March 15 Reading: Joshua 16-18 Commentary

Below is our Joshua 16-18 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.

Key Verse(s):

“And it happened, when the children of Israel grew strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out.” (Josh. 17:13)

Joshua 16 – Land for Ephraim

commentaryThe next in line after Judah to receive the land allotment were the tribes of the children of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. In this case, the individual lot west of the Jordan fell to both tribes (v. 1). They had to divide the individual lot between them. We will see in Chap. 17 that this caused some tension for Joshua to deal with.

One interesting note about the land granted to Ephraim is seen in verse 9. It seems that some cities Ephraim inherited were located in land assigned to Manasseh. We do not know why this occurred. However, it may have something to do with Jacob’s favorable blessing on Ephraim in Genesis 48.

We also read that Ephraim was unable to drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer. The Ephraimites instead committed them to forced labor (v. 10).

Joshua 17 – Land for Manasseh West

As part of the lot to Joseph’s son, Manasseh received land west of the Jordan just north of Ephraim. Next to Judah, their land was the largest allotment west of the Jordan.

Some notes in this section that are noteworthy:

1. Manasseh’s firstborn son, Machir, had already received his inheritance east of the Jordan (see Josh. 13:29-31).

2. Joshua carried out Moses instructions to give the daughters of Zelophehad an inheritance in the new land (vv. 3-6). If you recall, he had no sons and his daughters petitioned Moses to grant them land so their family name would not die (see Num. 26:33; 27:1-11).

3. Like Ephraim, Manasseh inherited cities located in land of other tribes (Issachar and Asher) (v. 11).

Could Not Drive Them Out

Several times in the narrative of the distribution of land to the tribes in Joshua 15-21 we read that certain tribes did not entirely drive out the inhabitants of the land. An example is found with Manasseh in Josh. 17:13 – “And it happened, when the children of Israel grew strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out.” It seems the Canaanites simply wanted the space more than Israel, as they are said to be “…determined to dwell in the land.” (v. 12)

The disappointing thing is that they could have been driven out. And the fact that Israel let some of the inhabitants of the land stay instead of driving them out would cost them later. These remnants became the thorn in the side of the children of Israel so to speak. They would be the rotten spot in the apple, as their evil ways infiltrated and impacted Israel for years to come. They had a negative influence on God’s people and caused them to turn away from the Lord on many occasions. 

Had Israel done completely what the Lord commanded them to do by driving them out of the land, their influence would not have been an issue. 

We Need More Land

Evidently the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh felt like they needed more room. They came to Joshua and said, “Why have you given us only one lot and one share to inherit, since we are a great people, inasmuch as the Lord has blessed us until now?” (v. 14).

Joshua offers them a solution. But his answer turns it back on them saying, If you are a great people, then go up to the forest country and clear a place for yourself there in the land of the Perizzites and the giants, since the mountains of Ephraim are too confined for you” (v. 15). In other words, take the initiative (like Caleb had done at Hebron – Josh. 14:6-15; 15:13-19) and go claim it for yourselves.

They didn’t seem to like that answer very much, claiming that the Canaanites who dwell in that land had chariots of iron. It’s hard to tell if these are legitimate questions or if they are whining because they didn’t want to fight for the land. It comes across as being more of the latter.

Either way, Joshua encouraged them to go take the hill country for themselves. They could be successful whether or not they had chariots or not because God was with them.

Joshua 18 – Go Divide the Land

We learn in Josh. 18:1 that the whole congregation of Israel had assembled at Shiloh and that they had set up the tabernacle. Originally, they had encamped at Gilgal, near Jericho. Shiloh was about 15 miles northwest of Jericho. For several hundred more years (until the reign of David when he took Jerusalem) it would remain an important religious center for the people. In fact, the ark of the covenant was kept at Shiloh (I Sam. 3:3).

The land had been subdued at this point. However, there were seven tribes who had not received their inheritance (v. 2). Joshua is not happy with this situation saying, How long will you neglect to go and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers has given you? Pick out from among you three men for each tribe, and I will send them; they shall rise and go through the land, survey it according to their inheritance, and come back to me” (vv. 3-4). 

It was not enough to conquer the land. They also had to possess it. At this point, they had not followed up their victories by permanently occupying the land. Some of the tribes seemed content to stay in the group at Shiloh. Whether it was fear, apathy or laziness, their failure was disobedience to God’s command in Josh. 13:1.

So Joshua charged the 21 men (three from each of the remaining seven tribes) to survey the rest of the land (v. 8). They wrote the survey in a book (v. 9) and brought it to Joshua. He cast lots in Shiloh to determine which tribe received which portion of land (v. 10). The casting of lots was a way to leave the matter (decision) in God’s hands.

Land for Benjamin

The survey and the casting of the lots is found in Josh. 18:11 – 19:51.

The tribe of Benjamin received a small portion just north of Judah with one of its boundaries being the Jordan River to the east. It included 14 cities among them being Gibeon (the people who had tricked Joshua into a treaty – Josh. 9), Jericho (which was not to be rebuilt – Josh. 6:26) and Jerusalem (the future capital under King David – II Sam. 5).

(Map image courtesy of Richardprins, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Questions to Consider:

What things in your life are you letting linger around instead of dealing with them? Is there sin you are not confessing and turning from? How is that impacting your relationship with the Lord? 

What are you willing to fight for? 

What other points would you want to know about in our Joshua 16-18 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.