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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 18

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1

“And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled themselves together at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there: and the land was subdued before them.”

The apparent reason for mentioning this change of the tabernacle from Gilgal near the Jordan, where it had been set up shortly after the Jordan crossing, is that it was to remain there at Shiloh for a long time. “The tabernacle remained at Shiloh for more than 300 years.”(F1) In fact, it remained there until the times of Eli and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant to the Philistines who also destroyed the city (1 Samuel 4:1-11). “Shiloh succeeded Gilgal as the central shrine of Israel until it was destroyed about 1050 B.C., presumably by the Philistines.”(F2)

“Shiloh” We agree with Cook that in all probability, Joshua himself, acting under the influence of direct revelation from God named this town.(F3) The name “Shiloh” first occurs in Genesis 49:10; but this is the first usage of the word as a place-name. It was exceedingly appropriate that this glorious Messianic word should have been applied to the site of the Holy Tabernacle, because the tabernacle itself, as regards its High Priest, its numerous sacrifices, etc. was typical of Messiah himself. We are aware that current scholarship of the critical variety is unwilling to allow the Messianic thrust of the passage in Genesis, but the simple truth is that the passage is either Messianic, or it has no meaning whatever! (See my discussion of this in Vol. 1 of the Pentateuchal series, pp. 556-559.)

Shiloh is identified with the modern Seilun, now a ruined site on a hill, 9 miles north of Bethel and 3 miles southeast of El-Lubban.(F4) The location of Shiloh “is minutely described in Judges 21:19, but it is difficult to understand why, since Shiloh must have been well known to all the dwellers in Israel at that time.”(F5) The same author suggested that this particular site for the tabernacle was “probably made by Urim and Thummim, the case being important enough for such a decision.”(F6) We have not been able to find another student of this book who corroborates our view as to why that “minute description” of the location of this place was given in Joshua 21:19, but, could it not have been because this was altogether a new location? Certainly the name Shiloh, as used here, was new, and no prior name of the place is given, so why not?

Verses 2-7

“And there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet divided their inheritance. And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go in to possess the land, which Jehovah, the God of your fathers, hath given you? Appoint for you three men of each tribe: and I will send them, and they shall arise, and walk through the land, and describe it according to their inheritance; and they shall come unto me. And they shall divide it into seven portions: Judah shall abide in his border to the south, and the house of Joseph shall abide in their border on the north. And ye shall describe the land into seven portions, and bring the description hither to me; and I will cast lots for you here before Jehovah our God. For the Levites have no portion among you; for the priesthood of Jehovah is their inheritance: and Gad and Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan eastward, which Moses the servant of Jehovah gave them.”

Joshua’s rebuke of the people for not having gone in to possess the land was well deserved. It would have required a drastic change in the life style of the people for them to have done so, and the natural inertia of people prevented this from happening. Besides that, the people would no longer dwell in a single camp, as previously, but each tribe would have to work for its own supplies and protection. Too long, we might say, they had been letting God look after them, and now, that the time had come for them to take care of themselves, they were very slow and reluctant to do so.

Joshua 18:5, which mentions Judah on the south and the house of Joseph on the north shows the wisdom of God in placing these two powerful groups in such a way as to protect all of Canaan.

“Three men from each tribe” (Joshua 18:5). This is supposed to mean that the commission for surveying the land was composed of 21 men, with perhaps, as Clarke suggested, an armed escort for their protection.(F7) Josephus, however, stated that the number of men were 10, and that Joshua sent with them some geometricians who could not easily fail of knowing the truth on account of their skill.(F8) Instead of supposing that Josephus was in error here, it might be just as well to suppose that the 21 men (3 from each of seven tribes) included the geometricians, and that it was to them, in particular, that Josephus referred. Nevertheless, it is likely that Josephus was wrong. We have no grounds, however, for denying some other information that comes from Josephus:

“Joshua thought that the land should be divided on the basis of its goodness, rather than the largeness or measure of it; one acre of some sort of land was equivalent to a thousand other acres. The men traveled all about and made an estimation of the land, and in the seventh month came to Joshua in Shiloh where they had set up the tabernacle.”(F9)

We may not suppose, therefore, that the surveying of the land rested in incapable or incompetent hands. As Jamieson suggested, “Those doing the job possessed learning and intelligence which they or their instructors had brought with them out of Egypt.”(F10)

“I will cast lots for you here before Jehovah” (Joshua 18:7). Notice that the High Priest is not mentioned at all here, despite the certainty that he was present for the casting of lots. His presence is included in the expression “before the Lord.”

Verses 8-10

“And the men arose, and went: and Joshua charged them that went to describe the land, saying, Go and walk through the land, and describe it, and come again to me; and I will cast lots for you here before Jehovah in Shiloh. And the men went and passed through the land, and described it by cities into seven portions in a book; and they came to Joshua unto the camp at Shiloh. And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before Jehovah: and there Joshua divided the land unto the children of Israel according to their divisions.”

The impact of these verses is simply stated, “There Joshua divided the land unto the children of Israel.”

The results of the survey are not spelled out here, but, in the light of subsequent developments, it would appear that Plummer was correct:

“This survey was undoubtedly a more careful one than that made by the spies (Numbers 13), and one result was that the undivided land was found to be too small for the needs of the seven tribes, while that apportioned to Judah was seen to be disproportionately large. To remedy this, a place was found for Benjamin between Judah and Ephraim, and the portion of Simeon was taken out of the southern portion of Judah, while both Judah and Ephraim had to give up some cities to Dan.”(F11)

Verses 11-20


“And the lot of the tribe of the children of Benjamin came up according to their families: and the border of their lot went out between the children of Judah and the children of Joseph. And their border on the north quarter was from the Jordan; and the border went up to the side of Jericho on the north, and went up through the hill-country westward; and the goings out thereof were at the wilderness of Bethaven. And the border passed along from thence to Luz (the same is Bethel), southward; and the border went down to Ataroth-addar, by the mountain that lieth on the south of Beth-horon the nether. And the border extended thence, and turned about on the west quarter southward, from the mountain that lieth before Beth-horon southward; and the goings out thereof were at Kiriath-baal (the same is Keilath-jearim), a city of the children of Judah: this was the west quarter. And the south quarter was from the uttermost part of Kiriath-jearim; and the border went out westward, and went on to the fountain of the waters of Nephtoah; and the border went down to the uttermost part of the mountain that lieth before the valley of the son of Hinnom, to the side of the Jebusite southward, and went down to En-rogel; and it extended northward, and went out at En-shemesh, and went out to Geliloth, which is over against the ascent of Adummim; and it went down to the stone of Bohan the son of Reuben; and it passed along to the side over against the Arabah northward, and went down unto the Arabah; and the border passed along to the side of Beth-hoglah northward; and the goings out of the border were at the north bay of the Salt Sea, at the south end of the Jordan: this was the south border. And the Jordan was the border of it on the east quarter. This was the inheritance of the children of Benjamin, by the borders thereof round about, according to their families.”

Travelers have often mentioned the fact that all of the geographical landmarks mentioned here are clearly discernible today, and that there are no “mistakes” in the directions here given. Philbeck’s summary of Benjamin’s territory is as follows:

“Benjamin’s holdings were bounded by Ephraim on the north and Judah on the south. His land extended from the Jordan river on the east to lower Beth-horon and Keilath-jearim on the west. This represents a maximum distance of 25 miles east to west, and ten miles north to south.”(F12)

As we shall see in the next paragraph, some of the most important and historic cities of ancient Palestine lay within the limited area of Benjamin’s territory.

“The Arabah” “This was the name given by the Hebrews to the whole of that great depressions from the Sea of Galilee to the Gulf of Akabah.”(F13)

This allotment for Benjamin was providential. It fulfilled the prophecy of Deuteronomy 32:12 by placing the ultimate site of the Temple within Benjamin, and it also made Benjamin a kind of buffer state between the two powerful and mutually jealous tribes of Judah and Ephraim. This arrangement contributed to the unity and glory of the kingdom during the early phase of the monarchy.

Verses 21-28


“Now the cities of the tribe of the children of Benjamin according to their families were Jericho, and Beth-hoglah, and Emek-keziz, and Beth-arabah, and Zemaraim, and Bethel, and Avvim, and Parah, and Ophra, and Chephar-ammoni, and Ophni, and Geba; twelve cities with their villages: Gibeon, and Ramah, and Beeroth, and Mizpeh, and Chephirah, and Mozah, and Rekem, and Irpeel, and Taralah, and Zelah, Eleph, and the Jebusite (the same is Jerusalem), Gibeath, and Kiriath; fourteen cities with their villages. This is the inheritance of the children of Benjamin according to their families.”

As Cook said, “nothing is known of a number of these places.”(F14) Yet there are included in this list a number of the best known and most important places in all of Palestine: Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethel, Gibeon, Ramah, Beth-horon, Mizpeh, and Gibeah.

Boling’s assertion that these boundaries of Benjamin set up “contradictory claims”(F15) on territory already allotted fails to take account of the fact, as mentioned by Plummer, above, that these seven allotments were deliberately designed to reduce the allotments of both Judah and Ephraim. What a superficial view it is to make this readjustment of the territories in any sense a “contradiction”! Under the circumstances, it must be understood that Benjamin’s territory, as outlined here, took precedence over certain territories already assigned to Ephraim and Judah.


Jericho. This was one of the most important cities of the entire Jordan valley. Located ten miles northwest of the present mouth of the Jordan at the Dead Sea, one mile northwest of er-Riha village (modern Jericho), and about 17 miles east-northeast of Jerusalem, it lies near the western extremity of the plain of the Arabah; and the mountains of eastern Palestine rise abruptly between Jericho and Jerusalem. Going “up to Jerusalem” and “down to Jericho” are most circumstantially accurate expressions. The elevation of Jericho is 825 feet below sea level, and that of Jerusalem is 2,500 feet above sea level, meaning that the 17 miles between Jericho and Jerusalem encompasses more than a 3,800-foot rise in altitude!(F16)

Jerusalem. Originally, this place was a Jebusite stronghold, and it remained so until David subdued it and made it the capital of his kingdom. This is by far the most important city of Palestine. It was called by Jesus himself, “the city of the great king”: and its name adorns the Celestial City, the city that hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God, which John saw “coming down from God out of heaven,” and which is called the New Jerusalem, where the most exalted hopes of the human family are enshrined! The history of the first millennium B.C. and until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. is in a very significant degree concerned with the story of Jerusalem and the Jewish people.

Beth-hoglah. This was Benjamin’s city on the border of Judah. It is identified with `Ain Hajlah, 4 miles southeast of Jericho’.(F17)

Emek-keziz. “This place located somewhere near Jericho remains unidentified.”(F18)

Beth-arabah. This one of the towns of Judah situated down in the Arabah, but which was ceded to Benjamin in a re-adjustment of the territory. It became a southern city of Benjamin.(F19) The name means “place of the desert.”

Zemaraim. “Some writers identify this place with Ras ex-Zeimara, a ruin about 3 miles northeast of Bethel.(F20)

Bethel. This name means “place of God,” and was given to the place by Jacob, who said, “Surely God is in this place.” When the apostate Israel later adopted pagan worship and made Bethel one of the principal shrines of paganism, the Jews called it Beth-aven, which means “place of vanity.” “It lay about twelve miles north of Jerusalem, originally Luz; it was assigned to Benjamin, but later we find it taken by the children of Joseph (Judges 1:22-26).”(F21) The northern Israel convened it into a major pagan shrine.

Avvim. “A city south of Bethel in Benjamin.”(F22) This could be the same as Ai.(F23)

Parah. What is stated here is all that is known of this place.

Ophrah. “This is a different `Ophrah’ from that in Judges 6:11. It is probably the `Ephraim’ of 2 Chronicles 13:19 and John 11:54.”(F24)

Chephar-ammoni. “The name means `village of the Ammonites.’ Some identify it with Kefrana, a site of ruins about two miles northeast of Bethel.”(F25)

Ophni. “Perhaps the same as the Gophna of Josephus, and the Bethgufnin of the Talmud, which still survives in the modern Jufna, two and one half miles northwest of Bethel.”(F26)

Geba. “This is probably the Gibeah of Saul.”(F27) It first belonged to Judah, then (as in this chapter) ceded to Benjamin. It was also one of the cities assigned to the Levites. This place, called Gibeah in Hosea 9:9; Hosea 10:9, was pointed out by the prophet as the very end of the tap-root and nerve center of the Northern Israel’s gross wickedness and apostasy from the Lord. (See my extensive comment on those passages in Vol. 2 of the series on the minor prophets.) The two fundamental sins of Israel which are identified with this place are: (1) the rejection of the theocracy, and (2) their shameless homosexuality.

Gibeon. This place lies five or six miles from Jerusalem. It was an important Levitical city, and it was one of the four cities of the Hivites who tricked Joshua and the Israelites into making a treaty with them!(F28)

Ramah. Ramah was the city of Samuel. It is the same as er-Ram, five miles north of Jerusalem near the traditional tomb of Rachel.(F29)

Beeroth. The exact location of this city is disputed, but it is one of the cities of the Gibeonites who made the treaty with Joshua. Naharai, Joab’s armor-bearer was from Beeroth. Ish-bosheth was assassinated there. And some of the returnees from Babylon settled there.(F30)

Mizpeh. This is not the Mizpeh of Joshua 15:38, but the place where Samuel judged the people and called them together to elect a king.”(F31)

Chephirah. This is another of the towns of the Gibeonites who made that treaty with Joshua. It is about eight miles from Jerusalem.(F32)

Mozah. Nothing is known of this place except what is given here.

Rekem. Identification is uncertain.

Irpeel. Identity of this place is unknown.

Taralah. This appears to have been in the hill-country northwest of Jerusalem.(F33)

Eleph. Nothing is known of this place except what is stated in this chapter.

Gibeath. No certain information is available on this place.

Kiriath. Several cities have this prefix, but it is not known which is intended by this. The meaning of this is “city (village) of.”

These are the cities of Benjamin. From this small tribe, Israel received its first king (Saul), but the glory of Benjamin is in another Saul, even Saul of Tarsus, who was converted to Christianity and became the most gifted and successful of the apostles!

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Joshua 18". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/joshua-18.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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