God’s promise to Israel comes to fruition when the tribes are allotted their respective portions of the promised land. In this triumphant moment, the faith of various individuals is highlighted, including Joshua and Caleb. But we also see hints of failure among the tribes.
We’re going to cover several chapters of Joshua in this study, so you need to buckle your seatbelt.
This is one of those sections of Scripture you might think doesn’t offer much for the New Testament believer. But there are powerful lessons here about God and the people of God.
We have already seen in chapter 13 the land portions allotted to Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh back over on the east side of the Jordan River. Then we saw in chapter 14 that Caleb requested his special allotment in Hebron. He’s eighty-five years old and not slowing down. I picture Caleb driving a hundred miles an hour with the windows down.
We are in Joshua 15, where all the land portions are described for each of the remaining tribes of Israel; and first up is the tribe of Judah. Now this is Caleb’s tribe. You might wonder why Caleb’s allotment of Hebron was announced before the tribe of Judah’s allotment, which included Hebron. Well, the Lord obviously wanted to spotlight this man of faith who dared to take on the giants living in this region.
Judah is Israel’s largest tribe and ultimately the most significant as the royal, messianic tribe. And all of chapter 15 here is devoted to describing the land given to Judah.
By the way, as you read through these descriptions of land inheritances from God, it’s important to keep in mind that this surveyor’s report is a record of a lasting gift. This is going to become their forever home one day—their permanent dwelling place—when Christ returns.
I love the description here in verse 12: “This is the boundary around the people of Judah according to their clans.” There’s this sense that they are surrounded by the goodness of God. It’s another way of saying that God knows exactly where they are, just as God today knows exactly where you live and work.
In verse 14, Caleb gets special mention; it says, “And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak.” These were three giants in the land.
I imagine Joshua throwing in that little comment to remind Israel that if eighty-five-year-old Caleb can do it, they can too. Caleb didn’t have faith in himself; he had faith in the power of God. PQ
Caleb has set his sights on a city called Debir. He wants to incentivize the younger generation to get involved in this fight of faith, so he offers his daughter in marriage to the man who will capture this city.
A young man named Othniel has already spotted Caleb’s daughter; and he’s evidently been thinking to himself, That’s the kind of woman I want to marry, but how in the world am I ever going to win her when she has a father like Caleb? Well, now’s his chance. Othniel steps forward in verse 17 and not only captures this city but also wins his bride. And following this victory, we’re given a long list of the Canaanite cities here in chapter 15 that will be conquered and occupied by the tribe of Judah.
I wish we could end chapter 15 with nothing but good news. But there’s some bad news in here, and it’s introduced in the last verse of the chapter with that little word but—“But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out” (verse 63). In the midst of all these victories, this one failure is cataloged, and it’s going to come back to haunt them, as we will see later on.
In chapter 16, the tribes of Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, are featured. You might remember how Grandpa Jacob adopted these two sons of Joseph, effectively giving Joseph a double portion of his inheritance (Genesis 48:5-6).
So here you find Joseph’s allotment given to the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Now remember that half the tribe of Manasseh has already settled on the east side of the Jordan River. The other half of the tribe has moved into the promised land along with the tribe of Ephraim.
Then again, we’re given a little nagging, troubling detail in verse 10:
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.
When we arrive at chapter 17, we are given some wonderful examples of faith among the tribe of Manasseh. The spotlight shines first on a warrior who trusts the Lord in battle. Then we are shown the faith of five daughters from one family who step forward to claim an inheritance from God.
But once again we read that little storm-cloud of a statement in verses 12-13:
Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out.
Another example of failure is described in verses 14-18, where the people of Joseph come to Joshua to complain that their inheritance of land isn’t big enough. But Joshua cuts to the chase and says to them in verse 15, “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves.” In other words, stop complaining and start chopping down some trees to make room for your people.
The problem really isn’t trees that are in the way but the iron chariots of the Canaanites. Had they trusted the Lord and marched out in faith, the Lord could have made those Canaanite chariots look like tricycles, for they were nothing to God.
In Joshua 18:1, we read, “Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there.” This is an exciting moment.
Up to this point, the tabernacle has been at Gilgal, with God’s presence in that awesome pillar of smoke by day and pillar of fire by night. The reason they can set up the tabernacle at Shiloh is given to us in verse 1, which says, “The land lay subdued before them.” In other words, the major military alliances of the Canaanites have been defeated.
The erection of the tabernacle at Shiloh also reminded the people to keep pursuing their inheritance from God.
I’ve actually stood there at Shiloh at the very place where the tabernacle once stood and where archeologists have identified foundation stones for the columns that supported the tabernacle. I just thought to myself that this is the very place where God’s glory was revealed; this was the place where Joshua worshiped; this was where Samuel grew up and ran around as a little boy. What a special place.
Now after all the tribes of Israel have received their lands in chapters 18 and 19, we come to the end of chapter 19, where Joshua is given the opportunity to choose any city he wants. This is surprising here, because Joshua does not choose some prize city; he chooses a broken-down little town in the mountainous territory of Ephraim. He will rebuild this town and settle his family here.
Beloved, Joshua was one of Israel’s wisest leaders. He was a military genius and courageous warrior, dependent on the strength of God. And now here, near the end of his leadership, he’s going to make a humble choice and serve others rather than himself.
We all could stand to be a lot more like Joshua.