
will result in our falling into servitude (bondage) to sin.
There is a very great difference between the servitude entered into in willing
response to God’s call, and that undertaken simply in response to emotion in
the energy of the flesh.
“Helkath with her suburbs, and Rehob with her suburbs; four cities.”
means a possession, and as a city given to the Gershonites outcasts by
Asher happy, speaks literally of the happiness which Asher represents, and
which is the possession of those who are spiritual Gershonites, outcasts in the world
for Christ’s sake. No earthly
circumstance can rob them of the knowledge that He Himself Who was an outcast on
earth, takes note of all they endure for His sake, and will Himself welcome them into
heaven when their earthly course is finished.
additional comments on Helkath please review the notes on 19:25.
means broad place, and as given to the Gershonites by Asher, speaks of the
truth that those who are willing to be outcasts on earth because they belong to
Christ, find that the happiness which attends obedience, brings them into the broad
place of spiritual enrichment where the carnal and the unconverted cannot come, the
latter lacking the life which alone fits one to walk there; the other denying himself
those riches by choosing to live for the things of this passing world.
broad place of blessing is available only to the man who steps by faith off the broad
way which leads to destruction, and enters in by the strait (narrow) gate on to the
narrow way that leads to true freedom on earth, and eternal happiness in heaven.
as the number of cities given the Gershonites by Asher were four, the number of earth
and testing, we are being reminded that all the different forms of spiritual
happiness offered to obedience, are at the same time the means by which our faith is
tested. Do we have the faith to choose
these spiritual blessings, or do the baubles of earth, which perish even as we grasp
them, allure us with their false glitter, and reveal the sad truth that our faith is
too small to comprehend the worth of those things, which though invisible to the
natural eye, will endure eternally?
“And out of the tribe of Naphtali, Kedesh in Galilee with her suburbs, to be
a city of refuge for the slayer; and Hammoth-dor with her suburbs, and Kartan with
her suburbs; three cities.”
my wrestling: my tortuosity, reminds us that “We wrestle not against flesh
and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the
darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” Ep 6:12; and
his giving cities to the Gershonites outcasts, teaches us the lesson that that
wrestling brings spiritual enrichment to those, who in the world’s eyes, are but
additional comments on Naphtali please review the comments on 19:32,39; 20:7; 21:6.
first city given by Naphtali was Kedesh sanctuary in Galilee a circuit
as enclosed, or rolled around. The
lesson is easily read. If we don’t
possess what the sanctuary represents, all is lost, for it portrays the time that
must be spent alone with God in reading, meditation, and prayer; and the aptness of
its being given by Naphtali is apparent when we remember how difficult it is to
secure that time. It seems that there
are a thousand things to keep us out of the sanctuary, but we must wrestle to ensure
that that time is reserved each day, and nothing must be allowed to usurp it, for it
is the source of all spiritual strength.
comments on 12:22 and 19:37 for additional comments on Kedesh.
being in Galilee reminds us that our daily lives are a “circuit”, but it is a
circuit enclosed, rolled around by God’s watchful care, a fact that brings us the
daily assurance of Ro 8:28 “ ... all things work together for good to them that
love God ....” It is in the midst of
that often dull, monotonous circuit of daily affairs that we as spiritual Gershonites
are to take “Kedesh” from the hand of “Naphtali.”
20:7 for additional comments on Galilee.
to be a city of refuge for the slayer.” For
the spiritual significance of this, see comments on verse 27.
(generally believed to be identical with Hammath of 19:35) meaning hot places of
the dwelling or generation, is literally “the hot springs of Dor.”
These hot springs bubbling up out of the earth may represent the adversity
that is the inevitable portion of saint and sinner alike; and Naphtali’s giving it
to Gershon reminds us that the believer has no immunity against the ordinary trials
and difficulties which are part of the earthly experience.
There is, however, to be a difference between the natural man’s response,
and the believer’s. Adversity often
prompts the former to rail against God. We
are to accept seeming adversity as ordered or permitted by perfect love and perfect
wisdom, and as part of the “all things” which work together for our ultimate
good. Please see also comments on 19:25.
means their hap: their meeting place, two meanings which are virtually the
same, for hap is literally something met with, i.e., an accident
or accidental happening, something that happens by chance.
We know of course that there are no such accidents or chances with God.
Nothing occurs that He doesn’t ordain or permit, and that doesn’t in some
way serve His purposes. The lesson of
Kartan therefore may be to instill that attitude that will cause us to examine the
seeming chance happenings of life more carefully to find out whether God, through
them, may perhaps be giving us special guidance or instruction. The man who views such occurrences as mere chance happenings
reveals that God is not in all his thoughts, with the result that he will miss those
special communications which God reserves for revelation to the eye and ear watching
and listening for just such disclosures.
three is the Biblical number of revelation or resurrection, Naphtali’s
giving three cities to the Gershonites has a special propriety, for the spiritual
wrestling which Naphtali represents is an experience reserved only for those who give
themselves wholeheartedly to the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
Such wrestling yields much profit, not the least part of which is to be taken
into God’s confidence to a degree unknown by the believer who knows little or
nothing of such struggles against the forces of darkness opposing our spiritual
“All the cities of the Gershonites according to their families were thirteen
cities with their suburbs.”
noted in earlier studies, the method of ascertaining the meaning of prime numbers
such as thirteen seems to be to remove one, the number of God, and then
either factorize the remainder, or note its meaning as a whole number.
Here that remainder is twelve, the number of Divine government on
display; and the lesson is easily discerned. He
who is willing to follow in the footsteps of the true Gershon, the Lord Jesus Christ,
will know, as He did, what it is to wrestle against the forces of darkness; but by
that very activity will demonstrate that he is a man whose life is under the
government of God.
“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,”
was the family which had charge of the Tabernacle boards, bars, pillars and their
sockets, and cords; but since these things are figures of believers as the house of
God, the lesson is that as spiritual Merarites, we are also those who are to have a
care for one another.
name Merari means my bitterness,
and may be intended to remind us that in connection with that care for the household
of faith there is often cause for sorrow as the activity of Satan manifests itself in
the midst of God’s people.
additional notes on Merari please review the notes on 21:7.
spiritual lesson of Zebulun’s giving the cities to the Merarites is that he who
would be a spiritual Merarite, that is, one who has a care for those who constitute
God’s house, must also possess the spiritual equivalent of these cities.
But first we must note the truth being taught in that Zebulun was the tribe
which furnished those cities. As noted
already, Zebulun means dwelling, a meaning which declares the necessity of
dwelling in fellowship with God, for it is only as we maintain that communion that we
will have what we need in order to be spiritual Merarites, that is, those who have a
care for God’s house.
to that dwelling with God is the daily reservation of time for reading, meditation,
and prayer, for it is there in the sanctuary that the strength is found for the work
to be done.
first city given was Jokneam, a name having two meanings the people will be
purchased and the people will be lamented.
Whatever else may be related to these meanings, one truth is obvious: we who
constitute the house of God here on earth are those who have been purchased with the
precious blood of Christ, and who also give, all too often, occasion for other
believers to lament because of our imperfect walk.
It is that inconsistent walk that requires each one of us to be his
brother’s keeper, I helping my brother today, in the knowledge that tomorrow I may
be the one in need of his helping ministry.
meaning her hap or her meeting place, was the second city given, and
those meanings are virtually the same, for hap is literally a happening or
circumstance met with. Its being
appointed by God as a city to be given Merari, would remind us that the circumstances
of life are not just a series of chance happenings, but rather are all permitted or
ordained by God, and are to be accepted by us in the light of Ro 8:28, “And we know
that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
ought to preserve us from complaint against any circumstance, for such protest is
nothing less than the impugnment of God’s wisdom and love.
Every circumstance, no matter how seeming adverse, ought to prompt the
question, What is God trying to teach me through this? and where the answer isn’t
found, the response should be that of willing acceptance, and the acknowledgement
that God’s wisdom transcends mine, and is not to be questioned.
And in the midst of the darkness of undisclosed explanation there is to be
retention of the faith to believe that all things do work together for good to
them that love Him.
“Dimnah with her suburbs, Nahalal with her suburbs; four cities.”
was the third city given, and it means dung hill. Nor is its lesson difficult to understand.
The dung hill, the waste heap was the place where refuse was thrown, and
certainly reminds us that in the house of God on earth there is much that is fit only
for the dung hill. If, however, we would
minister to others in that house, there is the need to be sure that we ourselves
aren’t keeping what should be thrown away. Paul
declared the necessity of this house cleaning in Ph 3:7-8, “But what things were
gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea
doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of
Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count
them but dung, that I may win Christ.”
spiritual discernment is needed in order to determine what in my own live is fit only
for the dung hill, before I attempt to minister to another in this connection.
meaning tended, as in a pasture, and embodying the thought of protecting,
sustaining, feeding, and guiding or leading, as the fourth city given Merari by
Zebulun, would teach the truth that the one who would be a spiritual Merarite must be
prepared to render such service to those who are of the household of faith.
A prerequisite of that ministry, however, is that I myself must have submitted
to that same shepherd care on the part of the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. To refuse His ministry to me is to disqualify myself as one able
to minister to others. To submit to His
ministry is to be obedient to His Word.
fact that Zebulun furnished these four cities, number of testing, teaches us that
this Merarite ministry is not only to be carried on amid the testing of earthly
circumstances, but that it is also the testing of my own willingness to be the
servant of others.
“And out of the tribe of Reuben, Bezer with her suburbs, and Jahazah with
meaning see ye, a son, was the second tribe privileged to provide cities for
their brethren the Merarites, the meaning of his name reminding us that we will be
seen as the sons of God in proportion as we are willing to engage in this ministry to
our brethren. It will be as we are
obedient in this that God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, will be seen in us; and
that the Father will be able to point to us and say to others, “See ye, a son.”
first city given was Bezer, meaning munition: secure storage place, and
in 20:8 it is also assigned as a city of refuge.
Munition is the word used to describe things used in war, e.g., weapons,
ammunition, but it includes fortifications, etc., and in biblical times it included a
mound erected to facilitate attack of a town, but also a rampart of defence against
an attacker. Another meaning closely
related to the first is inaccessible spot or place, a meaning which emphasizes
the security of the one who has fled there for shelter.
To the avenger of blood it was an inaccessible place: he might not go
there to harm the manslayer. This serves
to remind us of our own security as men in Christ here on earth.
noted in earlier studies, the city of refuge represents, not as much the believers
security in Christ, as it does the security of all men here on earth until the
day when they leave this “city of refuge,” earth, and go out into eternity; the
believer, going to heaven, fulfilling the type of the innocent manslayer leaving the
city of refuge to return to his own city and inheritance, following the death of the
high priest; the unbeliever fulfilling the type of the deliberate slayer being thrust
out of the city to die at the hand of the avenger of blood.
connected with the meaning of Bezer is the idea of gold mining, and the storage of
gold. This serves to remind us of the
value we have in God’s sight. Having
been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, 1 Pe 1:18, believers are more
precious to God than is gold to man. In
this connection it is instructive to note that Bezer was on the east side of Jordan,
and as also noted in earlier studies, that side represents the practical aspect of
our lives, whereas the west side of Jordan speaks more of our lives on the spiritual
plane. One obvious lesson is that the
practical side of Christian living is not to be ignored.
As someone has aptly commented, There is the danger of our becoming so
heavenly minded that we are no earthly use.
second city given by Reuben was Jahazah, meaning to the treading down: the
treading down place, in close connection with the idea of stamping as on a
threshing floor. Since the meaning of
this name is so closely associated with threshing, the operation that separates the
grain from the chaff, the spiritual lesson is obviously related also to the
equivalent spiritual process: the means by which God would separate the worthless
things from our lives, leaving only that which will survive the judgment of Christ at
is a wise man who remembers that every believer has been given the spiritual
counterpart of this city, and who makes use of it, that is, who allows his life to be
“threshed” by the Word of God, so that the precious is separated from the vile;
so that at the end of the earthly life there may remain a heap of spiritual
“wheat” - deeds that will merit the Lord’s commendation, “Well done, good and
faithful servant,” Mt 25:23. Only as
there is submission to that “threshing” will there be fitness to be spiritual
Merarites, that is, to have fitness to minister to others.
“Kedemoth with her suburbs, and Mephaath with her suburbs; four cities.”
beginnings: confrontings, was the next city given by Reuben, and is meant, no
doubt, to remind us that the Christian life, which will last for ever, begins here on
earth, and is marked by “confrontings,” for it brings with it a new nature, which
for the years of earthly life, has to dwell in the body where the old nature
continues also to dwell as the inveterate enemy of that new nature.
The reason for that conflict is that neither the old nature nor the new can
express itself apart from the use of the members of the body.
There is therefore a continual battle between the two for the use of those
members, but as new creatures in Christ, we are not to yield those members to the
service of the old nature, God through Paul, exhorting us, “I beseech you
therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living
sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (spiritual
worship). And be not conformed to this
world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is
that good and acceptable, and perfect, will of God,” Ro 12:1-2.
spiritual Merarites, however, we are to remember that those “confrontings” or
strivings are experienced also by every other believer, so that we have a
responsibility to seek to be a help to them in their confrontings.
the other meaning of Kedemoth beginnings, God would encourage by reminding us
that those “confrontings” are only the “beginnings.” They are only for the few brief years here on earth.
Before us lies a heaven where there are no “confrontings”; where there
will be no old nature; no devil to entice us to sin.
mustn’t be forgotten, however, that the measure in which we have been victorious in
these “confrontings” will be the measure also of our eternal reward.
This should surely be an incentive to each of us to resist more vigorously
every impulse of that old corrupt nature; and to impel us to greater effort to help
fellow believers to be overcomers also.
last city given was Mephaath, meaning the shining forth, and no more fitting
name could have been chosen to end the list of cities given by Reuben to those who
are types of those in whom God would have men see the “shining forth” of the true
Reuben, the Lord Jesus Christ.
the number of the cities is four, the number of testing, reminding us that every
earthly circumstance is meant by God to produce in us a closer conformity to the
image of Christ, so that men might see in us miniatures of Him in whose human life
the glory of God shone forth with such brilliance.
“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,”
third tribe to furnish cities for the Merarites was Gad an invader: a troop:
fortune, and we should note first the lesson being taught in his being third, for
three is the Biblical number of resurrection or manifestation.
Only as we live practically as those who have been raised up (resurrected) out
of spiritual death, Ep 2:1,5-6, and who are new creatures in Christ, 2 Co 5:17, will
we become the possessors of what is represented by the cities given Merari by Gad. That lifestyle requires us to live as those, who having been
“crucified with Christ,” Ga 2:20, are dead to sin, Ro 6:2, and to everything that
is of this present evil world, Ga 6:14. As
a dead man can yield no response to any stimulus, neither are we to yield any
response to the inducements with which Satan attempts to entice us into disobedience.
living in cities furnished by the Gadites an invader: a troop: fortune would
perhaps be reminded that they had entered Canaan as God’s invaders, dispossessing
the enemy to take possession of what God had given His redeemed people Israel.
The presence of the enemy still in the land, however, would remind them of
their failure to drive out that enemy, and take possession of what God had given
them. We too have been given our portion
here on earth in what once belonged to the enemy; but like Israel, we too have failed
to appropriate all that has been made available to us through Christ’s victory at
Calvary. The enemy, through our
delinquency, still occupies much that God wants us to possess.
We are to continue to be God’s invaders, fearlessly carrying the Gospel into
the strongholds of the enemy, bringing liberty to Satan’s captives, and enlarging
the kingdom of Christ.
second meaning of Gad a troop, must surely have reminded the Merarites of the
words of Jacob recorded in Gen.49:19, “Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he
shall overcome at the last.” That
prophecy must have encouraged many a faithful Merarite as he watched the deepening
apostasy of Israel in the years that followed the days of Joshua.
Those same words are meant to encourage us in a day when the apostasy of the
professing church is as deep as was that of earthly Israel during the era of the
third meaning fortune speaks to spiritual ears, not of mere chance, but of the
sovereignty of God working all things together for good to them that love Him,
Ro.8:28. So perhaps may the spiritual
among the Merarites have been encouraged in a day when there was much to discourage.
That same encouragement is much needed today.
Fortune is to be understood in the sense of destiny: fate:
providence. That period of grace
provided by a God Who is unwilling that any should perish, is a veritable time of
destiny. In it man responds to the
appeal of the Gospel, or the allurements of Satan, and his response determines the
eternal destiny of his soul.
in Gilead” was east of Jordan, and, as noted already, the lessons connected with
the places east of Jordan, are related to practical living, whereas the places
in Canaan are connected with lessons having to do with spiritual experience.
Ramoth means heights: coral; Gilead, heap of witness: rolling for
two meanings of Ramoth heights and coral, are not as disparate as might
at first appear, for coral was high in value, see Strong’s Concordance.
As representative of an aspect of the grace extended to man in which to repent
and trust the Savior, Ramoth speaks of the high value God sets upon a human soul,
“What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own
soul?” Mk.8:36. God in His grace would
have man learn the value of his soul, and in learning that value, learn also the
imperative of trusting Christ as the only way to save that precious soul from eternal
the significance of its being a city of refuge, see comments on verse 36.
heap of witness: rolling for ever speaks of Calvary, for Calvary is the
witness, not only to man’s ruin, but also to God’s love; and the value of the
work so perfectly completed there will “roll for ever,” not only before God, but
also before redeemed and lost alike, evoking the eternal worship of the one, and the
eternal remorse of the other. It is here
on earth, in the “Gilead” of God’s grace, that He would have men learn the
value of Christ’s death, and the imperative of trusting Him as Savior.
We who are already saved, have a responsibility to make the good news known to
those still in their sins.
second city given was Mahanaim meaning double camp, that name having been
given to the place by Jacob in Ge 32:2 when he was returning to Canaan after his
twenty-year sojourn with Laban, and when he was fearful at the prospect of meeting
Esau, the brother, who twenty years before, had threatened to kill him.
He had named the place Mahanaim, for there “the angels of God met him.
And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name
of that place Mahanaim, i.e., double camp or double host.”
Merarites, familiar with the history of their ancestor Jacob, and having been given
the city so dramatically linked with his memory, would be constantly reminded that
they too were a double camp, they being no less the objects of God’s
watchful care. The transaction has been
recorded for our own encouragement, for we too are the objects of that same
omnipotent care. Nothing befalls us
apart from God’s direction or permission.
“Heshbon with her suburbs, Jazer with her suburbs; four cities in all.”
was the third city given Merari by Gad, and it means device: reason.
Just prior to crossing Jordan and entering Canaan, Israel had taken Heshbon
from Sihon, the Amorite king, Nu 21:21-25. Since
the Amorite a sayer represents mere empty profession, Israel’s having taken
Heshbon from him, declares the truth that the confession of the genuine believer goes
beyond mere words: it is substantiated by deeds.
The mere human device or reason therefore portrayed by Heshbon
as an Amorite city, becomes, in Heshbon the Israelite city, the symbol of the
Divinely directed wisdom that accomplishes God’s will, and ensures eternal reward
for the obedient believer. We take
“Heshbon” out of the hand of the enemy the moment we trust in the Lord Jesus
Christ as Savior, for “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,”
as already noted, Gad represents that activity that will invade Satan’s territory
with the Gospel, his giving Heshbon to Merari who portrays ministry to the household
of faith, announces the truth that reason has a part to play in the believer’s
service. The leading of the Holy Spirit
is not apart from our own intelligence, for we will know His will only as we study
the Scriptures in dependence on His enlightenment.
The Spirit-directed reasoning of the believer is a very different thing from
the mere natural reasoning of the unconverted man, though to the latter the reasoning
of the believer is utter foolishness.
fourth city given the Merarites by Gad was Jazer meaning let him help, and
there can be little question that the Helper is God.
As the Lord Jesus Christ told the disciples “I am the vine, ye are the
branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for
without me ye can do nothing,” Jn 15:5. That
willing Spirit-directed activity in the service of God, which Gad represents, assures
us of His help in all we undertake for His glory.
fact that there were four Gadite cities given the Merarites, reminds us that the
measure of our ministry to fellow believers is also the measure of true discipleship,
for again it was the Lord Himself Who declared “By this shall all men know that ye
are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,” Jn 13:35
“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.”
twelve is the number of Divine government on display e.g., the twelve tribes
of Israel displayed the truth that obedience brings blessing; disobedience,
chastisement; and the Church “built upon the foundation of the doctrine of the
twelve Apostles,” Eph 2:20, displays the same governmental principle, the truth
being set forth here is that, as spiritual Merarites, the diligence of our ministry
to our brethren becomes the measure of our obedience to God.
“All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of
Israel were forty and eight cities with their suburbs.”
number continues to emphasize the truth that the Merarites, like all the Israelites,
were responsible to demonstrate to the surrounding nations, what it meant for a
people to be dwelling under Divine government. But
inasmuch as the other factor of forty-eight is four, the number of earth and
testing, there is the additional reminder that that government was also a test of
their obedience; and we are reading this portion of Scripture wrongly if we fail to
understand that we too are under that government which is no less a test also of our
obedience. We have the same
responsibility before God and the people around us, as did Israel.
remaining factors are 24 x 3, and since two is the number of witness or
testimony; and three, of resurrection, the lesson is that our lives are to be the
testimony to the fact that we are men and women who stand spiritually on resurrection
ground; while the raising of two to the fourth power (number of earth and testing)
reminds us that that witness is to be maintained amid all the circumstances that test
“These cities were every one with their suburbs round about them: thus were
all these cities.”
the record of the allotment of the Levitical cities there has been the repeated
notice that each was “with her suburbs,” and it would be naive not to recognize
that the repetition is meant to emphasize the significance of the spiritual message.
word is literally “open country to which flocks are driven for pasture,” so that
the Levites were given not only the cities, but also pasturage for their flocks and
herds. But those animals furnished milk,
butter, cheese, and meat, so that ultimately God’s care was for the food of the
Levites. It is instructive to note that
man’s food has always been of concern to God, e.g., immediately after giving Adam
dominion over the earth, we read next “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing
seed ... every tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat (food),” Ge 1:29.
And after bringing Israel out of Egypt, He was careful to provide them with
spiritual lesson is clear. As literal
food is essential to physical life, so is spiritual food essential to the new
spiritual life obtained through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He who neglects to feed his soul with the Word of God will find
his spiritual strength correspondingly diminished.
“And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto
their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.”
word is never broken. What He promises
He fulfills, and in this, we who walk by faith, are assured that all His promises to
us will also be fulfilled. It is to be
noted also that it was He Who gave them the land. Apart from His enablement they wouldn’t have possessed an inch
of it, for it was by His power that the enemy was vanquished; and so is it with us:
the spiritual blessings we enjoy have been secured, not by our own efforts, but
through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ so perfectly completed at Calvary.
“And the Lord gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware
unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the
Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand.”
total subjugation of the enemy declares symbolically the completeness of Calvary’s
work, for it is by virtue of what the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished there that we
have entered into rest.
is to be noted, however, that while every enemy was subdued at the end of Joshua’s
seven-year campaign, they were not all slain, for God had assured them in Ex
23:29-30, “I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land
become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee.
By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be
increased, and inherit the land.”
sadly another reason is later given for God’s leaving some of the enemy in the land
after the conquest under Joshua. Israel
“... ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.
And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and he said, Because that
this people hath transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have
not hearkened unto my voice; I also will not henceforth drive out any from before
them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: that through them I may prove
Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, as their fathers
did keep it, or not. Therefore the Lord
left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered he them into
the hand of Joshua,” Jg 2:19-23.
are missing the spiritual lesson of this portion of Scripture if we fail to recognize
that those literal enemies who opposed Isreal’s possession of Canaan, are types of
the spiritual foes who oppose our taking possession of all the blessings secured for
us by Christ’s victory at Calvary; and it is to be noted that not the least of
those enemies is our own old nature still within us, and in continuous and deadly
opposition to the new nature received when we trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The sad truth is that we have all too faithfully aped Israel’s sinful ways.
We too have not “ceased from our own doings, nor from our stubborn way.”
that evil day had not yet been reached in the portion we are now considering.
Joshua still lived, and there was that whole-hearted obedience on the part of
the people that secured God’s blessing, hence the assurance that “The Lord gave
them rest ... according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not
a man of all their enemies before them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into
things are written for our instruction and profit.
The foe is still with us, but simple obedience will make us “more than
conquerors” in every encounter with him: not one of the enemy will be able to stand
before us. But disobedience will bring
us into the same sorry state as marked Israel in the days of the Judges.
They who ought to have been the conquerors became the conquered, and so is it
with us. We live largely under the
control of the old nature, and in doing so have impoverished ourselves, so that in
spite of temporal prosperity there is spiritual penury; instead of victory, defeat;
instead of freedom, bondage; instead of peace, anxious care; instead of blessing,
“There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the
house of Israel; all came to pass.”
will there fail any of the promises of God to us.
All that is required on our part to secure His blessing is obedience.