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<061701>JOSHUA 17:1-19:51 THE DANGER OF PARTIAL VICTORY Before turning to the next chapter an incident recorded in Joshua requires our attention. It may be recalled that the fourteenth chapter closed with the words, “And the land had rest from war.” At first sight that seems to be a blessed statement, but in view of several later ones it should rather be regarded as the striking of an ominous note. The fact is that Israel had, temporarily at least, become weary of well-doing, and were resting on their oars, for they had failed to complete the task which God had assigned them. There were many places yet unsubdued, numerous companies of the Canaanites which were still unconquered. That resting from war was fraught with evil consequences, for soon after we are told, “As for the Jebusites the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out” ( Joshua 15:63).
And again, it is recorded of the Ephraimites, “they drave not out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer: but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites unto this day, and serve under tribute” ( Joshua 16:10).
Sad blemishes were those in the account given of the general success of the nation.
The above failures are to be accounted for by God’s withholding of His power and blessing upon their efforts. And why did He not show Himself strong on their behalf? Because they had failed in their duty, for, instead of finishing the work which the Lord had given them to do, they became slack and took their ease, and later, like poor Samson when he awoke out of his sleep, said, “I will go out as at other times,” but “wist not that the Lord was departed from him” ( Judges 16:20); thus it happened with them — they were shorn of their strength. For God to have given success unto those Israelites would be countenancing their indolence. Never does He place a premium upon slothfulness, but, instead, leaves those who yield thereto to suffer the painful effects thereof. The lessons for us to learn therefrom are obvious. God grants His people no furloughs in the “good fight of faith” ( 1 Timothy 6:12) to which He has called them, and should they take one, then their enemies will inevitably prove too strong, nor will the Captain of their salvation fight their battles for them. Our commission is, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” ( 1 Corinthians 16:13), and if we heed not, most unpleasant will be the outcome.
It is important to note carefully the order of those four precepts, for the first three must be obeyed in order to the realization of the fourth. Unless we be vigilant in guarding against the temptations and dangers on every side, are faithful in holding the truth of the Gospel both doctrinally and practically, are undismayed and undaunted by those who oppose us — conducting ourselves boldly and bravely — we shall have no strength with which to overcome our foes. Nor is there to be any cessation in the discharge of those duties: the Divine command is “always abounding in the work of the Lord” ( 1 Corinthians 15:58) i.e., striving against sin, resisting the Devil, bringing forth the fruits of holiness. But note well the precise point at which the great failure of Joshua 14:15, occurred: it was immediately following the most notable successes which had attended their arms, so that they probably thought they were now entitled to a respite. Here too the lesson is plain for us: it is right after some signal victory which grace has given us over our lusts that we are most in danger — tempted to relax our efforts. Ah, my reader, forget not that it is the “fool” who says “take thine ease” ( Luke 12:19), whereas God enjoins us, “Let not thine hands be slack” (Zephaniah 3:16).
In Joshua 17:14-18, an incident is recorded which afforded a further opportunity for Joshua to display yet another striking quality of his character. There we read of the children of Joseph coming to Israel’s leader with a complaint: “Why hast thou given me but one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto?” (verse 14).
The tribe of Joseph was, of course, a double one, comprising the descendants of both Ephraim and Manasseh, nevertheless we consider that avowal of their greatness had reference to something more than their numerical strength, namely their honorable parentage — their being the descendants of the man whom Pharaoh had made lord of Egypt — and thus it was the breathing of pride. This is borne out by the subsequent history of this tribe, in the light of which their complaint unto Joshua was thoroughly characteristic of the haughty spirit that possessed them. Thus we behold their arrogance again in their murmuring against Gideon ( Judges 8:1), in the conduct of Jephthah ( Judges 11:9,30,31), and later still in the days of David they were constantly asserting their claim to superiority in Israel without exhibiting any qualification for it. “And Joshua answered them, If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants, if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee” (verse 15).
Thus did Joshua turn their argument against themselves, rebuking their pride and discontent, as well as their unbelief and indolence, for there was plenty of room for their expansion if they possessed the necessary enterprise and courage. Ellicott pointed out that it is plain from what is here stated that a large part of the country of Palestine then consisted of uncleared forest, that the inhabitants of that district were far fewer than those in the valley of Esdrealon and of the territory assigned to Judah in the south. Also that this fact justifies the strategy of the attack of Israel upon the center of the country, so that the forces of the Canaanites were necessarily divided, and thus Israel could strike first with their whole force at the southern armies, and then turn round upon the enemies in the north.
This serves to explain the ease with which they set up the Law at Ebal ( Joshua 8:30) at the commencement of the invasion, and the selection of Shiloh for their capital afterwards. “And the children of Joseph said, The hill is not enough for us: and all the Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron, both they who are of Beth-shean and her towns, and they who are of the valley of Jezreel” (verse 16).
Here we behold their covetousness, for Joshua 17:5, informs us that “there fell ten portions to Manasseh, beside the land of Gilead and Bashan, which were on the other side Jordan,” while another and separate inheritance had been allotted unto their brethren the Ephraimites. But though they had been given the largest share of Canaan they were not satisfied, while the reference they made unto the “chariots of iron” possessed by the Canaanites, who occupied the adjacent valleys, at once revealed the unbelief and timidity of their hearts and disproved their pretensions to being “a great people.” See here again, my reader, the evil results of allowing ourselves an intermission from the warfare to which the Christian is called: as surely as he ceases therein and takes his ease, so will a spirit of discontent with his lot come upon him, and so too will unbelief occupy him with the might of his enemies and dispirit him. “And Joshua spake unto the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and to Manasseh, saying, Thou art a great people, and hast great power: thou shalt not have one lot only: but the mountain shall be thine: for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut it down: and the outgoings of it shall be thine: for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong” (verses 17, 18).
We do not regard that as the language of satire, but rather as pressing upon them the discharge of their responsibility, and calling upon them to trust in the Lord and go forward in His name. Joshua pointed out that there were extensive tracts of wooded country which could be cleared for agricultural use, so that, if they continued to multiply, land would be available for their families True there was the menace of the powerfully armed Canaanites in the immediate vicinity, but if they bestirred themselves and performed their duty, looking to the Lord for protection and help, they might assuredly count upon His enabling them to drive out those who then possessed that land which He had given unto the seed of Abraham, and be granted strength to vanquish all their enemies. Thus from Joshua’s reply it is clear that they were lacking in diligence and enterprise.
There can be little doubt that the Ephraimites and Manassehites expected to receive preferential treatment from Joshua, since he himself belonged to the tribe of Ephraim ( Numbers 13:8); but Joshua refused to show partiality unto his brethren, thereby demonstrating his fidelity unto the commission Jehovah had given him. Blessed is it to behold in that refusal still another adumbration in the character of his Antitype, for when the Savior was asked to assign the seats on His right hand and on His left unto those who were nearest and dearest to Him (James and John), He declined to show any favoritism ( Matthew 20:20-23). In his Practical Observations on this passage Thomas Scott well remarked, “Alas, professing Christians are often more disposed to murmur, envy and covet, than to be content, thankful, and ready to distribute. Indeed, we are more prone to grasp at what belongs to others, than to manage our own to the best advantage; and many complain of poverty, and encroach upon the benevolence of others, because they rebel against the sentence of Divine justice, ‘Thou shalt eat thy bread in the sweat of thy brow.’ “Men excuse themselves from labor on any pretense, and nothing serves the purpose better than having rich and powerful relations, though by providing for them, these are often partial and unfaithful in disposing of those funds with which they are entrusted for the public benefit. But there is more real kindness in pointing out to men the advantages within their reach, that they may be excited to improve them, than in gratifying their indolence and profusion. True religion gives no sanction to these evils: ‘we commanded,’ says the apostle, ‘that if any man would not work, neither should he eat’; and many of our cannots are only the language of sloth, which magnifies every difficulty into an impossibility, and represents every danger as inevitable destruction. This is especially the case in our spiritual work and warfare; but even our professed relation to the Captain of the Lord’s host will not avail us if we be indolent and self-indulgent. Our very complaints that comforts are withheld, frequently result from negligence and fear of the cross; and when convinced that we can do nothing, we are apt to sit still and attempt nothing.” Such has been poor human nature throughout the ages: either spurred on by the feverish energy of the flesh, so that we run without being sent, or lazing and repining instead of doing with our might what God has bidden us to do. “And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there. And the land was subdued before them” ( Joshua 18:1).
The commentators are unanimous in supposing that this moving of Israel’s camp and headquarters was by Divine appointment. They surmise that Joshua had received some message from Jehovah, either direct or through the Urim and Thummim of the high priest, bidding him remove the tabernacle from Gilgal to Shiloh; and they also point out the advantages of this new location. Gilgal was at the extremity of Palestine, being situated on the bank of the Jordan; whereas Shiloh was in the heart of the land, and thus would be much more handy for the males to visit ( Deuteronomy 16:16) after the tribes had departed to their separate sections. Personally, we consider that is assuming too much. There is not the slightest hint that God had given any orders for them to leave Gilgal, where they had been encamped ever since their supernatural entrance into Canaan, and we regard the absence of any record of God’s revealing His will for them to do so as ominous. It seems to us much more likely that this move was dictated by what the flesh terms “prudential considerations” — their own convenience. “Shiloh was in the lot of Ephraim, the tribe to which Joshua belonged, and it was expedient that the sanctuary should be near the residence of the chief governor” (Scott).
But if that was the reason which prompted Joshua to act, then he was leaning to his own understanding, instead of having his paths directed by the Lord ( Proverbs 3:5,6).
Gilgal was the place of circumcision ( Joshua 5:9) — typically the mortifying of the flesh and separation from the world — and so long as Israel returned thither after each campaign the power and blessing of the Lord rested upon them. They should, therefore, have been very slow in leaving Gilgal, even though what it signified spiritually was very unpleasant to nature. Nothing is said of their waiting upon the Lord for guidance, no mention made of their seeking His mind via the high priest. Let it be carefully borne in mind that what is here said in Joshua 18:1, follows right after the record of a number of sad failures. Observe too that the Holy Spirit does not here designate the sacred tent “the house of the Lord” as He did in Joshua 6:24, or “the Lord’s tabernacle” as in Joshua 22:19, but merely “the tabernacle,” as though to indicate that He did not endorse or associate Himself with the move made — cf. “the Jews’ Passover” and “a feast of the Jews” ( John 2:13; 5:1), rather than “the Lord’s Passover” ( Exodus 12:11) and a feast “of the Lord” ( Leviticus 23:2). It is also solemnly significant that in the opening chapters of Judges (which record Israel’s failures after the death of Joshua) we are told “there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord” ( Joshua 2:10), so apparently they had forsaken the angel of His presence, who had remained at their true base.
During several generations of Israel’s spiritual poverty and powerlessness the tabernacle remained at Shiloh ( 1 Samuel 4:3), but in centuries later, when God through Elijah and Elisha was granting a revival unto Israel, those prophets made Gilgal and not Shiloh their headquarters ( 2 Kings 2:1), the Holy Spirit thereby intimating that if in a dark day of declension we make the place of circumcision (devotedness unto God) our camping ground or center, then the Divine blessing will be upon us. But Gilgal is not at all popular, making demands which are unwelcome to flesh and blood. Thus in the type itself: Gilgal lay at he very extremity of the land, a long and tiresome journey being entailed for the men of war to return to camp, and therefore a more convenient headquarters — easy to the flesh — would be far more acceptable. The commentators dwell upon the fact that “Shiloh” was one of the names by which the Messiah was foreannounced ( Genesis 49:10), and conclude that it was with an eye to Him that Israel so designated the place to which the tabernacle was now taken and erected. But we very much question such a view, for Joshua 18:1, reads as though this place was already known as Shiloh when they arrived there, and not that they gave it such a name on this occasion. The word itself means “rest,” and that was what appealed to them now that so much of Canaan had been subdued.
We have pointed out above that what is recorded in Joshua 18:1, comes right after several marked failures on the part of three of Israel’s tribes, and now immediately following it we find Joshua upbraiding seven of the other tribes, saying “How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the Lord God of your fathers hath given you?” (verse 3)!
Thus, the whole context is directly against a favorable construction being placed on this mention of moving their headquarters to Shiloh. Instead, we consider that they acted precipitately, that they walked by sight instead of by faith, and consulted too much their own convenience. Viewed thus, there is pointed another practical lesson unto which we do well to take heed. Not only is it our bounden duty, but also for our good both spiritually and temporally, that we heed the Divine precept “he that believeth shall not make haste” ( Isaiah 28:16). To act by impulse or passion is unworthy of a rational creature, yet it is only by definite prayer, constant watchfulness and strict self-discipline that we shall be preserved from the frenzied spirit of this foolish generation, which makes a god of speed.
More specifically, the above incident cautions us to be slow when contemplating a change of our location. Only too often the Lord’s people are regulated in this matter by material considerations rather than by spiritual ones, thinking more of improving their position than of glorifying God; and many of them are made to smart for their pains. “Ponder the path of thy feet” ( Proverbs 4:26) is wisdom’s counsel, and failure to do so results in many a fall. Those who act hastily usually have reason to repent at their leisure. “The prudent man looketh well to his going” ( Proverbs 14:15). The Christian should do more than that: “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass! “Nor is that all: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” ( Psalm 37:5,7) to make His way plain before your face, and remember that He guides us a step at a time, rather than making evident the whole of our path at once. Lean not unto your own understanding, nor confer with flesh and blood: instead, beg the Lord to work patience in you, and let your attitude be that of David’s, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him” ( Psalm 62:5). “The way of the righteous [the one whose heart is right with God] is made plain” ( Proverbs 15:19): until it be so, remain where you are.
INDOLENCE Not a very appealing title for an article ! Quite so, but the Bible does not flatter human nature, nor should God’s servant do so. However unpleasant, realities should be faced, and not shunned or denied. But though our theme be unattractive, it is surely a timely one. Does not indolence stare us in the face on every side? Is there not a spirit of sloth and apathy apparent in all classes? Has there ever been such a generation as ours for loathing work and loving pleasure? The expression “organized labor” has become almost synonymous with “the shirking of duty”: it is a holding out of the nation to ransom in order to extract the maximum amount of money for the minimum expenditure of energy. On the other hand, any fair-minded man who is really acquainted with the social and economic conditions which prevailed a century ago must acknowledge that, because of the merciless greed of far too many employers, labor was virtually forced to organize itself to secure bare justice. But human nature being what it is, the pendulum has now swung to the opposite extreme, so that in many cases the employer can no longer obtain a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.
As the Lord God informed man at the beginning, one of the consequences of his falling into sin was, “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground” ( Genesis 3:19) — a sentence from which men have sought to escape by their “laborsaving” devices: generally to the promotion of indolence, the impairing of health, and often the loss of life. Yet it is a mistake to suppose that all work has been entailed by the fall: not so. In his sinless condition man was put into the garden of Eden “to dress it and to keep it” ( Genesis 2:15).
Whereas work was then a pleasure and easy, now it is distasteful and burdensome. Never more so than in our day, when shorter hours and bigger pay is the demand — much of the pay being spent not in wholesome re-creation, but in injurious dissipation. And how few there are who realize and recognize that this manual and industrial blight is traceable to a spiritual and religious evil. As we have pointed out more than once, social conditions are the repercussions of ecclesiastical ones; the state of the world is largely a reflection of the state of the churches. As the breakdown of parental authority in the home was preceded by lack of discipline in the assembly, the disregard of law in the state by the jettisoning of God’s Law by the pulpit, so the apathy of artisans is but a shadowing forth of the indolence of the majority of professing Christians.
It is true that perfection has never been found among the Lord’s people, yet a relative healthiness and vigor have frequently marked them. But during the past century there has been a steady and noticeable deterioration in spirituality and a sad decline in practical godliness. Power has diminished, love has cooled, less and less of the fruit of the Spirit and works of righteousness has been produced. Instead of “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (rendering universal obedience unto Him), the majority of those bearing the name of Christ were “at ease in Zion.”
Instead of going forth to meet the Bridegroom with lamps trimmed and burning, the wise virgins, equally with the foolish ones, slumbered and slept. Instead of running the way of God’s commandments ( <19B932> Psalm 119:32), too many sat still; waiting for God to “apply” the promises to their hearts. Instead of engaging in aggressive evangelism, most of the churches petted and pampered their own members. Instead of contending earnestly in the world for the Faith, other churches turned aside to bitter wrangling and profitless contentions among themselves. The Lord’s cause languished, and Satan was well pleased.
Among the contributing causes which have produced and promoted a generation of spiritual sluggards may be mentioned the following. First, the slackness of preachers. An ever-increasing number of men who sought a soft and easy job were attracted to the ministry, and few indeed burned the midnight oil in their studies and spent themselves in the service of Christ.
Second, unfaithful preaching, where there was an entirely one-sided emphasis: a concentrating upon blessings and privileges and a neglecting of duties and obligations, a magnifying of the gifts of Divine grace, but a minimizing of the requirements of God’s holiness. Third, the inculcation and encouragement of a spirit of fatalism, through failing to preserve the balance of truth between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, between human ability and accountability, with the result that a race of donothings was produced — waiting for God to give them more grace, instead of using what He had already bestowed. Fourth, being too readily discouraged by the difficulties in the tasks assigned by God, walking too much by sight rather than faith, their zeal abating because they could perceive so little fruit produced. It is not without good reason that the Holy Spirit repeated in 2 Thessalonians 3:13, the exhortation of Galatians 6:9: “Be not weary in well doing”! “And there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance” ( Joshua 18:2).
Why was this? Because some Divine decree had blocked the way? Because “God’s time” for them to do so had not yet arrived? No indeed, from a very different cause. It was due to their own indifference. The immediate sequel makes it very evident that there was no unwillingness on God’s part: the indisposition was in them. Thus, this statement is more than an explanatory reference, namely a word of reproach. In view of what is recorded in Joshua 15:63, and Joshua 16:9,10, we see how infectious is the spirit of sloth: the evil which affected Judah and Ephraim had spread to the remaining tribes. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” more especially so where the leaders are involved: when the principal tribes of men be dilatory, those of lower rank will quickly emulate them. These tribes were heedless of their privileges, too unconcerned to avail themselves of their advantages. “And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the Lord God of your fathers hath given you?” (verse 3).
Thus did their leader reprove them for not bestirring themselves and securing their portions of Canaan. Such a reproof supplies confirmation of our remarks on the previous verse: it was due entirely to their own laziness, and not to anything in God, that they were not yet in happy possession of their possessions. True, the language of Joshua did not signify that those tribes could have occupied their portions before the same had been assigned them by the lot, but rather that they were to blame for not applying to the high court of Israel for the same. They had witnessed the allotments of the other two and a half tribes, yet had been too unconcerned to ask for theirs. This laxity was not confined to a single tribe, but had, like a dry rot, spread through the body politic. Not only is such an evil very contagious, but when it has gripped a person or people it cannot be easily and quickly thrown off, as Joshua’s “how long? “shows.
How like the vast majority of modern church members were those Israelites! They had crossed the Jordan and set foot in Canaan, but they had become slack and failed to make their own the fair prospects before them. In like manner, countless thousands make a profession, join the Church, and, imagining that their sins have been forgiven and their souls delivered from the wrath to come, are satisfied with their case and complacently rest on their oars. They make no conscience of mortifying their lusts, no serious efforts to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord, no progress in the Christian life. They are drones, yea, stumbling-blocks to those who seek to be diligent in making their calling and election sure.
They are deceived by Satan. Persuaded that they were saved some time in the past, they delude themselves into thinking that, however slack they be in resisting the Devil and overcoming the world, they are eternally secure.
They shirk the cross, yet imagine the crown is sure. They engage not in the good fight of faith, yet suppose they have laid hold of eternal life. They do not make the pleasing and obeying of God their daily concern, yet think to obtain the reward of the inheritance.
The fatal mistake made by so many is to think that, once assured their names are written in heaven, they may, with complete safety to themselves, lapse into a state of utter carelessness. Whereas, so long as he remains in this world, the Christian is required to “continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel” ( Colossians 1:23), to take heed that there be not in him an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God, and be on his guard against being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin ( Hebrews 6:12,13), to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling ( Philippians 2:12), and to hearken unto the solemn warning of Christ, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” ( Luke 9:62).
It is he who “endureth unto the end” that shall be saved ( Matthew 24:13), and not those who yield to their lusts and tempt Christ ( Corinthians 10:10, 7-9). Christians are called upon to build up themselves on their most holy faith ( Jude 1:20), and that is a work which demands labor and industry. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” ( Romans 8:13). “How long are ye slack to go to possess the land?” No longer meeting with any open opposition, they had settled down to rest, though more than half of Israel had not yet obtained their inheritance. Those Israelites were “too well pleased with their present condition, liked well enough to live in a body together, had no mind to be scattered abroad. The spoil of the cities they had taken served them to live plentifully for the present, and they banished the thoughts of time to come. They were slothful: it may be they wished the thing done, but had no spirit to set about it or move toward the doing of it, though it was so much for their own advantage. The countries that remained to be divided lay at a distance, and some parts of them in the hands of the Canaanites. If they go to take possession of them, the cities must be built or repaired, they must drive their flocks and herds a great way, and carry their wives and children to strange places; and this will not be done without great care and pains, and breaking through hardships” (condensed from Henry). Again we say, how we like unto their religious descendants: more than fifty per cent of professing Christians fail to fix their affections on things above and continually set themselves to the appropriation and enjoyment of them.
And Joshua said, “Give out from among you three men for each tribe, and I will send them, and they shalt rise, and go through the land, and describe it according to the inheritance of them; and they shall come again to me” (verse 4).
Once more we see that there was a human side, as well as a Divine one, to this important transaction. This detail also serves to illustrate, and in a clear definite manner, the important truth that the fact of God’s sovereignty (in the “lot”) does not set aside the exercise of human responsibility: they were required to discharge their moral agency and act intelligently. Alas, how many hyper-Calvinists have sought to excuse their apathy by perverting and sheltering behind the Divine decrees! How fearfully deceitful is the human heart in persuading not a few that they are displaying a commendable spirit of humility and meekness in “waiting God’s time” before they act, when instead they are guilty of shirking their duty. There is a terrible amount of humbuggery under a seemingly pious guise. There is no unwillingness on God’s part to give: the unwillingness to seek and take is always on our side. Then let us be honest, and place the blame where it belongs.
Joshua did not wait for a reply from the people to his reproving question, “How long are ye slack?” but at once set them upon their duty. In the injunction which he gave them we may perceive again that blessed balance which marks all the ways of God and of His servants when directed by Him — in this instance, between the exercise of their freedom and the discharge of their responsibility (in “give” [or “choose”] out from among you three men for each tribe”) and the acting of his authority: “and I will send them.”
The spiritual lesson for us therein is that the Christian is not to engage in any self-appointed tasks, but be directed in his service by the authoritative instructions of the antitypical Joshua. Their leader did not take it upon him to appoint the different individuals who were to serve in this maturer, but left the selecting of them to the tribes; but when chosen, he gave them their commission. The same principle is to be observed under Christianity: “look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint [by setting them] over this business” ( Acts 6:3).
Though Joshua set these men to work, yet it was far from being either a difficult or an unpleasant task which he assigned them: “they shall rise and go through the land, and describe it according to the inheritance of them: and they shall come again to me. And they shall divide it into seven parts: Judah shall abide in their coast on the south, and the house of Joseph shall abide in their coasts on the north. Ye shall therefore describe the land into seven parts, and bring the description hither to me, that I may cast lots for you here before the Lord our God” (verses 4-7).
It was virtually an appeal to their cupidity, a stirring of them up to recognize their advantages and privileges. It was a project by which they might behold for themselves what a goodly inheritance God had given them: By thus surveying the same, they would obtain a better knowledge of what awaited them, and then they would be more disposed, to bestir themselves and take possession thereof. If the believer’s faith were more occupied with the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” then he would be less dispirited by his “light affliction, which is but for a moment” ( 2 Corinthians 4:17). They were not to encroach upon the portions of Judah and Joseph, but rather to confine their attention unto what was available to them. Thus a spirit of covetousness was disallowed. “And the men went and passed through the land, and described it by cities into seven parts in a book, and came again to Joshua to the host at Shiloh. And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord: and there Joshua divided the land unto the children of Israel according to their divisions” (verses 9, 10).
Aroused from their stupor, shamed by their leader’s rebuke, they performed his bidding. As he had given them orders (verses 4, 8), they delivered the results of their commission not to their tribes, but to himself — just as the disciples made their report unto Christ ( Luke 10:17), and as each of us must yet render an account unto Him ( Romans 14:12).
From this incident it seems clear that while the relative positions or general locations of the tribes were determined by the “lot,” yet the proportion of land assigned to each one was decided (in some measure) by other considerations: as Joshua 17:17,18, shows, the lot did not preclude the exercise of individual enterprise and industry to improve the same — as everlasting glory is sure to all the redeemed, yet the degree thereof will be decided by their own zeal and fidelity.
FINAL POSSESSION In our last we dwelt upon the rebuke by Israel’s leader unto those seven tribes which were slack in going up to possess that land which the Lord God of their fathers had given them. How that he bade them appoint three men of each tribe to go and make a thorough survey of those sections of Canaan which had not yet been distributed. They were required to furnish something after the order of a map, supplying a detailed description of the country, fully sectionalized, and return unto the commander with their report. They duly performed their task: “the men went and passed through the land, and described it by cities into seven parts in a book, and came again to Joshua to the host at Shiloh.” And we are told, “And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord: and there Joshua divided the land unto the children of Israel according to their divisions” ( Joshua 18:9,10).
The order of their allotments accorded neither with their seniority nor with their numerical strength.
It is to be borne in mind that two and a half of the tribes, namely the Reubenites, the Gaddites, and half of Manasseh, had been assigned their places and portions by Moses on the eastern side of the Jordan ( Numbers 32:33), and in Joshua 13, the boundaries of the same had been carefully defined and stated. After Caleb had put in his lawful claim to mount Hebron, and had been granted the same, the tribes of Judah, Joseph, and the second half of Manasseh were given their allotments, a full enumeration of the places which they were to occupy being furnished in Joshua 15,16 and 17; at which we have already glanced. What was done for them by Eleazer and Joshua at Gilgal was now done for their fellows at Shiloh. We shall not attempt any detailed examination of their respective territories, for there is little in the geographical description which lends itself to the making of edifying comments thereon. On the other hand, it would be improper for us to ignore the same entirely. We shall therefore content ourselves with an occasional remark thereon.
First, “And the lot of the tribe of the children of Benjamin came up according to their families: and the coast of their lot came forth between the children of Judah and the children of Joseph” ( Joshua 18:11). Two striking predictions had been made concerning this tribe, which, though the one almost appears to clash with the other, were manifestly fulfilled, as the verses now before us and the subsequent history of this tribe demonstrate.
It is evident from this language that the patriarch followed not his natural inclinations on this occasion, for Benjamin was his youngest and most dearly beloved son. No, it was under Divine impulse that he uttered this remarkable prophecy. Yet it is to be observed that while the wolf is characterized mainly by its ferociousness it is also marked in its fortitude and courage. Benjamin was indeed the fiercest and most warlike of the tribes. The reference to what he should do “in the morning” and “at night” intimates that there is a distinct reference here to both the earlier and later history of the tribe.
The fierceness and cruelty of the men belonging to this tribe appeared conspicuously in the horrid treatment which they meted out to the Levite’s concubine. Their warlike character and ability and tenacity in fighting were seen in their singly withstanding the combined forces of all the other tribes in two pitched battles, in one of which 20,000 of them defeated the opposing army of 400,000, and later refused to yield until they were almost completely destroyed ( Judges 19:14-30; 20:12-14). King Saul, who so fiercely persecuted David, was of this tribe. Other examples of their fierceness and valor are found in 2 Samuel 2:15,16; 1 Chronicles 8:40; 10:2; 2 Chronicles 17:17. In their later history Benjamin allied himself to Judah, and thus “divided the spoil,” sharing in their privileges.
Esther and Mordecai were also of this tribe, and through them the enemies of Israel were destroyed. But the most renowned and honorable of them all was Saul of Tarsus ( Philippians 3:5), and most remarkably were the terms of Jacob’s prophecy made good in him, for in the morning of his career, when persecuting the early Christians, he ravened as a wolf: but at the close, by his evangelistic labors, he delivered the Devil’s prey.
The later prediction concerning this tribe was made through Moses: “Of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and He shall dwell between his shoulders” ( Deuteronomy 33:12), which had reference chiefly to the favored and honored position or portion which that tribe would occupy. As others before have pointed out, it was here intimated that the temple, in which Jehovah would dwell, would be situated within the territory of this tribe. And such was indeed the case, for Jerusalem, the holy city, was in the lot of Benjamin ( Joshua 18:28) — “though Sion, the city of David, is supposed to belong to Judah, yet mount Moriah, on which the temple was built, was in Benjamin’s lot. God is Himself said to dwell between his shoulders’ because the temple stood on that mount as the head of a man upon his shoulders” (Matthew Henry).
Thus Benjamin was under the protection of the Divine sanctuary, adumbrating the grand truth that “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people from henceforth even for ever” ( <19C502> Psalm 125:2). “The coast of their lot came forth between the children of Judah and the children of Joseph” ( Joshua 18:11).
Herein we behold the gracious ruling of Divine providence in arranging for “little Benjamin” ( Psalm 68:27) to be located between two of the most powerful of the tribes. It is to be observed that in the prophetical benedictions of Moses that of Benjamin came right after that of Judah and immediately before Joseph’s ( Deuteronomy 33:7-17) — Levi having no separate portion or lot in Canaan — so that there may be (“as frequently in Scripture) a double meaning in the words “He shall dwell between his shoulders” (verse 12) — the place of strength ( Isaiah 9:6) and of security ( Luke 15:5). There was also a peculiar propriety in this appointment, for Benjamin was Joseph’s own brother, and later was the tribe which united with Judah in adhering to the throne of David and the temple at Jerusalem. Finally, we see in this arrangement the wisdom of God in the lot, for nothing was more likely to secure a united Israel than to make Benjamin ,the link between the two most powerful and naturally rival tribes — it was through the mutual affection of Judah and Joseph for Benjamin, as their father’s youngest and dearest son, that the brethren were reconciled in Genesis 44:18 – 45:24. “And the second lot came forth to Simeon, for the tribe of the children of Simeon according to their families: and their inheritance was within the inheritance of the children of Judah” ( Joshua 19:1).
The portion which had been given to Judah was more extensive than was required by that tribe. “It seems that, without murmuring, Judah renounced his claim, at the instance of Joshua and those who had been nominated to the work of dividing the land” (Scott).
This is borne out by what is stated in verse 9, “Out of the portion of the children of Judah was the inheritance of the children of Simeon: for the part of the children of Judah was too much for them: therefore the children of Simeon had their inheritance within the inheritance of them” — there were more cities than they could fill, more land than they could cultivate. It is worthy of note that this is the only recorded instance of their portion being too large for any of them, and it is surely significant that it was Judah’s which proved to be the exception, for it was the tribe from which according to the flesh our Lord sprang. Thus we have here adumbrated that grand truth of the fullness of Christ, that in Him there is an abundance of grace, inexhaustible riches available for the saints to draw upon!
It is striking to note that this second lot fulfilled the prophecy of Jacob. He had linked together Simeon and Levi in judgment, who earlier had been united in wickedness ( Genesis 34:25), saying, as God’s mouthpiece, “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel” ( Genesis 49:5-7).
Because of his noble conduct subsequently, the curse upon Levi was revoked and displaced by the blessing of the Lord, and he who was originally joined to his brother in sin and cruelty was eventually joined to the Lord in grace and honor, so that there was made with his seed “the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel” ( Numbers 25:6-13).
Nevertheless, the terms of the patriarch’s prediction were accomplished, for the Levites had as their portion in Canaan forty-eight cities, which were scattered throughout the inheritance of the other tribes ( Numbers 35:8; Joshua 14:4; 21:3). So too in the case of Simeon: his descendants received not a separate territory in the promised land, but had their portion within the allotment of Judah, and, as Joshua 19:2-8, shows, the tribe of Simeon was widely “scattered,” being dispersed among many different cities. “And the third lot came up for the children of Zebulun according to their families” ( Joshua 19:10).
The part played by Zebulun in the history of the nation was not a prominent one, but though referred to rarely as a tribe, each time that mention is made of them it is of a highly creditable nature. First, we read of them in Judges 5 where Deborah celebrates in song the notable victory over Jabin and Sisera, and recounts the parts played therein by the different tribes. In verse 18 we read, “Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.” In I Chronicles 12 where we have enumerated those who “came to David to Hebron, to turn the kingdom of Saul to him,” we are told, “Of Zebulun, such as went forth to battle, expert in war, with all instruments of war, fifty thousand, which could keep rank: they were not of double heart” (verses 23, 33).
Jacob foretold, “Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for a haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon” ( Genesis 49:13). Moses also, “And of Zebulun he said, Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and Issachar, in thy tents. They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand” ( Deuteronomy 33:18,19).
And so it came to pass, for Joshua 19 goes on to say of the lot of Zebulun “and their border went up toward the sea “ — a statement of seemingly little importance and easily overlooked by the casual reader; yet one which announced the literal fulfillment of prophecies made centuries before. The expressions “thy going out” and “they shall suck of the abundance of the seas” received their accomplishment in their ocean life and trading in foreign parts.
But that which is of interest to the Christian in connection with Zebulun’s portion is the honorable place which it receives in the New Testament, for if the character of the people was praiseworthy, even more notable was the position they occupied in Palestine. Matthew 4:15,16, informs us that “the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali” (which adjoined it) was none other than “Galilee of the Gentiles,” concerning which it is said, “The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” Nazareth, where the Savior spent so much of His time when He tabernacled here among men, was in its borders, and it was also on the shores of its sea that He did so much of His preaching and wrought so many miracles. Well might the voice of prophecy bid Zebulun “rejoice” ( Deuteronomy 33:18). Therein also we may perceive the deeper and spiritual allusion in the words “Rejoice in thy going out.... They shall call the people unto the mountain,” i.e. the kingdom of the Messiah ( Isaiah 2:2), which was done by the preaching of Christ and His apostles — which means those who go out It is remarkable that, with the lone exception of Judas, all of the twelve apostles were men of Galilee! Zebulun was also “for a haven,” and it was in its borders that Joseph and Mary, with the Christ child, found a haven after their return from Egypt, and it afforded Him shelter when the Jews sought to kill Him in Judea ( John 7:1). “And the fourth lot came out to Issachar” ( Joshua 19:17).
The “in their tents” was in apposition to the “ships”: they would be a pastoral people rather than a sea-going one cultivating the land. Their inheritance was the fertile plain of Jezreel, with its surrounding hills and valleys, afterwards known as lower Galilee — it extended from Carmel to the Jordan, and in breadth to mount Tabor. Shunem ( 1 Kings 4:8, etc.) was one of its cities, and Naboth’s vineyard was within its lot. Matthew Henry pointed out how that we may see both the sovereignty and the wisdom of Divine providence in appointing not only the bounds of men’s habitations, “but their several employments for the good of the public · as each member of the body is situated and qualified for the service of the whole. Some are disposed to live in cities, some in the countryside, others in sea-ports. The genius of some leads them to the pen, some to trading, others to mechanics. ‘If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing?’ ( 1 Corinthians 12:17)” “And the fifth lot came out for the tribe of the children of Asher” ( Joshua 19:24).
It was pointed out in the opening paragraph that the order in which the tribes are here mentioned is not that of seniority: rather is it a spiritual one, according to the meaning of their names as given in Genesis. Benjamin signifies “the son of the right hand” ( Genesis 35:18), Simeon “hearing” ( Genesis 29:33), Zebulun “dwelling” ( Genesis 30:20), Issachar “hire” or “reward” ( Genesis 30:18), Asher “happy” ( Genesis 30:23), Naphtali “wrestling” ( Genesis 30:8), Dan “judging” ( Genesis 30:16).
Combined we get: The son of the right hand (the place of honor and power) is the hearing one (the new birth precedes believing!), dwelling (no longer tossed about like the restless sea) in Christ; great is his reward, for he is happy or blessed. Such a one is marked by wrestling against (instead of submitting to) the powers of evil, and by unsparingly judging himself.
And of what does the happiness of the spiritual Asher consist? The meanings (taken from Young’s concordance) of the towns mentioned in Joshua 19:25,26 (omitting the second, “Hall,” which is unknown), are: portion, height, dedicated, the king’s oak (strength and durability), a station, depression (mourning for sin), fruitful place, glass river ( Revelation 22:1). “And the sixth lot came out to the children of Naphtali” ( Joshua 19:32).
This is also of most interest to us because of its New Testament connections. Its territory adjoined that of Zebulun ( Matthew 4:13), yet each had its own distinct interest. Jacob likened Naphtali to “a hind let loose” and foretold, “he giveth goodly words” ( Genesis 49:21): while Moses spoke of him as “full with the blessing of the Lord” ( Deuteronomy 33:23). In the title to Psalm 22 our Lord is likened to “the hind of the morning,” because of His swiftness to do His Father’s will and work. The cities of Capernaum and Bethsaida were in the borders of Naphtali. which were indeed filled with the blessing of the Lord, for it was there that Christ and His apostles did most of their preaching and gave forth “goodly words.” “And the seventh lot came out for the tribe of the children of Dan” ( Joshua 19:40). Genesis 30:1-6, records his lowly origin. As this tribe brought up the rear of the congregation when they were on the march, so they were the last to receive their inheritance. Jacob likened Dan to a serpent, Moses to a “lion’s whelp.” Samson was of this tribe, and in him both characters were combined. Dan was the first tribe to fall into idolatry ( Judges 18:30), and apparently remained in that awful condition for centuries, for we find the apostate king Jeroboam setting up his golden calves in Bethel and Dan ( 1 Kings 12:28,29, and cf. 2 Kings 10:29). “When they had made an end of dividing the land for inheritance by their coasts, the children of Israel gave an inheritance to Joshua the son of Nun among them: according to the word of the Lord they gave him the city which he asked, Timnath-serah in mount Ephraim; and he built the city, and dwelt therein” ( Joshua 19:49,50).
Blessed is it to see that, though the greatest and boldest among them, the one who had led Israel to the conquest of Canaan, instead of seeking first his own portion, he waited till all had received theirs. Thus did he put the public good before his private interests, seeking theirs and not his own. “Our Lord Jesus thus came and dwelt among us, not in pomp, but in poverty, providing rest for us, yet Himself not having where to lay His head” (Matthew Henry).
Nor did Joshua seize his portion as a right, but, like his grand Antitype, “asked” for it ( Psalm 2:8). And as Christ built the Church and indwells it, so Joshua built his city.