Good morning. Last Sunday we covered 2 ½ chapters in a single message as we summarized all of the remaining battles of the conquest. Israel’s invasion of and war against Canaan lasted for almost 7 years. In the end, some 31 kings were defeated by Joshua and the Israelites were victorious.
This week we are going to make an even larger leap… Today’s sermon will cover 7 chapters! We will do a quick overview of chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, & 19. These chapters describe the division of Canaan among the 12 tribes after the conquest ended. These chapters include lengthy and detailed descriptions of tribal boundaries, cities, and so forth. We will not dive deeply into these issues. Nevertheless, it is important for us to have a basic understanding of how the Promised Land was apportioned.
I. THE TRANS-JORDAN TRIBES & LEVI (Joshua 13)
Under Joshua’s leadership, the united army of Israel made up of men from all 12 tribes conquered the land of Canaan. However, once the conquest was complete, large portions of the land were still yet to be possessed. Regions such as Philistia in the southwest along the Mediterranean coast and Lebanon in the far north were still populated with various Canaanite people groups. Nevertheless, God instructed Joshua to go ahead and divide the land among the remaining 9 ½ tribes of Israel. Each tribe would be individually responsible for driving out any Canaanites or other occupants remaining in their allotted territory.
As for the 2 ½ tribes who settled beyond the Jordan River, their inheritance had already been assigned by Moses prior to the conquest. Just as in Canaan, there were still remnants of adversarial people groups living in these regions. The trans-Jordan tribes never completely drove them out, but allowed some to remain and live in their midst including the Geshurites and Maacathites.
The tribe of Reuben settled in an area that had formerly been held by the Ammonites northeast of the Dead Sea. The tribe of Gad dwelt north of Reuben in the lands of Gilead and those formerly held by the Amorites, along the eastern shore of the Jordan River. The half-tribe of Manasseh resided north of Gad, in the land that had formerly been known as Bashan to the east of the Sea of Chinnereth and Lake Hulah.
As for the tribe of Levi, it was not given a specific territory to possess. The Levites had been chosen as the priestly tribe that was responsible for the tabernacle of God. Due to its special designation and religious role, the tribe of Levi would be spread out among all of the other tribes.
II. CALEB’S REQUEST & JUDAH (Joshua 14 & 15)
Caleb approached Joshua to remind him of a promise that Moses had made during the exodus some 45 years earlier. Caleb and Joshua (both much younger at the time) were among the 12 spies that Moses originally sent from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the Promised Land. They were the only 2 of the 12 that believed that Israel could defeat the Canaanites. Although they were outvoted, God allowed them to survive the wilderness wanderings while everyone else of their generation died. Moses promised to give Caleb an inheritance of his own in the hill country of southern Canaan (where the spies had traveled). Now, all these years later, Caleb asked Joshua to keep Moses’ promise.
Caleb’s request was made at Gilgal, either during or after the conquest of Canaan. Joshua had already destroyed Hebron and Debir and killed all of their inhabitants during Israel's southern campaign. It seems logical to me that the mighty Anakim living in these cities would have been annihilated at the same time, not spared to be eliminated later. However, the Bible seems to suggest that the removal of the Anakim took place after the conquest ended. Ultimately, Caleb was given the city of Hebron as his inheritance and was accredited for driving out the Anakim there (notably Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai,). Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, was accredited for capturing the nearby city of Debir and driving out the Anakim there. As the result of his heroism, Caleb gave his daughter Achsah to Othniel as a wife.
Joshua, Eleazar the high priest, and other prominent leaders began to apportion the Promised Land among the remaining 9 ½ tribes. Judah was the first to receive its inheritance. The tribe of Judah was the most prominent of the Hebrew tribes and was given the largest area of land. It stretched north-to-south from Jerusalem to Kadesh-barnea and east-to-west from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea. The Bible lists 115 cities that were located in Judah (including Hebron and Debir, which were associated with Caleb and Othniel). However, the tribe of Judah was unable to expel the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem.
III. THE REMAINING TRIBES (Joshua 16-19)
Following Judah, the sons of Joseph were the next to receive their inheritance. The tribe of Ephraim was given the land immediately north of Judah and the remaining ½ tribe of Manassah was given land immediately north of Ephraim. Together, these 2 allotments covered most of central Canaan stretching from the Sea of Chinnereth to the Dead Sea. Neither Ephraim or Manassah drove out all of the remaining Canaanites in their territories, but rather subjected them to forced labor. They complained that their allotments were too small. Joshua advised them to drive out the Canaanites in the forests of the hill country, to clear the area of trees, and to settle there also.
The whole congregation of Israel assembled at Shiloh, a city within the borders of Ephraim. The tabernacle was set up in Shiloh, where it would remain for over 350 years throughout the era of the judges. Joshua formed a team of men from the remaining 7 tribes and sent them out to survey the land that had yet to be apportioned. When they returned, lots were cast and the land was divided based upon the descriptions these surveyors had recorded.
The first lot fell to Benjamin, who received an inheritance that was carved out between Judah and Ephraim. It contained 26 named cities, most notably Jerusalem which sat on the border between it and Judah and was considered a city of both tribes. Second was Simeon, whose inheritance was taken from the excessive southern desert lands previously given to Judah. It contained 19 named cities. Third was Zebulun with 12 cities, fourth was Issachar with 16 cities, fifth was Asher with 22 cities, and sixth was Naphtali with 19 cities. These 4 tribal allotments bordered each other and were located in northern Canaan, west of the Sea of Chinneroth and Lake Hulah.
The seventh and final lot fell to the tribe of Dan. They were given an area on the Mediterranean coastline overlapping the borders of Philistia. The Danites were woefully unable to drive out the Philistines and felt squeezed in the small portion of their allotment that remained. For this reason, the tribe of Dan began seeking another territory for itself and eventually relocated in the extreme north of Israel toward Sidon. We will read about their move northward later in this series. As for Joshua, he settled in Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. Thus, the land was divided.
Every tribe was given its own inheritance - a place just for them. These territorial allotments were to become their eternal homeland. As we wrap up this morning, I am reminded of Jesus’ promise to give each of us our own dwelling place. Jesus spoke about the many rooms in his Father’s house that He was going to prepare just for us (John 14:2-3). These are to be our inheritance - our eternal homes in the glorious Promised Land of heaven. Have you reserved your inheritance yet? Have you trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the salvation of your soul?