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

The laws about the tithes and offerings had provided very plentifully for the maintenance of the Levites, but it was not to be thought, nor indeed was it for the public good, that when they came to Canaan they should all live about the tabernacle, as they had done in the wilderness, and therefore care must be taken to provide habitations for them, in which they might live comfortably and usefully. It is this which is here taken care of.

I. Cities were allotted them, with their suburbs, Num. 35:2. They were not to have any ground for tillage; they needed not to sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, for their heavenly Father fed them with the tithe of the increase of other people’s labours, that they might the more closely attend to the study of the law, and might have more leisure to teach the people; for they were not fed thus easily that they might live in idleness, but that they might give themselves wholly to the business of their profession, and not be entangled in the affairs of this life. 1. Cities were allotted them, that they might live near together, and converse with one another about the law, to their mutual edification; and that in doubtful cases they might consult one another, and in all cases strengthen one another’s hands. 2. These cities had suburbs annexed to them for their cattle (Num. 35:3), a thousand cubits from the wall was allowed them for out-houses to keep their cattle in, and then two thousand more for fields to graze their cattle in, Num. 35:4; 5. Thus was care taken that they should not only live, but live plentifully, and have all desirable conveniences about them, that they might not be looked upon with contempt by their neighbours.

II. These cities were to be assigned them out of the possessions of each tribe, Num. 35:8. 1. That each tribe might thus make a grateful acknowledgment to God out of their real as well as out of their personal estates (for what was given to the Levites was accepted as given to the Lord) and thus their possessions were sanctified to them. 2. That each tribe might have the benefit of the Levites’ dwelling among them, to teach them the good knowledge of the Lord; thus that light was diffused through all parts of the country, and none were left to sit in darkness, Deut. 33:10; They shall teach Jacob thy judgments. Jacob’s curse on Levi’s anger was, I will scatter them in Israel, Gen. 49:7. But that curse was turned into a blessing, and the Levites, by being thus scattered, were put into a capacity of doing so much the more good. It is a great mercy to a country to be replenished in all parts with faithful ministers.

III. The number allotted them was forty-eight in all, four out of each of the twelve tribes, one with another. Out of the united tribes of Simeon and Judah nine, out of Naphtali three, and four apiece out of the rest, as appears, Josh. 21:1-45. Thus were they blessed with a good ministry, and that ministry with a comfortable maintenance, not only in tithes, but in glebe-lands. And, though the gospel is not so particular as the law was in this matter, yet it expressly provides that he that is taught in the word should communicate unto him that teaches in all good things, Gal. 6:6.