The only thing more exciting than lists of names is the division of the land. Many of the names and places are no longer found on a map so today there is speculation about where the actual tribal borders were. We have read of the battles fought by the Israelites, taking land and destroying the pagans who lived there. But in today's reading we see there is still much land to be conquered. This includes the land of the Philistines and their neighbors to the south. The Israelites have yet to conquer the Phoenician coastline to the north and the northern mountainous territories of Lebanon. The five major cities of the Philistines are listed, cities that will exchange hands over the years depending which country is more powerful at the time...Israel or the Philistines. At this point Joshua is now too old to be leading military campaigns. God Himself pledged to drive out the rest of the inhabitants. Joshua only had to assign the land to the nine and a half tribes west of the Jordan River.
The Levites would not be given a territory but instead 48 towns to live in, scattered throughout the land. This would allow them to teach and guide the Israelites in the ways of the Lord. The tribe of Joseph was divided into two, Ephraim and Manasseh. As we read today, we see that even though the tribes have been assigned land, many of them could not drive out or eliminate the pagans who were living there. This would cause problems down the road as Israel moved away from worshiping the Lord only.
Joshua had successfully completed the first half of his divine commission. He had conquered the land and was in control of the land and the cities. Next up was the second part of the commission. We read the beginning of that today. He and Eleazar, the high priest, and tribal leaders were to divide up the land so that each tribe could claim their inheritance and begin to enjoy the land God had promised them. Between chapters 13 and 21 the word inheritance is used over 50 times. It is a reminder that the Israelites did not win this land. They inherited it. God gave them this land flowing with milk and honey. The ’rent’ God required of them was their obedience to His law. As long as the Israelites honored the Lord with their worship and obedience, He would bless them, make their land productive, and keep their nation at peace with their neighbors. When they agreed to the blessings and curses at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim they accepted the conditions of what is known as the Palestinian covenant.
There were four main stages in the distribution of the land. Throughout the conquest of Canaan, Gilgal had been Israel's home base. Later Joshua moved the camp to Shiloh. By this time Caleb, one of the two scouts who believed Israel could take the promised land years earlier, was 85. He reminded Joshua and Eleazar of the promise Moses made concerning land for Caleb. He was given Hebron, as was promised in Numbers 13. It was the Anakim who frightened the spies 45 years earlier but Caleb was no more afraid of them now than he was then. Just as before, Caleb was confident that with the help of the Lord he would be able to drive them out of the land.
The tribes living east of the Jordan River were assigned by Moses before he died. The land was great for grazing their livestock but it wasn't so good for their children. Later in the book of Joshua we will see that these two and a half tribes became little more than a buffer zone between the Israelites in Canaan and the heathen nations like Moab and Ammon. They were extremely vulnerable to both military attacks and the ungodly influences of the surrounding pagan nations. Between these two things, we will
see the tribe's downfall. The tribe of Reuben had taken its territory from Moab so it is logical for the story of Balaam to be mentioned here. When Balaam saw that God was turning his curses into blessings, he advised Balak to be friendly to the Israelites and invite them to one of the Moabite feasts. This resulted in some of the Israelite men taking Moabite women for themselves and violating the law of God. And now we read Balaam was killed.
The next tribes to be settled were Judah in the south, Ephraim in the middle and the other half tribe of Manasseh in the north. Joshua and Caleb were the two spies who believed the Lord would give Israel the victory in the promised land. As a result of their faithfulness, they were still alive. They knew what their inheritance from the Lord was. They knew there was a place waiting for them, and that it was good. We have already received our inheritance from the Lord in Jesus Christ. It is a glorious inheritance. We too keep moving forward, being faithful. Keep in mind, for us the best is yet to come. Even though Caleb was 85 he was still looking for mountains to climb and giants to conquer. We are never too old to make new conquests of faith in the power of the Lord. There are still people in our lives who do not know the Lord. They may seem like giants to us and sharing the gospel message with them may feel like climbing mountains. But giant fears are really small when all you see is God. We also see Caleb preparing the next generation. Some of his faith rubbed off on his daughter and also his son in law, Othniel, who later became a judge in the land. Back to Deuteronomy we go, reminded yet again just how important it is to pass our faith on to the next generation as best as we can. In fact, Caleb’s example of faith was far more valuable to his family than the property he claimed for them.
We read that the tribe of Judah was not able to capture and defeat the city of Jebus, later known as Jerusalem. It was David who finally captured the city and made it his. This is the city God chose for the dwelling for His name. One final note. Joshua had issues with the children of Joseph...Ephraim and Manasseh. They complained they were not given enough land. You can hear pride in their voices when they recount for Joshua what great people they were. In effect Joshua says prove it. There is more territory to conquer. Whatever you conquer is all yours. But they were a special people who believed they deserved special treatment. Not only were they a problem for Joshua, but also Gideon, Jephthah, and King David. Five tribes have now been given their inheritance as Joshua, Eleazar, and the twelve tribal leaders cast lots at Gilgal. Soon all of the Israelites will be settled in their own places.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W