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Joshua 17:1. A lot for the tribe of Manasseh] The families of the tribe as a whole are here taken into account, the notice of them extending to the close of the sixth verse. Machir] Cf. on chap. Joshua 13:31. The father of Gilead] “The ruler or possessor of the land of Gilead.” “This is apparent from the fact that ‘Machir’ does not stand for any individual in this passage, but for an entire family, and also from the use of the article before ‘Gilead,’ which always denotes the province (cf. Numbers 32:40; Deuteronomy 3:10, sqq.; Joshua 13:11; Joshua 13:31; Joshua 17:1; Joshua 17:5); whereas Machir’s son or grandson of that name is invariably called; Gilead’ (without the article), as in Numbers 26:29; Joshua 17:3; 1 Chronicles 7:17.” [Keil.]
Joshua 17:2. The rest of the children of Manasseh] Cf. passages indicated in margin,
Joshua 17:3. No sons, but daughters] The case of the daughters of Zelophehad not only caused this provision to be made for them, but supplied an opportunity for special regulations for all similar cases (cf. Numbers 27:1-11, Num. 27:36.).
Joshua 17:5-6. Ten portions, etc.] On account of the daughters of Zelophehad inheriting their father’s estate, the lot of the half-tribe of Manasseh. west of the Jordan, had first to be divided into six portions, according to the number of the families. Then the Hepherite inheritance for the five daughters had again to be divided into five portions, one for each daughter, thus making ten portions.
Joshua 17:7-10. From Asher to Michmethah, etc.] It is generally agreed that “Asher” must be read as the name of a town, and not as indicating the territory of the tribe of that name, but so little is known of the places mentioned in this and the following verses, that it has been found impossible to trace the border with any assurance of correctness.
Joshua 17:10. They met together in Asher] Heb., “they touched upon Asher,” etc. The pl. pronoun, of course, refers to the children of Manasseh, and not to the two tribes previously named; i.e., “the Manassites touched upon Asher,” the people being put for their territory.
Joshua 17:11. Manasseh had in Issachar and in Asher, etc.] To which the clause of Joshua 17:10, just noticed, refers. As the children of Ephraim had separate cities in the lot of Manasseh (chap. Joshua 16:9), so the children of Manapseh had separate cities within the borders of Issachar and Asher. Bethshean] Also “Bethshean” in Judges 1:27; but later on, oftener Bethshan (1 Samuel 31:10; 2 Samuel 21:12). It is frequently named in connection with the Maccabees, where it is also called Scythopolis (2Ma. 12:29). It is now Beisân, lying in the Jordan valley between the river and Mount Gilboa. Ibleam] Where Ahaziah was mortally wounded, and near “the ascent to Gur” (2 Kings 9:27). Dor] Now Tantûra. It was formerly a royal city of the Canaanites (chap. Joshua 11:2, Joshua 12:23), and was subsequently the local centre where, as one of his twelve officers, or purveyors, Solomon stationed his son-in-law Abinadab (1 Kings 4:11). In the time of the Maccabees, Dor was besieged by Antiochus Sidetes (1 Mace. Joshua 15:11-14). Endor] Lit., Ain-Dor, the “eye” or “spring of Dor,” but in no way connected with the Dor just noticed. Eusebius placed it four miles south of Tabor. It was long famous as the scene of the victory over Sisera and Jabin (Psalms 83:10), and for Saul’s interview with “the witch” (1 Samuel 28:7). Taanach … Megiddo] Cf. on; chap. Joshua 12:21. Three countries] Heb., “three heights.” “What is intended is the three cities lying on hills: Endor, Taanach, and Megiddo, a Tripolis of mountain cities, in distinction from the places on the plain: Bethshean, Ibleam, and Dor.” [Fay]
Joshua 17:14. One lot and one portion] As stated also in chap. Joshua 16:1, on which see note. The single drawing, however, did not necessarily limit the portion. Referring to their conduct as stated in Judges 8:1; Judges 12:1. Crosby remarks that “the Ephraimites were probably the principal complainers.” This is the more likely when we remember that they may have presumed on their relation to Joshua, who was of their tribe (Numbers 13:8). The complainers did not come to Eleazar, like the daughters of Zelophehad (Joshua 17:4), although the high priest stood first in the matter of directing the lots (cf. chap. Joshua 14:1); but, as though they counted on his interest, they brought their case, craftily stated, to Joshua.
Joshua 17:15. The wood country] Heb., “forest.” “The mountain range (Joshua 17:18), then covered with timber trees, to which Joshua (like the prophet Amos 2:9), compares the tall Canaanites. This view seems more probable than that of Stanley (Sinai and Pal., p. 518) and others, who locate this forest on the other side of Jordan, and make it identical with ‘the wood of Ephraim,’ where Absalom met his fate (2 Samuel 18:6). It is true that the Rephaim or giants, were once in that locality, but they were settled in many other places, and we do not read of Perizzites east of Jordan.” [Groser.] Keil’s remark, however, on the places named in the next verse, disposes of any doubt which might remain: “This clearly proves that ‘hayydar’ (‘the forest’) refers to the mountains of Gilboa, which were bounded on the east by Bethshean, and on the west by the plain of Jezreel.”
Joshua 17:16. The hill is not enough] Or, “the mountain,” as it is again called in Joshua 17:18. Probably the children of Joseph alluded to the hill-land generally, including the Gilboa region, or forest-land which Joshua had just offered them. Chariots of iron] Cf. on chap. Joshua 11:4.
Joshua 17:17. And Joshua spake, etc.] He repeated, still in ironical reproof of their covetousuess and fear, what he had previously said. He uses their own talk about their greatness as the greatest possible argument against the spirit which they manifest.
Joshua 17:3-4.—THE INHERITANCE OF THE DAUGHTERS OF ZELOPHEHAD
“Men are so much devoted to their own interests, that it seldom occurs to them to give others their due. The daughters of Zelophehad had obtained a portion by a heavenly decree, nor had any one dared to utter a word against it; and yet, if they had remained silent, no regard would have been paid to them. Therefore, lest the delay should prove injurious to them, they apply to Joshua and Eleazar, and insist that they shall not be deprived of their legitimate succession. No delay is interposed by Joshua to prevent their immediately obtaining what is just, nor is there any murmuring on the part of the people. Hence we infer that all were disposed to act equitably; but every one was occupied by his own interest, and too apt carelessly to overlook that of others.” [Calvin.]
THE INFLUENCE OF SELF IN OUR FORGETFULNESS OR REMEMBRANCE OF THE DIVINE COMMANDMENTS
The remarks quoted above, coupled with the history in Numbers 27:1-7, suggest some important considerations on the way in which men read the Scriptures. Men insensibly teach the Bible from their own standpoint. Self is a much more important factor in the practical results of our reading the Bible than most of us are aware of, or would be ready to admit. What seems not to bless us we are continually overlooking; that which promises us something we see very readily indeed; and that which is obscure, and can be construed to our personal advantage, seldom finds us troubled with the obscurity or in the least doubtful about the meaning.
I. The words of the Lord utterly forgotten through self-seeking. The Israelites seem to have been caring each for the things that were his own. God’s words, apparently, had simply passed out of mind. Some of the people may have been guilty intentionally, but probably most of them transgressed unconsciously. There is a great deal of the book of God forgotten like this every day now. Many who learned whole chapters under their mothers’ teaching, or in Sunday-schools, have been so eagerly pursuing their own things in the world, that they have not remembered for years any single verse which would tend to diminish their inheritance and increase that of their neighbours. Many have remembered such words, but they have kept them secret. They have hidden them even from their own hearts.
II. The words of the Lord neglected under the pressure of temporal cares. Many good men, who would have reminded the leaders of Israel of this promise, had been so busy that it had not occurred to them. Eleazar had forgotten the words, and Joshua had forgotten them: Caleb, whose way it had been for many years to follow the Lord fully, had thought of his own inheritance a great deal, but not anything about the inheritance of these fatherless and brotherless women. The whole tribe of the disinterested Levites appear to have forgotten the words also. Just then, life was so hurried; there had been so much for men to think about, and so much to do. How much Bible is there forgotten in our great cities every day from like causes? How much is forgotten “on ‘Change”? How much in merchants’ offices, in busy manufactories, in shops, and in homes? How much Scripture is forgotten, under pressure of work, by the farmer in his fields? how much by the labourer who toils for him?
III. The words of the Lord remembered and pleaded under the influence of personal interest. Although the Israelites, by hundreds of thousands, had forgotten the command of God, these daughters of Zelophehad had not forgotten. How readily we all remember such words of Scripture as tend to our personal benefit! Men remember words which support their individual claims. They remember words which seem to exonerate themselves. They remember words which reflect on others. What is remembered through personal interest is generally pleaded with readiness and urgency. Our very faculties tend to partiality. Memory and eloquence are quickened by nothing so much as by individual interest. Only let there be something to inherit, and forthwith the meanest capabilities become efficient.
Joshua 17:12-13.—LITTLE WILL, AND THUS NO WAY.
I. Inability in its relation to unbelief. The promises of God had been many, and the warnings urgent (Exodus 34:10-17; Numbers 33:50-56, etc.). They who begin by disbelieving God may well fear to encounter powerful enemies.
II. Inability in its relation to indisposition. The indisposition that comes
(1) through fear of men,
(2) through love of ease,
(3) through undervaluing the importance of God’s command.
III. The inability of God-aided men presently shewn to be a mere pretence and a poor excuse.
1. The revelation which comes through transgressors themselves. “When the children of Israel were waxen strong, they put the Canaanites to tribute.” “Could not” is here seen to be “would not.” That “tribute” told the entire story in its true colours. It was a history in a word. Tribute goes on telling secrets still. Probably nothing else in this world tells so many. The tribute of Judas burned into his very soul, till he threw the thirty pieces on the temple floor, and cried over them in agony, “I have betrayed innocent blood.” The tribute of the young ruler’s great possessions became a text from which Christ preached, “How hardly shall they that have riches,” etc. The tribute of the craft by which Demetrius had his wealth, let out the secret reason of his great love for the despised Diana (Acts 19:24-27). The tribute of the world betrayed the reason why Demas forsook Paul. It is ever thus. The robber’s biggest trouble is with his spoil. The ambitious man mounts the pedestal which he has long been striving to climb, and then tells his secret on the top. The dishonest merchant cannot keep his gains from preaching. Transgressors win their way to success unobserved, and then betray themselves with the very gains they have won.
2. The revelation which comes through those who succeed transgressors. Out of this very section of the tribe of Manasseh arose Gideon, of the family of the Abi-ezrites (cf. Joshua 17:2). On this very ground of the half-tribe of Manasseh was fought the great battle which delivered Israel from the Midianites. And how was it fought? By an army from which more than thirty thousand had been sent to their homes; by a small force of three hundred men, who merely brake their pitchers, and held their torches on high, shedding light on a truth afterwards embodied in one of the famous sayings of Israel, “The battle is the Lord’s.” It was as though God was purposely reproving the faintheartedness and idleness of these men who had lived in the days of Joshua. He who says to us by His apostle, “Prove all things,” will not fail to establish the truth of His own word. It was not God’s promises which had proved weak when “the children of Manasseh could not conquer those cities” in their new lot; it was the children of Manasseh themselves who were weak. God revealed this in the taking of the tribute, and still more fully in the victory of the reduced army which only began to fight when the battle was won. Probably the future will declare, no less fully, that all our failures have been in no measure God’s, but entirely ours.
Joshua 17:14-18.—DIVINE METHODS OF INHERITING.
The tribe of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh appear to have had the position of their inheritances indicated by a single lot. According to the principles regulating the division of the land, this would in no measure have restricted the extent of their possessions (cf. Numbers 26:54). Thus this tribe and a half of the descendants of Joseph, in saying, “Why hast thou given us but one lot?” were endeavouring to make capital by an equivocal representation. In view of that wrong spirit, Joshua answered them. He treated their request with the rejection which it deserved. In taking this course we feel at once that Joshua followed the mind and will of God.
I. In the Divine plan there is little room for inheriting by what men suppose to be their own inherent merits. “I am a great people.’ Many people feel that they are the same. They think that their greatness ought to be recognised both by Providence and by men. They are quite sure that they ought to stand higher up in life. If a man had his deserts, there would be few above him! God’s answer, through His servants, and through all the inspired voices of life, is: “Prove your greatness. Do something with it. Level the woods; clear the mountains; make the giants give place before you; thus you will assert your greatness in a way beyond contradiction, and men will recognise it.” Our greatness is not to consist in pride. It is not to be established by advertisements. No tongue is eloquent enough to proclaim its owner’s worth. In the advocacy of our personal merits only actions can be allowed to speak. The tongue has never been elected to this parliament.
II. In the Divine plan of inheriting, past blessing gives no immunity from present or future labours. “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto.” True; God had blessed Joseph through his father, Jacob, through Moses, and through the actual multiplication of his children. And the good people found this kind of thing very comfortable. It was very nice to be blessed. Why should they not be blessed always? Because an opportunity had now come for work; and if they wanted to utilise even past blessings, they must do so through work. Some people are always remembering how they used to be favoured. God blesses us gratis when we are children. God blesses us for nothing when we are in the desert, and have little opportunity for service. When the field for service is before us, then, lest our very blessings should turn into curses, the Lord ever says by some voice or other: “If you would be blessed any more, you must work. Henceforth your labour shall be the channel through which my mercies shall run to refresh your life.” If we stop up the channel, we must not wonder if the streams of Divine favour are turned in some other direction. No man can afford to live on his past.
III. In the Divine plan there is no room for selfishness, and no place for unfair patronage. “And Joshua answered,” etc. They had come, not to Eleazar, like the daughters of Zelophehad (Joshua 17:3-4), but to Joshua, who was their relative (Numbers 13:8), thinking, probably, that the leader of Israel would be disposed to favour his own tribe. To increase the greatness of Ephraim would be to act kindly by his own people; to increase the greatness of Ephraim would be to add to his own greatness. Put plainly, that seems to have been their real argument. Joshua rejects the pleadings, both the manifest pleadings and the hidden. The recognition of adventitious circumstances is not God’s way of inheriting. A man’s greatness must be within him, not upon him.
IV. In the Divine plan the way to a larger inheritance is ever through the expulsion of enemies. “If thou be a great people, then,” etc. (Joshua 17:15-18).
1. Our increase of inheritance is not to come through robbing our brethren of some of theirs. To straiten the lot of Benjamin and Issachar, in order to increase the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, is not the way of the God of Israel. It is not by robbing another that a man can increase his own. The robber always loses more manhood than he gets land.
2. Our increase of inheritance is to be through conflict with the foes of God and truth. The relation of Israel to the Canaanites was special, and the like can never occur between man and man now. But we have spiritual foes against whom we are each bidden to contend (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18). We have error to oppose, and new territory to win for the occupation of truth.
V. The Divine plan may have many difficulties, but it also reveals great encouragements. “Thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong.”
1. Error may be tenacious, but so is truth. The idolatry of the land of Canaan could only be removed by the removal of the idolaters. Error holds as strongly to the human heart as ever. But truth is not less strong. Every man who fairly lodges a new and holy truth in the heart of his fellow has planted what can never be wholly removed again. He who has sown new truths abroad in the world has sown for immortality. “Every plant which your heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up,” said the Saviour. Surely what He has planted cannot be uprooted. Some one has said:
“The truth once uttered, and ‘tis like
A star new-born, that drops into its place,
And which once circling in its placid round,
Not all the tumult of the earth can shake.”
The labour of getting truth to take the place of error is arduous, but the results are abiding.
2. Enemies may be strong, but God is greater than them all. These men of Ephraim and Manasseh were alarmed at the Perizzites and the Rephaim; but Joshua, who knew the sufficiency of the help of the Lord, could say unhesitatingly, “Thou shalt drive them out.” The Christian man who has only learned the strength of his enemies may well be sad; he who has proved the arm of Jehovah will need to contemplate nothing but victory.
I. The easy way to discontentment. Anybody can complain. Everybody is tempted to complain. Most of those who murmur think that they can shew good cause for their complaints. No man is rich enough to be out of the reach of discontent. No man is poor enough to be below the possibility of happiness. “Poor and content is rich, and rich enough.” It was from a life very great in its experience of suffering that there came forth to the world that ever memorable utterance, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”
II. The unfailing testimony of discontentment.
1. Complaints furnish no trustworthy evidence about a man’s lot. How can they, when so many murmur in every kind of lot which the world knows?
2. Complaints bear unfailing witness against the murmurer himself. Scripture often condemns the man who complains, apart from considering the cause of complaining. The words “murmur,” “impatience,” “covetous,” “envy,” are always treated as so many synonyms for sin, quite irrespective of the circumstances which men treat as justifying such states of mind. Shakspeare wrote:
“My crown is in my heart, not on my head;
Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen: my crown is called content;
A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.”
The owner of the humblest inheritance may say that; every Christian should say it. It was He who said, “The Son of man hath not where to lay His head,” who presently added, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” This world’s great legacy of joy came to it from the Man of sorrows.
III. The true answer to discontentment.
1. Joshua was too wise to dispute the assumption of greatness (Joshua 17:15; Joshua 17:17). He who tries to argue a discontented man out of his favourite assumptions does but waste breath.
2. Joshua turned the plea of greatness back on those who used it: “If thou be a great people, then”—work, fight.
3. Joshua sought to cure the murmuring of the heart through the diligence of the hand. The energy which is absorbed in gloomy thoughts, and poured out in bitter complaints, would generally double the small inheritance, if it were rightly directed. Apart from this, industry and courage ever tend to happiness.
4. Joshua encouraged these murmurers to think that to the people of God no difficulties were insuperable. He would have them think of the invincible might which had promised to support their faithful efforts (cf. Deuteronomy 20:1-4), and make them victorious.
The after history shews us that a discontented spirit is not easily cured. These people shewed the same haughty dissatisfaction again and again after the death of Joshua (cf. Judges 8:1-8; Judges 12:1-6). He who has cultivated contentment through faith in God is not readily disturbed; while the man who has learned, in whatsoever state he is, to find some fault with his fellows, has given room in his heart for a demon that is not easily expelled. “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”
IDLENESS, COVETOUSNESS, etc. “So it goes also with many an insincere combatant in the kingdom of God, that they would fain have many spiritual gifts, but without a strife.” [Lange.]
“Many wish for larger possessions, who do not cultivate and make the best of what they have. They think they should have more talents given them, and do not trade with those with which they are intrusted. Most people’s poverty is the effect of their idleness; would they dig, they need not beg.” [Henry.]
“That is the way with the covetous man, that the more he has, the more he desires to have, and cannot but grudge his neighbour what belongs to him. One should be content with that which God gives. Those who are appointed to the duty of distributing goods and lands, however faithfully they may perform the service, yet commonly get no great thanks therefor.” [Starke.]
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 17". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany