Dividing the Land - Part Three
THEME: The Division Completed
This week’s lessons teach us about God’s faithfulness in settling each of Israel’s tribes in their territories, and what our response needs to be toward his directing of our lives.
Once Joshua had made settlement of the frontier areas, he moved into the center of the land and began the second stage of the distribution, which we have in chapters 18 and 19. There are seven tribes remaining. Because Benjamin was a very small tribe, he gave Benjamin a relatively small territory. Ephraim was to the north, and Judah was to the south. And Benjamin is the tribe that filled in that little narrow area in between. But though a small area, it contained important cities. This was where Jericho had been located, as well as Ai, Bethel, and Gibeon. Jerusalem was just to the south of Benjamin, which meant that the people had easy access to the city, which went on to become a great capital of the country. Later on, Benjamin’s location to the tribe of Judah and Jerusalem was very important, spiritually speaking. At the time of the civil war, when the northern tribes separated from the southern tribes, Benjamin stayed with Judah in the south. The northern tribes fell into idolatry quicker because they were cut off from the worship in Jerusalem.
In the nineteenth chapter we’re told about Simeon. There’s an interesting feature of Simeon’s allotment, which we see when we link it up with the prophecy of his father that we have recorded in Genesis 49. When Simeon was judged for his wickedness, along with his brother, Levi, in attacking and murdering the Shechemites, Jacob said that neither of these two brothers would have territory, but instead they would be scattered throughout the land. That is now being fulfilled.
But we notice when we come to these chapters of the actual allotment of the land that it was fulfilled in a most gracious way. It's true that Simeon didn't actually have territory of its own. It begins by saying that its lot came out of the territory of Judah. Judah was to the south and had its big territory. And they sort of said to the people of Simeon that they could live there within Judah’s territory. As we follow the various references to this tribe throughout the Old Testament we have the feeling that they moved around from place to place. They didn't always have well-settled communities of their own, but they were nevertheless given a place to live. So the judgment, though it was a serious judgment on Simeon, was fulfilled in a gracious way by God.
The same thing was true of Levi. The tribe of Levi did not receive a tribal territory at all, but were made priests. The people of Levi were settled throughout the land in 38 priestly cities. So although they didn't have tribal territory, they were apportioned throughout the land to represent God and to teach all the tribes about Him. Just like in the case of Simeon, the judgment upon Levi actually became a great blessing in how God handled things. They were blessed themselves by being called to the priesthood, and they became a blessing to other people, too.
Zebulun was a bit to the north. There are four tribes here that are actually settled to the north of Ephraim. Ephraim had the northern territory along with the tribe of Manasseh, half on one side of the Jordan, and half on the other. Issachar is given territory up there next to Zebulun as well. These two sons, Zebulun and Issachar, were the ninth and tenth sons of Jacob. They were the fifth and sixth sons of Leah, and as younger siblings, compared to the first four who were born earlier, they had probably been particularly close. That relationship might be reflected in the two tribes getting placed side by side in the distribution of the land.
The next one mentioned is Ashur. Ashur received the territory along the coast running up toward Tyre and Sidon. It was very fertile land, but it had its dangers because it brought them into contact with the Gentile cities and the Gentile influences of that portion of Canaan. Naphtali had the territory around the Sea of Galilee. This was a territory where at a later date you had Cana, Bethsaida, Capernaum, and all those places we know from the story of our Lord in the Gospels. Isaiah refers to this territory in chapter 9 of his prophecy, which is talking about the coming of the Messiah. He refers to Zebulun and Naphtali as “Galilee of the Gentiles.” He said, "A great blessing is going to be given to them because upon them hath the light shined."
Then there’s a reference to Dan, the last of these tribes to receive its territory. It was given territory down where the Philistines had settled. Some of these Philistine cities were powerful, and we’re told that the Danites had trouble driving the people out. We also know that later in the time of the Judges, the Philistines are still there and they cause a great deal of trouble for the people.
After they had finished all of this distribution, a portion of the land was given to Joshua himself. He had carried this work through to the end, and he had asked for the town of Timnath-serah, in the hill country of Ephraim, since that was his tribe. The section ends by saying, "These are the territories that Eliezer the priest, Joshua, son of Nun, and the heads of the tribal clans of Israel assigned by lot at Shiloh in the presence of the Lord at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting." It was all done, you see, very precisely and formally.
- We have already seen that the first stage of settlement concerned Israel’s frontiers. What area does the second stage cover?
- What do we learn about the significance of Benjamin’s location?
- Why do the tribes of Simeon and Levi not receive an allotment? What gracious thing does God do for each of them here in Joshua?
- Where else in Scripture is the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali mentioned? What is this passage talking about?
From the lesson we see that the division of the land was carried out in a very precise way. When in your life have you seen God putting important events together so precisely that you could clearly see him powerfully at work?