Joshua 17
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 1. - There was also a lot. The preferable translation is, "and the lot for the tribe of Manasseh - for he was the firstborn of Joseph - was (or fell) to Machir the son of Manasseh. That is to say, the proper possession of the tribe of Manasseh fell to Machir and his descendants only, because of their warlike spirit, and possibly on account of their numbers also. They were sufficient to occupy the land of Gilead and Bashan, extensive and powerful though it was, while the rest of the tribe had a share in the inheritance westward of Jordan (see also Joshua 13:29-31). For he was the firstborn of Joseph. There has been much discussion why these words were introduced. It is probable that they are intended as an explanation of the existence of Ephraim and Manasseh as separate tribes; or possibly this is introduced to suggest the reason for mentioning the tribes in this order since Ephraim was not the firstborn (see Genesis 48:5, 14). The father of Gilead. There seems no reason to accept Keil's dictum, that because Gilead here has the article, whereas in other places where it signifies Machir's son it has not, the country and not the man is meant, and "father" must be taken as equivalent to "lord." The usage is found in Arabic and Ethiopic, but not in Hebrew. The reason why Gilead as the name of the individual has the article here is most likely because he gave his name to the territory mentioned immediately afterwards. Therefore he had. There is no "therefore" in the original, where we find "and he had." We must understand this as spoken of the tribe, not personally of Machir, who had been long dead (see note on Joshua 6:25).
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.
Verse 2. - There was also a lot. Or, and (the lot) was (or fell). Abiezer (see Judges 6:11; Judges 8:2). Gideon, therefore, was of the tribe of Manasseh. He is called Jeezer in Numbers 26:30. The male children. Rather, the male descendants. None of the persons here mentioned were (Numbers 26:30, 31; 1 Chronicles 7:18) the sons of Manasseh.
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.
Verse 3. - Zelophehad (see Numbers 36.). The inheritance here described as being given to the daughters of Zelophehad was so given on condition of their marrying within the limits of their own tribe, a condition which was fulfilled. Thus the name of Zelophehad, and the portion of land belonging to him, was not blotted out from the memory of his descendants.
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.
Verse 4. - And they came near. In order to demand the fulfilment of the decree of Moses just referred to, to which they appeal in support of their claim (see also Numbers 27:1-7).
And there fell ten portions to Manasseh, beside the land of Gilead and Bashan, which were on the other side Jordan;
Verse 5. - And there fell ten portions. Literally, and the measured portions of Manasseh fell ten (in number). It will be observed that the descendants of Manasseh, exclusive of Hepher, are five in number. These, with the five portions allotted to the family of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, made up ten.
Because the daughters of Manasseh had an inheritance among his sons: and the rest of Manasseh's sons had the land of Gilead.
Verse 6. - The rest of Manasseh's sons. Namely, the descendants of Machir (see ver. 1). The ambiguity is due to the indefinite way in which "son" is used in Scripture. Thus the B'ne Israel, which we translate "children of Israel," is literally, "sons of Israel," or Jacob. So the sons of Manasseh, in like manner, are Manasseh's descendants.
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.
Verse 7. - Coast. Rather, border. Asher. This has been supposed not to be the tribe of Asher, for this was on the north, but a city which has been identified with the modern Yasir, about five hours' distance from Nablous, or Neapolis, on the road to Beisan,or Beth-shean, where, says Delitzsch, there are "magnificent ruins" now to be seen. See, however, note ver. 10. Michmethah (see Joshua 16:6). This place has not been identified. All we know is that it is opposite (עַל־פְנֵי) Shechem. Some have thought that this is simply the denominative of Asher, to distinguish it from the tribe, and that for "Asher to Michmethah" we should read "Asher-ham-Michmethah." But this could hardly be the Yasir above, since it is opposite Shechem. Shechem. Now Nablous. This place is famous both in the Old and the New Testament. We first read of it, under the name of Sichem, in Genesis 12:6. It was the abode of Shechem and Hamor his son, when Jacob abode in Canaan after his return from Padan-aram. It was situated between Gerizim and Ebal, and became an important city in the days of the Judges (Judges 9.). It was destroyed by Abimelech (Judges 9:45), but it seems to have recovered. It was thither that Rehoboam went to be crowned, and there that his injudicious answer alienated forever the ten tribes from his rule. Jeroboam made it his capital and is said to have "built" it (1 Kings 12:25). He afterwards, however, abandoned it for Penuel, and Penuel again apparently for Tirzah (1 Kings 14:17), and Tirzah for Jezreel, which remained the capital until Omri built Samaria (1 Kings 16:24). It is no doubt the Sychar mentioned in St. John 4. Most travelers have admired the picturesque situation of Shechem. It has even extorted a tribute from Dr. Peterman, in his 'Reisen im Orient,' a work which, however full of valuable information regarding the condition and customs of the people, does not abound m description of scenery. He becomes almost poetical as he speaks of this town, resting on the slopes of Gerizim, a mountain fruitful to its summit, and having opposite the bare, stony el Ebal, its outline unrelieved by verdure, the haunt of jackals, whose howls, like the cry of wailing children in distress, disturb the silence of the night. Thomson ('Land and the Book,' p. 470) thus describes the scene: "A valley green with grass, grey with olives, gardens sloping down on each side, fresh springs rushing down in all directions; at the end a white town embosomed in all this verdure lodged between the two high mountains which extend on each side of the valley; this is the aspect of Nablous, the most beautiful, perhaps it might be said the only beautiful, spot in Central Palestine. Thirty-two springs can be traced in different parts. Here the bilbul delights to sit and sing, and thousands of other birds delight to swell the chorus."
Now Manasseh had the land of Tappuah: but Tappuah on the border of Manasseh belonged to the children of 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:
Verse 9. - Southward of the brook. It would seem as if some words had fallen away here also. The LXX. adds Jariel, translates אלה (these) by terebinth, and omits the word "cities." The cities southward of the brook belonged of course to Ephraim. But what is meant here is that Ephraim had cities north of the brook. That the border of Manasseh lay to the northward of the brook is asserted twice over in the latter part of this and the next verse. These cities of Ephraim are among (literally, in the midst of) the cities of Manasseh (see Joshua 16:9). If exact and minute accuracy is found in this record, how is it that accusations of inaccuracy are so readily made against its author, when his narrative is clearly very much abbreviated, and where a fuller knowledge of the facts might possibly clear up what now appears obscure? Our present text has not the names of these cities.
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.
Verse 10. - And they met together. Rather, they (i.e., the Manassites) impinged (this is the very same word as the Hebrew יִפְגְעוּ), i.e., "touched upon." There has been great discussion concerning this passage. The literal meaning is clearly that Manasseh was bordered by Asher on the north, and Issachar on the east. The idea of an Asher-ham-Michmethah must be given up if we take this rendering of the Hebrew. Its only justification is the fact that if Michmethah be at once the northern border of Ephraim and Manasseh, the territory of Manasseh is cut almost in half. And, in fact, such a supposition makes confusion worse confounded. Is it probable that in vers. 7 and 10 Asher-ham-Michmethah is meant; that the town Asher is mentioned in similar terms to the tribe Issachar in the latter verse; and that in ver. 11, without a single intimation of the change of meaning, the tribes Issachar and Asher are mentioned? Again: if Dor - considerably to the south of Mount Carmel - was within the territory of Asher (ver. 11), how can we possibly, as Conder's 'Handbook' does, place the limits of Asher at Accho, and bring Zebulun to the sea (which it never reaches, for "toward the sea," in Joshua 19:11 clearly means "westward"), interposing a large strip of territory between Manasseh and Asher, placing Dor, in spite of ver. 11, far within the limits of Manasseh, and giving this last tribe, or rather half tribe, an extraordinarily disproportioned share of the land? (See the complaint in ver. 16). Zebulun, too, was on the eastern border of Asher (Joshua 19:27), and it is by no means certain that Shihor Libnath (see Joshua 19:26) is not the Wady Zerka, south of Dor. This is the view of Knobel, a commentator by no means void of acuteness. This contraction of Manasseh's territory explains why cities had to be given to it out of Asher and Issachar, as well as the complaint in the latter part of this chapter. Issachar, too, must have stretched considerably southward. But the vagueness of the description of Manasseh's border, especially on the north, prevents us from assigning any limits to Issachar in this direction; while it is impossible, with a writer in the Quarterly Papers of the Palestine Exploration Fund, to suppose that it extended from Jezreel and Shunem and Endor on the north as far as Jericho to the south.
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.
Verse 11. - And Manasseh had in Issachar and in Asher (see Joshua 16:9). Beth-shean. Afterwards called Scythopolis, now Beisan. It was a "noble city" in the days of Eusebius and Jerome. Many travellers have remarked on its splendid situation, "in this vast area of plain and mountains, in the midst of abundant waters and exuberant fertility" (Robinson, 'Later Bibl. Res.' sec. 7). "Just beyond, and separated by a narrow ridge, is another stream, also perennial, and on the peninsular formed by these two, with a bold, steep brow overlooking the Ghor, stood the citadel of ancient Beth-shean - a sort of Gibraltar on a small scale - of remarkable natural strength, and inaccessible to horsemen. No wonder that it was long ere Israel could wrest it from the Canaanites. The eastern face rises like a steep cone, most incorrectly stated by Robinson to be 'black, and apparently volcanic;' and by Porter, 'probably a crater.' Certainly there are many blocks of basalt lying about, but the hill is simply a limestone bluff." (Tristram, 'Land of Israel,' p. 501). He goes on, "How clearly the details of the sad end of Saul were recalled as we stood on this spot" (the summit of the cone). "There was the slope of Gilboa, on which his army was encamped before the battle. Round that hill he slunk by night, conscience stricken, to visit the witch of Endor. Hither, as being a Canaanitish fortress, the Philistines most naturally brought the trophies of the royal slain, and hung them up just by this wall. By the Yasir, and across that plain below us, the gallant men of Jabesh-Gilead hurried on their long night's march to stop the indignity offered to Israel, and to take down the bodies of their king and his sons." Jabesh-Gilead was not far off, and though in full view of the mountain, yet the men of Jabesh could creep along the Ghor by night and climb the steep face of the rock unsuspected by the warriors above; while the roar of the brook would drown all the sounds they might make (see Thomson, 'Land and the Book,' p. 454). And her towns. Literally, daughters, κῶμαι LXX.; viculi, Vulgate. Canon Tristram remarks how each hill in some parts of Palestine is crowned by a village, a number of which still cluster, as of old, round the chief city of the district. So in Italy we may see how times of unsettlement led to a similar policy. The fear of the northern pirates led to the planting the mediaeval towns on hills, and the disturbed state of the country kept them there till a comparatively late period. But many of them are deserted in this more peaceful age. Ibleam. Only known as near the place where Jehu gave Ahaziah his death blow. It was near Megiddo (see 2 Kings 9:27). Dor (see above Joshua 11:2). Keil thinks that Dor and all the cities after it are in the accusative to "could not drive out" in the next verse. But it is more probable that את was an anacolouthon. Vandevelde ('Travels,' 1:333) says that he did not wonder that the fainthearted Manassites shrank from attacking Dor when he saw its formidable position, ruder. This, the abode of the famous witch, still bears the old name. It is four miles south of Mount Tabor, in a country honeycombed with caves, and it stands on the shoulder of Little Hermon. The word signifies the "fount of Dor," or "the dwelling." Taanach. For this and Megiddo see Joshua 12:21. Three countries. Rather, three hills, or elevated spots (Napheth, see note, ch. 11:2). Gesenius compares the name Temont. The reference is to Endor, Taanach, and Megiddo. Keil suggests province, but he does not explain how a derivative of נוּפ can have this latter signification (cf. Psalm 48:3. Beautiful for its height (נופ) is Mount Zion). The LXX. and Vulgate regard it as a proper name, and translate, "the third part of Nopheth." They are puzzled by the expression here, as in Joshua 11:2.
Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land.
Verse 12. - Would dwell. The LXX. and Vulgate translate, "began to dwell," an obvious mistake here, though the word sometimes has this signification. They willed to dwell there, in spite of their defeats, and their purpose was not frustrated.
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.
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?
Verse 14. - And the children of Joseph. The attitude of the children of Joseph throughout the history of the twelve tribes is in precise accordance with the hint given here. They were proud of their numerical preponderance over the remaining tribes. Thus they, and they only, ventured to remonstrate with Joshua about the inadequacy of the portion allotted to them. Such a sensitiveness was likely to degenerate into insolence when the authority of the great leader was removed. And the history of Gideon (Judges 8:1-3) and of Jephthah (Judges 12:6) shows that this was actually the case. Here, again, we have a sign of that deep undercurrent of consistency which underlies our history, and is a guarantee of its authenticity. Seeing I am a great people. The tribe of Joseph, at the census described in Numbers 1, outnumbered every tribe but that of Judah. At the census in the plains of Moab (Numbers 26.) the tribe of Joseph outnumbered them all, though the relative proportions of Ephraim and Manasseh were altered, the latter being now considerably the larger of the two tribes. The whole number of the fighting men of Israel underwent a slight diminution during the passage through the wilderness. But the demand of the tribe of Joseph seems to have been a little unbecoming, since Joseph had obtained two lots and two portions, since half the tribe of Manasseh had settled on the east of Jordan. Hence no doubt the covert sarcasm of Joshua's reply, for, as Delitzsch shows, Judah, and even Dan, considerably outnumbered Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh. Part, however, of their complaint was no doubt caused by the idea that Joshua, as one of themselves, ought to have taken more care of the interests of his own tribe. Joshua, however, as a true servant of God ought to be, was above such petty considerations, though many who live under a higher dispensation find it impossible to emancipate themselves from such bondage. Forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto. Or, hath blessed me to this extent (but see Exodus 7:16). There is doubtless here an allusion to Jacob's blessing (Genesis 48:20; Genesis 44:22-26), the fulfilment of which would naturally make a deep impression on the minds of the children of Joseph. Blessing was the word reiterated over and over again by the dying patriarch as he gazed upon the children of his best-beloved son. Here, again, we have one of those delicate touches, impossible to a writer of fiction, which show that we have here an authentic record of facts. No doubt the consciousness of the enthusiastic language of Jacob, reiterated upon an almost equally solemn occasion by Moses (Deuteronomy 33:13-17), coupled with the obvious fulfilment of these predictions, led the tribe of Joseph to demand as a right the leadership in Israel, and no doubt predisposed the other tribes to concede it. The rivalry of Judah, to which reference has already been made, and which culminated in the sovereignty of David, was calculated to produce a beach which it required the utmost tact to heal. Pity it was that the Ephraimites and Manassites forgot the fact that the blessing was conditional, and neglected to lay to heart the terrible warnings in Deuteronomy 28. But it is too often so with men. They expect the fulfilment of prophecies which predict their aggrandisement, and too often strive themselves to hasten the hand of God, while the warnings of God's Word, since they are less pleasant to the natural man, are permitted to pass by unheeded (see vers. 12, 13, which was the first step on the downward road).
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.
Verse 15. - If thou be a great people. As though Joshua would say, "You are ready enough to boast, but unwilling to act. If your tribe be as large as you say it is, it is capable of taking care of itself. There is the vast forest of Central Palestine before you. Do not complain to me, but go and take possession of it." Get thee up into the wood country. The word "country" is not in the original, which is, strictly speaking, in the direction of the wood. Whether this be the "wood of Ephraim" mentioned in 2 Samuel 18:6 has been much disputed. For not only David is related to have crossed the Jordan, but Absalom also, in hot pursuit of his father (see 2 Samuel 17:22, 24). Neither army is mentioned as having recrossed the river; and it is a question whether it is more probable that there happened to be a "wood of Ephraim" on the other side of Jordan, or that Joab and Absalom, with their respective armies, recrossed Jordan without a word being said of the fact by the historian; the more especially as David (see 2 Samuel 19:15-17, 31) remained on the other side Jordan, while yet it was possible for the Ethiopian attendant, as well as Jonathan, to run to him with tidings of the defeat and death of Absalom. For the wood country in this neighbourhood cf. Psalm 132:6. Ewald would regard the language here as figurative, and the wood as referring to the powerful Phoenician tribes in the neighbourhood. He regards this answer as a sign of Joshua's "wit." But the interpretation seems far fetched and improbable. Cut down. Or, make a clearing, just as emigrants do now in the primeval forest. This wood, or forest, has now disappeared, though sufficient wood still remains to testify to the correctness of, the history. Perizzites and of the giants. The Rephaim (see notes on Joshua 3:10; 12:4). If Mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee. This fastness in the heart of the land, the refuge of Ehud, the dwelling place of Deborah, the early home of Samuel, was well adapted to purposes of secrecy and defence, but not so well suited for a place of habitation.
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.
Verse 16. - And the children of Joseph said. This reply justifies Joshua's sarcasm. The Ephraimites and Manassites blame Joshua when they ought to be blaming themselves. They excuse themselves from a task which they are too idle to execute, and wish Joshua to make arrangements for them which are wholly unnecessary. The hill is not enough for us. Literally, the hill is not found for us - that is, is not sufficient (see Numbers 11:9.2; Zechariah 10:10). Of the valley of Jezreel. Rather, in the valley of Jezreel. The word for valley in this verse is עֶמֶק (see note on Joshua 8:13). Jezreel abutted on the great plain of Esdraelon, a name which is but a corruption of Jezreel (see note on Joshua 19:18), where the chariots of iron could be used with effect, a thing impossible in the mountain districts. Hence the fact that the hill country of Palestine was more rapidly and permanently occupied than the plains (see Ewald, 'History,' 22 C., and Ritter's 'Geography of Palestine,' 2:328. Cf. Judges 1:19, and note on Joshua 11:6). Here, once more, we have a proof that we have real history before us, and not a collection of poetic myths.
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:
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.
Verse 18. - But the mountain shall be thine, for it is a wood. This passage makes it clear that it was not the whole territory of Mount Ephraim, but only the portion habitable at present, that was too small for Ephraim and Manasseh. When cleared it would afford them more space. But Joshua also recommends them to extend their operations beyond its borders, as is clear from the mention of the "plain," and the "chariots of iron" (see next note). The outgoings. Not only the mountain itself, but the country to which the mountain passes led. Thou shalt drive out. Perhaps thou mayest drive out - i.e., it is in thy power. Though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong. "No weapon can prosper" against him who trusts in the Lord. Yet, in spite of the encouragement given by Joshua, the children of Joseph did not drive the Canaanites out, as vers. 11-13 show. The only reason of this was that they did not trust in Gad, but preferred an unworthy compromise with neighbours who, however rich in warlike material, were sunk in sensuality and sloth. Keil would render "because" for "though," and regard the very fact of the strength of the Canaanites as the reason that the sons of Joseph would subdue them. But Exodus 13:17; Psalm 49:17 supply us with other instances of כִי. in the sense of although, which certainly is the best sense here. "Let it be remembered how long it was before the Saxons were firmly established in Britain, the Islamite Arabs in Egypt. Israel could look for no reinforcements from kindred left behind. So much the worse might afterwards be the position of the nation, left alone without hope of kindred auxiliaries to meet the repeated outbreaks of the half-subdued Canaanites" (Ewald, 'Hist. Israel,' 2 2. c.).

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