Monday, February 18, 2008

Joshua 13:8–19:51

Joshua 13:8–19:51: Division of the land


Over the next few sections, the Bible will tell us how the land is alloted to the twelve tribes of Israel. It makes for some long reading, and I suggest that you have some maps handy, if you’re going to go through it. ( might help, although you’re probably better off with a map that will show the areas more clearly. Maybe by the time you’re reading this does do that.) Personally, geography isn’t my strong point, and it’s laborious to go through it all, for me. So I’m combining a few sections together in this post, instead of covering them piece by piece.

Here are the different sections covered. I’m not going into any detail about what land was allocated to whom—which is the bulk of the text—which is why this synopsis is so short, compared to the length of the text. (Some would say that a synopsis is supposed to be short—and they’d probably be right.)

  • Division of the Land East of the Jordan (13:8–33): This passage reminds us about the land that has already been allocated, East of the Jordan River, to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half of the tribe of Mannasseh. This was done while Moses was still leading the Israelites.
  • Hebron Given to Caleb (14:6–15): In this passage, Caleb approaches Joshua, and reminds him about his conduct when the original spies were sent into the Promised Land—that all of the spies gave a negative report except for Caleb, who tried to convince the Israelites that they could take the land, with the LORD fighting for them. Because of that, God had promised Caleb and his descendants “the land on which [his] feet have walked” (verse 14:9). Caleb was forty-five, at the time, and forty years has passed, making him eighty-five now. (However, Caleb claims to be as vigourous to go out to battle now as he was forty years ago.)

    So Joshua blesses Caleb, and gives him the land of Hebron (which is, I assume, the land upon which Caleb’s feet walked).
  • Allotment for Judah (Chapter 15): This chapter goes into detail outlining the territory which is alloted to the tribe of Judah. (With the exception of Hebron, which would have been part of their territory, except that it was explicitly given to Caleb.)
    • This chapter also outlines an interesting story about Caleb, from when he was conquering some of this land: When he came to Kiriath Sepher, he promised the hand of his daughter Acsah in marriage to whomever could attack and capture it. Othniel did, so Caleb gave him Acsah to be his wife.

      Later on, either Acsah or Othniel also asked Caleb for an additional field, with springs of water, so Caleb gave it to them. (According to the footnote for 15:18, it’s not clear whether Acsah urged Othniel to ask Caleb for the springs, or if Othniel urged Acsah to ask him.)
    • Verse 15:63 also tells us that the men of the tribe of Judah were not able to dislodge the Jebusites, who lived in Jerusalem. Any time you see this, it’s usually a warning that you’ll be seeing a lot of these people causing the Israelites problems, for the next hundred years or so…
  • Allotment for Ephraim and Manasseh (Chapters 16–17): These chapters outline the land that was allotted to the tribes of Ephraim and the rest of the tribe of Manasseh.
    • Another couple of troubling footnotes in verse 16:10, and verses 17:12–18: They didn’t dislodge the Canaanites from the land—although, in this case, the Canaanites were forced into labour, for the Israelites.

      In fact, the Manassites, specifically complained to Joshua that they didn’t have enough land, because they were a large tribe, but Joshua was having none of it:

      The people of Joseph said to Joshua, “Why have you given us only one allotment and one portion for an inheritance? We are a numerous people and the LORD has blessed us abundantly.”

      “If you are so numerous,” Joshua answered, “and if the hill country of Ephraim is too small for you, go up into the forest and clear land for yourselves there in the land of the Perizzites and Rephaites.”

      The people of Joseph replied, “The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the plain have iron chariots, both those in Beth Shan and its settlements and those in the Valley of Jezreel.”

      But Joshua said to the house of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh—“You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours; though the Canaanites have iron chariots and though they are strong, you can drive them out.”

      (verses 17:14–18)

    • This passage also mentions the land that was allocated to Zelophehad’s daughters. (You can read the original decision, to give Zelophehad’s daughters an inheritance, in my blog posting about Numbers 27:1–11.)
  • Division of the Rest of the Land (18:1–10): At this point, Joshua is starting to get a bit impatient with the Israelites; there are still seven tribes who haven’t yet received their inheritance.

    So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?” (verse 18:3)

    So he sends a few men from each tribe to go and map out the land, and he will use those maps to allocate the rest of the land to the remaining seven tribes.
  • Allotment for Benjamin (18:11–28): This passage outlines the land to be allotted to the tribe of Benjamin.
  • Allotment for Simeon (19:1–9): This passage outlines the land to be alloted to the tribe of Simeon. It’s noted that some of their territory was taken from the share of the tribe of Judah, since “Judah’s portion was more than they needed” (verse 19:9).
  • Allotment for Zebulun (19:10–16): This passage outlines the land to be allotted to the tribe of Zebulun.
  • Allotment for Issachar (19:17–23): This passage outlines the land to be allotted to the tribe of Issachar.
  • Allotment for Asher (19:24–31): This passage outlines the land to be allotted to the tribe of Asher.
  • Allotment for Naphtali (19:32–39): This passage outlines the land to be allotted to the tribe of Naphtali.
  • Allotment for Dan (19:40–48): This passage outlines the land to be allotted to the tribe of Dan. However, the tribe of Dan isn’t able to take possession of some of the territory they are supposed to have, so they take over another piece of land. (Presumably a piece of land which was easier to conquer.) I don’t know, however, if this means they took land which should have belonged to another tribe; I assume it does mean that.
  • Allotment for Joshua (19:49–51): In this passage, some land is specifically allocated to Joshua.


It’s tempting to skim over these passages, since there’s so much geography involved, but as you’ll have noticed, there’s a lot of other stuff in these passages, too. (e.g. you’d never know the story about Caleb’s daughter Acsah if you didn’t read these passages; I don’t think it occurs elsewhere.)

As I keep harping on, there are also some troubling aspects outlined here: Although the book of Joshua is mostly a good news book, this passage gives us some foreshadowing that the Israelites didn’t completely follow the LORD’s commands. They should have destroyed all of the people from the Promised Land, but they didn’t. Sometimes because they got tricked (and didn’t consult the LORD), as with the Gibeonites, and other times they were just too plain scared to go and fight the people that they should have been destroying. With the LORD fighting for them, they should have had no problem eliminating the people, but they didn’t trust Him.


John Held said...

Having recently worked through this passage, I am grateful for and appreciate your comment about the little "gems" in the text that can be overlooked by not reading this passage.

I rather disagree with your final conclusion, however. I do not find in the text justification for the fact that the Israelites were "too scared" to "fight the people."

My problems with finishing things is usually not due to fear, but rather the issue of "good enough."

I think that the Israelites had cleared enough land for themselves to be comfortable, and it was just too much effort to keep going.

Moreover, God Himself told them that the people in the land would not be pushed out all at once (otherwise the animals would over-run the land). So from the beginning they knew it was a "long-haul" fight. It seems that somewhere along the road...they ran out of steam....

At least it seems that way to me. Is there something in the text that I missed?

John Held
Krakow, Poland

sernaferna said...

John, you make an excellent point. You’re probably right, the Israelites would have felt that what they had done, in clearing the land so far, was “good enough”—or, at the very least, “good enough for now.” (They probably assumed at the time that they’d do the rest later.) One could call this laziness, although I’m sure the Israelites didn’t think of it that way. They probably just did as much as they felt they needed to do. (Which is still problematic, since they’re deciding what “needs” to be done, instead of obeying the LORD.)

I think they were also very tempted by the idea of having slaves; “Why destroy all of these peoples, when we can enslave some of them, and make them our servants? Then we won’t have to carry our own water!”

I don’t think we can discount fear, though, either. I did a quick search in the book of Joshua, and couldn’t find explicit mentions of fear—especially since the Israelites are doing so well, in the book of Joshua—but reading between the lines in this passage, I think that fear is probably an element. There are definitely some tribes of Israel who haven’t yet received their inheritance, and in those cases, we can’t chalk it up to them believing that they’ve done “good enough.” They don’t even have a place to live yet, so there must be a reason why they aren’t taking over their land, and I think that fear probably plays a part in that.