James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
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 13:1-19:51
DIVISION OF THE LAND
Seven chapters make a long lesson from one point of view but not from another, as the subject matter will not require the same attention as in other cases. It is about the division of the land among the tribes, and we will touch on the principal points by chapters.
Although the warfare of extermination had been carried on for some time, some think seven years, yet it was not entirely completed (Joshua 13:1). The Lord therefore stirs Joshua to portion out the territory among the tribes, that each may continue to work in its own neighborhood after he has departed. He died at 110 (Joshua 24:29), from which it may be gathered that he was now past 100.
There follows an account of the land unappropriated which includes, as a first division, the country of the Philistines on the southwest, and that of the Geshurites bordering on it and further south (compare 1 Samuel 27:8). A second division is that of the Canaanites near by the Sidonians, in what we know as Upper Galilee. A third the land of the Giblites on the Mediterranean north of Sidon (Joshua 13:2-6).
This sketch of the unconquered territory finished, the directions for allotment are taken up (Joshua 13:7), but not until a record is made of the boundaries of the two and a half tribes on the East of Jordan which Moses allotted them in his lifetime (Joshua 13:8-33).
The distribution was by lot (Joshua 13:6), as announced in Numbers 33:54, a system which accomplished two purposes: the prevention of partiality on the part of the leaders, and the acknowledgment of God’s rights in the disposal of His and not their property. The lot seems to have been used only in determining the general locality where a tribe should be settled, the actual extent of the settlement being otherwise determined (Numbers 26:54). The control of God in the whole matter is seen in that each tribe received the possession predicted by Jacob and also Moses (compare Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33).
At this point the allotment begins on the west of the Jordan. Nine and a half tribes only are mentioned (Joshua 14:2), because the other two and half, Reuben, Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh, were provided for on the east.
It is to be remembered that the Levites were to have no allotment as the others (Joshua 14:3), but only certain cities with their suburbs. To make up the even number of the twelve tribes, Joseph’s inheritance had been multiplied by two, and Ephraim and Manasseh, his sons, each represented a separate tribe (Joshua 14:4). This covers Joshua 14:1-5 of this chapter. From Joshua 14:6 to the end we have the story of Caleb’s choice and allotment of Hebron. See Numbers 14:24 and Deuteronomy 1:36.
This gives the borders of the tribe of Judah, whose possession was large because of its preeminence over the other tribes.
Caleb’s possession is within Judah, and in connection with it is the story of his daughter’s dowry (Joshua 15:16-19). She married Othniel the brave, the first successor to Joshua in the time of the Judges.
The last verse is interesting because of the subsequent history of the Jebusites and Jerusalem in David’s day. If Judah could not drive out the Jebusites it was not for lack of power, but faith. But oh, how fatal to them as to other tribes with a similar history, that they should have neglected the divine command to drive out the idolaters. All the sufferings of Israel for hundreds of years arose from that neglect.
This describing the lot of Manasseh is interesting for two things. The first is the apportionment made to the daughters of Zelophehad (Joshua 17:3-6) according to the command of God through Moses (Numbers 27:1-11). And the second, Joshua’s rebuke of the unbelief of Ephraim (Joshua 17:14-15). There was the spirit of patriotism in this sarcasm.
The first verse of this is the most important, testifying to the setting up of the tabernacle at Shiloh where the camp had now moved. By the camp is meant the remainder of the tribes after the departure of those receiving their allotments (Joshua 18:2). Look up Shiloh and identify its location about twenty-five miles north of Jerusalem.
The importance of this is its bearing on the “higher criticism.’ The view of the rationalistic critics is that the Pentateuch was written much later than the period commonly supposed. That instead of its contents being revealed by God they were conceived by the priests and palmed off on the people as the work of Moses, to bolster their power. According to this the tabernacle and its worship were of comparatively late origin, a hypothesis shaken by the circumstances recorded here. The tabernacle seems to have remained at Shiloh for a long period, probably more than three hundred years, if we may judge by the reference to the ark in 1 Samuel 4:11.
Verse 3 of this chapter is an unhappy revelation of the feeling in Israel at this time. Perhaps the people loved ease, perhaps they preferred a nomadic life, but for some cause they were slow to avail themselves of their opportunities to do the will of God.
If Canaan be a type of Christ and the privileges of the risen life in Him, what a rebuke these words convey to many a Christian heart! How foolish we are, and how ungrateful to God to be satisfied with present attainments when there is so much more and so much better ahead.
And do we say, “O, that our Joshua would stir us up to possess the land”? Is He not doing it? Do we not hear the rebuke of the still small voice?
Let us get back to the Word of God and its great and precious promises. Let us “arise and go through the land and describe it,” that a holy passion may be quickened to possess it.
Joshua’s directions to the twenty-one land surveyors in verses 4-9 give rise to the question as to where, or how, the latter obtained their knowledge, for the task was no simple one. Had they been taught geometry in Egypt? What light this throws upon the civilization of the Hebrews at this time.
The feature in this chapter is the allotment to Joshua recorded in the last two verses. Notice when it was done (Joshua 19:49), and by whose authority and decree (Joshua 19:50). There is no record of this decree, but it probably had a similar history to that in the case of Caleb (Joshua 14:9).
So they made an end of dividing the country.
1. About how long a time was covered by the campaign of conquest in Canaan?
2. Was the conquest entirely completed by Joshua?
3. What advantages were there in the distribution by lot?
4. How was the providence of God shown in the distribution?
5. What was the character of the allotment for the tribe of Levi?
6. Of what sin of neglect were the tribes guilty?
7. What was the root cause of this sin?
8. Where was the tabernacle set up in Joshua’s time, and how long presumably did it remain there?
9. What bearing has this circumstance upon the science of Biblical criticism in these days?
10. What important spiritual analogy do we find in chapter 18?