These four-and-a-half chapters of Joshua cover a significant portion of the distribution of the Promised Land to Israel. I have chosen portions of the text to look at today but I would encourage you to read this text in its entirety as you are able. Let’s start in Joshua 15…
20 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Judah according to their clans… Verses 21 – 62 are a description of Judah’s inheritance so we’ll skip ahead to verse 63: 63 But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day.
Verses 1 – 3 are a broad description of Joseph’s inheritance that doesn’t hold any pertinent details to our study so we’ll begin with verse 4: 4 The people of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, received their inheritance. 5 The territory of the people of Ephraim was as follows… Verses 5 – 9 are a description of Ephraim’s inheritance that once again is not useful for our study today so we’ll jump ahead to verse 10: 10 … they [Ephraim] did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor.
1 Then allotment was made to the people of Manasseh, for he was the firstborn of Joseph. To Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead, were allotted Gilead and Bashan, because he was a man of war. 2 And allotments were made to the rest of the people of Manasseh by their clans, Abiezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, Hepher, and Shemida. These were the male descendants of Manasseh the son of Joseph, by their clans. 3 Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manaseh, had no sons, but only daughters, and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 4 They approached Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the leaders and said, “The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance along with our brothers.” So according to the mouth of the Lord he gave them an inheritance among the brothers of their father. 5 Thus there fell to Manasseh ten portions, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is on the other side of the Jordan, 6 because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance along with his sons. The land of Gilead was allotted to the rest of the people of Manasseh.
Verses 7 – 11 are a description of Manasseh’s inheritance that do not hold a bunch of significance for us today but look at verses 12 – 18 with me: 12 …the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in the land. 13 Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out. 14 Then the people of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, although I am a numerous people, since all along the Lord has blessed me?” 15 And Joshua said to them, “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.” 16 The people of Joseph said, “The hill country is not enough for us. Yet all the Canaanites who dwell in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.” 17 Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, “You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, 18 but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.
1 Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them. 2 There remained among the people of Israel seven tribes whose inheritance had not yet been apportioned. 3 So Joshua said to the people of Israel, “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given to you? 4 Provide three men from each tribe, and I will send them out that they may set out and go up and down the land. They shall write a description of it with a view to their inheritances, and then come to me. Verses 5 – 9 are the rest of Joshua’s instructions to the survey team along with some details about Judah and Joseph and the Levites and the two and a half tribes across the river. These are details that we just don’t have time to cover so we’ll jump to verse 10: 10 …Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord. And there, Joshua apportioned the land to the people of Israel, to each his portion. Verses 11 – 27 are a summary of Benjamin’s inheritance without any real significant details for our time today.
Verses 1 – 39 are a summary of the inheritance that was given to the tribes of Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher and Naphtali. These summaries don’t hold any real significance for our study today. So we’ll begin at verse 40…
40 The seventh lot came out for the tribe of the people of Dan, according to their clans. Verses 41 – 46 are a description of Dan’s inheritance so we’ll pick it up again in verse 47. 47 When the territory of the people of Dan was lost to them, the people of Dan went up and fought against Leshem, and after capturing it and striking it with the sword they took possession of it and settled in it, calling Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor. 48 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Dan, according to their clans – these cities with their villages.49 When they had finished distributing the several territories of the land as inheritances, the people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun. 50 By command of the Lord they gave him the city that he asked, Timnath-sera in the hill country of Ephraim. And he rebuilt the city and settled in it. 51 These are the inheritances that Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel distributed by lot at Shiloh before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. So they finished dividing the land.
WHAT DID WE JUST READ?
You may be feeling a little overwhelmed and maybe even a little confused after reading those select portions of these four-and-a-half chapters. So I want to explain a little of what’s happening here so you can wrap your mind around it. My plan is to explain these four-and-a-half chapters by breaking them down into three sections under three headings: The Tribe of Judah (15:20 – 63), The Tribe of Joseph (16:1 – 17:18), and Surveyors and Seven Tribes (18:1 – 19:51).
#1: THE TRIBE OF JUDAH (15:20 – 63)
In these verses (15:20 – 63) we have a description of the cities that Judah inherited in the land that was given to them (15:1 – 12). We also have a closing statement about Judah’s failure to drive the Jebusites out of their land (vs. 63). This failure to drive out Israel’s enemies is a common theme throughout this entire portion of Joshua. We need to be thinking about the size of Israel’s inheritance and their failure to completely possess it. In other words, we need to recognize the massive size of God’s generous grace towards Israel and their failure to completely obey him in response to his generous grace. Ever notice how your disobedience and rebellion towards the Lord seems so silly in light of his generosity and grace?
#2: THE TRIBE OF JOSEPH (16:1 – 17:18)
In these verses (16:1 – 17:18) we have a description of the land and the cities that the tribe of Joseph inherited. This inheritance is split between the people of Ephraim (16:5 – 10) and the people of Manasseh (17:1 – 18). There are four interesting features in this section of the text: 1) Ephraim’s Inheritance, 2) Manasseh’s Five Granddaughters, 3) Manasseh’s Inheritance, and 4) The House of Joseph Asking For More.
First: Ephraim’s Inheritance. Ephraim receives their inheritance but they fail to drive the Canaanites out of their land (16:10). Like Judah (and like many of the other tribes) Ephraim fails to follow through in faith-filled obedience to God’s commands in response to his generous provision. We’ll talk about this more later but it’s good to note Ephraim’s failure in light of the sheer weight of God’s gracious and faithful provision here.
Second: Manasseh’s Five Granddaughters. Manasseh’s five great, great, great granddaughters approach the leaders of their tribe and they ask for (and subsequently) receive their portion among the people of Manasseh (17:3 – 6). I would argue that these five women make the men of Joseph look like a bunch of winy-wimps. Again, more on that in a few minutes.
Third: Manasseh’s Inheritance. After the five great, great, great granddaughters receive their inheritance, the people of Manasseh receive their inheritance and just like their Ephraimite brothers they fail to drive the remaining Canaanites out from their land (17:12 – 13). Once again, God’s people are content with taking the gift of God’s fulfilled promises without reinvesting their obedience to God’s commands. In other words, they’re taking advantage of God’s generosity while living in disobedience. How often have you taken advantage of God’s generosity while living in disobedience recently?
Fourth: The House Of Joseph Asking For More. It’s almost infuriating to realize that the house of Joseph has been taking advantage of God’s generosity (his grace, his mercy, his provision and his faithfulness) while living in disobedience to him (by not driving their enemies out of the land) and that they have the audacity to come and ask for more. This is where the sisters from a few moments ago make the rest of the tribe look really bad. The house or tribe of Joseph (both Ephraim and Manasseh) approach Joshua (17:14 – 18) to complain about the size of their combined inheritance and ask for more. I think their complaint is motivated by the presence of the Canaanites due to their failure to lead courageously and give their enemies the boot. This request doesn’t appear to be about wanting more. It appears to be about not wanting to be obedient with what they had been given.
Isn’t this how it often goes? We fail at something so we try to shift the attention in some other direction. We find some new pursuit to get after rather than going back to ground zero and starting at square one with a humble recognition of God’s gracious, generous and faithful provision that results in our obedience.
The cool thing in this story is that Joshua doesn’t even budge in the face of this tribe’s manipulation. Instead, he holds the house of Joseph accountable for their failure and he forces them to own their next steps in taking possession of their inheritance, which they obviously fail at epically (17:14 – 18). It’s mind boggling to see the size of Israel’s inheritance and to simultaneously witness their disobedience. Can you look into your heart today and see areas where you are behaving just like the House of Joseph did; taking God’s gracious, generous, faithfulness for granted while living in disobedience and asking for more from him? Don’t we all do this?
#3: SURVEYORS AND 7 TRIBES (18:1 – 19:51)
In these verses (18:1 – 19:51) we have a description of the survey team that Joshua sends out to survey the remaining portion of the land followed by the distribution of that land and the cities to the remaining seven tribes of Israel.
First: Surveyors Are Sent. Joshua sends 21 men to survey the remaining land and make a book or a map describing the divisions of the land so that he can distribute the inheritance in an orderly way by casting lots (18:1 – 10). One of the interesting features of this section is seeing that Judah is designated in the north and Joseph is designated in the south because down the road, these two leading tribes will be at the center of an all out vicious civil war in Israel that leaves the entire nation forever decimated.
The bottom line here is that disobedience has consequences that often times cause a ripple effect for generations. You may be living with the consequences of the ripple effect of your own disobedience or someone else’s disobedience right now. Sin has consequences in this life and in the next and oftentimes it’s the ones closest to us that either leave us wounded because of their sin or pay the price for our sins against them. Have you experienced this recently? If you survey your life in the last few weeks it might be easy to find some instances of where you’ve sinned against someone else or where someone has sinned against you and now you and they are living under the consequences of that sin.
Second: The Seven Remaining Tribes. In this section the seven remaining tribes of Israel receive their inheritance. The tribe of Benjamin receives their inheritance without any exciting details (18:11 – 28). The tribe of Simeon receives their inheritance (19:1 – 9) with a small detail regarding their location in the midst of Judah due to Judah’s size (19:9). The tribes of Zebulun, Issachar, Asher and Naphtali all receive their inheritance without any real exciting details to note for our purpose today (19:10 – 39).
But the seventh and final tribe to receive their inheritance is the tribe of Dan (19:40 – 48). There’s an interesting detail in this final portion of our text where we learn that the people of Dan eventually lose their land and resettle in a place called Leshem (19:47; Judges 1:34; 18). The reason the people of Dan couldn’t drive out their enemies even though they have God to rely on is because of their laziness and their disobedience. It’s really a pitiful, heavy story of disobedience in light of the massive size of God’s generous provision.
WHY DOES ALL OF THIS MATTER?
What difference does any of this make for us today? I think part of the answer is found in the book of Judges and I also think that part of the answer is found in contemplating the size of Israel’s inheritance. The book of Judges immediately follows the book of Joshua and it’s a sad story of God’s people failing over and over and over again as they do what is right in their own eyes (17:6; 21:25) and abandon their commitment to faith-filled obedience.
In chapter one of Judges we read that Manasseh did not drive out their enemies (Judg. 1:27). Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites (Judg. 1:29). Zebulun did not drive out the Canaanites (Judg. 1:30). Asher did not drive out the Canaanites (Judg. 1:31). Naphtali did not drive out the Canaanites (Judg. 1:33). The Amorites chased out the people of Dan (1:34). So Judges confirms what we’ve read here today in Joshua. While it may seem exciting in Joshua to see God’s people walking into their inheritance we must remember that they became lazy and disobedient in their possession of their inheritance which lead to God’s judgment against them. They took the size of God’s gracious provision towards them and they thumbed up their noses at God.
In Judges 2:2 – 3 God reminds his people that he instructed them to “make no covenant” (no agreement) with their enemies but to “break down their alters” (destroy their spiritual influence) and drive them out. He says, “you have not obeyed my voice… what is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them (your enemies) out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” What Israel fails to make war against in Joshua, becomes the very thing that utterly destroys them in the future. This whole narrative is a reality check for us in regards to sin and disobedience. What sin are you failing to make war against that is threatening to utterly destroy you in the future?
What sins have you made agreements with in your life? What sins do you gloss over? What sins are you excusing instead of refusing? The God who loves you deeply gave his Son Jesus to pay the price for the sins that you are winking at, glossing over, excusing and making agreements with. The same God who brought Israel up out of slavery in Egypt in a miraculous way has also provided a way of escape from slavery to your enemies: Satan, sin, the world and the grave. I wish I could help us tangibly grasp the massive size of our inheritance in the cross and empty tomb of Jesus.
In conclusion, I want you to think about the size of Israel’s inheritance in the Promised Land. I’m hoping this will help to illustrate what I’m trying to drive home today. If you do a short study of God’s covenant with Abraham back in Genesis 15 and if you pay attention to what God says about the boundaries of the Promised Land you begin to get an interesting picture in your mind.
Long story short, the land that God promised to Abraham was geographically comparative to the states of New York and Vermont put together (about 140mi x 400mi). But the size of the land that Israel actually possessed was geographically comparable to the city of New Jersey (about 140mi x 40mi). In other words, God promised Israel that they would inherit a portion of land that was approximately 56,000 square miles but they only took possession of 5,600 square miles due to their disobedience and failure to trust in God.
Here’s the reality, the only hero we see in what we’ve studied here today is Joshua. Joshua has been faithful. He’s been courageous. He’s been a leader. And because of his faithfulness and more importantly because of God’s faithfulness (even to the extent that he graciously gives Israel a small portion of land that they don’t deserve) Joshua receives his inheritance in full (19:49 – 50).
The moral of the story here is that in the midst of all the disobedience, in the midst of all the failures of God’s people, in the midst of all the rebellion and darkness, there stands one who is faithful; one who is courageous; one who does not bend and one who does not give in to the voices of his enemies. That one is Joshua. All along Joshua has been faithful, courageous, generous and patient with God’s people. And he receives a reward for his faithfulness.
There are many who would preach this text to you today and they would tell you to be more like Joshua. They would give you five things to go do like the five stones of David that you could throw at your problems. But that’s not the intent of the Scriptures at all. The intent of the Scriptures is to point you to Jesus who is a perfect Joshua. Joshua wasn’t a perfect man because he was only a man. But Jesus was the perfect man.
My assumption and maybe better put, my hope, is that as we’ve surveyed this portion of text and realized just how unfaithful Israel was (especially in light of the size of their inheritance), that the Spirit of God has convicted you of areas of unfaithfulness in your own life. It could be that you haven’t loved your spouse or your family very well. Maybe it’s that you’ve failed to be generous with your time, your talent and your treasure. Or maybe you’ve failed in some area of addiction. Or maybe its just something as seemingly small as a little bit of gossip here and there or a little bit of pride or a little bit of envy or a little bit of anger or a little bit of cowardliness somewhere in your life.
Regardless of where you’ve been convicted of sin today the reality is that without conviction there can be no repentance. And without repentance there can be no salvation. If you have no sin then you have no need of a Savior. And maybe at this point you would argue that you’ve been a Christian for a very long time and that you trusted Jesus a long time ago for salvation so you have no need to speak of your sin openly anymore. If this is you then it’s highly probable that you haven’t met the Jesus who lived a perfect life in your place and then died for you so that you could be transformed.
Maybe you’ve only met the moralistic Jesus who pats you on the back and says, “you need to live better then you’ve been living.” Or maybe you’ve only met the legalistic Jesus who says, “you better keep your life in order in front of everyone else you so you can be accepted.” Or maybe you’ve only met the licentious Jesus who says, “it really doesn’t matter what you do or do not do, you can choose your own path and make your own rules and I’ll never judge you.”
These so-called Jesus’ are what the Bible calls antichrist’s. They’re false versions of the Biblical Jesus that have been made up by people who can’t handle the real Jesus who says things like “pick up your cross and follow me… anyone who hears my words and does not do them cannot be my disciple… I am the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me” (Luke 9:23; 6:49; John 14:1 – 7).
The Biblical Jesus is foreshadowed in the character of Joshua. In the face of so much disobedience and rebellion among God’s people, Joshua shines bright like a lamp that hasn’t been hidden under a basket or a shining city on a hill that lights up the pathway to following God. This is what Jesus came to do. He came to live the perfect life in our place, to be offered as a sacrificial payment for our rebellion and to rise again on the third day leaving the tomb empty. His inheritance is Heaven and he’s ready to share that inheritance with you and with me.
What a generous Savior we have in Christ Jesus! If you’ve ever wondered about the size of your inheritance, look to Jesus and see that the size of your inheritance is far bigger, far greater and far more undeserved than you could ever comprehend. If you and I could grasp even 10% of the size of our inheritance (the size of what Israel possessed), what would that do for our obedience? Amen!