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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–8
Verses 1–8

Directions are here given for the dividing of the land after their return to it; and, God having warranted them to do it, would be an act of faith, and not of folly, thus to divide it before they had it. And it would be welcome news to the captives to hear that they should not only return to their own land, but that, whereas they were now but few in number, they should increase and multiply, so as to replenish it. But this never had its accomplishment in the Jewish state after the return out of captivity, but was to be fulfilled in the model of the Christian church, which was perfectly new (as this division of the land was quite different from that in Joshua’s time) and much enlarged by the accession of the Gentiles to it; and it will be perfected in the heavenly kingdom, of which the land of Canaan had always been a type. Now, 1. Here is the portion of land assigned to the sanctuary, in the midst of which the temple was to be built, with all its courts and purlieus; the rest round about it was for the priests. This is called (Ezek. 45:1) an oblation to the Lord; for what is given in works of piety, for the maintenance and support of the worship of God and the advancement of religion, God accepts as given to him, if it be done with a single eye. It is a holy portion of the land, which is to be set out first, as the first-fruits that sanctify the lump. The appropriating of lands for the support of religion and the ministry is an act of piety that bids as fair for perpetuity, and the benefit of posterity, as any. This holy portion of the land was to be measured, and the borders of it fixed, that the sanctuary itself might not have more than its share and in time engross the whole land. So far the lands of the church shall extend and no further; as in our own kingdom donations to the church were of old limited by the statute of mortmain. The lands here allotted to the sanctuary were 25,000 reeds (so our translation makes it, though some make them only cubits) in length, and 10,000 in breadth-about eighty miles one way and thirty miles another way (say some); twenty-five miles one way and ten miles the other way, so others. The priests and Levites that were to come near to minister were to have their dwellings in this portion of the land that was round about the sanctuary, that they might be near their work; whereas by the distribution of land in Joshua’s time the cities of the priests and Levites were dispersed all the nation over. This intimates that gospel ministers should reside upon their charge; where their service lies there must they live. 2. Next to the lands of the sanctuary the city-lands are assigned, in which the holy city was to be built, and with the issues and profits of which the citizens were to be maintained (Ezek. 45:6): It shall be for the whole house of Israel, not appropriated, as before, to one tribe or two, but some of all the tribes shall dwell in the city, as we find they did, Neh. 11:1, 2. The portion for the city was fully as long, but only half as broad, as that for the sanctuary; for the city was enriched by trade and therefore had the less need of lands. 3. The next allotment after the church-lands and the city-lands is of the crown-lands, Ezek. 45:7, 8. Here is no admeasurement of these, but they are said to lie on the one side and on the other side of the church-lands and city-lands, to intimate that the prince with his wealth and power was to be a protection to both. Some make the prince’s share equal to the church’s and city’s share both together; others make it to be a thirteenth part of the rest of the land, the other twelve parts being for the twelve tribes. The prince that attends continually to the administration of public affairs must have wherewithal to support his dignity, and have abundance, that he may not be in temptation to oppress the people, which yet with many does not prevent that; but the grace of God shall prevent it, for it is promised here, My princes shall no more oppress my people; for God will make the officers peace and the exactors righteousness. Notwithstanding this, we find that after the return of the Jews to their own land the princes were complained of for their exactions. But Nehemiah was one that did not do as the former governors, and yet kept a handsome court, Neh. 5:15, 18. But so much is said of the prince in this mystical holy state, to intimate that in the gospel-church magistrates should be as nursing fathers to it and Christian princes its patrons and protectors; and the holy religion they profess, as far as they are subject to the power of it, will restrain them from oppressing God’s people, because they are more his people than theirs. 4. The rest of the lands were to be distributed to the people according to their tribes, who had reason to think themselves well settled, when they had both the testimony of Israel and the throne of judgment so near them.