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Sunday, March 3, 2019

posted Mar 3, 2019, 9:31 PM by Site Administrator




Joshua 20:1-21:45

Key Verses 21:41,42


The towns of the Levites in the territory held by the Israelites were forty-eight in all together with their pasturelands. Each of these towns had pasturelands surrounding it; this was true for all these towns.


First, “the cities of refuge” (20:1-9). In the previous passage, we learned about how the twelve tribes of Israel came to occupy their own tribal inheritance in the promised land. Those who had passion for the land got what they wanted. But when the seven tribes remained passive, Joshua cast lots and divided the land among them. Surely, forceful men lay hold of the kingdom of God. In this way, God spread the Israelites throughout the land, tribe by tribe. Then, God spoke to Joshua, “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses.” The cities of refuge were the places where the accused of murder could flee to, and be protected from the avenger of blood for a fair trial. In Numbers chapter 35, God gave the Israelites his instructions of how they should deal with murder. If anyone killed other person intentionally either with tools in his hand or without any tools, it is the first degree murder - that murderer must be put to death. The avenger of blood such as the victim’s family member or friend shall put him to death. But if a person killed someone unintentionally such as without seeing him, dropped a stone on him, and he died, this person is not a murderer. Then, in this case, God commanded the Israelites to judge between him and the avenger of blood, and when he was proven not guilty of murder, he must be sent back to the city of refuge, protected from the avenger of blood until the death of the high priest. But if the accused ever went outside the limits of the city of refuge to which he had fled and the avenger of blood found him outside the city, the avenger of blood might kill the accused without being guilty of murder. The accused must stay in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest might he return to his own property.  


In those days, usually, this kind of unintentional murder did not happen so often, because there was no car accident; such cases were like when a man dropped a stone or an axhead flew away and killed other - certainly, that kind of event did not happen that often. But God was mindful of those minor accused ones and provided for them six cities as their refuge. In this world, we need refuge, in which we can be protected from our powerful and growling enemies, and God considers our case; our God provides a refuge for us so that we can find relief from burdens and anxieties and have a chance to be restored. Our God is our true refuge from all our enemies.


When he was proven not guilty, still he should stay in the city until the death of the high priest at that time. Anyway, because of him, one person, maybe, someone’s husband or wife, or someone’s faithful father or beloved mother, died. He was not completely irresponsible for the loss of others’ beloved one; he could not simply say, “I am sorry; it was an accident.” So, even if he was proven not guilty of murder, still his freedom was limited, and he was confined in the city of refuge. How happy he was that he was protected from the avenger of blood. But at the same time, how sorrowful he was that he could not go back home where his beloved family was waiting for him. His hope of going back home could come true only when the high priest died. So, how earnestly he wished for the death of the high priest! If the high priest was old, and was about to die, he would have no problem. But what if the high priest was young and healthy!? Probably, he would have to stay away from his family for 10 years or 20 years, or perhaps, he would die before the high priest died. What a great dilemma it was – he must have hoped and prayed for the death of the high priest, for his own life and freedom. The death of the high priest was good news that would bring to him freedom of going back home and seeing his family again. 


Usually, when a bad man dies, people rejoice; but when a good person such as the high priest dies, people mourn for him. But to the accused man in the city of refuge, the death of a holy man, the high priest, was the good news of great joy. Have you ever heard about good news that comes from someone’s death? The system of the cities of refuge is the shadow of the good news that comes from the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Fundamentally speaking, all men are like the accused confined in the city of refuge. Actually, it was not our intention to sin; simply, people sin naturally; since the transgression of the first man Adam, our nature was corrupted; sin has become our nature. In this sense, sin is unintentional. But at the same time, we cannot simply say, “I cannot help but sin, because I am sinful in nature,” because, no matter what, we have sinned. In this sense, sin is always willful. Because of sin, all people are confined in this world, far far away from their true home, the kingdom of God. That is the reason why people cannot be satisfied with their life here on earth, no matter how successful they may be – simply, people live in a foreign country; they look for their own home country. This is the reason why the desire for a truly happy life, or the desire for eternal life, has been one of the main themes all peoples on earth throughout human history have pursued. People cannot be satisfied with how they are living in this world, because this is not their home land, but a foreign town.


How can we go back home where we can finally rest in peace and happiness, where we can have true family reunion? Good works such as donating a lot of money for a good cause, or great philanthropic acts, cannot bring us back home. Great toil of torturing ourselves religiously cannot either. Chanting endlessly or sitting in front of a wall in meditation cannot. We can go home only when our High Priest dies. 


How thankful we are that our High Priest, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for us so that we can go back home. Jesus died on the cross about 2,000 years ago as our eternal High Priest in order of Melchizdek. Now everyone who accepts him as the high priest, the Mediator between God and them, can go back home freely. His death brings forgiveness of our sins and makes us new as if we have done nothing wrong or sinful, so we are set free to go back home. Jesus is the only way of salvation for all mankind because He is the only one who died for us as our High Priest - No one else - Buddha did not die for us; Mohamed did not die for us, but only Jesus died for us as our High Priest. 


According to God’s instruction, the Israelites set apart six cities, three cities on the east side of the Jordan, and three on the west, covering the whole land of Canaan. Israel people did not know what God was really talking about through these cities of refuge, but when they obeyed God’s instruction and followed it, they could establish a civilized society with a court system, based on fairness and justice. 


Second, “Towns for the Levites” (21:1-45). Joshua chapter 21 describes how the Levites came to receive their own towns from the twelve tribes of Israel in the promised land. All the 12 tribes of Israel received their own inheritance in the land, but God did not give the Levites any inheritance among their brothers in the land. Instead, God had them serve God’s work as full time servants. The Levites were a special tribe among the Israel people, set apart for God’s purpose exclusively. God did not want them to be distracted by job or business matter so that they would focus on serving God’s purpose only. So, God did not give them any earthly inheritance. Instead, as they served God’s purpose wholeheartedly, God gave them offerings and tithe as their inheritance. Joshua 13:14 says, “the offerings made by fire to the Lord, the God of Israel are their inheritance.” Joshua 13:33 reads, “The Lord, the God of Israel is their inheritance.” Joshua 18:7 reads: “The Levites, however, do not get a portion among you, because the priestly service of the LORD is their inheritance.” As they served God’s work wholeheartedly, God supported them with offerings and tithe that the 12 tribes of Israel brought to Him. These offerings and tithe belonged to the Levites as their inheritance. When we serve God wholeheartedly, God surely provides us with everything we need so that we can serve Him continually.


In addition to the offerings and tithe, God instructed the Israel people to give the Levites 48 towns together with their pasturelands. (Num 35:2-3,7) The Levites needed houses to live in. So, God commanded the Israel people to support them by giving their own towns. Also, when people brought flocks and herds as their offerings and tithe, the Levites needed pasturelands to take care of them too. So, God, specifically mentioned that the towns the Israel people would give to the Levites must have pasturelands surrounding the towns.


So, the Israel people gave the Levites forty-eight towns. Big tribes such as Judah gave many towns to them, and small tribes gave few – in total, forty-eight towns from the twelve tribes of Israel, and among them, six cities were designated as the cities of refuge.


Verses 4 through 8 describe how the descendants of Kohath, Gershon, and Merari – the three sons of Levi – received their towns to live in. Among them, uniquely, the first lot came out for the Kohathites, clan by clan and the Levites who were descendants of Aaron the priests were allotted thirteen towns from the tribes of Judah, Simeon and Benjamin. These tribes’ inheritance was located around Hebron including Jerusalem. At that time, the Tent of Meeting—the portable temple was set in Shiloh in Ephraim. But strangely, all the towns for the priests were designated by lot in the Jerusalem area. It was God who chose Jerusalem to be the center of God-worship in Israel. Later, Jerusalem would be the capital city of Israel, and there, God’s temple would be built and God’s holy Son, the Eternal High Priest would die on the cross for the forgiveness of everyone who believed in him. And from Jerusalem whose name means, “teaching of peace,” the good news of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ would spread to the four corners of the world. Later, in Jerusalem, God’s temple would be built again.


The rest of the Kohathites received ten towns from the tribes of Ephraim, Dan and half of Manasseh. The descendants of Gershon were allotted thirteen towns from the tribes of Issachar, Asher, Naphtali and the half-tribe of Manasseh in Bashan. The descendants of Merari received twelve towns from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Zebulun. So, the Levites came to occupy forty-eight towns in the land.


Verses 9 through 39 give us the list of all towns given to the Levites by each tribe. When the twelve tribes occupied their own territory, Israel had no central government; Israel was a league of tribes or confederation of 12 tribes scattered throughout the land tribe by tribe. But now because of the towns of the Levites, they were connected to each other – the Levites living in them were the common factor among all the tribes of Israel. When God spread his people throughout the land, he did not send them alone, but together with the Levites living in their own towns, so that all of them would be served by the Levites and learn the word of God from them; then, all of them would come to know God’s ways and God’s will.Through the Levites, all the 12 tribes of Israel would remain as one nation under God. Through the service of the Levites, all these Israel people would grow to be experts in the Bible themselves, who would be able to teach others as well.


When God called the Israel people to the Mount Sinai,God spoke to them, showing his plan and purpose for them, saying, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exod 19:5-6) God’s plan for them was that they would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. What kind of kingdom is a kingdom of priests? It is a kingdom all whose citizens are priests. God’s plan was that all of the Israel people would be priests who could minister others, all the nations on earth. Through these Israel people, all peoples on earth would be served and brought back to God. Then, how could these ordinary people of Israel grow to be priests? Through the Levites who were living in their own tribal territory! The Levites that were living among the 12 tribes were at the focal point of God’s world salvation plan.


This is God’s master plan for the Israel people, and now we are seeing his blue print in today's passage. This is God’s vision for all of us. This is how God’s churches must operate in this world. Church is not the place for people to come and have some good time only, but the place where God’s word is preached, and through the word of God, people grow to become priests themselves who can minister others with the word of God also. Churches must function as the Levites’ towns to serve and fulfill God’s purpose of establishing the whole nation as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. It is our prayer that through us, through our one to one Bible studies, America may be established as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation for the whole world.


Look at verses 41 and 42. Let’s read these verses together:


The towns of the Levites in the territory held by the Israelites were forty-eight in all together with their pasturelands. Each of these towns had pasturelands surrounding it; this was true for all these towns.


The Levites’ towns had a unique feature that identified them very clearly – all of them in common were surrounded by pasturelands. These pasturelands were for the practical purpose of taking care of their flocks and herds. But since all of their towns were surrounded by these green pasturelands, the Levites came to be known as people living in the towns surrounded by pasturelands. In short, they were identified as shepherds in Israel. This shows that God wanted the Levites to become shepherds for God’s people Israel, not that they would serve God and God’s people technically, but that they would become real shepherds for God’s people, serving them with hearts and zeal. 


The priests in Israel failed to fulfill God’s purpose on them because they served God only technically, only focusing on offering authentic and gorgeous looking sacrifices and ceremonies. They were experts in performing ceremony, but they were not shepherds. The Pharisees failed to serve God’s flock despite their great knowledge of the Bible, because they too tried to serve God’s will only technically, relying on their own Bible knowledge and intelligence. Today, many people try to do God’s work by gaining degrees, titles and positions. The apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth, “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” (1Cor 4;15) Jesus wants us to become shepherds for his flock, saying, “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” So our struggle should be about becoming shepherds. Proclaiming himself as the good shepherd, he says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Let’s pray that we may be shepherds for God’s flock. How? By being concerned about their well-being, by carrying them in our hearts and teaching them the word of God diligently so that under our care, their wounds and scars may be mended and they may enjoy a wonderful life. 


Look at verses 43 through 45. Let’s read these verses together:


43So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. 44The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. 45Not one of all the LORD's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.


“Not one of all the LORD's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” When Israel came to occupy the land of Canaan, people could see that everything had been done according to God’s promises given to Abraham about six hundred years ago, and they were shocked. Probably, people forgot about God’s promises; no one might remember them. But during this long period of time, God had not forgotten his promises to Abraham. He had fulfilled his promises and given the land to Israel. 


In this ever-changing and ever-confusing world, there are not that many things we can rely on. For our future, we cannot rely on a job market analysis – situation can change any time. No one trusts what politicians say.  Everything changes, but God’s word remains the same forever. God’s promise is reliable. We must rely on God’s word and live by it, not on our ever-changing desires and emotions. God’s promise comes true.


One Word:Towns Of The Levites Surrounded By Pasturelands