The Promised Land “reflections” 06
J O S H U A
Joshua 16:1 to 19:51
The land of God’s promise to Abraham had been relatively quickly subdued. The important Cannanite kings, their cities and villages had been conquered by Joshua, and many thousands of the Cannaites had lost their lives … but not ALL of them. We are at a point, some seven years after that initial flurry of success, where seven of the tribes had not had their land allotment specified. So, whilst generally allotted, much of it still not settled by them. As you read the Scripture passage this week, the map will provide a glimpse of the territory in the south. Land which was eventually allotted to Ephraim, Dan, Benjamin, Judah and Simeon. Then, to the north of this were Issachar, Zebulun, Naphtali, Asher, and half the tribe of Manasseh. Further, to the East on the other side of the Jordan River, the other half tribe of Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben had a land allotment when Moses was still alive. The tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe, with specific ministry duties were allotted cities within the land, their sustenance provided by the LORD, from the sacrificial and gift offerings brought by the people.
Now, within the specific land allotment, it was left for the elders of each tribe to designate the precise parcel of land assigned to each “family” within that tribe. And each of those “families” was headed by a son of one of the elders. The daughters were assumed to be cared for as they got married and shared their husband’s home and land. However, Zelophehad, one of Manasseh’s descendants, had died on the wilderness journey without having sons of his own, but he had five daughters. They had foreseen that they would be disinherited in the promised land as a result (Numbers 27:1-11) and took the matter to Moses. He interceded before the LORD and thus the laws of inheritance were changed to accomodate the situation. That had significant implications on the land apportionment which resulted in the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh being allotted additional land in the mountainous regions of what became known as Samaria (the northern kingdom) when Israel was divided after the death of King Solomon centuries later.
Much is made of the Brook Kanah (Kanaan), which forms the boundary between Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph. (Certainly by the people of Yaqir, a settlement a few miles from Ariel, which sits right on that very border, at Brook Kanaan today) They were charged by Joshua to take possession of the mountainous country as well as the fertile land they were allotted, in order accommodate their “families’. Joshua reminded them of God’s promises, and challenged them with the words “IF you are a great people etc etc, go and take the land and clear it for your families to settle” But, the Bible tells us that, instead of driving the Canaanites off the land, they chose instead to enslave them with “forced labour”. One may only speculate today what are the ramifications which follow that decision.
During this “settlement” period, Joshua had set up the tabernacle, which they had carried with them throughout their wilderness journey. Shiloh (about 30 km north of Jerusalem), being very roughly central to the land being settled, was chosen as its location. It seems a little confusing, but seven of the tribes still had not had their land inheritance spelled out in detail. So, when the whole congregation was meeting at Shiloh, Joshua commissioned the Israelites to choose three men from each tribe and charged them to “Go, walk through the land, survey it, and come back to me, that I may cast lots for you here before the LORD in Shiloh”. Thus it was that the remaining ‘unsettled’ land was surveyed in detail. There was no partiality, hence no dispute, and was THEN apportioned, by lot, among those seven tribes.
The territorial boundaries, having been surveyed carefully, one presumes to include a liveable area of land, then became the duty of each nominee tribe to settle and divide among that tribe’s families. In order of allocation, the seven lots fell to Benjamin, Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. The details of the boundaries are recorded in Chapter 18 of our text. However, that is not the end of the story, as we will discover when we come to the Book of the Judges. Dan in particular, seemingly had great difficulty in dislodging the Canaanites from their coastal land, where Tel Aviv lies today, and were confined to the mountainous regions of their land allocation in the east of their allotment. One assumes, for this reason, that the Danites, moved further north, even above the land where Naphtali was allotted, and settled there.
Finally, the Israelites decided that Joshua, their esteemed leader, deserved an inheritance of his own. And just as Joshua had assigned the city of Hebron to his friend and colleague Caleb, so the Israelites gave Joshua “according to the word of the LORD” the city of Timnath Serah, “which he had asked for” in the mountains of Ephraim. Not too far from Shiloh.