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III. Dividing the Promised Land (Joshua 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).

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.

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