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God’s Word for You

1 Chronicles 6:62-70 Cities throughout the land

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, November 1, 2023

62 To the Gershomites according to their families were allotted thirteen cities out of the tribes of Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and that part of Manasseh that is in Bashan. 63 To the Merarites according to their families were allotted twelve cities out of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun. 64 So the people of Israel gave the Levites these towns, together with their pasture lands. 65 They also gave them from out of the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin these cities which were already mentioned by name—by casting the lot.

These verses name twelve of the tribes of Israel that possessed land, even including Simeon—all except Ephraim in the center of the land. The passage divides the land into three general regions, and this is a pretty good way of thinking of the land:

In the north is Galilee, which was made up of the tribes of Issachar (southern Galilee), Asher (the coastline near Sidon and Tyre), Naphtali (northern Galilee), and “the part of Manasseh that is in Bashan” (eastern Galilee).

The southern part of the north (as it were) was Zebulun, as Isaiah says: “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea” (Isaiah 9:1). Matthew quotes that passage about Galilee to show that the whole world that was in spiritual darkness before Christ came—in error, in unrighteousness, worshiping false gods or (almost worse) nothing at all, with a false reliance on themselves or on the law, and so in each and every case going to hell and bound for hell’s punishment with absolute certainty—were finally shown the light of God’s love and mercy, and the fulfillment of his promise to save the world through the seed of the woman.

Just as Christ would move from Zebulun across the water into the transjordan region of Perea (Matthew 19:1; Mark 10:1), so our author moves from Zebulun across the Jordan to include the lands of Reuben and Gad who likewise gave up villages for use by the Levites, their musicians, tutors, teachers, and professors.

Finally, in the south, Benjamin, Judah and Simeon (as we have seen) had towns for the Levites, where the ministers of the tabernacle could thrive and care for their own needs without being a burden on the rest of the nation.

66 And some of the families of the Kohathites had cities in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim. 67 They were given Shechem, one of the cities of refuge, with its pasture lands in the hill country of Ephraim, Gezer with its pasture lands, 68 Jokmeam with its pasture lands, Beth Horon with its pasture lands, 69 Aijalon with its pasture lands, Gath Rimmon with its pasture lands, 70 and out of the half-tribe of Manasseh, Aner with its pasture lands, and Bileam with its pasture lands, for the rest of of the Kohathite families.

Here at last we come to the large mountainous highland in the center of Canaan: Ephraim, bordering Benjamin to its south, the Jordan nearest Gad to the east, Zebulun to its north, and the Great Mediterranean Sea to its west.

Between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim is the ancient city of Shechem, “the artery through which all commerce between north and south must pass. The city is spread out in line along the valley, pleasingly broken by groups of dark orange-trees and occasional palm-trees” (Tristram). Streams burst out of the springs within the city, some rushing east toward and into the Jordan, and others on the west end of the town burbling off toward the sunset, eventually emptying into the great Mediterranean. Shechem was known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was the place where Rehoboam son of Solomon was crowned king (1 Kings 12:1), and it was the only city in this list mentioned in Moses, the prophets, the Psalms, and in the New Testament.

Gezer is associated with Canaanites living in Philistine territory, and for this reason is was often left more or less alone by Israel although “alotted” to the Levites. David ended his pursuit of a Philistine army there at Gezer (south of Gath, 2 Samuel 5:25). Gezer finally came into Israelite hands after Pharaoh (probably Pharaoh Siamun) captured it himself and then gave it to his daughter, who was one of Solomon’s wives (1 Kings 9:15-17). Solomon cleaned up the rubble from Siamun’s “capture” (or total destruction) and gave the city a new wall.

Jokmeam poses a couple of problems. It is spelled Jokneam (with an ‘n’) in most places (Joshua 12:22, 19:11, 21:34 and even later in this chapter: 1 Chronicles 6:77), but in this way here and in 1 Kings 4:12. Also, in another list of these cities, it is called Kibzaim (Joshua 21:22). The spelling issue is the subject of a marginal note in Hebrew manuscripts. In any case, it was a village to the southeast of Mount Carmel, on the south side of the River Kishon. It was this navigable location on a large river that helps us to understand Jacob’s prophecy: “Zebulun… will be a haven for ships” (Genesis 49:13).

Two Beth Horons sit on the border between Benjamin and Ephraim, on the western side of the mountains. They are on hills opposite one another with a pass between. Upper Beth Horon is on the summit uphill to the east and Lower Beth Horon is on the slope of the lower hill to the west. Solomon fortified these as citadels in his time (2 Chronicles 8:5), and they still stand today. Just as Jericho is the main route to pass from north to south in the east, so is the pass between Upper and Lower Beth Horon in the west. The Philistines used the same pass for their raiding parties (1 Samuel 13:16). The Levites who occupied and held these cities were used to being guards, since that was often their purpose in the tabernacle itself (Numbers 1:53, 18:23).

There is more than one Aijalon in the Bible. An Aijalon in the north was most famous as the burial-place of the judge Elon (Elon and Aijalon look and sound similar in Hebrew, Judges 12:12). That one is too far north to be this one, the Aijalon of Ephraim. This Aijalon was on the western end of the series of ravines running from Jericho to Micmash to Gibeon and finally to Aijalon, marking the traditional division between the hill country of Judah to the south and the hill country of Israel to the north. This was the site of one of Israel’s battles with the Philistines in the days of King Saul (1 Samuel 14:31).

Gath Rimmon was probably a small village near Beth Shan. There was a physical shrine (not merely a grove of poles) in this area known as the Temple of the Ashtoreths (1 Samuel 31:10). This is a town that is only mentioned in the descriptions of the land in the early days (Joshua, and here in Chronicles) and does not come into any of the familiar stories of Scripture.

Aner is called Taanach in Joshua 21:25. It was about halfway between Ibleam and Megiddo, on the southern edge of the fertile Valley of Jezreel. It was a Canaanite stronghold, evidently the place where Sisera mustered his army to fight Barak and Deborah (Judges 5:19), where the Lord caused even the stars themselves to fight against the wicked: “From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (Judges 5:20, perhaps a reference to bad omens feared by the enemies of Israel at the time). Today the ruins of the ancient Canaanite fortress lie in shapeless piles here and there on the crown of the rounded hill, but the modern village is down on the foot of the hill, still known as Ta’annek.

Bileam is a nickname for or a late development of the name Ibleam (Joshua 17:1). This town was on the south end of the Valley of Jezreel, where the valley begins to climb into the mountains to the south, very close to Dothan (where Joseph found his naughty brothers, Genesis 37:17). It was in the hills outside of Ibleam where Jehu mortally wounded King Ahaziah, who made it all the way up to Megiddo before he died (2 Kings 9:27).

God blessed the Levites with places to live all throughout Israel. These places for the Gershonites and Kohathites were set aside, and in turn, the Levites were there for God’s people within the tribes where they lived. This was so that the light of the gospel would not go out in Israel. Even when the nation was at war and the tabernacle was far away or even when it had fallen into disrepair, the Levites taught, reminded, instructed and schooled the youth of Israel. The many laws and precepts of God may have seemed dizzying to the average man who farmed in Zebulun or Ephraim, but the Levites were there to proclaim the word of God with the simplest of words, as Luther’s friend and teacher John Staupitz said: “One must keep one’s eyes fixed on that man who is called Christ,” and about whom Luther also said: “Staupitz is the one who started the teaching of the gospel in our time” (Table Talk No. 526, LW 55:97). Whatever lesson you teach to friend, child, student, or self—even if it is as mundane as the geography of the land of Israel in the days of the kings—do not forget to share the gospel of Christ who fulfilled all the law in his own body and blood, and who rescued us from the burden and guilt of all our sins, forever. To him be glory now and always!

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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