Sunday, February 11, 2018

Joshua: Chapter 21

Give from what you were given
Priests and murderers scattered 
cities within your cities
wanderers within

[For full chapter, click here
After the setting aside of the cities of refuge comes the final allotment: the giving of the cities to the Levites. These two sets of cities are intimately and mysteriously related. Both must be "given" (the leitwort t'n, repeated again and again in this chapter) as a gift from the tribes from within the inheritance that they were "given." Both are scattered throughout the entire country, buried within the tribes. Both are presented together: if in Numbers, the move from Levite cities to cities of slayers, here we move from the city of the slayer to the cities of the Levites. Finally, all the cities of refuge are actually Levite cities--a fact that is emphasized again and again by the refrain "city of refuge for the slayer.."
We need to know that these cities do not only offer refuge--they offer refuge specifically to "killers", who will be free to return home from their exile with the "death of the High Priest from the tribe of Levi.
Which returns us to the initial pronouncement that Levi would have no true inheritance: when Jacob, back in Genesis, curses Levi and Shimon's "swords," saying that they will be "scattered throughout Israel." Shechem, where Levi and Shimon used their swords here tellingly becomes a "city of refuge for the slayer." Levi's "Inheritance" is God, and so he remains unrooted, linked to the wandering Mishkan. But Levi is also a slayer, marked like the wandering Cain, offering refuge to other slayers that might still be redeemed. 
The cities of the Levites, with the cities of refuge scattered within them, doorways ready to admit fugitives who beg entrance, represent the continued desert encampment within the settled land--the spaces for the unsettled wanderers who must be given temporary place.] 

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