[Yehoshua 21 Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)]
1 Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites [Rashei Avot Levi'im] unto Eleazar the priest [HaKohen], and unto Joshua the son of Nun [Yehoshua ben Nun], and unto the heads of the fathers [Rashei Avot] of the tribes of the children of Israel [Bnei Yisroel];
2 And they spake unto them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan [Eretz Kena'an], saying, Yahweh commanded by the hand of Moses [yad Moshe] to give us cities [towns] to dwell in, with the suburbs [migrashim ] thereof for our cattle [livestock].
3 And the children of Israel [Bnei Yisroel] gave unto the [Levi'im] out of their inheritance [nachalah], at the commandment of Yahweh, these cities and their suburbs [towns and their migrashim].
The Levites were not to have any inheritance in the land assigned to Israel. They were to find their maintenance in another way. They were to be supported by a fixed contribution of a tenth from the produce of all the land. Nevertheless, they were to have cities of their own, though no fields or estates in the country (Joshua 21: 1-3).
"All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of Israel were forty and eight cities with their suburbs" (verse 41).
These cities were scattered through the territories of all the other tribes. The enumeration of their several localities is minutely set forth in Joshua 21. The business of the Levites rendered this distribution necessary. Their business was to keep God before the mind of the people and to instruct them in the law:
"The priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts" (Mal. 2:7).
They were intended to be a spiritualizing element in the population. The tribe of Levi was separated for this very purpose (Num. 8:14; 16:9). The character of the personal Levi and his immediate descendants appears to have been the basis of the selection.
"My covenant was with him (Levi) of life and peace: and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and he did turn many away from iniquity" (Mal. 2: 5).
How excellent a feature in the national life of Israel was this--the wide scattering through all the land, of these Levitical cities as radiating centres of light and wisdom--protecting the surrounding population from the mentally benumbing effects of a merely agricultural life while not interfering with the invigorating and broadening tendency of an out-of-door and opulent occupation.
The system has been imitated and reproduced somewhat in the parochial system of Christendom: but with the lamentable result of a mere travesty. To an extent, no doubt, it has had an ameliorating effect on the rude populations of Europe. But there is a great difference between the divinely-appointed Levitical system working under suitable conditions in a country divinely arranged in all its details, and the artificial arrangements of a merely human ecclesiasticism, established with human ends in countries where the population had no divine revelation. No better social arrangement could have been contrived than an agricultural community territorially impregnated with the elements of a divine civilization. That it was a failure we know: but this was not the fault of the law, but of the people, and principally of the teachers:
"Ye (priests) are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of Hosts."
It was against them that the denunciations of Jesus were principally directed under the name current for them in his day, Scribes and Pharisees. The reproduction of the system under Christ will be attended with very different results: "I will settle you after your old estates, and do better unto you than at your beginnings." "I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding." "Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever." "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." -
Law of Moses Ch 8.