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In Joshua 13-21 we have the divine landowner, the king of the land, YHWH (The LORD) God, dividing up the land that He controls.  The key vocabulary word in the whole is “to divide.”  Actually, the main point of each section in Joshua is very easy to see by observing repeated words as with this one. These chapters are very much a unit and “to divide” is the unifying word and theme.  And like the instructions for building the tabernacle and the description of its building in Exodus (not to mention the genealogies in Genesis), Joshua 13-21 is often skimmed by those reading their Bibles.  As you may imagine, if you have read my posts on Genesis, for example, that means I think this is much more interesting than a simple skimming reveals.

One of the most interesting aspects of the chapter is how it shows that worship is at the center even though the whole section is about dividing the land.  Seeing “worship at the center” as the focus is fairly easy to see when looking at the chiastic structure of the passage.

chiasm_of_joshua_13-21_passageWe know that the chiasm is intentional because Caleb and Joshua do not get their inheritances at the same time but at parallel points.  Caleb is identified with the tribe of Judah and Joshua of the people of Joseph (the tribe of Ephraim).  They received special inheritances because of their faith in the face of the giants they had seen in the land as spies.  The center of these chapters then is WORSHIP.  The text is structured to remind us to keep worship at the center.  Since the first half of the book was about worship, it should not surprise us to find it at the center of the second half too.  So at the center of the structure Israel gathered at the tent of meeting at Shiloh and cast lots to determine what land each remaining tribe would receive.  This is like dividing land between the heirs of an estate – Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh already had theirs allotted, Joseph and Judah were determined by other circumstances, and so that leaves the rest of the tribes by lot.

The matter of the land inheritance is underappreciated in our own context.  Some of this because of the emphasis on heaven made by many Christians today and some of this simply because of the reality that the idea is so large now that the Promised Land is the whole of the visible cosmos as well as the invisible heavens since Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Nevertheless, this is an incredibly important concern from Genesis forward in Scripture.  Some of the reason that this is underappreciated is certain theological trends in recent times that have neglected the fact that it is the meek who will inherit the earth.  These theological trends assert instead that we get to leave the earth and go to heaven when Scripture clearly teaches consistently that we will not abandon the earth to the ungodly forever but that the earth will be transformed (baptized with fire) and the heavens come down.  Thus the emphasis of Scripture on an inheritance on this earth is not an empty idea.  To be sure, they were looking forward to a better city.  But that city will come down and renew the earth.  Thus it is of great importance to the patriarchs to be buried not just anywhere but in the Promised Land and within it in land that they already owned.  And it is still of importance to us that not only do we have a place prepared for us in heaven until Jesus returns but that we have an inheritance in the new heavens and earth.  And this means that we ought to make a difference on the earth.  This inheritance is the promise of God.  The purpose of the whole section also is to show that God keeps His promises.  “Not one word of all the good promises that YHWH had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (21:45). 

With all that by way of background, it is worth seeing that the question was, “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which YHWH, the God of your fathers, has given you?” (18:3).  The first indication that there was more land to yet conquer, after the impression that chapters 10-12 gave of a complete conquest, is in the opening of chapter 13.  YHWH said to Joshua, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess.  This is the land that yet remains: all the regions of the Philistines,” Geshurites, Avvim, etc.  Thus the land was to be allotted and each tribe was to finish the conquest (i.e. take possession) within their allotment.  Except that, of course, the tribe of Levi received no inheritance because YHWH God of Israel is their inheritance, just as He said to them (cf. 13:33).  Though also the tribe of Israel received no inheritance because “the offerings by fire to YHWH God of Israel are their inheritance, as He said to them” (13:14b).  The third way it is put is, “The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of YHWH is their heritage” (18:7a).

Many of the narrative ‘interruptions’ (if you will) in this land allotment follow the same pattern: a confrontation establishing the characters involved, would-be grantees make a case for a land grant, the land is granted, and a summary is given.  You can see this by reading the narratives regarding Caleb (14:6-15), Caleb’s daughter Acsah (15:18-19), the daughters of Zelophehad (17:3-6), Joseph (17:14-18), and the Levites (21:1-3).

Caleb came to Joshua and recounted the episode of spying out the land in this way: “I was forty years old when Moses the servant of YHWH sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart.  But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed YHWH my God.  And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed YHWH my God” (14:7-9).  Caleb then notes that it has been 45 years since YHWH spoke this word to Moses.  This would put Caleb at 85 years old.  And even though he was old, he says, “I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming.  So now give me this hill country of which YHWH spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great and fortified cities.  It may be that YHWH will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as YHWH said” (14:11-12).

So Caleb is still a man of great faith.  He takes an inheritance that had once been inhabited by giants that he will have to dispossess.  The text says, “Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed YHWH, the God of Israel” (14:14).  The importance of “wholly following” YHWH is emphasized because not only was it on the lips of Caleb but also in this verse written by the editor.  We know this ending is by an editor because it says “to this day” (and means a later day than that of Joshua’s) and then the text goes on to explain that Hebron used to be called Kiriath-arba and that Arba was the greatest of the Anakim.  This is no surprise to us since the giants are a particular fascination of the editor of Deuteronomy.  The section on Caleb ends, “And the land had rest from war.”  This was part of the point that the whole of 13-21 is making, “YHWH gave them rest on every side just as He had sworn to their fathers…” (21:44).  The point is that they are dispossessing people who either were giants or descended from giants.  This fascination with giants also shows up in the chapter about the TransJordan inheritance – concerning Og there is an aside “(he alone was left of the remnant of the Rephaim).”

The giving of “Kiriath-arba, that is, Hebron (Arba was the father of Anak)” to Caleb is then repeated in the allotment for Judah.  In fact, the giving of Hebron to Caleb determined that this was the lot Judah would receive.  The text continues by noting, “Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak” (15:14).  And after defeating these descendants of the giant Caleb went against Debir and promised his daughter to the one who captured it.

Next is the tribes of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh.  We see in the text that the daughters of Zelophehad receive their inheritance along with their brothers.  These were of the tribe of Manasseh.  The lot that the half-tribe of Manasseh would receive is predetermined in that it must border the other half of the tribe that received land in the TransJordan area.  The people of Joseph were particularly noteworthy in this text.  They said to Joshua, also from their people, “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, although I am a numerous people, since all along YHWH has blessed me?”  The point that they make is that they are too large for the allotment they were given.  So Joshua gave them a particularly challenging territory to finish conquering.  The land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim (giants) and the Canaanites who dwelled in one plain had chariots of iron (17:15-18).  Earlier the editor had noted about their inheritance, “However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor” (16:10).

Other such similar statements include, “Yet the people did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day” (13:13) and “But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day” (15:63).  King David is the one who finally conquered them, but they were not killed.  The editor’s “to this day” statements then are dated at least to the days of King David if not later.

Also remember to compare Joshua 15:63 and Judges 1:21.  Joshua 15:63 says, “But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day.”  Judges 1:21 says, “But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.”  Jerusalem was one of the cities of Benjamin (Joshua 15:28) and more loosely speaking of Judah – it was a border city.

Joshua 18-19 has the feel of the Genesis genealogy of the nations (the table of nations in Gen 10).  Each section, except the first one, in chapter 19 ends, “This is the inheritance of the people of ______, according to their clans – these cities with their villages.”  Benjamin in chapter 18 ended with a similar phrase.  This highlights Simeon, which was given an inheritance within the territory of Judah because the portion of the people of Judah was too large for them (19:9).  This was the opposite problem to the people of Joseph as we saw earlier.

The inheritance for Dan gives us a narrative account, as follows, “When the territory of the people of Dan was lost to them, the people of Dan went up and fought against Leshem, and after capturing it and striking it with the sword they took possession of it and settled in it, calling Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor” (19:47).  Leshem is a Hebrew play on the word “name.”  More about the founding of the city of Dan when we get to Judges 18.  Judges 18:29 says, “And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first.”  These passages are talking about the same event.

One of the three cities designated as a city of refuge in the land of Canaan (where you would flee if you unintentionally or accidentally killed someone) is “Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron)” that was the city belonging to Caleb.  The chapter also mentions the three designated as cities of refuge in the TransJordan territory.  The heroes of Numbers – Caleb, Joshua and Eleazar – all figure prominently in this book.  It is not an accident that of the cities then given to the priests the first mentioned by name is “Kiriath-arba (Arba being the father of Anak), that is Hebron, in the hill country of Judah, along with the pasturelands around it.  But the fields of the city and its villages hand been given to Caleb the son of Jephunneh as his possession” (21:11-12).  The text continues, “And to the descendants of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron, the city of refuge for the manslayer, with its pasturelands…” (21:13).  The text follows an easy to discern pattern that is summed up in 21:41-42 this way: “The cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the people of Israel were in all forty-eight cities with their pasturelands.  These cities each had its pasturelands around it.  So it was with all these cities.”

It is worth noting that there are a total of 14 tribal lists (a significant number because 7×2=14) in Joshua 13-21 (including Levi) because Joseph’s inheritance was split three ways: Ephraim, E. Manasseh and W. Manasseh.  This too is not an accident but intentional. 

This section of Scripture lays out the background for a great many of the events recorded in Judges.  We will still be talking about Caleb’s daughter in Judges, the founding of the city of Dan is told in more detail in Judges, we already saw the difference between Joshua 15:63 and Judges 1:21, and much much more.  These chapters actually presuppose some of the events that will be recorded later also in Judges and thus are helpful for us to get familiar with now, even if they are chapters that we are inclined to skim because of our modern biases, not least of which is our bias against these kinds of texts (the king-landowner dividing the land) which would have been incredibly significant and celebrated in an ANE context. 

For now, note the way the whole section ends: “Thus YHWH gave to Israel all the land that He swore to give to their fathers.  And they took possession of it, and they settled there.  And YHWH gave them rest on every side just as He had sworn to their fathers.  Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for YHWH had given all their enemies into their hands.  Not one word of all the good promises that YHWH had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (21:43-45).