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The lot of . . . Joseph.
The inheritance of Joseph
Next to Judah, the most important tribe was Joseph; that is, the double tribe to which his two sons gave names, Ephraim and Manasseh. In perpetual acknowledgment of the service rendered by Joseph to the family, by keeping them alive in the famine, it was ordained by Jacob that his two sons should rank with their uncles as founders of tribes (Genesis 48:5). It was also prophetically ordained by Jacob that Ephraim, the younger son, should take rank before Manasseh (Genesis 48:19). The privilege of the double portion, however, remained to Manasseh as the elder son. Hence, in addition to his lot in Gilead and Bashan, he had also a portion in Western Palestine. But Ephraim was otherwise the more important tribe; and when the separation of the two kingdoms took place, Ephraim often gave his name to the larger division. And in the beautiful prophetic vision of Ezekiel, when the coming reunion of the nation is symbolised, it is on this wise (Ezekiel 37:16-26.37.17). The superiority allotted to Ephraim was not followed by very happy results; it raised an arrogant spirit in that tribe. The delimitation of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh is not easy to follow, particularly in the A.V., which not only does not translate very accurately, but uses some English expressions of uncertain meaning. The R.V. is much more helpful, correcting both classes of defects in its predecessor. Yet even the R.V. sometimes leaves us at a loss. It has been supposed, indeed, that some words have dropped out of the text. Moreover, it has not been found possible to ascertain the position of all the places mentioned. The portion of the land occupied by Ephraim and Manasseh is, however, on the whole, very clearly known, just as their influence on the history of the country is very distinctly marked. In point of fact, the lot of Joseph in Western Palestine was, in many respects, the most desirable of any. It was a fertile and beautiful district. It embraced the valley of Shechem, the first place of Abraham’s sojourn, and reckoned by travellers to be one of the most beautiful spots, some say the most beautiful spot, in Palestine. Samaria, at the head of another valley celebrated for its “glorious beauty,” and for its “fatness” or fertility (Isaiah 28:1), was at no great distance. Tirzah, a symbol of beauty, in the Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 6:4) was another of its cities, as was also Jezreel, “a lovely position for a capital city.” On the other hand, this portion of the country laboured under the disadvantage of not having been well cleared of its original inhabitants. The men of Ephraim did not exert themselves as much as the men of Judah. This is apparent from what is said in verse 10, and also from Joshua’s answer to the request of Ephraim for more land (Joshua 17:15-6.17.18). In the definition of boundaries we have first a notice applicable to Joshua as a whole, then specifications applicable to Ephraim and Manasseh respectively. The southern border is delineated twice with considerable minuteness, and its general course, extending from near the Jordan at Jericho, past Bethel and Luz, and down the pass of Bethhoron to the Mediterranean, is clear enough. The border between Ephraim and Manasseh is not so clear, nor the northern border of Manasseh. It is further to be remarked that, while we have an elaborate statement of boundaries, we have no list of towns in Ephraim and Manasseh such as we have for the tribe of Judah. This gives countenance to the supposition that part of the ancient record has somehow dropped out. We find, however, another statement about towns which is of no small significance. At verse 9 we find that several cities were appropriated to Ephraim that were situated in the territory of Manasseh. And in like manner several cities were given to Manasseh which were situated in the tribes of Issachar and Asher. Of these last the names are given (Joshua 17:11). They were Bethshean, Ibleam, Dor, Endor, Taanach, and Megiddo. Some of them were famous in after-history. Bethshean was the city to whose wail the body of Saul and his sons were fixed after the fatal battle of Gilboa; Ibleam was in the neighbourhood of Naboth’s vineyard (2 Kings 9:25; 2 Kings 9:27); Endor was the place of abode of the woman with a familiar spirit whom Saul went to consult; Taanach was the battlefield of the kings of Canaan whom Barak defeated, and of whom Deborah sang (Judges 5:19). As for Megiddo, many a battle was fought in its plain. We can only conjecture why these cities, most of which were in Issachar, were given to Manasseh. They were strongholds in the great plain of Esdraelon, where most of the great battles of Canaan were fought. For the defence of the plain it seemed important that these places should be held by a stronger tribe than Issachar. Hence they appear to have been given to Manasseh. But, like Ephraim, Manasseh was not able to hold them at first. Undoubtedly these sons of Joseph occupied a position which gave them unrivalled opportunities of benefiting their country. But with the exception of the splendid exploit of Gideon, a man of Manasseh, and his little band, we hear of little in the history that redounded to the credit of Joseph’s descendants. Nobility of character is not hereditary. Sometimes nature appears to spend all her intellectual and moral wealth on the father and almost to impoverish the sons. And sometimes the sons live on the virtues of their fathers, and cannot be roused to the exertion or the sacrifice needed to continue their work and maintain their reputation. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent