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Israel in Canaan Under Joshua and the Judges


Distribution of the land - Unconquered districts - Tribes east of the Jordan - "The lot" - Tribes west of the Jordan - The inheritance of Caleb - Dissatisfaction of the sons of Joseph - The Tabernacle at Shiloh - Final division of the land.
(JOSHUA 13-21)

THE continuance of unsubdued races and districts soon became a source of danger, although in a direction different from what might have been anticipated. Sufficient had been gained by a series of brilliant victories to render the general tenure of the land safe to Israel. The Canaanites and other races were driven to their fastnesses, where for the time they remained on the defensive. On the other hand, a nation like Israel, accustomed to the nomadic habits of the wilderness, would scarcely feel the need of a fixed tenure of land, and readily grow weary of a desultory warfare in which each tribe had separately to make good its boundaries. Thus it came that Joshua had grown old, probably ninety or a hundred years, while the work intrusted to him was far from completed. In the far south and along the sea-shore the whole district from the brook of Egypt*  to Ekron was still held, in the south-west and south-east, by the Geshurites and the Avites, while the territory farther north from Ekron to Gaza was occupied by the five lords of the Philistines (Joshua 13:2, 3).

* Literally: "from Shichor, in the face of Egypt," or rather "from the black (river) to the east of Egypt." This was the brook Rhinocorura, the modern el-Arish.

According to the Divine direction, all these, though not descended from Canaan (Genesis 10:14), were to be "counted to the Canaanites," that is, treated as such. Traveling still farther northwards along the sea-shore, the whole "land of the Canaanites" or of the Phoenicians far up to the celebrated "cave"*   near Sidon, and beyond it to Aphek**  and even "to the borders of the Amorites"***  was still unconquered. Thence eastward across Lebanon as far as Baal-gad and "the entering into Hamath,"|*  and again back from Mount Lebanon, across country, to the "smelting-pits on the waters," was subject to the Sidonians or Phoenicians.|**  Yet all this belonged by Divine gift to Israel. That it was still unoccupied by them, and that Joshua was now old, constituted the ground for the Divine command to make immediate distribution of the land among the tribes. It was as if, looking to His promise, God would have bidden Israel consider the whole land as theirs, and simply go forward, in faith of that promise and in obedience to His command.||*

* Left untranslated (Mearah) in the Authorized Version. The cave, which is east of Sidon, still serves as a hiding-place to the Druses.

** The modern Afkah, on a terrace of Mount Lebanon, by the principal source of the river Adonis, in a lovely situation.

*** The explanation of this is doubtful. Possibly it means: as far east as the territory of Og, king of Bashan, which formerly belonged to the Amorites.

|* Hamath, a district in Syria, with a capital of the same name on the Orontes.

|** The particle "and," put in italics in our Authorized Version, is not in the text of Joshua 13:6. The clause, "all the Sidonians" is explanatory, not additional.

||* With the register of the defeated kings (Joshua 12) the first part of the Book of Joshua ends, and Part 2 begins with ch. 13.

It will be remembered that only nine and a half tribes remained to be provided for, since "unto the tribe of Levi He gave none inheritance," other than what came from the sanctuary, while Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh had had their portions assigned by Moses east of the Jordan.* 

* Although geographical details may seem dry to some, they are most important for the proper understanding of the Bible narrative. They may also be made alike interesting and spiritually useful, if the history of these places is traced in the various passages of Scripture where they are mentioned.

That territory was bounded by Moab along the south-eastern shores of the Dead Sea, while the eastern border of Reuben and Gad was held by Ammon. Both these nations were by Divine command not to be molested by Israel (Deuteronomy 2:9, 19). The southernmost and smallest portion of the district east of the Jordan belonged to Reuben. His territory extended from the river Arnon, in the south, to where Jordan flowed into the Dead Sea, and embraced the original kingdom of Sihon. Northward of it, the Ammonites had once held possession, but had been driven out by Sihon. That new portion of Sihon's kingdom was given not to Reuben but to Gad. The territory of that tribe ran along the Jordan as far as the Lake of Gennesaret - the upper portion (from Mahanaim) narrowing almost into a point. North of this was the possession of the half tribe of Manasseh, which embraced the whole of Bashan. It occupied by far the largest extent of area. But from its position it also lay most open to constant nomadic incursions, and possessed comparatively few settled cities.

The division of the land among the nine and a half tribes*  was, in strict accordance with Divine direction (Numbers 26:52-56; 33:54; 34:2-29), made by Eleazar, Joshua, and one representative from each of the ten tribes. It was decided by the "lot," which probably, however, only determined the situation of each inheritance, whether north or south, in. land or by the sea-shore, not its extent and precise boundaries. These would depend upon the size of each tribe. In point of fact, the original arrangements had in some cases to be afterwards modified, not as to tribal localization, which was unalterably fixed by the Divine lot, but as to extent of territory. Thus Judah had to give up part of its possession to Simeon (Joshua 19:9), while Dan, whose portion proved too small, obtained certain cities both from Judah and from Ephraim.**  As regards the lot, we may probably accept the Rabbinical tradition, that two urns were set out, one containing the names of the ten (or rather nine and a half) tribes, the other the designation of the various districts into which the country had been arranged, and that from each a lot was successively drawn, to designate first the tribe, and then the locality of its inheritance.

* The children of Joseph were counted two tribes.

** In connection with this we may note the curious and undesigned evidence, that we have in the text the real and original allotment of the land by Joshua himself. As so often, it is derived from an objection suggested. For there are strange divergencies in the sacred text. In describing the lots of Judah and of Benjamin, the boundaries are accurately marked, and a complete list of cities is given; in those of Ephraim and half Manasseh there is no register of cities; in those of Simeon and Dan only lists of cities: in those of the other tribes evidently an incomplete tracing of boundaries and lists of cities. Now when we consider the history, we conclude that this is just what we would have expected in a contemporary document. Joshua 15, 16 assigns a definite portion to Judah; ch. 17 to Ephraim and half Manasseh, about which, however, they complain as being partly occupied by Canaanites whom they dared not attack (vs.16). Hence in their case there is no register of cities. On the other hand, the lot of Benjamin, being between Judah and Joseph (18:11), was completely occupied, and the register is complete. The territories of Simeon and Dan have no boundary mark, only a register of cities, because they really formed part of the territories of Judah and Ephraim. Lastly, the defectiveness in the description of the other tribal lots arises from so much of the country being still in the hands of the Canaanites. It is evident that such a register could not have dated from a later period, when the tribes were in full possession, but must be the original register of Joshua.

This is not the place, however interesting the task, to describe the exact boundaries and cities of each tribe. We can only attempt the most general outline, which the reader must fill up for himself. Beginning in the far south, at Kadesh in the wilderness, and along the borders of Edom, we are within the territory of Simeon; north of it, bounded on the west by the land of the Philistines, and on the east by the Dead Sea, is the possession of Judah; beyond it, to the east, that of Benjamin, and to the west, that of Dan; north of Dan we reach Ephraim, and then Manasseh, the possession of Issachar running along the east of these two territories, and ending at the southern extremity of the Lake of Gennesaret; by the shore of that lake and far beyond it is the territory of Naphtali, first a narrow slip, then widening, and finally merging into a point. Asher occupied the seaboard, north of Manasseh; while, lastly, Zebulon is as it were wedged in between Issachar, Manasseh, Asher, and Naphtali.

It only remains briefly to notice the incidents recorded in connection with the territorial division of the land.

1. It seems that before the first lot was drawn in the camp at Gilgal, Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, came forward with a special claim. It will be remembered, that of the twelve princes sent from Kadesh only he and Joshua had brought "a good report of the land," in the spiritual sense of the expression, as encouraging the people to go forward. And when the Divine sentence doomed that rebellious generation to death in the wilderness, Caleb and Joshua alone were excepted. Strictly speaking, no more than this might have been implied in the promise by Moses, now claimed by Caleb: "Surely the land whereon thy feet have trodden shall be thine inheritance" (Joshua 14:9), since to have survived was to obtain the inheritance.* 

* Even these words (14:12): "Now therefore give me this mountain, where of Jehovah spake in that day;" do not necessarily imply that that "mountain" was actually assigned to Caleb on "that day."

But there seems to have been more than merely a promise of survival, although it alone is mentioned in Numbers 14:24, 30. For we infer from the words and the attitude of Caleb, and from the similar privileges afterwards accorded to Joshua (19:49, 50), that Moses had, by direction of the Lord, given these two a right of special and personal choice. This on account of their exceptional faithfulness, and as the sole survivors of the generation to whom the land had been given. It was as if the surviving proprietors might choose their portion,*  before those who, so to speak, were only next of kin had theirs allotted to them. Of this Caleb now reminds Joshua, and in words of such vigorous faith, as make us love still better the tried old warrior of Jehovah. Appearing at the head of "the house of fathers," in Judah, of which he was the head,**  he first refers to the past, then owns God's faithfulness in having preserved him to the age of eighty-five, with strength and courage undiminished for the holy war.

* It is difficult to arrive at a certain conclusion, whether at Kadesh districts were actually assigned to Caleb and to Joshua, or to Caleb alone, or whether the choice of districts was accorded to both, or to one of them. The reader will infer our conclusion from the text.

** "Caleb, the son of Jephunneh the Kenazite," that is, a son of Kenaz, who was a descendant of Hezron, the son of Pharez, a grandson of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:5, 18). The name "Kenaz" seems to have been rather marked in the family, as it recurs again later, 1 Chronicles 4:15. Caleb was the chieftain or head of one of "the houses of fathers" in Judah, and to the presence of this his "house" - not of the whole tribe - refer the words (Joshua 14:6): "Then the children of Judah came unto Joshua."

From 14:9 we infer that, when the twelve spies distributed themselves singly over the land, for the purposes of their mission, Caleb specially "searched" that "mountain," which was the favorite haunt of the dreaded Anakim. If this be so, we discover a special meaning and special faith on the part of Caleb, when he, rather than Joshua, attempted to "still the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once" (Numbers 13:30). In that case there was also special suitableness in the Divine bestowal made then and there:

"Surely the land whereon thy feet have trodden shall be thine inheritance" (Joshua 14:9, 12).

But even if otherwise, the courage and faith of the old warrior shine only the more brightly, as, recalling the terror formerly inspired by the Anakim and the strength of their cities, he claims that very portion for his own. Yet his courage bears no trace of self-sufficiency,*  only of believing dependence upon the Lord. "If so be Jehovah will be with me, and I shall drive them out" (ver. 12).

* In this sense the words must be understood (Joshua 14:7): "I brought word again, as it was in mine heart," that is, according to my conscientious conviction. Similarly the expression (ver. 8): "but I wholly followed the Lord," means, that his allegiance to the Lord was not shaken either by the evil report of the other spies, or by the murmuring and threatening of the people.

The claim thus made was immediately acknowledged, Joshua adding his blessing on Caleb's proposed undertaking. But it was some time later that the expedition was actually made,*   when Caleb offered the hand of his daughter, Achsah, as the prize of taking the great stronghold of Debir, the ancient Kirjath-sepher, or "book-city," - probably the fortified depository of the sacred books of the Anakim. The prize was won by a near kinsman, Othniel,**  who, after the death of Joshua, was the first "judge" of Israel (Judges 3:9). The history of the campaign, with its accompanying incidents, is inserted in Joshua 15:13-19, because, both geographically and historically, it fits into that part of the description of the inheritance of Judah.***

* It seems to have taken place after the death of Joshua, and is recorded in Judges 1:11, etc.

** It is not easy to decide whether Othniel was the son of Kenaz, who was a younger brother of Caleb, or whether he was himself Caleb's younger brother (Judges 3:9). The punctuation of the Masorethists is in favor of the latter view, nor was the marriage of an uncle with his niece contrary to the Mosaic law.

*** Two other critical remarks may here find a place. 1. Our present Hebrew text seems incomplete between Joshua 15:59 and 60. Here the LXX. insert, no doubt from a more perfect MS., a list of other eleven cities, among them Bethlehem. 2. The closing notice of ver. 63 helps us to fix the date of the Book of Joshua.

2. The first signs of future weakness and disagreement appeared so early as when the lot designated the possession of the children of Joseph (Ephraim and half the tribe of Manasseh). Theirs was the richest and most fertile in the land, including the plain of Sharon, capable of producing almost boundless store, and of becoming the granary of the whole land. On that ground then no complaint could be made. Nor could any reasonable objection be taken to the size of their lot,*  provided they were prepared to go forward in faith and occupy it as against the Canaanites, who still held the principal towns in the valley, all the way from Bethshean by the Jordan to the plain of Jezreel and farther. But the children of Joseph were apparently afraid of such encounter because of the iron chariots of their enemies. Equally unwilling were they to clear the wooded heights of Ephraim, which connect the range north of Samaria with Mount Carmel, and where the Perizzites and the Rephaim had their haunts. Rather did they clamor for an additional "portion" (17:14). Their demands were, of course, refused; Joshua turning the boastful pride in which they had been made into an argument for action on their part against the common enemy (ver.18).**  But this murmuring of the children of Joseph, and the spirit from which it proceeded, gave sad indications of dangers in the near future. National disintegration, tribal jealousies, coupled with boast-fullness and unwillingness to execute the work given them of God, were only too surely foreboded in the conduct of the children of Joseph.

* Ephraim numbered 32,500 and half Manasseh 26,350 men capable of bearing arms (Numbers 26:34, 37), or, both together, 58,850, while Judah numbered 76,500, and even Dan and Issachar respectively 64,400 and 64,300.

** The Authorized Version renders the last clause of ver. 18: "though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong." The true rendering is not "though," but "for." Most commentators regard this as an irony, implying that it needed such strong tribes as the sons of Joseph! But I regard it as rather a covert appeal to their faith - "just because it is so, ye shall drive them out."

3. If such troubles were to be averted, it was high time to seek a revival of religion. With that object in view, "the whole congregation of the children of Israel" were now gathered at Shiloh, and the tabernacle set up there (18:1). The choice of Shiloh was, no doubt, Divinely directed (Deuteronomy 12:11). It was specially suitable for the purpose, not only from its central situation - about eight hours' north of Jerusalem, and five south of Shechem - but from its name, which recalled rest*  and the promised rest-giver (Genesis 49:10). Then Joshua solemnly admonished the assembled people as to their "slackness" in taking possession of the land which Jehovah had given them. To terminate further jealousies, he asked the people to choose three representatives from each of the seven tribes whose inheritance had not yet been allotted. These were to "go through the land and describe it," that is, to make a general estimate and valuation, rather than an accurate survey, "with reference to their inheritance,"**  that is, in view of their inheriting the land. After their return to Shiloh these twenty-one delegates were to divide the land into seven portions, when the lot would assign to each tribe the place of its inheritance.

* Shiloh means rest.

** So literally.

4. The arrangement thus made was fully carried out.*  After its completion Joshua, who, like Caleb, had received a special promise, was allowed to choose his own city within his tribal inheritance of Ephraim.**  Finally, the cities of refuge, six in number; the Levitical cities, thirty-five in number; and the thirteen cities of the priests,***   the sons of Aaron, were formally set aside.

* According to Josephus, it took seven months; according to the Rabbis, seven years. It need scarcely be said, that both suppositions are equally void of foundation. Josephus also imagines, that there was only one deputy from each tribe - or seven in all - to whom he adds three men expert in surveying (Ant. v. 1, 20, 21).

** Considering that Joshua was himself a descendant of Joseph, his reply to the complaints of his tribe showed the more clearly his uprightness and fitness for his calling.

*** Of the six cities of refuge three were west of the Jordan: Kadesh (Naphtali - north), Shechem (Ephraim - center), and Hebron (Judah - south); three east of the Jordan: Bezer (Reuben - south), Ramoth (Gad - center), and Golan (Manasseh - north). The number of cities assigned to the Levites (thirty-five) cannot be regarded as too large. The second census gave the number of male Levites at 23,000. This, with a proportionate number of females, has been calculated to give a population of about 1300 for each of the thirty-five towns. Besides, it should be remembered, that the Levites were not the sole inhabitants of such towns. This should also be taken into account in regard to the assignment of thirteen cities to the descendants of Aaron, although their number has been computed at the time at two hundred families. Probably this is exaggerated, even admitting that as Aaron's two sons had 24 descendants (1 Chronicles 24), the next generation might have numbered 144 males, and the next again (at the time of Joshua) between 800 and 900 descendants. But, irrespective of this, the law had to provide not for that period, but for all time to come.

Thus, so far as the Lord was concerned, He "gave unto Israel all the land which He sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. And Jehovah gave them rest round about, according to all that He sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; Jehovah delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed not ought of any good thing Jehovah had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass" (Joshua 21:43-45).

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