Joshua 13 is a description of Israel’s physical inheritance of the Promised Land. Two and a half tribes receive the land that is on the Eastside of the Jordan River and nine and a half tribes receive a plan for the distribution of the land on the Westside of the Jordan River. So the Eastside receives the land and the Westside receives a plan.
1 Now Joshua was old and advanced in years, and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess. 2 This is the land that yet remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites 3 (from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron, it is counted as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron), and those of the Avvim, 4 in the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, to Aphek, to the boundary of the Amorites, 5 and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrise, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath, 6 all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Sidonians. I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. 7 Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh.
8 With the other half of the tribe of Manasseh the Reubenites and the Gadites received their inheritance, which Moses gave them, beyond the Jordan eastward, as Moses the servant of the Lord gave them: 9 from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland of Medeba as far as Dibon; 10 and all the cities of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, as far as the boundary of the Ammonites; 11 and Gilead, and the region of the Geshurites and Maacathites, and all Mount Hermon, and all Bashan to Salecah; 12 all the kingdom of Og in Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei (he alone was left of the remnant of the Rephaim); these Moses had struck and driven out. 13 Yet the people of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day. 14 To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the Lord God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to them.
15 And Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the people of Reuben according to their clans. 16 So their territory was from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland by Medeba; 17 with Heshbon, and all its cities that are in the tableland; Dibon, and Bamoth-baal, and Beth-baal-meon, 18 and Jahaz, and Kedemoth, and Mephaath, 19 and Kiriathaim, and Sibmah, and Zereth-shahar on the hill of the valley, 20 and Beth-peor, and the slopes of Pisgah, and Beth-jeshimoth, 21 that is, all the cities of the tableland, and all the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, whom Moses defeated with the leaders of Midian, Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the princes of Sihon, who lived in the land. 22 Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel among the rest of their slain. 23 And the border of the people of Reuben was the Jordan as a boundary. This was the inheritance of the people of Reuben, according to their clans with their cities and villages.
24 Moses gave an inheritance also to the tribe of Gad, to the people of Gad, according to their clans. 25 Their territory was Jazer, and all the cities of Gilead, and half the land of the Ammonites, to Aroer, which is east of Rabbah, 26 and from Heshbon to Ramath-mizpeh and Betonim, and from Mahanaim to the territory of Debir, 27 and in the valley Beth-haram, Beth-nimrah, Succoth, and Zaphon, the rest of the kingdom of Sihon king of Heshbon, having the Jordan as a boundary, to the lower end of the Sea of Chinnereth, eastward beyond the Jordan. 28 This is the inheritance of the people of Gad according to their clans, with their cities and villages.
29 And Moses gave an inheritance to the half-tribe of Manasseh. It was allotted to the half-tribe of the people of Manasseh according to their clans. 30 Their region extended from Mahanaim, through all Bashan, the whole kingdom of Og king of Bashan, and all the towns of Jair, which are in Bashan, sixty cities, 31 and half Gilead, and Ashtaroth, and Edrei, the cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. These were allotted to the people of Machir the son of Manasseh for the half of the people of Machir according to their clans. 32 These are the inheritances that Moses distributed in the plains of Moab, beyond the Jordan east of Jericho. 33 But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the Lord God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them.
14:1 These are the inheritances that the people of Israel received in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel gave them to inherit. 2 Their inheritance was by lot, just as the Lord had commanded by the hand of Moses for the nine and one-half tribes. 3 For Moses had given an inheritance to the two and one-half tribes beyond the Jordan, but to the Levites he gave no inheritance among them. 4 For the people of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim. And no portion was given to the Levites in the land, but only cities to dwell in, with their pasturelands for their livestock and their substance. 5 The people of Israel did as the Lord commanded Moses; they allotted the land.
The breakdown of the text is fairly simple. In 13:1 – 7 God speaks to Joshua and he points out Joshua’s age (weariness?). He identifies the land that still needs to be conquered. He promises to drive Israel’s enemies out of the land and he commands Joshua to divide the land west of the Jordan between the nine and a half tribes of Israel. Then in 13:8 – 13 we see a broad summary of the land that was given to the two and a half tribes of Israel on the east side of the Jordan with a note in verse 13 that identifies some enemies who were still living in the land because Israel had not driven them out.
There are some reoccurring notes in 13:14, 33; 14:3 – 4 regarding the inheritance of the Levitical priests and then we also have a summary of the land on the Eastside of the Jordan that the Lord gave to the tribe of Reuben (vss. 15 – 23), the tribe of Gad (vss. 24 – 28), and half of the tribe of Manasseh (vss. 29 – 32). Then finally in 14:1 – 5, we see a summary of the land on the Westside of the Jordan River that the other nine and a half tribes of Israel are about to possess.
So in summary: God speaks to Joshua and Joshua begins to divide the Promised Land between the twelve tribes of Israel. This is a legal process of basically writing the deeds of the land to the rightful tenants. This is a process that will continue through the end of chapter twenty-one. So what we have here is the beginning of nine chapters of legal division and distribution of property to the rightful tenants from the owner of the property.
And the question, as always, is who cares? Why is this portion of text so important? Why does it matter? On the surface, this portion of Joshua is important historically and legally because it identifies the portions of the land that were given to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The bottom line is that God is making good on his promises to give this land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is all fine and dandy information but what good is this information to us? What does this information teach us about God?
#1: GOD SEES YOU (VSS. 1 – 7)
Sometimes it’s easy to feel invisible. It often feels like no one sees you; no one sees the difficulty, pain, suffering, loneliness and hardship you face in this life. You try really hard to live in obedience to God and sometimes you experience victory and other times you experience failure. This story in Joshua so far has been full of both victory and failure. The story of Israel throughout the Bible is full of victory and failure. Your story and my story are full of victory and failure. And the good news of the gospel is that God sees you in the midst of your victories and your failures. You aren’t invisible to him.
When God speaks to Joshua in verses 1 – 7 he basically says “I see you, you still have work to do and I’m going to do the things that are impossible for you; I’m going to take out your enemies and I’m going to give you this Promised Land.” This is a beautiful picture of the cross of Christ because at the cross of Christ is where each of us finds rest from our exhausting battle against Satan, sin, the world and the grave. Do you feel worn out from your fight against sin? Has your battle with temptation worn you down? Does it feel like you’re trapped in the effects of the world we live in? Do you ever feel like the looming threat of the shortness of this life is too much to bear? Do you ever feel like you’re completely alone or wonder if God even sees you in the midst of your ups and downs?
Be encouraged my friends, these first seven verses along with Psalm 139 remind us that no matter where you are in your journey, God sees you. Even in your darkest moments of failure and suffering he sees you and he sees every moment of every day that you will ever live. There’s nowhere you can hide from him. He is always present and you are never hidden from his sight. God sees you!
#2: YOUR WEAKNESSES DON’T DEFINE YOU (VS. 13)
The reality is that we often live under a heavy cloud of our weaknesses and our shortcomings. We make comparisons between our lives and other people’s lives. We get tired of fighting the good fight. We get obsessed with areas of our lives that are not yet perfected. We live in fear and despair. At other times we live in complete oblivion in regards to our broken nature. We ignore the places of our lives that need work and we pretend that we are better than we really are.
But God in his kindness doesn’t ignore your failures. He doesn’t ignore your faults and he also doesn’t hold it over your head in some kind of shame game or guilt trip. He speaks to you realistically regarding your failures and he extends his grace, his mercy and his forgiveness towards you in the cross of Christ.
God does the same thing with Israel in verse 13 of our text. He speaks realistically about Israel’s failure to completely drive out their enemies but he still give’s them their inheritance. At the end of the day, the inheritance that Israel receives in the Promised Land could not be attributed to their obedience. On the contrary, the inheritance that Israel receives can only be attributed to God’s mercy, grace, generosity, forgiveness and faithfulness.
Think about the powerful motivator we have in these truths. God is gracious. He is merciful. He is generous. He is forgiving. He is faithful. There’s no better place to experience these truths than at the foot of the cross of Calvary. The blood of the cross of Christ covers and removes the filth of your sin. Even though you are too weak to remove the remaining effects of your sin (like the enemies that Israel didn’t drive out), God doesn’t withhold the inheritance of the cross from you.
He speaks honestly about your inability and your shortcomings so that you can grab a hold of his sufficiency in the work of the cross. The cross becomes your new identity because the God who keeps his promises is the one who defines you by the cross of his son Jesus. Isn’t this a far better motivation for obedience than trying to earn something you don’t deserve or just trying to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do? God sees you and your weaknesses don’t define you!
#3: YOU BELONG TO GOD AND HE BELONGS TO YOU (VSS. 14; 33; 14:4)
We see this principle fleshed out when we examine the inheritance that the Lord gave to the Levites. We see this specifically in verses 14; 33 and 14:4 where it says, “14 To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the Lord God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to them… 33 the Lord God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them… 14:4 no portion was given to the Levites in the land, but only cities to dwell in, with their pasturelands for their livestock and their substance.” So the Levites received no deeds to any part of the Promised Land. Their inheritance was their God and their ministry.
Now a little background work may be helpful here. In the history of Israel we see twelve tribes descending from the sons of Jacob in Numbers chapter 1. Upon close examination it seems like there were actually thirteen tribes. Twelve tribes received physical inheritance of the Promised Land while the thirteenth tribe (the Levites) were scattered throughout each of the twelve tribes. So were there twelve tribes or thirteen tribes?
The answer to that question is a little confusing but it becomes more obvious when you do some more background work in Genesis 48 – 49. In Genesis, the tribe of Joseph is designated through his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim who were born from a foreign wife, in a foreign land and were adopted by Joseph’s dad, Jacob (referenced in Joshua 14:4). So if you look at the physical map of the Promised Land (like the one on the screen) you’ll see that the house of Joseph is given a double portion of physical inheritance as both tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim receive their property deeds.
So long story short, the physical appropriation of the land is given to eleven tribes with one of those tribes (the tribe of Joseph) being split in two. Now enter the tribe of the Levites. This final tribe was split into twelve parts and disbursed throughout the land to serve the Lord and his people as priests who belong to God. The Levitical priests didn’t receive physical inheritance. They received spiritual inheritance. And we have a connection to them according to 1 Peter 2:9 where we learn that we “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his (God’s) own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
In summary, the Levites inherited the Lord himself. Their responsibility was to proclaim his goodness and his faithfulness throughout the nation of Israel. If you have trusted in the work of Christ at the cross and the empty tomb then you and I belong to God and he belongs to us and we have a responsibility to share his goodness everywhere we go. At the cross of Christ both Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God and reconciled to one another so that we can be God’s possession and proclamation throughout the world. So God sees you and your weaknesses don’t define you because you belong to God and he belongs to you.
#4: YOU’RE NOT IN HEAVEN YET (VSS. 13:15 – 32; 14:1 – 5)
The reality is that we live in the tension of the already and the not yet. This principle is illustrated by the promise of inheritance from a wealthy relative who hasn’t died yet. The inheritance belongs to you but you won’t take possession of it until your relative dies. It’s already yours but it’s not yet in your possession.
In this life you and I have been promised the inheritance of eternity in God’s perfect presence. If you have trusted in Christ then you have received the gift of salvation and the promise of eternal life. You will take possession of this eternal life once you cross from this life into the next. It’s already yours but it’s not yet in your possession.
Israel’s inheritance of the Promised Land provides a physical representation of this already/not yet principle. The inheritance on the Eastside (described in 13:15 – 32) is possessed by two and a half tribes but the inheritance on the Westside (described in 14:1 – 5) is largely un-possessed by the nine and a half tribes. The family of Israel (all 12 tribes) owns all of the Promised Land but they have yet to possess all of it completely.
What does this teach us? This teaches us that our inheritance is already and not yet. This reminds us that we are a work in progress looking forward with anticipation to the day when our transformation is complete. This reminds us that we are not in Heaven yet. This reminds us that Jesus has already purchased the deed for our Promised Land. Jesus paid the price for your redemption at the cross so that you could take possession of your eternal inheritance when you step into Heaven. God sees you and your weaknesses don’t define you because you belong to God and he belongs to you even though you’re not in heaven yet.
So how do we conclude our time in this passage today? We’ve basically been studying the historical record of how Israel began to take possession of the inheritance that was promised to them many years earlier. We’ve learned that God sees us in all of our victories and failures yet our weaknesses don’t define us because we belong to God and he belongs to us even though we aren’t in Heaven yet. We look forward to Heaven as we endure this life because we know that Heaven is where our inheritance is completely appropriated.
The book of Philippians reminds us of this great hope that we have in the promise of Heaven when we hear Paul say “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). This is a great reminder of the inheritance that we’ve been promised in Christ Jesus. We’ve been promised perfection in the presence of perfection. No more sin, suffering, pain, sickness or tears. Only promised perfection in the presence of perfection for all of eternity.
In the meantime as we wait we find hope in this truth that God sees us just as we are and our weaknesses don’t define who we are because we belong to God he belongs to us and even though we aren’t in heaven yet we will experience complete possession of our inheritance when we run into heaven free from the shackles of this life.