“Now Joshua was old, advanced in years. And the LORD said to him: ‘You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land yet to be possessed. This is the land that yet remains: all the territory of the Philistines and all that of the Geshurites, from Sihor, which is east of Egypt, as far as the border of Ekron northward (which is counted as Canaanite); the five lords of the Philistines–the Gazites, the Ashdodites, the Ashkelonites, the Gittites, and the Ekronites; also the Avites; from the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians as far as Aphek, to the border of the Amorites; the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrise, from Baal Gad below Mount Hermon as far as the entrance to Hamath; all the inhabitants of the mountains from Lebanon as far as the Brook Misrephoth, and all the Sidonians–them I will drive out from before the children of Israel; only divide it by lot to Israel as an inheritance, as I have commanded you. Now therefore, divide this land as an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh'” (Josh. 13:1-7).
Some argue that the listing here of unconquered towns and boundaries is incomplete. Regardless, it is clear that there is still much work to do! There remained many Canaanites yet to be destroyed from the land God had given the Israelites. However, Joshua’s old age prompted God to instruct him to proceed to divide the land among the tribes who had not yet received their inheritance. The land could be divvied up even though it was only partially conquered. Then, the individual tribes could proceed to fully conquer their allotted territories. It should be noted that although the Philistines were not descendants of Canaan (cf. Gen. 10:6,14), they were invaders in the land and were to be driven out.
The half tribe of Manasseh, the Reubenites, and the Gadites had already received their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan (cf. Josh. 13), but the other nine and one-half tribes would receive land west of the Jordan (cf. Josh. 14-19). The land would be distributed by lot (cf. 14:2). Much of the text in Chapters 13 – 19 is devoted to geographically describing the boundaries each tribe was given. Since a picture is said to be worth a thousand words, we have included an image below that shows approximately where the tribes ultimately settled (along with the locations of the six cities of refuge, which will be discussed in Josh. 20). This image is summarized from the written descriptions included in the book of Joshua. In all, there are 13 tribes mentioned: Levi, Reuben, Gad, Manasseh, Judah, Ephraim, Benjamin, Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. Although there were only twelve tribes originally, Joseph was given a double portion by his father and each of his sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) became recognized as a tribe. That is the reason why there is no tribe of Joseph listed (cf. 14:4). Also, although Levi is mentioned, the priestly tribe would not receive a large block of land as the other tribes did. The text explains why – “Only to the tribe of Levi he had given no inheritance; the sacrifices of the LORD God of Israel made by fire are their inheritance, as He said to them” (Josh. 13:14).
Joshua 18:1-6 reads:
“Now the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of meeting there. And the land was subdued before them. But there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes which had not yet received their inheritance. Then Joshua said to the children of Israel: ‘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 from 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. And they shall divide it into seven parts. Judah shall remain in their territory on the south, and the house of Joseph shall remain in their territory on the north. You shall therefore survey the land in seven parts and bring the survey here to me, that I may cast lots for you here before the LORD our God.”
At this point historically, five tribes had assigned territories, but the remaining seven did not. What were they waiting for? It was not time to rest but to keep working toward the goal God was making possible for them. After a full survey of the land was made, lots were drawn and Joshua made the rest of the territorial assignments. Then, it was up to the tribes to go out boldly and fight for the land God desired to give them.
Sadly, there are a number of verses in these chapters that foreshadow dark days ahead for Israel due to incomplete obedience in completely purging the land of idolatrous influences. For example:
“Nevertheless the children of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maachathites, but the Geshurites and the Maachathites dwell among the Israelites until this day” (13:13).
“As for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Israel could not drive them out; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem to this day” (15:63).
“And they did not drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephaimites to this day and have become forced laborers” (16:10).
“Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities, but the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land. 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” (17:13).
Some of these verses appear to have been written after Joshua had died and his influence for good had diminished (cf. Jud. 2:7-11). As long as the children of Israel were faithful to God, they were unstoppable. But, they were slow to fully claim the blessed land God had given to them, and their zeal waned over the decades. As a result, it wasn’t until the days of King David that certain portions of the land were fully claimed. The book of Judges records the tragic cycles of apostasy the nation of Israel entered into over and over again. Ultimately, although they destroyed many (and perhaps even most) of the Canaanite peoples, there was a remnant that remained in a number of areas and they would prove to be a perpetual thorn in Israel’s side for a variety of reasons. If only Israel had fully obeyed God, I suspect their history would be much different and much better.
Before concluding our consideration of these chapter in the book of Joshua, let us take a look at an interesting portion of text concerning Caleb.
“Then the children of Judah came to Joshua in Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him: ‘You know the word which the LORD said to Moses the man of God concerning you and me in Kadesh Barnea. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart. Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the LORD my God. So Moses swore on that day saying, “Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.” And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said.’ And Joshua blessed him, and gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh as an inheritance” (14:6-13).
It seems appropriate to close this lesson with a focus on such a strong, faithful man like Caleb. If only the nation had wholly followed the Lord like Caleb did, then they could have begun the conquering four decades earlier! Caleb is encouraging to us in several ways. He trusted in the Lord, and God took care of him his entire life. He was still able to do great things in his senior years and he was not satisfied to rest on the sidelines. May we always use our talents and abilities to faithfully serve the Lord, even if we have done so for decades and regardless of whether or not we are as capable and strong as we once were. There are still giants to conquer, so to speak, and they will be conquered by the ones who walk mightily with the Lord in faithful obedience.