This chapter begins the account of the dividing up of the land of Canaan among the tribes of Israel – a narrative showing the performance of the Lord’s promise made to their forefathers, that this land would be given to the descendants of Jacob. We must not pass over these chapters of hard names as useless. Where God has a mouth to speak and a hand to write, we should find an ear to hear and an eye to read. And may He give us a heart to profit from what we hear and read!
Joshua was probably around 85 years old at this time. But a very important part of his work was still left to be done. It would not have been enough for him to have asserted Israel’s supremacy over the Canaanites, unless he had taken measures to follow up his victories by settling the Israelites in the Canaanites’ place. At this point, there was still a large amount of territory that Israel had not yet taken possession of. Some of the defeated Canaanites had taken refuge in the stronger fortresses, such as Jerusalem, Gezer, and Beth-shean – the conquering of which, by ordinary means, would be a work of considerable time and difficulty. Therefore, God made known His will to Joshua concerning the land – namely, that it should be portioned out without further delay, and that the cities which were still occupied by the Canaanites should be left to be destroyed by the tribes into whose allotment they might fall. However, in order that there might be no case of partial failure, nor any excuse for indolent inaction; the promise – which had been so frequently given – was repeated once more in its full extent, and the invariable condition of faithfulness and obedience was implied. The method that was adopted in order to carry out God’s will seems to have first involved a careful survey of the land that was not yet possessed. Then it was apportioned among the tribes, according to their size; and lastly, there was the actual appropriation and acquisition of each portion by the efforts of the tribe to whom it was assigned.
After the Lord had summoned Joshua to this last great work of his life, He proceeded to enumerate the portions of land that yet remained to be conquered. All the land on the western side of the Jordan River was to be divided among the 9½ tribes that were left after Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh had received their inheritance on the eastern side of the River – in the land formerly held by Sihon and Og. Moses had commanded that this was to be the land of inheritance for those tribes, according to their own request (Num. 32). And the rest of this chapter details the boundaries that marked out the respective allotments of inheritance for those 2½ tribes.
In the account of the lot of the tribe of Reuben, mention is first made of the slaughter of the Amorite king, Sihon, who had formerly reigned in this area. We also learn that the Midianite chiefs who were defeated by Moses (Num. 31) were vassals of Sihon. The fate of Balaam the soothsayer (who perished with those Midianite princes) is also repeated here; and it is referred to again and again in later Scriptures by Nehemiah, Micah, and three of the apostles: Peter, Jude, and John. This man, so darkly notorious in the sacred history, is a picture of all those who have minds that are enlightened to discern spiritual truth, and yet deliberately choose to follow and love “the wages of unrighteousness.”
The lot of the tribe of Gad lay north of Reuben’s portion. The region of Gilead lay in this tribe, and it was famous for its healing “balm in Gilead.” The cities of Jabesh- Gilead and Ramoth-Gilead, which we often read of in Scripture, were located here; as well as Succoth and Penuel, which we read of in the narrative of Gideon. There was also a forest called the “wood of Ephraim” (because of a great slaughter that was once made there of the Ephraimites), in which Absalom’s rebellious army was beaten while his father David was camping at Mahanaim – one of the frontier-cities of this tribe. The land of Gad was also the location of Sharon, which was famous for roses. And in New Testament times, the area that had once belonged to the tribe of Gad was the home of those Gadarenes who loved their swine better than their Savior.
Bashan, the former kingdom of Og, became the allotment that was given to half the tribe of Manasseh; and it was an area that was famous for its timber and its cattle. This half-tribe lay north of Gad’s portion of land, and it reached to Mount Hermon. Famous people from this tribe included Jephthah, one of the judges of Israel; and the town of Thisbe, located in this tribe, was the hometown of Elijah the prophet.
It is noted twice in this chapter that Moses gave no inheritance to the tribe of Levi (see Num. 18:20). As the tribe that was honored with the privilege of serving at the Tabernacle, the Lord Himself was Levi’s inheritance; and their earthly support was to be raised out of all the other tribes. Happy are those who have the Lord God of Israel for their inheritance, even though little of this world falls to their lot! His Providence will supply their needs, and His consolations will support their souls – until they gain heavenly joy and everlasting pleasures!
In this chapter, Joshua is pictured as a foreshadowing of Christ – Who has not only conquered the gates of hell for us, but has also opened to us the gates of heaven! Having purchased the eternal inheritance for all believers, He will surely put us in possession of it.
Lord, we pray that Jesus would be our Portion, and the Holy Spirit our Comforter and Sanctifier! Give us all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: pardon, mercy, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit here; and life forever in the world to come. Cause us, in this sense, to inherit all things! Amen.
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