Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Joshua 16

Introduction

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 16 The Lot For the Children of Joseph.

In this chapter the lot allocated to the children of Joseph, seen as one tribe and yet two, is described. It was the portion north of that of Benjamin and Dan. It was not necessary to deal with it in such detail because it was discernible from the boundaries of the other tribes. Their prospective possessions occupied the centre of Palestine, bounded on the north by the Plain of Esdraelon, and the territories of Asher and Issachar, and on the south by those of Dan (Joshua 19:41-46) and Benjamin (Joshua 18:11-28). No list of towns is given, possibly because of the stress on their need to clear the forest land (Joshua 17:15-18). That was what they should have been concentrating on rather than towns. Furthermore their area included Shechem and its related towns which were probably to be left alone having joined the tribal confederacy. No suggestion was to be given that they had been possessed.

Verse 1

Chapter 16 The Lot For the Children of Joseph.

In this chapter the lot allocated to the children of Joseph, seen as one tribe and yet two, is described. It was the portion north of that of Benjamin and Dan. It was not necessary to deal with it in such detail because it was discernible from the boundaries of the other tribes. Their prospective possessions occupied the centre of Palestine, bounded on the north by the Plain of Esdraelon, and the territories of Asher and Issachar, and on the south by those of Dan (Joshua 19:41-46) and Benjamin (Joshua 18:11-28). No list of towns is given, possibly because of the stress on their need to clear the forest land (Joshua 17:15-18). That was what they should have been concentrating on rather than towns. Furthermore their area included Shechem and its related towns which were probably to be left alone having joined the tribal confederacy. No suggestion was to be given that they had been possessed.

Joshua 16:1

And the lot for the children of Joseph went out from the Jordan at Jericho, at the waters of Jericho on the east, even the wilderness going up from Jericho through the hill country to Bethel.’

Once again the sacred lot was called on to determine the land allocated to Ephraim and Manasseh. Yet as the other large tribe, their activity in the Central Highlands was necessary. Thus did the sacred lot and what was necessary for success go hand in hand.

The border parallels that of Benjamin, but here was looking northward, commencing with ‘the Jordan of Jericho’, that part of the Jordan close to Jericho (compare Numbers 22:1). The ‘waters of Jericho on the east’ refers to some copious spring on the east of, and connected with, the wilderness going up from Jericho through the hill country to Bethel.

Verse 2

And it went out from Bethel to Luz, and passed along to the border of the Archites to Ataroth.’

Here Bethel, the sacred place, is distinguished from the city Luz as in Genesis 28:19. Elsewhere the two are identified (Joshua 8:13; Genesis 35:6; Judges 1:23). At this point Luz is not yet named Bethel, a further indication of the age of the sources, and the sacred place is identified separately by the name Bethel. As in Joshua 13:11 the borders of a people are called into play to define the boundary, ‘the border of the Archites’. The Archites were presumably a Canaanite ‘family group’, mentioned again in connection with Hushai the Archite, David’s friend (2 Samuel 15:32-37). ‘To Ataroth.’ There is no preposition in the Hebrew but it must be assumed. It is possibly the same as Ataroth-addar (Joshua 16:5, see also Joshua 18:13).

Verse 3

And it went down westward to the border of the Japhletites, to the border of Beth-horon the Lower, even to Gezer. And its goings out were at the sea.’

The Japhletites were another Canaanite family group prominent enough for their border to act as a border marker. The border then went on to lower Beth-horon (see Joshua 10:10-11), and then to Gezer, which is fifteen kilometres (nine miles) further west, and on to the Great Sea where the border inevitably changed course (‘its goings out’ - see on Joshua 15:7).

Verse 4

And the children of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, took their inheritance.’

Having outlined the southern border of their inheritance we are told that the combined tribe ‘took their inheritance’. We are probably to understand by this their acceptance of their lot. First Judah received their lot, and now Joseph. Progress in dividing the land is now being made. Note that it is a joint inheritance which will now be expanded in detail. Manasseh is unusually named first, here specifically as the firstborn (Joshua 17:1; Genesis 48:1; Genesis 48:13-14), stressing the inheritance aspect. But the thought may include that they began to take possession of what they could.

Verses 5-7

And the border of the children of Ephraim according to their families was thus; even the border of their inheritance, eastward was Attaroth-addar to Upper Beth-horon, and the border went out to the sea. Michmethath on the north, and the border turned about eastward to Taanath-shiloh, and passed along it on the east of Janoah. And it went down from Janoah to Ataroth, and to Naarah, and reached to Jericho, and went out at Jordan.’

This first summarises briefly the southern border as previously depicted, Ataroth to Beth-horon (this time Upper Beth-horon) to the sea. The slight change may indicate a different surveyor. Then the northern border is given. Michmethath indicates the northern border. Michmethath is ‘before Shechem’ (Joshua 17:7) and therefore east of Shechem. Khirbet Makhneh el-Foqa has been tentatively suggested as the site. Then eastward and southward to Taanath-shiloh (Khirbet Ta‘na el-Foqa), Janoa (Khirbet el-Yanum), Ataroth, Naarah (Tell el-Jisr beside ‘Ain Duq), Jericho and Jordan. ‘Went down -- to Ataroth’ suggests a town near or in the Jordan valley and therefore a different one from that in Joshua 16:2; Joshua 16:5. ‘Went out at Jordan.’ Once Jordan was reached it was the eastern border.

Verse 8-9

From Tappuah the border went along westward to the brook of Kanah, and its goings out were at the sea. This is the inheritance of the tribe of the children of Ephraim according to their families, together with the cities which were separated for the children of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the children of Manasseh, all the cities with their villages.’

The line from Michmethath to Tappuah is not mentioned but assumed (compare Joshua 17:7-9). The author had many surveyor’s records and reports to select from, many probably made on Joshua’s campaigns, and he did so to present a certain picture without too much repetition. Tappuah (meaning ‘quince’) is possibly modern Sheikh Abu Zarad, about twelve kilometres (eight miles) south of Shechem. Its Canaanite king was defeated by Joshua (Joshua 12:17) but nothing is said about the actual town. The Wadi Qanah ran west from the watershed at the head of the Michmethath valley, eight kilometres (five miles) south west of Shechem. This was its lower course which ran on to the Great Sea.

“This is the inheritance of the tribe of the children of Ephraim according to their families.” These are the technical descriptions that finish off the allotment to each of the twelve tribes apart from Levi, whose inheritance was YHWH, and Manasseh who were counted with Ephraim, indicating the early date of the descriptions (see on Joshua 15:20). Note that Ephraim and Manasseh were conjoined in that Ephraim had cities within Manasseh indicating joint rule.

“Together with the cities which were separated for the children of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the children of Manasseh.” We are not told why this was so. Possibly it occurred through Ephraimite assistance to Manasseh at an early point, but it confirms the oneness between them and suggests combined rule to some extent.

Verse 10

And they did not drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer, but the Canaanites dwelt in the midst of Ephraim to this day and became servants to do taskwork.’

Compare Joshua 13:13; Joshua 15:63, (although in the latter case Judah ‘could not’ drive them out). The suggestion here is that at some stage Gezer was subdued, but that instead of driving them out they made them bondmen, and this was the situation at the time that this was written. This was in direct disobedience to the command of YHWH. This final phrase may, however, refer to a much later time, but the roots of sin began very early. They allowed the Canaanites to dwell among them. Thus the Israelites began to sample Canaanite life, and especially their sexually depraved religion. The Book of Judges will outline what an effect this later had on their faith and obedience.

Gezer was an important city on the road from Jerusalem to Joppa and on the most northern ridge of the Shephelah, overlooking the Aijalon valley, twelve kilometres from the main highway between Egypt and Mesopotamia. It was important for trading purposes. In fact, although the king of Gezer, and its army, were defeated by Joshua, Gezer was not taken. The ageing Pharaoh Merenptah claims to have recaptured it in late 13th century BC, but if so it was only temporary. Archaeology suggests that after 1200 BC the Philistines controlled the city, possibly with Egyptian approval. It definitely became an Israelite possession when the Pharaoh, having seized it, slew the Canaanites and gave it to his daughter on her marriage to Solomon (1 Kings 9:15-17). All this agrees with the fact that Ephraim did not ‘drive them out, allowing them to dwell in their midst’. Possibly like Jebusite Jerusalem for Judah (Joshua 15:63) it was at most times too strong for them. But there would also be other times when if they had exerted themselves they could have achieved it and driven them out. But the impetus was gone and obedience was lacking. They accepted the situation as it was. Once again Israel failed.

This is also a warning to us that we must not settle down in complacency but that by studying the Law of God we should always keep on the alert to do God’s will and to drive out all that offends Him.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 16". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/joshua-16.html. 2013.