In the last essay on Joshua, we studied chapter 14, which revealed the first part of the distribution of land by Joshua. The first apportionment of land went to Caleb, because forty-five years earlier Moses had promised a particular portion of the land; namely the hill country of Hebron, to Caleb.
Now then, at chapter 15 we see the beginning of the distribution of land to the nine and a half tribes. The first lot went to the tribe of Judah, and the inheritance they drew was in the south where Caleb already had his inheritance. So as it turned out, Caleb was not separated from his tribal brethren. The boundaries are carefully spelled out in verses 1-12.
Then in verse 13-19 the author returned to the account of Caleb. They tell how Caleb won his victory over the Anikim. Then the account goes on to tell a story about how Caleb gave his daughter in marriage to his nephew Othniel, because Othniel took a particular city that Caleb wanted taken.
Interestingly Judges 1:8-15 tells the story of Caleb’s conquest of the Anikim a little differently. It says that the Judeans in general did it (v. 10). But the one does not preclude the other. Caleb obviously did not take Hebron as an individual, but as the head of a family of Judeans. Nor is it in conflict with the fact that Joshua had driven the Anikim out of the hill country earlier, as we were told in Josh. 11:21-22. The reason is that Israel normally did not occupy the cities they defeated. Thus frequently the inhabitants would return and have to be driven out again during the second phase of the conquest.
In verses 20-63 the author gives a long list of cities in Judah’s territory. Those cities have little interest for us, but obviously they did for the original readers. They are listed according to the four districts in which they were located; namely, the southland (vv. 20-32), the lowland (vv. 33-47), the hill country (vv. 48-60), and the wilderness (vv. 61-63).
In chapter 16 we see the inheritance of the tribe of Ephraim. Ephraim of course was, along with Manasseh, a son of Joseph. But their grandfather, Jacob, adopted them as his own (Gen. 48:5-6). And thus the families of those two sons of Joseph were given a full inheritance along with the other families of the sons of Jacob (Gen. 48:8-22).
You will recall that half of the tribe of Manasseh received its inheritance on the east side of the Jordan. But the other half of Manasseh and the tribe of Ephraim, both of which were tribes of Joseph, remained to get an inheritance. Since they were both tribes of Joseph, they were given an inheritance together. That is recorded in 16:1-4. Then the boundaries of Ephraim’s portion are described in verses 5-10; and the boundaries of the half tribe of Manasseh are shown in chapter 17, verses 1-13.
Note: The reference to Manasseh as Joseph’s first born in 17:1 is given by the author to justify the giving of two portions to the tribe of Manasseh (one on the east and one on the west of the Jordan). It was standard procedure in Hebrew life to give the eldest soon two portions of the inheritance, because they had the responsibility of taking care of the parents in their old age and any unmarried sisters.
The next paragraph, 17:14-18, is the section we are going to give more attention to in this essay. As you see, the tribes of Joseph complained about their inheritance. They considered themselves to be two tribes, but they got what appeared to them to be only one portion as an inheritance. They argued that they were a numerous people who had been greatly blessed by God. And thus they needed more land.
You can see Joshua’s reply. He said, in effect, you were given enough land. If you are so numerous, go and clear the forests and make more room for yourselves.
Actually, if you look back at the second census under Moses, which is recorded in Num. 26, these tribes of Joseph together numbered about 58 or 59 thousand. Thus they were smaller than Judah, Dan and Issachar, which were 76,500, 64,400, and 64,300 respectively. So even together they deserved only an amount of territory the size of one portion.
Next, the Joseph tribes changed their argument. They argued that the Canaanites were too strong for them, because they had chariots of iron. But Joshua replied, you are a powerful people as well; so drive them out. In other words, Joshua had no sympathy. The attitude of the Joseph tribes was one of lack of confidence and faith.
Now then, we want to turn to application. And we can do that in relation to the report about the Joseph tribes in 17:14-18. Unfortunately, the lessons are negative rather than positive; but we can learn from the negative. The basic issue with the Joseph tribes, a negative issue, was that they were complaining about their inheritance in the land.
Now remember, for us the “land” symbolizes our spiritual inheritance, our experience of entire sanctification. And some Christians complain about their spiritual inheritance in the same way that the Joseph tribes groused about their physical inheritance.
First of all, they boasted about their past accomplishments. They were a people who had been greatly blessed by God. They had become numerous. And they had important connections. You may recall that Ephraim was Joshua’s tribe. So these were his relatives. And in their minds, the past blessings and their connections entitled them to a larger inheritance.
Sometimes we Christians do the same thing. Perhaps God worked a great miracle in connection with our conversion; or he put a great anointing on our preaching; or he blessed us with wonderful financial benefits; or he blessed us in some other way. And so we conclude that we are deserving of a greater inheritance, meaning greater than other Christians. So the first point regarding the Joseph tribes was that they boasted of their past accomplishments.
Second, the Joseph tribes claimed they did not have enough room to exercise their abilities. They wanted more space to grow. They wanted more “elbow room.” They wanted to be able to do more than they were doing.
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been discontented with your spiritual lot? Have you ever longed for a greater opportunity to serve the Lord? Have you ever complained that the Lord hasn’t healed you, or called you, or empowered you in the way you dreamed?
I have. The temptation to complain about the way God is or isn’t using us is constant. It is so tempting to blame God for our weaknesses and failures, because he has the ability to overcome all of that and zap us with miraculous power. But he doesn’t. And so we grouse and complain. Like the Joseph tribes we claim that we don’t have enough room to exercise our abilities.
Third, and this is the scary one from our point of view, the Joseph tribes wanted to avoid the Canaanites who were still in the land. That was a major reason for wanting more land. They didn’t want to fight the remaining Canaanites, who were strong because they had chariots of iron.
How often have you wished your circumstances were different? If only I could get away from school work, which irritates me so, or break free from my job, where there are so many problems, or get away from a certain person who is a terrible thorn in my side.
Of course the question is could the real problem be in me instead of in my schooling, or my job, or some individual? Perhaps it is not a lack of room to exercise my gifts, but rather a matter of not living to capacity where I am.
Now this is a tough question, because sometimes God leads us out of a given situation by means of problems such as these. But for others the unrest is a matter of not wanting to fight the remaining Canaanites in the land. That was certainly the case with the Joseph tribes.
Well, the solution for the Joseph tribes according to the passage was not to get a larger inheritance, or to avoid the Canaanites in the land. Rather they were told to go in there and cut down trees to make more space, and to fight the Canaanites by faith in God.
And the advice may be the same for us. First, it does us no good to try to rely on past blessings to meet today’s problems. Second, God normally does not open new avenues of ministry until we finish the work we were called to do where we are. And third, there is no magical escape from the “Canaanites” in the land.
Have we been good stewards of the grace and power that God has given us where we are? If not, be that! Are there trees, perhaps “dead wood,” blocking our vision or impeding our progress in sanctification? Cut them down! Clear it away! Are there “Canaanites” still in the land? Fight them! The only way to grow in Christ is to follow this advice. It enables us to increase our capacity to receive grace and become more like Christ.