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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 17

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This and the preceding chapters deal with the inheritance of Ephraim and Manasseh, Ephraim’s having been outlined in Joshua 16, and Manasseh’s boundaries are given in this.

Verses 1-2

“And this was the lot for the tribe of Manasseh; for he was the first-born of Joseph. As for Machir the first-born of Manasseh, the father of Gilead, because he was a man of war, therefore he had Gilead and Bashan. So the lot was for the rest of the children of Manasseh according to their families: for the children of Abiezer, and for the children of Helek, and for the children of Ariel, and for the children of Shechem, and for the children of Hepher, and for the children of Shemida: these were the male children of Manasseh the son of Joseph according to their families.

When given the PROPER RESPECT and READ THOUGHTFULLY AND CAREFULLY, the Bible is a unified, extremely informative, cohesive, and well-organized book. If critics would spend half as much time trying to understand what the Bible SAYS, instead of flipping through its pages with eyes only for something to support their destructive theories, there would be a lot fewer criticisms. The passage before us presents no problem whatever. Ephraim was blessed by Jacob and given precedence over Manasseh, but here we are not dealing with the sons of Jacob (adopted), but with the sons of MANASSEH. Manasseh was the firstborn of Joseph; and Jacob could NOT possibly have had anything to do with who received the birthright from Joseph. That was none of Jacob’s business! That is why Manasseh is here designated as “the firstborn of Joseph.” Thus, there is no justification whatever for the fact that, “Many interpreters consider that this reference to Manasseh as `firstborn,’ is an indication that this relation (Manasseh-Ephraim) was different.”(F1)

The bearing of this on the distribution of the land is seen at once when it is remembered that Manasseh’s DOUBLE PORTION (as was his right as the first-born) was already ONE-HALF expended in the settlement of Manasseh’s first-born (who was Machir) who possessed Gilead and Bashan eastward of the Jordan. In that light, how logical and necessary is the next declaration that, “the lot was for the rest of the children of Manasseh.” There were six of these “other male children” of Manasseh, the names of which are listed here. The six cited here are actually GRANDSONS of Machir through Gilead (Numbers 26:30-42). Hepher was deceased, leaving only five “sons.”

“Gilead” This was primarily the name of a fertile district east of the Jordan river, but here it appears as a man’s name. Such double uses of names is universal. There are a number of persons named `Dallas.’

Verses 3-6

“But Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons, but daughters: and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they came near before Eleazar the priest, and before Joshua the son of Nun, and before the princes, saying, Jehovah commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brethren: now therefore according to the commandment of Jehovah he gave them an inheritance among the brethren of their father. And there fell ten parts to Manasseh, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is beyond the Jordan; because the daughters of Manasseh had an inheritance among his sons. And the land of Gilead belonged unto the rest of the sons of Manasseh.”

This episode regarding the daughters of Zelophehad presupposes the prior existence of Numbers 26:33; Numbers 27:1-7. Also, the fact of Ephraim’s receiving his inheritance first, and likewise the fight of Manasseh as the firstborn of Joseph presuppose and prove the prior existence of the Book of Genesis. The whole Book of Joshua, in fact, is written in the shadow of the entire Pentateuch!

Holmes, a man who actually bears the title of “Reverend!” calls this incident regarding Zelophehad’s daughters “legal fiction,” declaring further that, “The writer of Numbers 27:1 ff (where is recorded the story of Zelophehad and his daughters) gave effect to it (a law announced by Moses) by the imaginary instance of Zelophehad and his daughters.”(F2) This kind of blatant infidelity masquerading as `scholarship’ is still prevalent and has been widespread throughout the current century. The Samaritan ostraca, uncovered by archeologists, and dated about 770 B.C. “show tax payments in kind carry the names of districts such as Abiezer Helek, Shechem, Shemida, Noah, and Hoglah.”(F3) As Sizoo stated, “This adds further to our confidence in the history of the allotment of the land.”(F4) We are glad to add that such examples of the absolute integrity of the Bible are discovered by us almost daily in our long studies of the Bible, firmly grounding us in the conviction that the Holy Bible is THE MOST DEPENDABLE BOOK ON EARTH, THE MOST ACCURATE HISTORY ON EARTH, AND THE ONLY BOOK OF GOD’S WORD ON EARTH. He is a fool who dares to CONTRADICT a single declaration of the Holy Bible.

“The ten portions” of Joshua 17:5 were for the five living sons and the five daughters mentioned here. The mention of the High Priest in Joshua 17:4 has no significance whatever except that he was a part of the high court that distributed the land. It was his office that led to his being mentioned first. Boling’s assertion that this passage is the “contribution of a later redactor,”(F5) is grounded on nothing more substantial than the destructive IMAGINATIONS of critics. Why cannot they identify the alleged “redactor”? It has long ago become apparent that every appeal to an “editor” or a “redactor” is a confession that, as the Bible stands, it does NOT support their theories!

Verses 7-13

“And the border of Manasseh was from Asher to Michmethath, which is before Shechem; and the border went along to the right hand, unto the inhabitants of Entappuah. The land of Tappuah belonged to Manasseh; but Tappuah on the border of Manasseh belonged to the children of Ephraim. And the border went down unto the brook of Kanah, southward of the brook: these cities belonged to Ephraim among the cities of Manasseh: and the border of Manasseh was on the north side of the brook, and the goings out thereof were at the sea: southward it was Ephraim’s, and northward it was Manasseh’s, and the sea was his border; and they reached to Asher on the north, and to Isaachar on the east. And Manasseh had in Isaachar and in Asher Beth-shean and its towns, and Ibleam and its towns, and the inhabitants of Dor and its towns, and the inhabitants of Endor and its towns, and the inhabitants of Taanach and its towns, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and its towns, even the three heights. Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land. And it came to pass that when the children of Israel were waxed strong, that they put the Canaanites to taskwork, and did not utterly drive them out.”

“From Asher to Michmethath” Philbeck tells us that these cities marked “the northern and southern extremities of Manasseh’s territory,”(F6) but the trouble with that is that, “This place has not been identified. All that we know is that it is opposite Shechem!”(F7)

Due to textual problems the meaning of Joshua 17:9 may be somewhat conjectural. Cook’s understanding of the place is as good as any:

“The intention seems to be to state that the cities lying south of the river, though within the limits of Manasseh were, in fact, made over to Ephraim, and were among the `separate cities’ of Joshua 16:9. On the contrary, the north bank of the river, both land and towns, belonged to Manasseh exclusively.”(F8)

“Beth-shean” (Joshua 17:11). It was to the wall of this city that the bodies of Saul and his sons were fastened by the victorious Philistines following the battle on Mount Gilboa. Later, it was the border town of Galilee and the chief town of the Decapolis.(F9)

“Ibleam” (Joshua 17:11). “The site of Ibleam is now Khirbet Bilameh, some ten miles southeast of Megiddo on the road from Beth-shean, probably the same as the Bileam of 1 Chronicles 6:70, a Levitical city.”(F10)

“Dor” (Joshua 17:11) “This place is identified with the modern El-Burj, north of Tanturah. In Roman times it was called Dora (Josephus); it is located on the Mediterranean coast near Mount Carmel.”(F11)

“En-dor” (Joshua 17:11). “En-dor is the modern Endur 4 miles south of Mount Tabor. Assigned to Manasseh, it was never wrested from the Canaanites. The witch of En-dor, of whom Saul inquired before his last battle (1 Samuel 28:3-7) was probably of this Canaanite stock, for the Hebrews had tried to do away with such practices.(F12)

“Taanach, the modern Tel Taannak, guards a pass over Mount Carmel. Israel defeated the king of this place; but Manasseh, the tribe to which it was assigned, was not able to occupy it. It was one of the Levitical cities (Joshua 21:25), and finally occupied by Isaachar. The mention of Taanach ahead of Megiddo here may indicate that at this time Megiddo was of less importance.”(F13)

“Megiddo” (Joshua 17:11). “This was an important O.T. city that lay in the Carmel range some 20 miles south-southeast of the modern Haifa. It commanded the most important pass from the coastal plain to the valley of Esdraelon… The city was destroyed near the end of the 12th century.”(F14) It could have been at that time that Israel was able to reduce the inhabitants to slavery, IN A PERIOD LONG BEFORE THE MONARCHY. The frequent mention here that Israel “could not drive them out” indicates a period that soon ended when Israel “waxed strong,” at a time long before the monarchy.

“Even the three heights” (Joshua 17:11). “This reference is to En-dor, Taanach, and Megiddo.”(F15)

“They put the Canaanites to taskwork, and did not utterly drive them out” (Joshua 17:13). The efforts of critics to make it appear that Israel did not put the Canaanites to taskwork until the days of the monarchy have been frustrated by archeological discoveries showing that, “Canaanite Megiddo fell to Israel in the latter half of the twelfth century B.C., roughly a century after the main conquest.”(F16) This was centuries prior to the events of 1 Kings 9.

Why did not Israel drive out the Canaanites? Jamieson gave his opinion of the failure as follows:

“Indolence, a love of ease; perhaps a mistaken humanity, arising from a disregard or forgetfulness of the Divine command, a decreasing principle of faith and zeal in the service of God were the causes of their failure.”(F17)

Despite opinions such as that of Jamieson, however, we believe that there were other very important factors that went into Israel’s accommodation with the Canaanites. There is the great possibility, yes, even the CERTAINTY that like Demas of the N.T., “Israel loved this present age.” They simply fell in love with the SUPERIOR culture and the sensuous gods that appealed to the gratification of their lusts. Thompson tells us that the differences in the Canaanite and the Israelite cultures were “extraordinary.” The towns that Israel destroyed possessed beautiful palaces, magnificent temples, and many evidences of wealth, prosperity, and artistic development. There was an over-all superiority of the Canaanite towns; their diet was supplemented by the maritime trade through the Philistines with Egypt; whereas the towns with which Israel replaced the ones which they destroyed were far inferior to those burned and looted. In fact, the whole Israelitish culture was far more primitive and impoverished.(F18)

In addition, an extensive pantheon of pagan gods was the ornament of the Canaanite polytheistic religion. Oh yes, they offered the same kinds of sacrifices as did the Israelites; and the ceremonies were even similar, but the religion was highly sensuous, with great emphasis on fertility rites. Hundreds of male and female prostitutes were available EVERYWHERE the shrines and high places of the pagan gods were located, and, “Even during the days of the Judges the worship of these gods was already finding favor in the eyes of many of the Israelites. The writer of the Book of Judges makes the point that, it was because Israel served the Baalim and forsook the Lord, that they were delivered into the hands of oppressors (Judges 2:11-13), etc.”(F19)

In this we can see that unbelief and disobedience of Divine commands is now, as it always has been, not an intellectual thing at all, but a moral one:

“The Son of man came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. And herein is the condemnation, that men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:18-19).

Verses 14-18

“And the children of Joseph spake unto Joshua, saying, Why has thou given me but one lot and one part for an inheritance, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as hitherto Jehovah hath blessed me. And Joshua said unto them, If thou be a great people get thee up to the forest and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and that of the Rephaim; since the hill-country of Ephraim is too narrow for thee. And the children of Joseph said, The hill-country is not enough for us: and all the Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron, both they who are in Bethshean and its towns, and they who are in the valley of Jezreel. And Joshua spake unto the house of Joseph, even to Ephraim and to Manasseh, saying, “Thou art a great people, and hast great power; thou shalt not have one lot only: but the hill-country shall be thine; for though it is a forest, thou shalt cut it down, and the goings out thereof shall be thine; for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.”

Joshua himself was a Josephite, but if his kinsfolk thought to intimidate him by a demand for more land, they certainly were frustrated. The great heart of the plain of Esdraelon had already been assigned them, that being the richest part of Palestine, but they called it “one lot.” Joshua corrected that “slander” by saying, “It is not `one lot only’ (Joshua 17:17). Behold it includes all that territory in the hill-country and that vast forest that you should cut down!” Joshua said, in effect, “Oh yes, of course you are a great people! Get up and prove it by driving out the Canaanites!”

In this arrogant presumption of the Josephites, “Again we have a sign of that deep undercurrent of consistency which underlies our history, and is a guarantee of its authenticity.”(F20) As Dummelow said, “This throws light on the character of the children of Joseph. It shows the spirit of self-aggrandizement and self-importance.”(F21) Furthermore, it shows their willingness to torture the facts. “We are a great people” This was hardly borne out by the facts. “The census of Numbers 26 shows that they were not greatly more numerous than the single tribe of Judah; and half of them had already been settled east of Jordan; the remainder could hardly have been any stronger than the Danites or the Issacharites.”(F22) Woudstra stated that, “Some of the other tribes were actually more numerous.”(F23)

“The plain of Jezreel” (Joshua 17:16). “This is also called the plain of Esdraelon, the great fertile plain of central Palestine; it extended from Carmel on the west to the hills of Gilboa, little Hermon, and Tabor on the east, a distance of full sixteen miles, with a breadth of about twelve miles.”(F24)

“The hill-country shall be thine; for though it is a forest, thou shalt cut it down… (Joshua 17:18).” This reveals that the Josephites had two options: (1) a vast forested area of the hill-country assigned to them, an area which, according to Rea, “was vacant in 1400 B.C.,”(F25) and which required only that the land be cleared and inhabited, or (2) drive out the Canaanites who occupied that powerful string of cities along the Esdraelon! The Josephites rejected: (1) on the basis that it took alot of hard work to clear the land! And they rejected (2) on the basis that the Canaanites possessed superior military equipment, the chariots. They had no right to reject either of these options.

As regards the first option, they were simply too lazy to do it, and, as regards the second option, “They saw only the chariots of iron, not the lush pastures and farmlands of the valley of Jezreel (Esdraelon), which was theirs by right of promise and which Joshua urged them to take. What a contrast was their lack of faith to the bold, intrepid spirit of Caleb (Numbers 13:30, Joshua 14:6-15).”(F26) Plummer was correct in the affirmation that the only reason the Josephites did not drive out the Canaanites and thus possess their possessions, “was that they did not trust in God, but preferred an unworthy compromise with neighbors who, however rich in warlike material, were sunk in sensuality and sloth.”(F27)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Joshua 17". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/joshua-17.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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