ALLOTMENT OF THE LAND Joshua 13–21
“Their inheritances were assigned by lot” (Josh. 14:2).The Bible says, “So the Lord gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their forefathers” (21:43). The struggle may be long. But the fruit of victory is sweet.
Definition of Key Terms
The land was distributed by casting lots. We would say “throwing dice.” No chance was involved, for God Himself governed the fall of the lots (cf. Prov. 16:33). This method was also used within the tribes to determine each family’s holdings. From this point on, each Israelite saw his family farm as a gift given him directly by the Lord. The family land was not to be sold, but to be treasured forever as a heritage from God. In Psalm 16:6 David used the imagery of allotment to express appreciation for the role God had given him in life. As we contemplate God’s goodness to us in Christ, David’s words might well become our own. “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
Joshua listed land occupied east of the Jordan (13:1–33). He carefully described territory occupied by the nine and a half remaining tribes in Canaan proper (14:1–19:51). Cities of refuge were established (20:1–9), and the Levites were given cities within the borders of the other tribes (21:1–45).
Understanding the Text
“Still very large areas of land to be taken over” Josh. 13:1. The power of the Canaanites had been broken by the power of united Israel. But there were still pockets of resistance in each area allotted to the various tribes. The Israelite population was not large enough to fill the whole land. Each tribe was responsible to take additional land as its population grew. “I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly” Josh. 14:1–15. Among the lists of tribes and cities a very personal story is nestled. Caleb was 1 of the 12 spies who had scouted Canaan some 45 years earlier (cf. Num. 13–14). Only he and Joshua had urged Israel to trust God and invade Canaan then. Now, at 85, Caleb still actively trusted God. He asked for a parcel of land still occupied by an especially warlike people, the Anakites, and confidently said, “The Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as He said.” One of the gifts God gave me as a young Christian was the privilege of being in a church where the older men were models of just the kind of faith Caleb had. How fortunate we are to know the Calebs of today. Too often we tend to segregate older believers from our young. Yet the young people in our churches need to be exposed to godly older men and women. “They . . . did not drive them out completely” Josh. 17:13. Despite victory, indications of future disaster appeared among the tribes of Israel. There was disobedience. When the population of Manassah grew, the tribe subdued several Canaanite towns in its territory. But rather than drive these people out as God had commanded, the Manassites enslaved them. There was a failure to trust. When challenged to take the extra land the tribal members claimed they needed, they responded, “All the Canaanites who live in the plain have iron chariots” (v. 16). Despite the unbroken record of military victories won with God’s aid, iron chariots blocked this tribe’s vision of God. Past spiritual victories are no guarantee our faith will remain strong. We need to concentrate each day on obeying and trusting God. “Flee to these designated cities” Josh. 20:1–9. This is the third major passage on the cities of refuge, to which someone who killed another person accidentally might flee (cf. Num. 35; Deut. 19). A general principle of biblical interpretation is that anything repeated twice is very significant. Here we have a topic that is treated at length in three Old Testament passages. This clearly shows the importance God places on protecting the innocent when dealing with criminal matters. We need to be careful that in our concern for justice we do not violate the rights of the innocent. Joshua 20. The towns given priests and Levites were scattered through territories given the other Israelite tribes. The priests and Levites had been commissioned to teach God’s Law. Every family in Israel was to be near to those who could instruct them in God’s ways.
Time to Let Go (Josh. 19:49–51)
It’s hard to imagine Joshua relaxing under an olive tree or tending vines on a terraced hillside behind his house. He’s such an active and dynamic person. Neither generals nor spiritual leaders seem to be candidates for retirement. Still, with the victories won and the land divided, Joshua settled down on his own inheritance. The Bible says he received the town of Timnath Serah, and “built up the town and settled there.” Actually, Joshua’s retirement wasn’t simply a well-merited reward for his decades of exemplary service. Joshua was retired for the benefit of Israel! Why? When the people of Manasseh needed more land (Josh. 17), they hurried to Joshua and complained. Joshua told them, “Clear land for yourselves.” The Manassites argued, fearful because the Canaanites had chariots of iron. They wanted Joshua to fight their battles for them. But Joshua wisely said, “Though the Canaanites have iron chariots and though they are strong, you can drive them out.” That last phrase is the key. “You can drive them out.” It was time for Israel to stop depending on Joshua and to step out on their own. Manasseh, and all the other tribes, needed to trust God for themselves. Joshua’s wisdom in retiring is a lesson each of us needs to apply. We need to apply it as our children grow up, and especially when they leave home. We can encourage them. But we need to stop doing everything for them. Counselors need to apply the lesson in their relationship with counselees. Spiritual leaders need to apply it in their relationship with a congregation, an organization, or with disciples. There comes a time when each of us needs to step down and tell those we have nurtured, “You can drive them out. It’s time for me to retire. And time to learn what God can do for and through you.”
In what relationships do you need to retire and let others be responsible for themselves?