III. Dividing the Promised Land (Joshua 13:1–21:45)


III. Dividing the Promised Land (13:1–21:45)

13:1-7 There was still much land that remained for the Israelites to acquire (13:1-6), and Joshua had become very old by this point (13:1). Nevertheless, God promised to drive out the remaining peoples before Israel (13:6). Therefore, in light of God’s promise, Israel was to divide the promised land as an inheritance among the tribes (13:7).

13:8-33 So each tribe was apportioned its land. Half of the tribe of Manasseh, the Reubenites, and the Gadites had already received their portions on the east side of the Jordan River (13:8). Back before the nation had crossed the Jordan, these tribes were commanded to help their brothers and sisters take possession of their own lands (see 1:12-15). The inheritance of the Reubenites (13:15-23), the Gadites (13:24-28), and half the tribe of Manasseh (13:29-31) had been assigned to each tribe just as Moses had promised.

The only tribe that did not receive an inheritance of land was that of Levi (13:14, 33). This is because the Levites had been chosen by God to perform the work of maintaining the tabernacle (and later the temple) and providing priests to do the work of ministry. When the Israelites brought offerings to the Lord, a portion would be given to the Levites, to provide for them (see Num 18:8-32). Instead of a parcel of land, the Lord himself, the God of Israel, was their inheritance (13:33). Because of their special purpose and calling, they had a special relationship with God.

14:1-6 The following chapters (through chapter 21) chronicle the division of the land among the tribes, providing specific details of cities and borders that were apportioned to each. This way, there would be no cause for disputes. Relevant details were recorded for posterity. All was done as the Lord had commanded (14:5).

14:6-8 As the book of Joshua describes the division of the land among the tribes of Israel, it also includes an account of a special man and his inheritance. Caleb was from the tribe of Judah. He approached Joshua to remind him of what the Lord promised concerning him (14:6). Many years previously, Caleb and Joshua had been two of the twelve spies whom Moses had sent to scout out the land of Canaan (see Num 13:1-25). Though all twelve men had brought back a good report of the land, all but Joshua and Caleb said the land was full of terrible warriors and fortified cities that would be impossible to conquer (see Num 13:26-33). Caleb and Joshua, by contrast, insisted that God had not sent them to debate the land but to take the land. They brought back an honest report, but the other ten caused the people to lose heart (Josh 14:7-8).

As a result, Israel rebelled against God and Moses, God swore that he wouldn’t permit that generation to enter the promised land, and Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years until nearly all of that first generation out of Egypt dropped dead (see Num 14:1-38). The author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that God did not let the people enter the land—his “rest”—because of their unbelief and disobedience (see Heb 4:3).

14:9-15 Only two adults in that group survived the punishment, the faithful spies. Caleb was promised an inheritance in the land, because he followed the Lord [his] God completely (14:9). In other words, Caleb didn’t follow the crowd. He stood by his convictions without compromise. That was forty-five years ago. Caleb was now an eighty-five-year-old man, but he was still as strong as was when Moses had sent him out (14:10-11). So he asked Joshua to give him the land that had been promised to him (14:12). Joshua blessed Caleb and gave him his inheritance (14:13).

Caleb’s story reminds us that when people around us make problems sound bigger than God, we don’t have to succumb to popular opinion; we can take God at his Word. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should ignore problems; they may be significant. But no matter what you face, you can take courage in the knowledge that God is sovereign over your problems and those of your peers. Caleb walked faithfully with God, and God remembered him. He can do the same for you as you choose to be influenced not by those who say God can’t make a way but by the knowledge that there is nothing too big for him.

15:1-63 Chapter 15 focuses on the inheritance of the tribe of Judah. The borders of Judah, which is the name by which the area would be called, are described (15:1-12), and the cities of Judah are named (15:20-63). As the biblical storyline unfolds, Judah will become more and more prominent. This is because in Genesis, Israelite forefather Jacob (Israel) prophesied that a kingly dynasty would arise from his son Judah, eventually resulting in the Messiah (see Gen 49:9-10). This prophecy would first become a reality when God had the prophet Samuel anoint a young shepherd named David to be king of Israel (see 1 Sam 16:1-13). Though in Joshua’s day, the tribe of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem (Josh 15:63), King David would not only defeat the Jebusites; he would claim Jerusalem as his capital (see 2 Sam 5:6-9).

Within this chapter we also learn something further about Caleb (15:13-19; see 14:6-15). He personally drove the inhabitants out and took possession of his land (15:13-15). Caleb also looked after his daughter Achsah and gave her a portion of land for her own inheritance, her blessing (15:17-19).

In the Old Testament, much is made of the family inheritance and passing down the favor of God from one generation to the next. In God’s economy, the family is the foundation of society. Thus, in Israel the family was the basis for passing down not only the physical blessings but also the spiritual heritage (see Deut 6:4-9). In the New Testament too, fathers are exhorted to raise their children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).

The family is under attack today. Satan is passionate about undermining and redefining this unit because he wants to stop the blessings and favor of God from being passed on generationally. Many people have been harmed because of what they experienced in their families, and they in turn pass on these bad habits and sins to their own children. Christian parents—and especially fathers—must determine to pass on to the next generation not a legacy of brokenness and spiritual compromise but one of blessing and training in God’s Word.

16:1-10 The tribe of Joseph was actually divided into two tribes descended from Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (16:4). Those descended from Ephraim received their own inheritance in the land (16:5-8). However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer. So the Canaanites would continue to live in Ephraim’s territory as forced laborers (16:10). Why does Scripture tell us this? Because the Canaanites and their idolatrous religious practices would slowly work against Israel like a cancer, as we will learn in the book of Judges. In growing negligent to drive out the enemy as instructed, Israel was setting itself up for a fall.

17:1-13 Next the tribe of Manasseh, who was Joseph’s firstborn (17:1), received its allotment of land (17:7-11). (Half of Manasseh had already received a portion of land on the east side of the Jordan; see 13:29-31.) But, like Ephraim (16:10), Manasseh didn’t drive out the Canaanites completely from its portion (17:12-13). That lack of perseverance left another thorn in Israel’s side, a problem that would fester in the years ahead.

In the midst of these verses, we’re told about five daughters of a man named Zelophehad who had no sons (17:3). They came before the priest Eleazar, Joshua . . . and the leaders to remind them of what the Lord had commanded concerning their family (17:4). Since a land inheritance was to be passed down from fathers to sons, these daughters would have received no inheritance. Others would have owned their father’s land, and their father’s name would have been forgotten. But years earlier, these daughters had wisely implored Moses to allow them an inheritance within the territory of Manasseh (see Num 27:1-4). When Moses asked the Lord about the matter, the Lord told him to give the daughters “their father’s inheritance” (see Num 27:5-7). Furthermore, God commanded, “When a man dies without having a son, transfer his inheritance to his daughter” (Num 27:8). In keeping with the Lord’s instruction in Moses’s day, the leaders under Joshua faithfully gave the women their inheritance (17:4-5).

17:14-18 Since Joseph’s descendants (Ephraim and Manasseh) were so numerous, they asked Joshua for more land (17:14). When Joshua directed them to an additional portion of land, however, the people were fearful of the Canaanites there (17:15-16). But Joshua, ever the courageous leader, encouraged them that they could drive out the Canaanites (17:18). Whereas these people saw their own vast numbers as a problem, Joshua saw a strength: working together they could clear additional land and rid it of their enemies.

18:1-10 All of Israel gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting—that is, the tabernacle, the place where they would meet with God and offer sacrifices (18:1). Though the land had been subdued before them and several tribes had been allotted their territory by this point, there were still seven tribes that had not received their inheritance (18:1-2). So Joshua reprimanded them and basically said, “Look, this land isn’t going to divide up itself. You’ve got work to do” (18:3). He told them to appoint three men from each tribe to survey the land and divide it into seven portions (18:4-5). After that, Joshua would cast lots and assign each remaining tribe its land (18:6). The people obeyed, and the remaining land was distributed (18:9-10).

Once again we’re reminded here that even though God’s promises may be within our reach, they may not be in our hands. God had promised Israel the land, but the people still had to do the work of taking it. Similarly, God feeds the birds of the sky (see Matt 6:26), but they still have to hunt for their worms. God has a purpose for your life, but you must walk with him by faith to see that purpose become a reality.

18:11–19:48 After the land was surveyed, lots were cast, and the land was divided, the remaining tribes could take possession of their territories. “Casting lots” was something like rolling dice, but Israel understood that nothing happens by chance (see Prov 16:33). By casting lots, Joshua was acknowledging that it was God’s decision to decide which tribe received which section. The remainder of chapter 18 and all of chapter 19 describe the allotment to the remaining seven tribes called Benjamin (18:11-28), Simeon (19:1-9), Zebulun (19:10-16), Issachar (19:17-23), Asher (19:24-31), Naphtali (19:32-39), and Dan (19:40-48).

19:49-51 Finally, Joshua received his personal inheritance. Like a good leader, he made sure that all the people had received their territories before settling down in his own. Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim, so the Lord gave him the city of Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim (19:50). With their leader now in his new home, Israel finished dividing up the land (19:51).

20:1-6 God had told Moses in Numbers 35:9-34 that Israel was to establish cities of refuge when they entered the land. The time had come for Joshua to select them (20:1-2). If an Israelite were to accidentally kill someone, a relative of the victim might want to avenge his loved one. Thus, the one who committed manslaughter (20:5) could flee to one of the cities of refuge, which would be positioned throughout Israel.

The accused would stand at the entrance of the city gate and state his case to the city elders (20:4). The gate of the city was where the elders met to adjudicate legal cases. Once they heard his story, they were to provide him a safe place to live until his case could be decided. If the avenger of blood—the relative of the deceased—came looking for him, the elders were not to hand him over (20:5). For this protection, however, the man would have to stay in the city until he [stood] trial and until the death of the high priest currently serving. After that, the man would be able to return home (20:6). God thus established a mechanism for protecting an individual who had accidentally killed someone without premeditation from vigilantism.

20:7-9 The Israelites established six cities of refuge throughout the land. These were positioned so that no matter where one lived in Israel, there was a refuge within reasonable traveling distance.

21:1-3 As discussed previously, the tribe of Levi received no land allotment. Since they served the Lord in the work of ministry, he was to be their inheritance (21:3). Nevertheless, the Levites still needed places to live. So the heads of the Levite families approached the high priest, Joshua, and the Israelite leaders to remind them of what the Lord commanded through Moses (21:1-2; see Num 35:1-8). Within the lands divided among their brothers, the Levites were to receive cities with their pasturelands (21:3). Thus, by living in cities scattered throughout the territories of the various tribes, the Levites would have access to all of the people so that they could fulfill their duty to “teach the Israelites all the statutes that the Lord [had] given to them through Moses” (Lev 10:11).

21:4-8 The Levites received a total of forty-eight cities. Twenty-three went to the Kohathite clans, the descendants of Levi’s second son, with thirteen of those cities going to the descendants of Aaron who served as priests (21:4-5). Thirteen cities went to Gershon’s clans, the descendants of Levi’s first son (21:6). And twelve cities went to Merari’s clans, the descendants of Levi’s third son (21:7).

21:9-42 The cities of the Kohathite clans were in Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin (21:9-19). Since the descendants of . . . Aaron had to perform their priestly duties in the temple, it made sense for them to be close to Jerusalem (21:13). The clans of Kohath’s descendants were given cities in Ephraim, Dan, and Manasseh (21:20-26). The descendants of Gershon received cities in Manasseh, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali (21:27-33). The descendants of Merari lived in Zebulun, Reuben, and Gad (21:34-40).

21:43-45 In fulfillment of his promises, the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn, and he gave them rest on every side (21:43-44). This leads to the central affirmation of the book of Joshua: None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled (21:45). Hundreds of years prior, God had promised a pilgrim named Abram that he would give the land of Canaan to his offspring (see Gen 12:1-7). Though it had taken many years and there were delays for various reasons, God was faithful in keeping that word. When Jacob (Israel) and his sons (the tribal heads of the groups discussed in this chapter) had to flee Canaan because of a famine, God was faithful. When the Israelites were enslaved in the land of Egypt, God was faithful. When the people wandered in the wilderness because of their unfaithfulness, God was faithful.

We live in a world full of broken promises. But the author of Hebrews says, “Let us hold on to . . . our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). Many people make promises they have no intention of keeping. Others mean well, but their fallen humanity or unexpected circumstances prevent them from fulfilling their promises. But not one of God’s promises has ever failed; he does not disappoint. Every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:20).

We are called to declare our trust in the God who is faithful to always keep his word. And that declaration of trust, that confession, requires action. God’s promises are available to you, but you must lay hold of them. God promised that the walls of Jericho would fall. But the Israelites had to march around the city by faith before it would happen (see Heb 11:30). When they acted in faith, God was faithful to act.