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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 14

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This short chapter is actually an introduction to the next five chapters (Joshua 14:15-15), where is recorded the apportionment of the Land of Canaan among the Twelve Tribes of Israel. It is an introduction: (1) because it gives the names of the principal persons who conducted the casting of lots; and (2) because it deals with a matter that was required to be taken care of before the casting of lots take place, i.e., the granting of Caleb’s claim to Hebron, based upon a prior promise given by Moses. Woudstra also pointed out a third function of this introductory chapter; (3) “The introduction of this pericope was an example of what could have been done and should have been done with the whole land allotted to the tribes.”(F1) There can be no doubt that JOSHUA himself was responsible for this account being in the holy record at exactly the place where it appears. It does not appear here through the choice of some “Deuteronomic editor,”(F2) as frequently alleged. Furthermore, as Plummer noted, “The author of Joshua had access to sources of information besides the Pentateuch,”(F3) and the nature of that information is such that Joshua is most likely the author. Who but Joshua (besides Caleb) would have known of the oath that Moses swore? Plummer cited this as being not alone conclusive, but as being “inconsistent with the `Elhoist’ and `Jehovist’ theory.”(F4)

Verse 1

“And these are the inheritances which the children of Israel took in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the children of Israel, distributed unto them.”

The mention here of the dignitaries who presided at the allotment has been alleged by Morton and others to be an indication of three “different traditions” from as many “sources” brought together here by “a Priestly editor.”(F5) In our own view, we consider this to be among the MOST RIDICULOUS and unsupportable allegations to be encountered anywhere. There is only one basis for finding a “Priestly editor” here, and that is the mention of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, and the High Priest of Israel. Since, without any doubt, Eleazar was indeed present at this allocation of the land, that alone is sufficient reason for his being mentioned, and, as John Lilley put it, “If it is admitted that the tribes had a central shrine, and few would deny this, it would have been inconceivable for Joshua to have acted without the priest, or for any Israelite historian to represent him as having done so.”(F6) This truth eliminates all grounds for dragging some so-called “editor” into this passage.

Even J. R. Dummelow thought he saw the hand of “P” here, writing: “The mention of the priest here in association with the leader, to whom he is here given precedence, is one of the characteristics of the Priestly narrative.”(F7) The “precedence” which Dummelow mentioned, however, could have been due to one thing alone: Israel was at this point in the process of calling upon the God of heaven and earth to divide the land to the tribes by casting lots, and it is inconceivable that Israel would have done a thing like that without calling upon God for his blessing and guidance. That would have required both the presence and the “precedence” of Eleazar. We have repeatedly emphasized that there is actually no such thing as “a Priestly narrative (P),” except in the IMAGINATION of Bible critics. There has never been published a copy of that alleged narrative, for the simple reason that there has never been any agreement in what is in it! Until it is produced and made available for close study, our allegation that there is no such thing stands!

The dignitaries who conducted the casting of lots were Eleazar, Joshua, and the twelve princes. “These heads or princes were twelve in number, Joshua and Eleazar included (Numbers 34:19-29).”(F8) We should also note that Caleb himself was also in this list of princes (Numbers 34:19). Plummer stated that:

“It is a strong evidence for the truth of this narrative that we read of no conflicts between the various tribes respecting the division of territory. In no one case was there any complaint of unfairness, or any attempt to disturb the territorial arrangement made at the time of the original settlement in Palestine.”(F9)

Verses 2-5

“By the lot of their inheritance, as Jehovah commanded by Moses, for the nine tribes, and the half-tribe. For Moses had given the inheritance of the two tribes and the half-tribe beyond the Jordan: but unto the Levites he gave no inheritance among them. For the children of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim: and they gave no portion unto the Levites in the land, save cities to dwell in, with the suburbs thereof for their cattle and for their substance. As Jehovah commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did; and they divided the land.”

The preliminary fact of their being only nine and one-half tribes to inherit west of the Jordan is here explained in Joshua 14:2, due to Moses’ having already awarded two and one-half tribes their inheritance on the east of Jordan. Also, we have the explanation of how it came about that after one of the twelve sons of Jacob, namely, Levi and his tribe were not to receive a landed inheritance at all (Jehovah was their portion), there still remained twelve tribes. The explanation is in Joshua 14:4, where it is stated that Joseph had two tribes, i.e., Manasseh and Ephraim. The account of how that came about is in Genesis 48. Through the device of adopting Manasseh and Ephraim, two of the sons of Joseph, Jacob made them in every way equal to all of his other sons. That action by Jacob was also accompanied by the disinheritance of Reuben his firstborn, because of his incest with Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). That meant that the double portion which was the usual right of the firstborn went to Joseph instead of Reuben, and that the right of primogeniture descended upon Judah instead of Reuben. The “rulership” of Israel thus rested upon Judah (Genesis 49:10).

Many of the old commentators (Masius, Calnet, Dodd, Clarke, etc.) have stressed the wisdom of God as attested by the casting of lots for the inheritance of each tribe. “The portion fell to each tribe exactly as Jacob had prophesied centuries earlier in Genesis 49. Providence equally directed both Jacob’s predictions and the casting of lots.”(F10) Again, to paraphrase Clarke’s words: seeing that the lot and the prophesies so well corresponded, would it not be insolence and stupidity not to acknowledge the inspiration of God in the words of Jacob and of Moses, and also in the guidance of the casting lots for the tribal inheritances?

The flat declaration in Joshua 14:5 that, “So the children of Israel did” does not mean that they did so on that very day. “A considerable time was requisite for survey and measurement.”(F11) The lots were first cast at Gilgal, and later at Shiloh. The larger tribes received their portion first.

Woudstra pointed out that, “Since the account of this division does not actually begin until Joshua 15, it is clear that what follows in this chapter (Joshua 14:6-15) is meant to be a further introduction to Joshua 15-19.”(F12)

Verses 6-9

“Then the children of Judah drew nigh unto Joshua in Gilgal: and Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said unto him, Thou knowest the thing that Jehovah spoke unto Moses the man of God concerning me and concerning thee in Kadesh-barnea. Forty years old was I when Moses the servant of Jehovah sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land: and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. Nevertheless my brethren that went up with me made the heart of the people melt; but I wholly followed Jehovah my God. And Moses sware on that day, saying, Surely the land whereon thy foot hath trodden shall be an inheritance to thee and to thy children forever, because thou hast wholly followed Jehovah my God.”

The appearance of the tribe of Judah in the person of its official representative Caleb, along with other Judahites who were witnesses, was actually the first order of business on the agenda for casting the lots and distributing the land. Judah naturally came first, due to the “rulership” that pertained to the primogeniture forfeited by Reuben and conveyed upon Judah by their father Jacob. But the so-called Caleb pericope had priority over the casting of lots due to an oath taken by Moses and witnessed by both Caleb and Joshua. What Caleb said here, was, in effect, “We cannot divide the land until this prior question of my right to Hebron is determined.” This was nothing but the simple truth. If the lots had been cast, and Hebron had fallen to one of the tribes other than Judah, it would have cost Caleb his rightful reward, as promised by God through Moses. How foolish it is, therefore, to blame some “redactor” or “editor” for the appearance of this episode right where it is. Here is exactly the place this issue was forced to be decided. It is unimaginable that it could have occurred anywhere else!

The masterful manner in which Caleb presented his appeal, the vivid recall of events which at that time were forty-five years in the past, the appeal to Joshua as a witness of Moses’ sworn word, according to Woudstra, “reflect an eye-witness account.”(F13) We are here dealing with events which, of all the people on earth, only Joshua and Caleb had firsthand knowledge and recall of the things mentioned, and the only fair deduction is that in those two men alone we are compelled to find the source of this material. The ancient tradition of Joshua’s authorship of this book that bears his name is strongly supported by this and other similar incidents recorded.

“Caleb, the Kenizzite” (Joshua 14:6). “Kenaz was evidently a descendant of Edom, but was assimilated into the tribe of Judah.”(F14) Caleb rose to the chief of the tribe of Judah (Numbers 13-14). He was born in Egypt, survived the wilderness experience of Israel, and figured prominently in his advanced age in the subjugation of Canaan. His racial extraction does not cast a cloud upon his legitimacy as a Jew, his status being exactly the same as that of the descendants of Ruth the Moabitess (which included King David), and of Rahab the harlot. The descendants of Ruth and Rahab enjoyed their Jewish privileges through marriage, and the same is true of Caleb. “Before the Exodus, Caleb’s father, a non-Israelite, had married a daughter of Hur of the clan of Chelubai (Caleb) in the tribe of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:9; 1 Chronicles 2:18-19).”(F15) From this it is perfectly clear that Caleb was not already in Canaan before the Exodus, nor had the Calebites the ownership of Hebron before Joshua.

A full account of the events that led to the pledge of Hebron to Caleb is found in Numbers 14:21-24 and Deuteronomy 1:35-36. For further comment on these important happenings, see our comments under those passages in these commentaries..

It appears to us that God Himself might have over-ruled events at this juncture in order to bring this instance of Caleb’s faithfulness under great dangers into focus for the benefit of all the children of Israel. “The account of Caleb’s courageous stand would serve to remind God’s people of how the promised land had to be won.”(F16)

It is a gross error to attribute Caleb’s actions here to greed or avarice on his part. “He later willingly yielded his city to the Levites and lived in the suburbs (Joshua 21:12).”(F17)

Verses 10-12

“And now, behold, Jehovah hath kept me alive, as he spake, these forty and five years, from the time that Jehovah spake this word unto Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness: and now, Lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, and to go in and out and to come in. Now therefore give me this hill-country, whereof Jehovah spake in that day; for thou heardest in that day how the Anakim were there, and cities great and fortified: it may be that Jehovah will be with me, and I shall drive them out, as Jehovah spake.”

“And Jehovah hath kept me alive” Every person of advanced age should be aware of the special providence that has been given in making it possible. In no person is unbelief any more stupid and pitiful than when it occurs in persons past threescore and ten years of age.

“These forty and five years” This and Moses’ mention of his being “forty years old” (Joshua 14:7) when Moses sent out the spies, and of his being now eighty-five years old are among the most important chronological facts given in Joshua. Israel wandered in the wilderness only about 38 years, because the first two years of the traditional “forty years” were utilized in the giving of the Law, the construction of the tabernacle etc. The sending out of the spies evidently occurred after about two years had elapsed following the Exodus (Numbers 10:11).(F18) Thus, thirty-eight years later when Israel entered Canaan, Caleb would have been seventy-eight years of age. Since he gives his age here as eighty-five, that would allow seven years for the Conquest of Canaan up to this point. As Longacre said, “This (Joshua 14:10) is the only statement in the book that bears on the length of time the conquest was supposed to cover.”(F19)

“It may be that Jehovah will be with me” (Joshua 14:12). Some have expressed surprise that a man of such courage and conviction as that of Caleb should have appeared to express a little doubt here by the employment of the words “may be.” This is not true. Those words, in this context, express conviction without presumption. “`It may be’ expresses not doubt, but full dependence upon the Lord.”(F20) “The expression also signifies HOPE.”(F21) Critics think they have found a contradiction between Joshua 10:36-39 which describe the fall of Hebron to Joshua, and this passage, along with Joshua 15, where Caleb actually takes the place, subdues it, and occupies it.”(F22) Cook’s wise comment on this is:

“The Anakims had in the course of Joshua’s southern campaign been expelled from “this mountain” (Hebron); but they had only withdrawn to the neighboring cities of Philistia (Joshua 11:22). Thence they had, as must be inferred from the text here, returned and reoccupied Hebron, probably when Joshua and the main force of the Israelites were campaigning against the northern confederacy.”(F23)

Verses 13-15

“And Joshua blessed him; and gave Hebron unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh unto this day; because that he wholly followed Jehovah, the God of Israel. Now the name of Hebron beforetime was Kiriath-arba; which Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim. And the land had rest from war.”

“And Joshua blessed him” (Joshua 14:13). These words show the endorsement by Joshua of all that Caleb had claimed, including a number of things nowhere mentioned in the Pentateuch, indicating, as Plummer said, that Joshua had access to information not even mentioned in the Pentateuch, including such things as the oath that Moses swore in this connection.

“Kiriath-arba” “This means `city of four.’ It is unlikely that ARBA is a proper name.”(F24) Behold the wisdom of the critics! Against a fact clearly stated in the Holy Bible, such men offer their opinion instead of what the text says. We will have none of this. Of course, “The Rabbis have translated the place, `the city of four,’ telling us that the `four’ are Adam, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were buried there.”(F25) Still others suppose `the four’ to have been four great giants who captured the city and took possession of it. We are confronted with diverse opinions regarding the Septuagint (LXX) here. Sizoo stated that it reads, “Kiriath-arba the metropolis (or mother city) of the Anakim.”(F26) Boling tells us that, “Read with LXX, the Hebrew text of the O.T. has, `He was the great man among the Anakim.’“(F27) Our own copy of the Septuagint (LXX) reads, “It is the metropolis of the Anakim.”(F28) Dummelow pointed out that the Septuagint translates a reference to this city in Joshua 15:13 as, “the metropolis of Anak,” and another similar reference in Joshua 21:11 as “the metropolis of the sons of Anak,” adding that:

“`Metropolis of Anak’ may be the true sense.”(F29) On such evidence as this, therefore, we are bound to agree with our translators of the ASV and to reject the fanciful substitutes often offered.

“Arba, the greatest man among the Anakim” “This is the literal meaning of the Hebrew text here; he was the renowned ancestor of the tribe and the founder of its greatness.”(F30)

“Unto this day” This is precisely the kind of etiological expression that critics seize upon in order to make it the grounds of all kinds of irresponsible allegations. Yes, as Woudstra said, “All history has an etiological element in it, seeking to preserve those memories of the past that make the present meaningful. This kind of etiology is squarely rooted in fact, and not in fictitious compositions invented by the author.”(F31) “Unto this day,” “to this day,” etc. “are actually meant as the confirmation of the veracity of the account.”(F32) In this usage, the words are absolutely idiomatic. They are not a typical expression introducing an etiological tale. It is possible of course, that the words were added in days following the death of Joshua by some inspired author such as Samuel, Ezra, Nehemiah, or others unknown to us. They have no bearing whatever upon allegations of a late date for Joshua.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Joshua 14". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/joshua-14.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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