Joshua 17
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
There was also a lot for the tribe of Manasseh; for he was the firstborn of Joseph; to wit, for Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead: because he was a man of war, therefore he had Gilead and Bashan.
Ch. Joshua 17:1-6. The Inheritance of Western Manasseh

1. There was also a lot for the tribe of Manasseh] Although the tribe of Manasseh had already, as we have seen, obtained an extensive inheritance east of the Jordan, where a portion of the warlike descendants of Machir had left their families, the rest of the tribe now claimed a further grant of land in addition to what they had acquired by force of arms.

for he was the firstborn of Joseph] Comp. Genesis 41:51, “And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh (a forgetter); for God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.” And again, Genesis 48:14, “And Israel stretched out his … left hand, and laid it upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.” The birth of this child in Egypt, before the commencement of the famine, was the first alleviation of Joseph’s sorrows since he left his home and his father, who loved him with such passionate affection.

for Machir] The eldest son of the patriarch Manasseh. His mother was an Aramæan or Syrian concubine (1 Chronicles 7:14-15). Her name is not preserved, but her children are commemorated as having been caressed by Joseph before his death; “the children also of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were brought up (borne, marg.) upon Joseph’s knees (Genesis 50:23).

the father of Gilead] The word “Gilead” here in the original has the article. This denotes not a person, but the province, or district of Gilead, and the word rendered father = “lord,” or “possessor.” The expression “father of Gilead” therefore = “lord” or “possessor of Gilead.”

therefore he had Gilead and Bashan] Machir is here used for his family, for it was not he himself, but his descendants Jair and Nobah, who conquered the territory east of the Jordan. Jair captured the whole of the tract of Argob (Deuteronomy 3:14), and in addition took possession of some nomad villages in Gilead, which he called after his own name, Havoth-Jair (Numbers 32:41; 1 Chronicles 2:23). Nobah possessed himself of the town of Kenath and the hamlets dependent upon it, and gave them his own name (Numbers 32:42). For the territory of the half tribe of Manasseh east of the Jordan, see above, ch. Joshua 13:29-32. The district called “Gilead” is also sometimes called “Mount Gilead” (Genesis 31:25); sometimes “the land of Gilead” (Numbers 32:1); and sometimes simply “Gilead” (as here, and Genesis 37:25; Psalm 60:7). The name signifies the physical aspect of the country = a “hard rocky region.” It extended from the parallel of the south end of the Sea of Galilee to that of the north end of the Dead Sea, about 60 miles, and its average breadth scarcely exceeded 20. See Smith’s Bibl. Dict.

There was also a lot for the rest of the children of Manasseh by their families; for the children of Abiezer, and for the children of Helek, and for the children of Asriel, and for the children of Shechem, and for the children of Hepher, and for the children of Shemida: these were the male children of Manasseh the son of Joseph by their families.
2. for the rest of the children of Manasseh] The descendants of Machir received their inheritance on the east of the Jordan, the descendants of Gilead on the west side, along with Ephraim. These—the rest of the children of Manasseh—were divided into six families.

But Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons, but daughters: and these are the names of his daughters, Mahlah, and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
3. But Zelophehad] He seems to have been the second son of his father, Hepher. He had been born during the bondage in Egypt, and came out thence with Moses, but died in the wilderness, as did the whole of that generation (Numbers 14:35; Numbers 27:3). He died without male heirs.

And they came near before Eleazar the priest, and before Joshua the son of Nun, and before the princes, saying, The LORD commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brethren. Therefore according to the commandment of the LORD he gave them an inheritance among the brethren of their father.
4. And they came] In place of sons, Zelophehad had five daughters, and they, anxious that their father’s name should not perish, present themselves before Eleazar and Joshua, with a request for an inheritance.

The Lord commanded Moses] They remind the high-priest, Joshua, and the princes, of the command of Moses in the wilderness in their favour. They had then reminded the great lawgiver (Numbers 27:1-4) that their father had no share in the sin of those who rose up against the Lord “in the company of Korah,” but died “in his own sin.” It was an injustice, therefore, that, because he had no son, “his name should be done away from among his family.” Moses brought their cause before the Lord (Numbers 27:5), and by the Divine command granted them an inheritance amongst their brothers.

And there fell ten portions to Manasseh, beside the land of Gilead and Bashan, which were on the other side Jordan;
5. And there fell] The inheritance they claimed was now allotted them.

ten portions] The land allotted to the Manassites had to be divided into ten portions. The male descendants consisted of five families, and these five received five shares. The sixth family, that of Hepher, was again subdivided into five families, viz., those of his five granddaughters, the daughters of Zelophehad. They married husbands from the other families of their tribe (Numbers 36:1-12), and each now received her special share of the land. See Keil’s Commentary.

Because the daughters of Manasseh had an inheritance among his sons: and the rest of Manasseh's sons had the land of Gilead.
6. the rest of Manasseh’s sons] i.e. the descendants of Machir.

And the coast of Manasseh was from Asher to Michmethah, that lieth before Shechem; and the border went along on the right hand unto the inhabitants of Entappuah.
7–13. Boundaries of Western Manasseh

7. And the coast] We now have a description of the boundaries of Manasseh. And first (a), Joshua 17:7-10, of the southern boundary towards Ephraim; and (b), second, Joshua 17:10-11, of the northern and eastern boundaries.

was from Asher] The description of the southern boundary commences at the eastern end. The Asher here spoken of is not the tribe of Asher, but a city on the east of Shechem. Eusebius places it on the road from Shechem to Bethshean. “Three quarters of an hour from Tûbâs is the hamlet of Teyâsîr, which may probably be identified with Asher, a town of Manasseh.” Porter’s Handbook, ii. 348.

to Michmethah] See ch. Joshua 16:6. It is described as facing Shechem (Nablûs).

the border went along] The boundary now turned towards the right in a northerly direction, to the inhabitants of En-tappuah.

Now Manasseh had the land of Tappuah: but Tappuah on the border of Manasseh belonged to the children of Ephraim;
8. the land of Tappuah] The “land” of Tappuah fell to the lot of Manasseh, the “city” to Ephraim.

And the coast descended unto the river Kanah, southward of the river: these cities of Ephraim are among the cities of Manasseh: the coast of Manasseh also was on the north side of the river, and the outgoings of it were at the sea:
9. unto the river Kanah] From Tappuah the border descended to the river of Kanah, or “the Brook of Reeds” (see above, Joshua 16:8), southward of the watercourse.

these cities of Ephraim] See above, Joshua 16:9.

Southward it was Ephraim's, and northward it was Manasseh's, and the sea is his border; and they met together in Asher on the north, and in Issachar on the east.
10. southward] Southward of the brook the land belonged to Ephraim, northward of the same it belonged to Manasseh, and the sea constituted the western border.

they met] or “struck upon” Asher in the north and on Issachar in the east. Thus the two tribes were bounded (a) on the east by Issachar; (b) on the north by Asher; (c) on the west by the sea; (d) and on the south by Benjamin and Dan.

And Manasseh had in Issachar and in Asher Bethshean and her towns, and Ibleam and her towns, and the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, and the inhabitants of Endor and her towns, and the inhabitants of Taanach and her towns, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns, even three countries.
11. And Manasseh had] Six cities are now enumerated, which Manasseh received beyond the borders of his own country in Issachar and Asher, but from which he failed to expel the Canaanites.

Beth-shean] or Beth-shan (1 Samuel 31:10) lies in the ghôr, or Jordan valley, about 12 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, and four miles west of the Jordan. See a picture of it in Thomson’s Land and the Book, p. 454. “It is naturally,” he says, “one of the strongest places even in this country of strongholds.… The ancient city consisted of several distinct quarters, or wards, separated by deep ravines, with noisy cascades leaping over ledges of black basalt.… The tell is very strong, and it rises about 200 feet high, with the sides nearly perpendicular. A strong wall was carried round the summit … and on this wall the bodies of Saul and his sons were fastened by the Philistines after the battle of Gilboa, and this supposition enables us to understand how the men of Jabesh-Gilead could execute their daring project of carrying them away. Jabesh-Gilead was on the mountain east of the Jordan, in full view of Beth-shean, and these brave men could creep up to the tell, along Wady Jalûd, without being seen, while the deafening roar of the brook would render it impossible for them to be heard.” In Solomon’s time it appears to have given its name to a district, and “all Beth-shan” was placed under one of his commissariat officers. It is mentioned in the Book of Maccabees (1Ma 5:52; 1Ma 12:40-41). In later times it was called Scythopolis, in consequence of its capture by the Scythians, who after their occupation of Media passed through Palestine on their way to Egypt (Herod. i. 104–106), about b.c. 600. It afterwards became the seat of a Christian bishop, and the name of Scythopolis is found as late as the Council of Constantinople, a.d. 536. It has now regained its ancient name, and is known as Beisan only.

and her towns = and her “daughter towns.”

and Ibleam] Afterwards a Levitical city (Joshua 21:25). Here Ahaziah was mortally wounded by Jehu “at the going up to Gur, which is by Ibleam” (2 Kings 9:27).

Dor] See above, Joshua 11:2, Joshua 12:23.

Endor] is described by Eusebius as a large village four miles south of Tabor, at the N. E. corner of Jebel ed Dûhy, facing Tabor, and overlooking the valley between them. The declivity of the mountain is everywhere perforated with caves, and most of the habitations are merely walls built round the entrances to them. It was one of these caves, which “the witch of Endor” inhabited, whither came King Saul, crossing in his agony of despair the shoulder of the very hill, on which the Philistines were entrenched, to consult her before the disastrous battle of Gilboa (1 Samuel 28:7). It was long held in memory by the Jews in connection with the famous victory over Sisera and Jabin (Psalm 83:10). See Thomson’s Land and the Book, p. 446. Van de Velde, ii. 383.

Taanach] See above, Joshua 12:21.

Megiddo] See above, Joshua 12:21. “Whenever the Israelites in aggressive movements could choose their arena, they selected their own element, the mountains and the mountain-passes. The battles of Esdraelon, on the other hand, were almost all forced upon them by adverse or invading armies: and though some of their chief victories were won here, yet this plain is associated in the mind of an Israelite with mournful at least as much as with joyful recollections; two kings perished on its soil; and the two saddest dirges of the Jewish nation were evoked by the defeats of Gilboa and Megiddo.”—Stanley’s S. and P., p. 338.

even three countries] Rather, the three heights, or the triple hill. The LXX. and Vulgate translate the word as a proper name. The term brings the three cities lying on hills, Endor, Taanach, and Megiddo, into close connection with each other.

Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land.
12. Yet the children of Manasseh] Comp. Jdg 1:27-28.

Yet it came to pass, when the children of Israel were waxen strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute; but did not utterly drive them out.
13. put the Canaanites to tribute] Comp. above, Joshua 16:10. They made them tributary servants, but could not drive them out.

And the children of Joseph spake unto Joshua, saying, Why hast thou given me but one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as the LORD hath blessed me hitherto?
14–18. Complaint of the Children of Joseph

14. And the children of Joseph] The descendants of Joseph, i.e. the patriarchs of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, were not satisfied with the portion which Joshua had assigned them. The preponderating tribe from the earliest times, and since the Egyptian period the dominant one, they did not deem it sufficient that they had been divided into two, and so obtained a double voice in the national assembly, they claimed more than “one lot and one portion to inherit.”

seeing I am a great people] At the census in the wilderness of Sinai (Numbers 1:32-33; Numbers 2:19) the numbers of Ephraim were 40,500, which placed it at the head of the children of Rachel. The number of Manasseh was 32,200. But forty years later, on the eve of the conquest, while Ephraim had decreased to 32,500, Manasseh had advanced to 52,700. How much they subsequently increased, we can form some estimate by comparing the number of warriors they sent to the coronation of David at Hebron.

forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto] Comp. the words of the dying Jacob, “And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh; and he set Ephraim before Manasseh” (Genesis 48:20); and again (Genesis 49:25-26; with which comp. Deuteronomy 33:13-17),

“The Almighty, who shall bless thee

With blessings of heaven above,

Blessings of the deep that lieth under,

Blessings of the breasts, and of the womb;

The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors

Unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills:

They shall be on the head of Joseph,

And on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.”

And Joshua answered them, If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants, if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee.
15. And Joshua answered them] They expected of their fellow-tribesman a better guardianship of their interests.

If thou be a great people] There is a kind of delicate irony in Joshua’s reply. “Yes, it is true that thou art a numerous people, and hast great strength, and oughtest to have more than one share. But if thou wouldest have it, procure it for thyself! Rely on thine own power and resources!”

get thee up to the wood country] i.e. the forest of the “mountain of Ephraim.” This was a district, which extended as far south as Ramah and Bethel (1 Samuel 1:1; 1 Samuel 7:17; 2 Chronicles 13:19). It is an elevated district of limestone, consisting of rounded hills separated by valleys of denudation, but much less regular and monotonous than that part more to the south, about and below Jerusalem; with wide plains in the heart of the mountains, streams of running water, and continuous tracts of vegetation. That the “mount” was then covered with woods is clear from 1 Samuel 14:25; 2 Samuel 18:6, and even now travellers have found wooded heights, and forests of oak trees, between Carmel and the mountains of Samaria. To these mountain heights even the members of other tribes resorted for shelter and for power. “Ehud the Benjamite, when he armed his countrymen against Moab, ‘blew his trumpet in the mountain of Ephraim’ (Jdg 3:27-28); Deborah, though, as it would seem, herself of the northern tribes, ‘dwelt between Ramah and Bethel in Mount Ephraim’ (Jdg 4:5). Tola, of Issachar, judged Israel in Shamir, in Mount Ephraim (Jdg 10:1). Samuel, too, was of Ramathaim-zophim of Mount Ephraim.” Stanley, S. and P., p. 231. The name, “Mount Ephraim,” is applied here, in anticipation, to the mountain which afterward received it as a standing name, from the tribe of Ephraim, to which it was first assigned.

cut down for thyself] “Cut down for thyself there,” says the great Captain, “in the land of the Perizzites (see above, Joshua 3:10) and of the giants” or Rephaim (see above, ch. Joshua 12:4), “if Mount Ephraim is too narrow.”

And the children of Joseph said, The hill is not enough for us: and all the Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron, both they who are of Bethshean and her towns, and they who are of the valley of Jezreel.
16. have chariots of iron] The iron chariots of the Canaanites were objects of terror to the Israelites, see above, ch. Joshua 11:6-9. They were the main reason why the Israelites could not establish themselves in the plain, on which Beth-shean, Taanach, and Megiddo were situated. The forest they could occupy, but the plain, where the “chariot-cavalry” of their foes were so effective though powerless in the mountains, they could not reduce. Comp. Jdg 1:19; Jdg 4:3; 1 Samuel 13:5. Compare as to the insecurity of the plains the remarks of Tristram: “No matter how wide, how rich, how well cultivated a plain may be, like Acre or Esdraelon, its tame monotony is never relieved by a single village. These are all hidden in the nooks of the mountains; for no fellâhin or cultivators would venture to dwell where any night they might be harried by a party of Bedouin troopers, and to this risk they gladly prefer an hour or two’s weary climb added to their daily toil: while no traveller would dream of encamping even for a night in the open plain.” Land of Israel, p. 421.

the valley] As the “hill” here denotes Mount Ephraim, so the valley country includes both (a) the valley or ghôr of the Jordan near Bethshean, and (b) the wide plain of Jezreel, between Gilboa and little Hermon, to which, in its widest extent, the name of Esdraelon has been applied in modern times; a name first used in Jdt 1:8. “It was only this plain of Jezreel, and that north of Lake Huleh, that was then accessible to the chariots of the Canaanites. It was in this plain of Jezreel that Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah went forth in chariots to meet the enemy (2 Kings 9:21). It was here that Jehu passed in a chariot to Samaria, to meet the faithful Jehonadab (2 Kings 10:15). And Wilson (Lands of the Bible, ii. 303), in leaving the hilly district of Judæa, wholly unfitted for vehicles, and entering the plain of Esdraelon at Jenin, was surprised to see how entirely it differed from the country which he had previously traversed, and how easily it might be crossed by excellent highways, if the custom of the country admitted of the use of vehicles. In the days of the Jews, the plain was so associated with the use of the chariot, that this term became to a certain extent an exponent of the power of the people inhabiting the plain. The chariot was the glory of Ephraim, as the horse was of Judah (Zechariah 9:9-10). Carl Ritter’s Geography of Palestine, ii. 327, 328.

And Joshua spake unto the house of Joseph, even to Ephraim and to Manasseh, saying, Thou art a great people, and hast great power: thou shalt not have one lot only:
17. And Joshua spake] The reply of the descendants of Joseph betrayed a spirit of discontent mingled with cowardice and unbelief. Joshua therefore contents himself, “with no less wisdom than patriotism,” by telling them that what more they won must be by their own exertions.

But the mountain shall be thine; for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut it down: and the outgoings of it shall be thine: for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong.
18. the mountain] i.e. “the mountain of Ephraim,” shall be thine, for it is a forest. It should fall to their lot because the house of Joseph was strong and able, and could clear the woodland.

the outgoings of it] i.e. the fields and plains bordering upon the wood.

though they have] Though they have war chariots, and are so formidable, yet wilt thou who art a great people and hast great power, drive them out. None of the tribes of Israel can compete with thee in strength! Use it then, and thou wilt gain not only the mountain, but the “outgoings” beyond, and as at the waters of Merom (Joshua 11:7), the iron chariots and the military strength of thy foes will avail them nothing. “The long range of mountains running from Carmel south-eastward across central Palestine appeared like a frowning rampart defended by Canaanite foes.” But this was the very reason why the great house of Joseph should prove themselves worthy of their great power by scaling that rampart. It is plain from this passage that “at the time of the Israelitish invasion the mountains of Gilboa and the country adjacent were covered with dense forests, of which not a trace now remains, and which made them a more secure asylum for those who sought protection, than open fields could be. And it seems to have been a shrewd device of the great Hebrew chieftain, the counselling the descendants of Joseph to go up into the mountain land; for it would lead to the laying bare of the whole country, and would compel the adjacent inhabitants to come out from their places of refuge, and make open resistance to the invaders.” Ritter, ii. 328. Observe in the discontent now expressed by the “house of Joseph,” the mutterings of the louder complaints we afterwards hear them making against Gideon (Jdg 8:1-3), against Jephthah (Jdg 12:1-7), and against David (2 Samuel 20:1-5).

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