Dividing the Land - Part Two
THEME: The Sovereign God
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.
Now you have to think about that geographically. Israel has three frontiers. They’re protected, of course, on the west by the Mediterranean. So the frontiers they have to defend are to the north, south, and east. From the north is where most of the invasions of the land came later in Israel's history. That's the way the Assyrians and the Babylonians came. From the south is where anyone moving up from Egypt in that direction would attack. And from the eastern frontier often came the tribal people, the wandering Bedouin and marauders. This was the direction from which Israel came when they themselves attacked the land.
So what you have in this first division of the land is an effort to settle the strongest peoples, the most numerous tribes on the frontiers of Canaan. It was only after Joshua had first fixed these people on the frontiers of the country that he proceeded to a survey of the land and the casting of the remainder of the lots, which determined how the land would go to the other people.
Each of these tribal areas is interesting for one reason or another. The land that was east of the Jordan and was given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the first half-tribe of Manasseh was interesting because this is something that had been settled long before the conquest of the land. Way back in Numbers 23, during the years of Israel’s desert wandering, the people of these tribes who had large flocks and herds approached Moses and said, “Look, we have many herds, and this area of land here to the east of the Jordan would be quite suitable for us. What we would like to do is receive our inheritance here.” And Moses consulted of the Lord, and the Lord granted this land to these tribes on the condition that when it came to fight the battles, they wouldn't stay behind and avoid the fighting, but would first of all go with the other tribes into their allotments until the entire land that had been given to them was subdued. After this they could then go back and settle the land that had been given. So the decision as to the land these tribes were to have was already determined. You have that in the book of Numbers and also in the third chapter of Deuteronomy. And it’s also referred to in the very first chapter of Joshua.
Joshua 15 is given over to the settlement to the south by Judah. And that is most significant because Judah is the most populous tribe and, historically, the most important. Judah’s territory bordered on Jerusalem to the north. Jerusalem was sort of on the division line between the territory of Judah and Benjamin, but it was really in Judah. And then Judah extended east, west, and the whole way to the south—almost as far south as anybody wanted to settle because the further south you went, the worse the land got.
It is interesting that this sizeable and prominent portion of land is given to Judah because if you think in terms of the sons of Jacob, the father of the twelve sons, Judah is not the one who should have normally been preferred in this way. Of the twelve sons, six of them were born to Leah, and four were born early. The order was Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and then Judah. Reuben is the one who should have received the greater inheritance as the firstborn. After all, it was the firstborn who received the double inheritance and also the right to rule.
But it did not happen this way in this case. Reuben was judged for dishonoring his father by sleeping with his father’s concubine. Likewise, both Simeon and Levi were denied the place of prominence because they teamed up to murder the Shechemites because Shechem had violated their sister, Dinah. In Genesis 49, before Jacob dies he pronounces a blessing upon each of his sons. But Reuben, Simeon, and Levi all receive a judgment because of what they had done. This is why Judah received the blessing that he did, which emphasized the right to rule. That’s why in the tribe of Judah you had this great succession of kings, through which Jesus Christ, our Savior and Messiah, eventually came.
And then there’s this area to the north, where Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh were settled. It's an interesting feature of this settlement of the northern tribes that a special portion of it, a major portion, is given to five women. This was not the thing that was usually done; the land was given to the sons. But here is an interesting case of the preservation of the rights of women in Israel. In chapter 17, verse 3, we have a man whose name was Zelophehad. He died without any sons; but back during the days of Moses, it was agreed that the daughters should have an inheritance so that their father’s name would not perish from the land.
It’s interesting that the decisions concerning the tribes and their inheritances were made based on principles or commitments already previously determined and recorded in the Pentateuch. What we have here as we begin to study the settlement of the land is the awareness of the fact that these people already had a written revelation. It had come to them from God through Moses, who was God’s prophet. Here during the time of Joshua, they were now simply operating on the basis of what God had already said, including what had been promised to the five daughters. This concludes the first section of the division.
- What are the three frontiers for the Promised Land? What do we learn about each one?
- What is noteworthy about how it was determined who would get the land to the east of the Jordan River? What condition was placed on these tribes in order to receive it?
- Why does Judah receive the prominent territory, when he was not the firstborn son of Jacob?
- What is interesting about a certain part of the northern territory, concerning the tribe of Manasseh? Who received it, and why did this happen?
- From the lesson, on what were the decisions concerning the tribes and their inheritances based? What do we learn from that?
Perhaps you are facing a difficult decision soon, and you do not know what you should do? What principles has God given to you in the Bible that provide the direction you need?