All the tribes have been assigned their portion of land within the promised land. The Levites who did not receive territory as an inheritance have received their 48 cities and the surrounding land for their livestock. Six cities have been designated as cities of refuge for those who have accidently killed someone to flee to. The Lord has fulfilled all the promises He made to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God has led Israel in defeating their enemies and they now have rest from war on every side. Finally, they are where they have been promised they would be. Now they can begin living the life they have been waiting for.
At the beginning of today’s reading Joshua has moved the camp from Gilgal to Shiloh, in the territory of Ephraim. The tabernacle is set up and will remain there until King David moves the ark to Jerusalem. We will read about that in 2 Samuel 6. Shiloh was more centrally located than Gilgal and that made it more convenient for all the tribes who wanted to cone and offer sacrifices to the Lord. At this point, there are still seven tribes who have not received their inheritance in the land. The men of these tribes had fought alongside their other brothers, but they don’t seem as zealous to claim their land. Joshua sent three men from each of the remaining tribes to map out the remaining land and when they returned, He cast lots and assigned each tribe land.
Benjamin was a full brother to Joseph, so his allotment was next to Ephraim and Manasseh. Judah had more land than they needed so Simeon was assigned land within the tribe of Judah. Interesting that the descendants of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh wanted more land but were unwilling to fight for it by faith, but the people of Judah had so much they willingly shared with Simeon. The tribes of Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali were given land north of the half tribe of Manasseh. Later in history Zebulun and Naphtali became the area known as Galilee of the Gentiles. This is where Jesus spent much of his ministry. The Sea of Galilee is also called the Sea of Kinnereth. The Hebrew word Kinnereth means harp, and the lake is harp shaped.
Dan was the last tribe to receive their allotment of land. They went to work almost immediately to expand their territory and together with the tribe of Benjamin they formed a swath of land that stretched from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Joshua waited until the very last to claim his own inheritance. He received the city of Timnath-Serah in the hill country of Ephraim. Both he and Caleb preferred the more mountainous land.
The cities of refuge were a big deal. There were six of them, distributed through out the land. When we think about the land of Israel perhaps, we picture a very great land. But Israel was only about 120 miles from north to south and approximately 40 miles wide. These cities of refuge were designed centers of asylum for the ‘manslayer’…the one who in our culture would be convicted of manslaughter. These were people who had killed someone without prior intent or premeditation. The cities served as sites for fair and impartial trials to determine the intentionality of a criminal/crime. Each city was to become a refuge for the innocent from the avenger of blood, the victim’s next of kin whose family obligation was to even the score for the loss of life within the clan. The city of refuge was both a safe haven and a form of exile, protecting the manslayer from blood vengeance while effectively placing him under the death penalty in the event he was to leave the city prematurely. Even though the manslayer was not guilty of premeditated murder he was still held responsible for causing the loss of life. This individual served the equivalent of house arrest today.
The tribe of Levi was not assigned a specific territory among the tribes in the land because the Lord Himself was their lot. That was made clear in both Numbers 18:20 and Deuteronomy 18:1-2. Because they were not encumbered to any land they were consecrated to the Lord and free to fulfill their priestly duties. We read in Numbers 35:1-8 that God commanded the remaining tribes to donate 48 walled cities from their various allotments, six of which were to be the cities of refuge. Each Levitical city was to have pastureland around the city so that the Levites could pasture their flocks and herds. That along with the allotments they received in their service sustained the Levites.
God has upheld His end of the covenant promise. Now it is the Israelites turn to uphold their end. As long as they have strong, faithful leaders Israel will be fine. They will worship the Lord and they will keep away from the idols and false gods of their neighbors. But the time is coming soon when the Israelites will no longer have a strong leader, and it will not go well for them.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W