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Wednesday, June 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 14

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Chapters 13-21 The Division of the Land.

The division of the conquered land, and of some not yet conquered, is now outlined. But we must recognise what we mean by conquered. When ancient relatively minor kings moved into a land and conquered it they did not necessarily remain there or station troops there. They followed it up by demanding tribute. The question then was whether the conquest would hold. Would the people accept the position as subject people? That depended both on the strength of the king’s own forces and on the strength or weakness of the conquered people. It was a position that would have to be continually maintained by force.

That was also true in this case. Joshua had conquered the land. But settlement was a different matter. The conquered people might object, especially as they were to be driven out. In the terms of his times Canaan was conquered, but it was certainly not totally under Joshua’s control. He had not left occupying forces. The vacuum left by his invasion would soon be filled by returning refugees and those who had avoided his forces. Thus the conquest would need to be enforced, or otherwise. That was to be the task of the tribes Israel, partly by conquest and partly by slow infiltration. Canaan was a land of forests so that those who chose to do so could advance into a forested part of the land allocated to them and establish themselves there, cutting back the forest and setting up their settlements. This would cause minimal to the present inhabitants. As they then became more settled they could then expand. Others more belligerent could take over smaller cities and settle in them, taking over the fields round about them. Once they grew stronger they could then expand further. The benefit of what Joshua had done lay in the fact that they were now accepted, even if with hostility, as having a right to be in the land. They were a part of the landscape which it was best not to trifle with, because if they were trifled with they had brother tribes whom they could call on for assistance.

The descriptions of the division of the land partly reflect the efficiency of the different surveyors set to the task. Some gave full details of borders, others far sparser details while others merely named cities in the area.

Chapter 14 Distribution of the Land - The Lot Allocated to Caleb.

This chapter commences the account of the distribution of land to the children of Israel in the land of Canaan itself. However, prior to that distribution it describes the claim of Caleb to Hebron, through a promise made to him by Moses forty five years earlier, after his report that the land to which he was sent as a spy was good; and the grant which Joshua made of it to him, with his blessing.

Verses 1-2

Chapter 14 Distribution of the Land - The Lot Allocated to Caleb.

This chapter commences the account of the distribution of land to the children of Israel in the land of Canaan itself. However, prior to that distribution it describes the claim of Caleb to Hebron, through a promise made to him by Moses forty five years earlier, after his report that the land to which he was sent as a spy was good; and the grant which Joshua made of it to him, with his blessing.

Joshua 14:1-2

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 of the tribes of the children of Israel, distributed to them, by the lot of their inheritance, as YHWH commanded by the hand of Moses, for the nine tribes and for the half tribe.’

In Numbers 34:16-29 the names of those who would take part in the distribution of the land under Eleazar, the son of Aaron, and Joshua, the son of Nun, were given. There were ten ‘heads of the fathers’ (princes over the elders) for the nine and a half tribes. Eleazar had precedence because as ‘the Priest’ he would be responsible for the use of the Urim and Thummim (compare Numbers 27:21-22). (When Eleazar is mentioned first it is always because consultation has to take place ‘before YHWH’ - Joshua 14:1; Joshua 17:4; Joshua 19:51; Joshua 21:1). The word for ‘tribes’ is again the word signifying ‘jurisdiction over’.

The land was to be distributed by lot (Numbers 26:55), ‘the lot of their inheritance’. So their inheritances (Joshua 14:1) were divided to them by lot. This would probably be by the Urim and Thummim, but it may have been by sticks being tossed with each of their tribal names on them, or each territory on them. Unlike the division of Transjordan this division was looked on as directly the work and will of YHWH. But a great deal of hard work would already have gone into determining the lands to be divided, and how they were to be divided. The whole land had to be surveyed. The first surveys probably mainly took place during the course of Joshua’s campaigns.

“As YHWH commanded by the hand of Moses, for the nine tribes and for the half tribe.” See Numbers 34:13; compare Numbers 26:55; Numbers 33:54. The two and a half tribes had already received their inheritance. Note the stress on the participation of YHWH.

Verse 3

And Moses had given the inheritance of the two tribes, and the half tribe Beyond Jordan, but to the Levites he gave no inheritance among them.’

The repetition of this for the third time in a short space (see Joshua 13:14; Joshua 13:33) illustrates the importance that the writer laid on it. The inheritance of the Levites was not given by Moses, it was from God. This was in direct contrast with the Transjordanian tribes whose inheritance was given by Moses. The contrast is deliberate.

Verse 4

‘For the children of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim, and they gave no portion to the Levites in the land, except for cities to dwell in with their suburbs, for their cattle and for their substance.’

With the separation of Levi to the service of YHWH the twelve tribes had been maintained by the split of Joseph into Ephraim and Manasseh to ‘take over’ Levi’s portion. Thus the land would be fully occupied while Levi could be freed for their service. This demonstrates how important the ‘twelveness’ was seen to be. Twelve appears to have been a recognised number of covenant relationship which had to be maintained, compare Genesis 22:20-24; Genesis 25:13-16. Yet it was not said of Manasseh ‘this is the inheritance of the children of Manasseh’ although that is said of all the other tribes. They were still not seen as fully separate from Ephraim. This is an indication of the early date of the sources. They would not have thought that way later.

The portion of Levi has previously been described as ‘the offerings of YHWH, the God of Israel, made by fire’ (Joshua 13:14) and ‘YHWH, the God of Israel’ (Joshua 13:33). Thus it represented participation in supernatural things and special closeness to and separation to YHWH Himself. Now they were to be provided with the means of sustenance, but only as ‘sojourners’ in the land. The Levites were regularly described as sojourners (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:6; Judges 17:7-9; Judges 19:1) , those who dwell in but have no permanent rights in the land. This in their case was not because they were second class, but because they were super-class. In Leviticus 25:23 a similar concept was applied to all Israel demonstrating that the land belonged to YHWH and could not be sold in perpetuity but should be returned to its former owners at the year of yubile if not before.

“Cities to dwell in with their suburbs, for their cattle and for their substance.” The ‘suburbs’ were the common land round a city which were shared by all. Cities were to be set aside in the portions of all the tribes for the Levites to dwell in so that they could carry out their responsibilities to YHWH. This included the collection of tithes, watching over the covenant and the giving of guidance on matters to do with the sanctuary and the Law.

Verse 5

As YHWH commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did, and they divided the land.’

The obedience of the people at this point is stressed. They carried out Moses’ commands as given by YHWH. They divided and allocated the land.

Verses 6-15

The Special Allocation to Caleb (Joshua 14:6-15 ).

Joshua 14:6

Then the children of Judah drew near to Joshua in Gilgal, and Caleb, the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite, said to him, “You know what it was that YHWH spoke to Moses the man of God, concerning me and concerning you, in Kadesh-barnea.” ’

After the initial wars Joshua and Israel had returned to their camp at Gilgal, and at this time Caleb came to Joshua accompanied by his fellow elders of the tribe of Judah. It was important that his request be seen as official and backed by the elders lest he and Joshua be charged with favouritism. Furthermore as a result of the request the portion of Judah was being fixed as connected with Hebron.

Caleb, with Joshua, had been one of the two princes of Israel who had spied out the land of Canaan forty years before and had returned with a positive view, in contrast with the other ten whose viewpoint had been negative and had caused Israel to sin grievously by refusing to go forward into the land (Numbers 13:1 to Numbers 14:10). As a reward for his faithfulness he was then promised that he would one day receive as his possession the land that he had spied out (Numbers 14:24; Deuteronomy 1:36). Now he was laying claim to that promise, a promise made to him by YHWH through Moses.

But what was a Kenizzite doing as a prince of Israel? The Kenizzites had been in the land of Canaan from at least the time of Abraham (Genesis 15:19). But like Israel they too would seek shelter in Egypt in times of famine, and a group of them too may have been made slaves as ‘Canaanites’ after the Hyksos expulsion, and have joined up with the Israelites on their departure from Egypt, taking advantage of the parlous situation Egypt found itself in. Thus they would have been incorporated at Sinai into the covenant and have become Israelites. We note later how many Israelites had such different designations (e.g. Uriah the Hittite - 2 Samuel 11:0). (Alternatively they may have been descendants of those who were previously servants in the households of the patriarchs).

Joshua 14:7-9

I was forty years old when Moses, the servant of YHWH, sent me from Kadeshbarnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again, as it was in my heart. Nevertheless, my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed YHWH my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden will be an inheritance to you, and to your children for ever, because you have wholly followed YHWH your God’.”

Caleb outlined the basis of his claim. He had been true to YHWH when ten of the spies had proved unworthy. (He had hardly to point out Joshua’s participation when he was speaking to Joshua. Indeed that is a sign of authenticity). They had discouraged the people, but he had encouraged them. Then Moses had promised him the land on which his foot had trodden. Now he was laying claim to it, to Hebron (Joshua 14:13). Note the double stress on the fact that he followed God.

“Forty years old.” A figure regularly used of a man’s age, not to be applied literally but as signifying full maturity (Genesis 25:20; Genesis 26:34; 2 Samuel 2:10).

Kadesh-barnea was an oasis on the edge of the wildernesses of Paran and Zin (Numbers 13:26; Numbers 20:1), possibly modern ‘Ain Qudeirat. Through the ages it has been a recognised landmark (Genesis 14:5-9; Genesis 16:7; Genesis 16:14; Numbers 34:4; Joshua 15:3; Ezekiel 47:19; Ezekiel 48:28). If the identification is correct it was eventually fortified around 10th century BC. It was from there that the spies went out (Numbers 13:26; Deuteronomy 1:19) and to it that they returned after their abortive attempt to enter the land (Deuteronomy 1:46; Numbers 20:1), and from where messengers were sent to the king of Edom (Numbers 20:14). They were in its vicinity for thirty eight years (Deuteronomy 2:14 compare Deuteronomy 1:46).

Joshua 14:10-11

And now, behold, YHWH has kept me alive, as he said, these forty and five years, from the time that YHWH spoke this word to Moses while Israel walked in the wilderness, and now, see, I am eighty 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 out and come in.”

His words were with a view to contrasting his own situation with that of the other spies apart from Joshua who had been unfaithful, who had died of the plague (Numbers 14:37). YHWH had kept him strong and in good health through the years. They are the words of an old man still conscious of vigour and strength, and still able to fight. He did not need the help of a stick to go in and out. They are probably not to be applied too literally. They were the words of a man confident in his strength. They were simply intended to say that he was in remarkable health for his age.

“Forty and five.” A few years over forty. ‘Eighty and five’, in the third stage of life. He had experienced a remarkable amount over those forty or so years, the long stay at Kadesh and its surrounding oases, and then the movement forward through various battles to where they were now, and yet he still saw himself as being as strong as ever.

Joshua 14:12

Now therefore give me this mountain, of which YHWH spoke in that day, for you yourself heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and cities that were great and fenced. It may be that YHWH will be with me, and I will drive them out, as YHWH said.”

Caleb’s words indicated that he also knew that the Anakim and the fenced cities were still there, but the personal reminiscence with Joshua is a sign of authenticity. ‘This mountain’ means ‘this hill country’. Joshua had defeated the cities there during his first campaign, and had ‘devoted’ Hebron (burning it with fire?) although the Anakim had been absent or had escaped (Joshua 10:36). It had, however, been restored and reoccupied. Here Caleb is requesting the right to retake the city and destroy the Anakim. His fulfilment of this is described in Joshua 11:21. This time they had all been ‘devoted’. (Note that the phrase ‘the land had rest from war’ followed both the incident in Joshua 11:21 and the incident here (Joshua 11:23; Joshua 14:15), confirming that they are related and occurred around the same time). The incident is again described in Joshua 15:13-19.

“It may be that YHWH will be with me, and I will drive them out, as YHWH said.” It was not that Caleb doubted it but that he wished to express himself modestly. He did not want to appear to be boasting. His confidence was in YHWH’s promise not in himself.

Joshua 14:13

And Joshua blessed him, and gave Hebron to Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, for an inheritance.’

Joshua gave his consent and allocated the land to Caleb with the blessing of YHWH. ‘Hebron’ here stands for the whole area around, including ‘all the cities of it’ (Joshua 10:37).

Joshua 14:14

‘Hebron therefore became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kennizite to this day, because he wholly followed YHWH, the God of Israel.’

The writer now sums up both the act and its consequence. It was given to Caleb and by the time this was written he had succeeded in taking it, simply because he was fully obedient to YHWH.

Joshua 14:15

And the name of Hebron before was Kiriath-arba, the greatest man among the Anakim. And the land had rest from war.’

“The name of Hebron was previously Kiriath-arba.” This means ‘the city of four’ or ‘city of Arba’ - see Genesis 23:2. LXX has ‘it was the mother-city of the Anakim’. But there is no reason to reject Arba as a name or nickname and it is certainly related to the Anakim in some way, so when we are told here that it was named after a famous ancestor of the Anakim, named Arba, possibly because he had the strength or usefulness of four men (compare Joshua 15:13; Joshua 21:11 - which suggests that LXX translated ‘father’ as ‘mother’ because it related the latter idea more to a city) it makes good sense.

“And the land had rest from war.” Compare Joshua 11:23. The two incidents there and here clearly parallel one another.

The whole story of Caleb is a reminder that God does not forget a man’s faithfulness. Men may not reward us, but God will in His own way. He had had to wait a long time for his blessing but at last it had come, although he still had to prove his constant trust and obedience in possessing it.

The Settling of the Land.

Judah, and Joseph, the latter incorporating Ephraim and Manasseh who would at first work together, were dealt with first as composing the largest and most powerful tribes (Joshua 15:0 & Joshua 16:0). Joshua would inevitably be swayed by the Patriarchal blessing in Genesis 49:0, for such blessings were looked on as affecting things into the future. Thus the prophecy that Judah would be like a lion and have royal power (Genesis 49:10) and that Joseph would, being a fruitful bough, be strong at arms by the hand of YHWH (Genesis 49:22; Genesis 49:24-25) almost guaranteed their first selection for the lot when the taking and defending of the important hill country was involved. At this stage Levi was still numbered among the tribes and thus Manasseh and Ephraim were seen as one, another indication of the early date of the narrative.

Their allocation in the northern and southern hill countries necessarily had to be settled first because it was vital that they take full possession of that part of the land as soon as possible. It had been invaded by Joshua, who had left it weak and vulnerable, but it had not in the main yet been settled. Now it was necessary to settle there and finally drive out what remained of the inhabitants for good. Joshua was therefore concerned that they receive their allocation quickly. And he had been spurred on by the eagerness of Caleb to go forward and possess his inheritance.

We should note that very little land had actually been settled under Joshua. There was a great gap between conquest and settlement. He had conquered, but he had moved on. His aim had been to establish their presence in the land and make them safe from attack, and he had defeated the enemy all around while maintaining their central headquarters at Gilgal. Some land was already possessed during the life of Joshua thanks to the persistence of men like Caleb (Joshua 15:13-19; Joshua 11:21-23), but it was only a beginning and Joshua was now old. His twofold aim was thus to spur the tribes into active possession (Joshua 24:28) and seal them together in the tribal covenant (Joshua 24:0). He wanted to arouse their enthusiasm and to maintain their unity in diversity around the central sanctuary, for he knew that for him death was not far away (Joshua 24:29). Then the actual final settlement of the whole of the land must continue in earnest.

What a different picture is presented as Joshua grows old. While he was in command and subduing the inhabitants all was optimism. They went from victory to victory. But now there was hesitancy. Judah under Caleb had commenced possession of the southern hill country and lowland hills, as had Ephraim and Manasseh in the northern hills, but the latter had already declared that the task was too much for them (Joshua 17:16) and the other tribes were even more hesitant (Joshua 18:3). Conquest under Joshua had been ‘great’. Settling the land and removing the inhabitants without him was different. A covenant treaty with Shechem had been fine but it prevented them taking up all the land in that area, and thus the hills were not sufficient for them (Joshua 17:16) and in the plains they now knew that there were chariots with iron accoutrements (Joshua 17:16).

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 14". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/joshua-14.html. 2013.
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