So much of the Bible suffers neglect today, but at least one theologian has singled out for special mention one section dealing with the establishment of the children of Israel in the land of Canaan. Professor Jerome F.D. Creach, in his commentary of the Book of Joshua, states, “Joshua [chapters] 13 to 22 is undoubtedly the most neglected portion of the book. This is in part because to many readers the extensive lists of towns and territories in this section seem as empty theologically as the genealogies in Genesis or lists of temple singers in Chronicles (a judgment that itself is misguided, though it is a common one).”
This author further says that these chapters of Joshua tell us of the “profound implications for Israel’s establishment of a just society according to the ideals of the Mosaic torah.” (p.97) If our society is not based upon the principles outlined in the Word of God, then we are building upon an unstable foundation that is outside of the Divine Will and Purpose.
Joshua 13 opens with Israel’s task at hand: “Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the LORD said unto him…there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed. This is the land that yet remaineth: all the borders of the Philistines, and all Geshuri, From Sihor, which is before Egypt, even unto the borders of Ekron northward, which is counted to the Canaanite: five lords of the Philistines; the Gazathites, and the Ashdothites, the Eshkalonites, the Gittites, and the Ekronites; also the Avites: From the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that is beside the Sidonians, unto Aphek, to the borders of the Amorites: And the land of the Giblites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrising, from Baalgad under mount Hermon unto the entering into Hamath. All the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon unto Misrephothmaim, and all the Sidonians, them will I drive out from before the children of Israel: only divide thou it by lot unto the Israelites for an inheritance, as I have commanded thee.” (Verses 1-6)
The Israelites were in the process of conquering and possessing the Promised Land. God wanted to make sure that His people did not adopt the pagan ways of the heathen, so the Israelites received a command to remove them from the land. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “possessed” in verse one is “yerash,” which has a double meaning. The same word appears in verse 6, where it is translated “drive out.” Israel’s failure to do that was the ultimate cause of their adopting heathen customs and themselves removed from the land by God in the later Assyrian and Babylonian conquests.
Today, under the New Covenant, we conquer through the Gospel, and unless we convert our own children as well as the heathen in our land to faith in Christ and the Scriptures, both they and we will suffer God’s judgment for our collective national sins. This is our own most important task to ensure the survival of our Western nations in the years to come.
It is unfortunate that so much of Gospel preaching today is focused on the individual and “personal salvation.” Yet the Bible record reveals that God also deals with nations and their collective sins as a whole. We cannot be content sitting in our comfortable chairs ignoring our duty to evangelize, and feel secure because we are personally right with God—the faith and welfare of our neighbors and the nation as a whole is at stake. If God judges our nation for sin, we will all suffer as well. The sad story of Sodom and righteous Lot’s failure to find even ten virtuous people (Gen. 18:32) proved tragic for his family also (Gen. 19). The Christian poet, Isaac Watts, said this so well in verse: “Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, While others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas? Sure I must fight if I would reign; increase my courage, Lord; I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word”.
Joshua chapter 14 speaks of the division of the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel. We read, “These are the inheritances in the land of Canaan distributed to the Israelites by Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun, and the heads of the fathers’ houses of their tribes. Their inheritance was by lot, as the Lord commanded Moses, for the nine and one-half tribes. For Moses had given an inheritance to the two and one-half tribes beyond the Jordan, but to the Levites he gave no inheritance among them, For the people of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim. And no part was given in the land to the Levites except cities in which to live, with their pasturelands for their livestock and for their possessions. As the Lord commanded Moses, so the Israelites did, and they divided the land.” (Verses 1-5)
The Bible makes it clear in numerous places that Joseph was the birthright tribe and therefore received a double inheritance divided between his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and their descendants. The birthright was never lost, misplaced, cancelled or given away to anyone, including to the tribe of Judah. In the Bible, the tribe of Judah never legally received sole right of inheritance in Palestine. In fact, it was fulfilled prophecy when Great Britain inherited the land of Palestine in 1918, and administered it in justice and righteousness for thirty years before being mistakenly convinced that they had no right to it. Should Ephraim and Manasseh have birthright leadership and a double portion of inheritance in Palestine today?
Chapter 15, verse one, tells us “the lot for the tribe of Judah according to its families reached southward to the boundary of Edom, to the Wilderness of Zin at its most southern part.” Judah later conquered and absorbed Edom. The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, published in 1992, tells us, “The Edomites were conquered by John Hyrcanus who forcibly converted them to Judaism, and from then on they constituted a part of the Jewish people, Herod being one of their descendants.” (p. 288) Unlike Judah, the Edomites had no covenant right of inheritance in the land of Palestine.
Chapter 16 concerns “The allotment for the people of Joseph…” (v. 1), and chapter 17 begins by recording, “Allotment was made for the tribe of Manasseh, for he was the firstborn of Joseph.” We might think that being the firstborn was of minor importance, for was not Judah the only tribe of significance? Not so, as we read, “But Joshua said to the house of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh—‘You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment, but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours…” (Verses 17-18) This allotment is a prophetic indication that the tribes of Joseph—Ephraim and Manasseh—would spread to the farthest limits of the earth. Was this fulfilled in history by the British Empire, of which it was said, “the sun never set” upon?
The divisions and settlement of the tribes of Israel are not just old outdated history. Our Bibles include all of this information because it has prophetic significance. Turning once more to the New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, under its entry for “Ephraim,” we read, “The prophets later spoke of the House of Judah and the House of Ephraim as representing the two branches of the Hebrew people.” Let us heed the words of the prophets and ask: Where are these two branches of God’s people today?