Joshua 13
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the LORD said unto him, Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.


(Joshua 13:1-14).

(b) According to its boundaries.

(1) Joshua was old and stricken in years.—Rather, he had aged, and was advanced in days. Old is too absolute a word. He did not live beyond a hundred and ten years (Joshua 24:29), and this was not a great age for the time. But in several instances the Hebrew word here employed is used not so much in respect of the number of years men lived, but rather in regard to the weakening of the vital powers. So it is said in Genesis 27, “Isaac was old,” i.e., he had aged, for he lived forty-three years after that. So in regard to David, “the king was very old,” i.e., much aged, in 1Kings 1:15, for he could not have been more than seventy when he died. The hardships and anxieties of his life had aged him. So it was perhaps with Joshua. Moses was a signal exception; he had not aged at one hundred and twenty. But Jehovah constantly talked with Moses, and knew him face to face; and may we not say that that heavenly intercourse even sustained the vital powers? The work of the Lord, though it be successfully carried on, as it was by Joshua, may wear men out by its very excitement. But personal intercourse with Him is like eating of the tree of life, and “in His presence is the fulness of joy.” In this personal intercourse Moses was more highly favoured than his successor, Joshua.

(1, 7) There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed . . . Now therefore divide this land.—The land had still to be inheritedi.e., not overrun, or conquered, as far as it could be said to be conquered by defeating the armies that took the field; all this was done already, but the land had not passed out of the hands of its actual possessors into the hands of Israel. It is remarkable that we have here a distinct order given to Joshua to divide to Israel land which was not yet conquered. In these verses several nations are named—viz., the Philistines, the Geshurites, the Avites, the Giblites, the Sidonians, besides anything more which may be included in the sometimes generic, and sometimes more specific, name of the Canaanites. Of these tribes, the Philistines and “all the Sidonians” (or Phœnicians) were certainly not yet conquered. Can we say that they were ever conquered at any period in the history of the kingdom of all Israel, except in so far as they were reduced to the condition of tributaries?

We may say, then, that while the list of kings in Joshua 12 represents the territory in that aspect in which it was conquered, by the reduction of a number of fortified posts and strongholds, and the subjugation of all the principal rulers of the country, the description of its boundaries in Joshua 13 represents it as not yet conquered—viz., as still containing several nations whom the Israelites must dispossess when God gave them the opportunity and ordered them to drive them out.

It is important to mark clearly the distinction between the work done by Joshua and the work left for Israel. Joshua overthrew the ruling powers of Palestine, destroyed the kingdoms, defeated the armies, and captured the fortresses to such an extent as to give Israel a firm foothold in the country. But he did not exterminate the population from every portion even of that territory which he distributed to the several tribes. And there were several nations—of whom the Philistines and Phœnicians were the chief—whom he left entirely intact. The purpose of this is explained in Judges 2:20-23; Judges 3:1-4. The work done by Joshua was thus distinctly limited.

The work left for Israel was partly similar to that which Joshua had done, and partly different. It was the same when any great war broke out between Israel and the unconquered nations: for example, in the time of Deborah and Barak, or in the wars with the Philistines. But for the most part it was entirely different, and was the completion of the conquest of the land in detail throughout the several towns and villages. But how was this to be effected? Certainly not after the manner of the capture of Laish by the Danites, described in Judges (Joshua 18:27), when they came “unto a people that were at quiet and secure; and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and burnt the city with fire.” The rules laid down in the law of Moses were to be the guiding principle for Israel, as also for Joshua. The seventh and twelfth chapters of Deuteronomy give them clearly, and they are these.

(1) Utter extermination of the nations when Jehovah should deliver them upi.e., not at the pleasure of Israel, but at the Divine decree. The signal for this extermination was generally a determined and obstinate attack on Israel. “It was of the Lord to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them utterly” (Joshua 11:20). But while they “stood still in their strength” (Joshua 11:13) they were usually unmolested.

(2) The destruction of all traces of idolatry in the conquered territory (Deuteronomy 12:1-2 : “In the land which the Lord God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it . . . ye shall utterly destroy all the places wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods . . . overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and . . . hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.” So also Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 7:25). All investigation of idolatrous practices and usages was forbidden (Deuteronomy 12:30).

(3) No covenant or treaty was to be made between Israel and the nations of Canaan, and all intermarriage was prohibited. (Deuteronomy 7:2-3; comp. Joshua 23:12-13.)

Of these rules, the first entails responsibility, chiefly upon the leaders—as Joshua and his successors; the second and third, upon all the people. And on the observance or non-observance of the two latter rules the completion of the conquest in detail very much depended. It is obvious that the persistent and general destruction of objects of Canaanitish worship, with the refusal to make treaties or intermarry, would tend to perpetuate a state of irritation in the minds of the Canaanites. Had these rules been faithfully observed, there would have been constant outbreaks of hostility, terminating in the further and more rapid extermination of the enemies of Israel, or else in their absolute submission to Israelitish law; and thus the entire conquest would have been completed in a comparatively short time. But, in fact, the second and third rules were constantly broken. Mixed marriages were common, and idolatry was maintained instead of being destroyed. Hence Israelites and Canaanites were mingled together, and it became impossible to carry out Rule 1; for one set of inhabitants could not be exterminated without inflicting serious injury upon the other.

When we consider the above rules, it is impossible not to be struck with the wisdom of them when regarded as a means to the proposed end. We are also able to understand more clearly why so much stress was laid upon the necessity of adherence to the Book of the Law in Joshua’s commission (Joshua 1:6-8). The fact that these rules are not what human nature would be at all disposed to obey continuously and as a matter of set practice (have they ever been observed yet in any conquest recorded in history?) is worth noting, as a proof of the undesigned veracity of the story. It is a mark of thorough consistency between the law and the history of Israel. And if the authorship of Deuteronomy belonged to the late date which some claim for it, how could we account for the insertion of a law which was never kept, and could not be kept at the time when some suppose it was written? From the days of Solomon and thenceforward, the relation of the remnant of the conquered Canaanites to Israel was fixed. The Phœnicians and Philistines maintained a separate national existence to the last.

And Moses gave unto the tribe of the children of Reuben inheritance according to their families.

(Joshua 13:15-33).

(15) Reuben.—See also Numbers 32:33-42 and Deuteronomy 3:16, &c.

And all the cities of the plain, and all the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, which reigned in Heshbon, whom Moses smote with the princes of Midian, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, which were dukes of Sihon, dwelling in the country.
(21) The princes of Midian . . . which were dukes of Sinon, dwelling in the country.

The conquest of the Midianites is recorded in Numbers 31. The orders given were, “Avenge the Lord of Midian” (Joshua 13:3); “avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites” (Joshua 13:2), because they tempted Israel to idolatry and uncleanness. But this verse in Joshua supplies us with a further reason for hostilities between Midian and Israel. The Midianites were “dukes of Sihon,” and a part of his government. Through them he appears to have exercised his dominion over the conquered territory which he had taken from Moab. This land Israel had now, in turn, taken from him. But in order to its complete subjugation, the removal of Sihon’s dukes, the princes or kings of Midian, was also necessary. This was brought about in the manner described in Numbers 22-25, , 31. The relation between Midian and Moab which is implied, but not explained in Numbers, is explained by the apparently casual remark in this place. It is another example of undesigned agreement between Joshua and the Pentateuch. Of the same kind is the allusion to Balaam, as (Joshua 13:22) the soothsayer, or diviner. In Numbers we do not read of anything but prophecy and counsel as coming from Balaam’s lips; but it is abundantly evident, from hints scattered through the story, that he was a sooth-sayer, or diviner, as well as a prophet. The elders of Moab and Midian went to him with the reward of divination in their hands (Numbers 22:7); “Neither is there any divination against Israel” (Numbers 23:23) the word in each of these places is radically connected with the epithet applied to Balaam here. (Comp. Numbers 24:1 : “He went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments”—where a different word is employed.) He is thus shown to have been an unscrupulous man, who, if he could not obtain the knowledge that he desired from above, would not hesitate to seek it from below, that he might secure his base gain.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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