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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 17

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-18


Joshua 17:1

There was also a lot. The preferable translation is, "and the lot for the tribe of Manasseh—for he was the firstborn of Joseph—was (or fell) to Machir the son of Manasseh. That is to say, the proper possession of the tribe of Manasseh fell to Machir and his descendants only, because of their warlike spirit, and possibly on account of their numbers also. They were sufficient to occupy the land of Gilead and Bashan, extensive and powerful though it was, while the rest of the tribe had a share in the inheritance westward of Jordan (see also Joshua 13:29-31). For he was the firstborn of Joseph. There has been much discussion why these words were introduced. It is probable that they are intended as an explanation of the existence of Ephraim and Manasseh as separate tribes; or possibly this is introduced to suggest the reason for mentioning the tribes in this order since Ephraim was not the firstborn (see Genesis 48:5, Genesis 48:14). The father of Gilead. There seems no reason to accept Keil's dictum, that because Gilead here has the article, whereas in other places where it signifies Machir's son it has not, the country and not the man is meant, and "father" must be taken as equivalent to "lord." The usage is found in Arabic and Ethiopic, but not in Hebrew. The reason why Gilead as the name of the individual has the article here is most likely because he gave his name to the territory mentioned immediately afterwards. Therefore he had. There is no "therefore" in the original, where we find "and he had." We must understand this as spoken of the tribe, not personally of Machir, who had been long dead (see note on Joshua 6:25).

Joshua 17:2

There was also a lot. Or, and (the lot) was (or fell). Abiezer (see Judges 6:11; Judges 8:2). Gideon, therefore, was of the tribe of Manasseh. He is called Jeezer in Numbers 26:30. The male children. Rather, the male descendants. None of the persons here mentioned were (Numbers 26:30, Numbers 26:31; 1 Chronicles 7:18) the sons of Manasseh.

Joshua 17:3

Zelophehad (see Numbers 36:1-13). The inheritance here described as being given to the daughters of Zelophehad was so given on condition of their marrying within the limits of their own tribe, a condition which was fulfilled. Thus the name of Zelophehad, and the portion of land belonging to him, was not blotted out from the memory of his descendants.

Joshua 17:4

And they came near. In order to demand the fulfilment of the decree of Moses just referred to, to which they appeal in support of their claim (see also Numbers 27:1-7).

Joshua 17:5

And there fell ten portions. Literally, and the measured portions of Manasseh fell ten (in number). It will be observed that the descendants of Manasseh, exclusive of Hepher, are five in number. These, with the five portions allotted to the family of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, made up ten.

Joshua 17:6

The rest of Manasseh's sons. Namely, the descendants of Machir (see verse 1). The ambiguity is due to the indefinite way in which "son" is used in Scripture. Thus the B'ne Israel, which we translate "children of Israel," is literally, "sons of Israel," or Jacob. So the sons of Manasseh, in like manner, are Manasseh's descendants.

Joshua 17:7

Coast. Rather, border. Asher. This has been supposed not to be the tribe of Asher, for this was on the north, but a city which has been identified with the modern Yasir, about five hours' distance from Nablous, or Neapolis, on the road to Beisan,or Beth-shean, where, says Delitzsch, there are "magnificent ruins" now to be seen. See, however, note Joshua 17:10. Michmethah (see Joshua 16:6). This place has not been identified. All we know is that it is opposite (עַל־פְנֵי) Shechem. Some have thought that this is simply the denominative of Asher, to distinguish it from the tribe, and that for "Asher to Michmethah" we should read "Asher-ham-Michmethah." But this could hardly be the Yasir above, since it is opposite Shechem. Shechem. Now Nablous. This place is famous both in the Old and the New Testament. We first read of it, under the name of Sichem, in Genesis 12:6. It was the abode of Shechem and Hamor his son, when Jacob abode in Canaan after his return from Padan-aram. It was situated between Gerizim and Ebal, and became an important city in the days of the Judges (Judges 9:1-57). It was destroyed by Abimelech (Judges 9:45), but it seems to have recovered. It was thither that Rehoboam went to be crowned, and there that his injudicious answer alienated forever the ten tribes from his rule. Jeroboam made it his capital and is said to have "built" it (1 Kings 12:25). He afterwards, however, abandoned it for Penuel, and Penuel again apparently for Tirzah (1 Kings 14:17), and Tirzah for Jezreel, which remained the capital until Omri built Samaria (1 Kings 16:24). It is no doubt the Sychar mentioned in St. John 4:1-54. Most travelers have admired the picturesque situation of Shechem. It has even extorted a tribute from Dr. Peterman, in his 'Reisen im Orient,' a work which, however full of valuable information regarding the condition and customs of the people, does not abound m description of scenery. He becomes almost poetical as he speaks of this town, resting on the slopes of Gerizim, a mountain fruitful to its summit, and having opposite the bare, stony el Ebal, its outline unrelieved by verdure, the haunt of jackals, whose howls, like the cry of wailing children in distress, disturb the silence of the night. Thomson thus describes the scene: "A valley green with grass, grey with olives, gardens sloping down on each side, fresh springs rushing down in all directions; at the end a white town embosomed in all this verdure lodged between the two high mountains which extend on each side of the valley; this is the aspect of Nablous, the most beautiful, perhaps it might be said the only beautiful, spot in Central Palestine. Thirty-two springs can be traced in different parts. Here the bilbul delights to sit and sing, and thousands of other birds delight to swell the chorus."

Joshua 17:9

Southward of the brook. It would seem as if some words had fallen away here also. The LXX. adds Jariel, translates אלה (these) by terebinth, and omits the word "cities." The cities southward of the brook belonged of course to Ephraim. But what is meant here is that Ephraim had cities north of the brook. That the border of Manasseh lay to the northward of the brook is asserted twice over in the latter part of this and the next verse. These cities of Ephraim are among (literally, in the midst of) the cities of Manasseh (see Joshua 16:9). If exact and minute accuracy is found in this record, how is it that accusations of inaccuracy are so readily made against its author, when his narrative is clearly very much abbreviated, and where a fuller knowledge of the facts might possibly clear up what now appears obscure? Our present text has not the names of these cities.

Joshua 17:10

And they met together. Rather, they (i.e; the Manassites) impinged (this is the very same word as the Hebrew יִפְגְעוּ), i.e; "touched upon." There has been great discussion concerning this passage. The literal meaning is clearly that Manasseh was bordered by Asher on the north, and Issachar on the east. The idea of an Asher-ham-Michmethah must be given up if we take this rendering of the Hebrew. Its only justification is the fact that if Michmethah be at once the northern border of Ephraim and Manasseh, the territory of Manasseh is cut almost in half. And, in fact, such a supposition makes confusion worse confounded. Is it probable that in verses 7 and 10 Asher-ham-Michmethah is meant; that the town Asher is mentioned in similar terms to the tribe Issachar in the latter verse; and that in verse 11, without a single intimation of the change of meaning, the tribes Issachar and Asher are mentioned? Again: if Dor—considerably to the south of Mount Carmel—was within the territory of Asher (verse 11), how can we possibly, as Conder's 'Handbook' does, place the limits of Asher at Accho, and bring Zebulun to the sea (which it never reaches, for "toward the sea," in Joshua 19:11 clearly means "westward"), interposing a large strip of territory between Manasseh and Asher, placing Dor, in spite of verse 11, far within the limits of Manasseh, and giving this last tribe, or rather half tribe, an extraordinarily disproportioned share of the land? (See the complaint in verse 16). Zebulun, too, was on the eastern border of Asher (Joshua 19:27), and it is by no means certain that Shihor Libnath (see Joshua 19:26) is not the Wady Zerka, south of Dor. This is the view of Knobel, a commentator by no means void of acuteness. This contraction of Manasseh's territory explains why cities had to be given to it out of Asher and Issachar, as well as the complaint in the latter part of this chapter. Issachar, too, must have stretched considerably southward. But the vagueness of the description of Manasseh's border, especially on the north, prevents us from assigning any limits to Issachar in this direction; while it is impossible, with a writer in the Quarterly Papers of the Palestine Exploration Fund, to suppose that it extended from Jezreel and Shunem and Endor on the north as far as Jericho to the south.

Joshua 17:11

And Manasseh had in Issachar and in Asher (see Joshua 16:9). Beth-shean. Afterwards called Scythopolis, now Beisan. It was a "noble city" in the days of Eusebius and Jerome. Many travellers have remarked on its splendid situation, "in this vast area of plain and mountains, in the midst of abundant waters and exuberant fertility" (Robinson, 'Later Bibl. Res.' sec. 7). "Just beyond, and separated by a narrow ridge, is another stream, also perennial, and on the peninsular formed by these two, with a bold, steep brow overlooking the Ghor, stood the citadel of ancient Beth-shean—a sort of Gibraltar on a small scale—of remarkable natural strength, and inaccessible to horsemen. No wonder that it was long ere Israel could wrest it from the Canaanites. The eastern face rises like a steep cone, most incorrectly stated by Robinson to be 'black, and apparently volcanic;' and by Porter, 'probably a crater.' Certainly there are many blocks of basalt lying about, but the hill is simply a limestone bluff.". He goes on, "How clearly the details of the sad end of Saul were recalled as we stood on this spot" (the summit of the cone). "There was the slope of Gilboa, on which his army was encamped before the battle. Round that hill he slunk by night, conscience stricken, to visit the witch of Endor. Hither, as being a Canaanitish fortress, the Philistines most naturally brought the trophies of the royal slain, and hung them up just by this wall. By the Yasir, and across that plain below us, the gallant men of Jabesh-Gilead hurried on their long night's march to stop the indignity offered to Israel, and to take down the bodies of their king and his sons." Jabesh-Gilead was not far off, and though in full view of the mountain, yet the men of Jabesh could creep along the Ghor by night and climb the steep face of the rock unsuspected by the warriors above; while the roar of the brook would drown all the sounds they might make. And her towns. Literally, daughters, κῶμαι LXX.; viculi, Vulgate. Canon Tristram remarks how each hill in some parts of Palestine is crowned by a village, a number of which still cluster, as of old, round the chief city of the district. So in Italy we may see how times of unsettlement led to a similar policy. The fear of the northern pirates led to the planting the mediaeval towns on hills, and the disturbed state of the country kept them there till a comparatively late period. But many of them are deserted in this more peaceful age. Ibleam. Only known as near the place where Jehu gave Ahaziah his death blow. It was near Megiddo (see 2 Kings 9:27). Dor (see above Joshua 11:2). Keil thinks that Dor and all the cities after it are in the accusative to "could not drive out" in the next verse. But it is more probable that את was an anacolouthon. Vandevelde ('Travels,' 1.333) says that he did not wonder that the fainthearted Manassites shrank from attacking Dor when he saw its formidable position, Endor. This, the abode of the famous witch, still bears the old name. It is four miles south of Mount Tabor, in a country honeycombed with caves, and it stands on the shoulder of Little Hermon. The word signifies the "fount of Dor," or "the dwelling." Taanach. For this and Megiddo see Joshua 12:21. Three countries. Rather, three hills, or elevated spots (Napheth, see note, Joshua 11:2). Gesenius compares the name Temont. The reference is to Endor, Taanach, and Megiddo. Keil suggests province, but he does not explain how a derivative of נוּף can have this latter signification (cf. Psalms 48:3. Beautiful for its height (נוֹף) is Mount Zion). The LXX. and Vulgate regard it as a proper name, and translate, "the third part of Nopheth." They are puzzled by the expression here, as in Joshua 11:2.

Joshua 17:12

Would dwell. The LXX. and Vulgate translate, "began to dwell," an obvious mistake here, though the word sometimes has this signification. They willed to dwell there, in spite of their defeats, and their purpose was not frustrated.

Joshua 17:14

And the children of Joseph. The attitude of the children of Joseph throughout the history of the twelve tribes is in precise accordance with the hint given here. They were proud of their numerical preponderance over the remaining tribes. Thus they, and they only, ventured to remonstrate with Joshua about the inadequacy of the portion allotted to them. Such a sensitiveness was likely to degenerate into insolence when the authority of the great leader was removed. And the history of Gideon (Judges 8:1-3) and of Jephthah (Judges 12:6) shows that this was actually the case. Here, again, we have a sign of that deep undercurrent of consistency which underlies our history, and is a guarantee of its authenticity. Seeing I am a great people. The tribe of Joseph, at the census described in Numbers 1:1-54; outnumbered every tribe but that of Judah. At the census in the plains of Moab (Numbers 26:1-65) the tribe of Joseph outnumbered them all, though the relative proportions of Ephraim and Manasseh were altered, the latter being now considerably the larger of the two tribes. The whole number of the fighting men of Israel underwent a slight diminution during the passage through the wilderness. But the demand of the tribe of Joseph seems to have been a little unbecoming, since Joseph had obtained two lots and two portions, since half the tribe of Manasseh had settled on the east of Jordan. Hence no doubt the covert sarcasm of Joshua's reply, for, as Delitzsch shows, Judah, and even Dan, considerably outnumbered Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh. Part, however, of their complaint was no doubt caused by the idea that Joshua, as one of themselves, ought to have taken more care of the interests of his own tribe. Joshua, however, as a true servant of God ought to be, was above such petty considerations, though many who live under a higher dispensation find it impossible to emancipate themselves from such bondage. Forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto. Or, hath blessed me to this extent (but see Exodus 7:16). There is doubtless here an allusion to Jacob's blessing (Genesis 48:20; Genesis 44:22-26), the fulfilment of which would naturally make a deep impression on the minds of the children of Joseph. Blessing was the word reiterated over and over again by the dying patriarch as he gazed upon the children of his best-beloved son. Here, again, we have one of those delicate touches, impossible to a writer of fiction, which show that we have here an authentic record of facts. No doubt the consciousness of the enthusiastic language of Jacob, reiterated upon an almost equally solemn occasion by Moses (Deuteronomy 33:13-17), coupled with the obvious fulfilment of these predictions, led the tribe of Joseph to demand as a right the leadership in Israel, and no doubt predisposed the other tribes to concede it. The rivalry of Judah, to which reference has already been made, and which culminated in the sovereignty of David, was calculated to produce a beach which it required the utmost tact to heal. Pity it was that the Ephraimites and Manassites forgot the fact that the blessing was conditional, and neglected to lay to heart the terrible warnings in Deuteronomy 28:1-68. But it is too often so with men. They expect the fulfilment of prophecies which predict their aggrandisement, and too often strive themselves to hasten the hand of God, while the warnings of God's Word, since they are less pleasant to the natural man, are permitted to pass by unheeded (see Deuteronomy 28:12, Deuteronomy 28:13, which was the first step on the downward road).

Joshua 17:15

If thou be a great people. As though Joshua would say, "You are ready enough to boast, but unwilling to act. If your tribe be as large as you say it is, it is capable of taking care of itself. There is the vast forest of Central Palestine before you. Do not complain to me, but go and take possession of it." Get thee up into the wood country. The word "country" is not in the original, which is, strictly speaking, in the direction of the wood. Whether this be the "wood of Ephraim" mentioned in 2 Samuel 18:6 has been much disputed. For not only David is related to have crossed the Jordan, but Absalom also, in hot pursuit of his father (see 2 Samuel 17:22, 2 Samuel 17:24). Neither army is mentioned as having recrossed the river; and it is a question whether it is more probable that there happened to be a "wood of Ephraim" on the other side of Jordan, or that Joab and Absalom, with their respective armies, recrossed Jordan without a word being said of the fact by the historian; the more especially as David (see 2 Samuel 19:15-17, 2 Samuel 19:31) remained on the other side Jordan, while yet it was possible for the Ethiopian attendant, as well as Jonathan, to run to him with tidings of the defeat and death of Absalom. For the wood country in this neighbourhood cf. Psalms 132:6. Ewald would regard the language here as figurative, and the wood as referring to the powerful Phoenician tribes in the neighbourhood. He regards this answer as a sign of Joshua's "wit." But the interpretation seems far fetched and improbable. Cut down. Or, make a clearing, just as emigrants do now in the primeval forest. This wood, or forest, has now disappeared, though sufficient wood still remains to testify to the correctness of, the history. Perizzites and of the giants. The Rephaim (see notes on Joshua 3:10; Joshua 12:4). If Mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee. This fastness in the heart of the land, the refuge of Ehud, the dwelling place of Deborah, the early home of Samuel, was well adapted to purposes of secrecy and defence, but not so well suited for a place of habitation.

Joshua 17:16

And the children of Joseph said. This reply justifies Joshua's sarcasm. The Ephraimites and Manassites blame Joshua when they ought to be blaming themselves. They excuse themselves from a task which they are too idle to execute, and wish Joshua to make arrangements for them which are wholly unnecessary. The hill is not enough for us. Literally, the hill is not found for us—that is, is not sufficient (see Numbers 11:9.Numbers 11:2; Zechariah 10:10). Of the valley of Jezreel. Rather, in the valley of Jezreel. The word for valley in this verse is עֶמֶק (see note on Joshua 8:13). Jezreel abutted on the great plain of Esdraelon, a name which is but a corruption of Jezreel (see note on Joshua 19:18), where the chariots of iron could be used with effect, a thing impossible in the mountain districts. Hence the fact that the hill country of Palestine was more rapidly and permanently occupied than the plains. Here, once more, we have a proof that we have real history before us, and not a collection of poetic myths.

Joshua 17:18

But the mountain shall be thine, for it is a wood. This passage makes it clear that it was not the whole territory of Mount Ephraim, but only the portion habitable at present, that was too small for Ephraim and Manasseh. When cleared it would afford them more space. But Joshua also recommends them to extend their operations beyond its borders, as is clear from the mention of the "plain," and the "chariots of iron" (see next note). The outgoings. Not only the mountain itself, but the country to which the mountain passes led. Thou shalt drive out. Perhaps thou mayest drive out—i.e; it is in thy power. Though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong. "No weapon can prosper" against him who trusts in the Lord. Yet, in spite of the encouragement given by Joshua, the children of Joseph did not drive the Canaanites out, as verses 11-13 show. The only reason of this was that they did not trust in Gad, but preferred an unworthy compromise with neighbours who, however rich in warlike material, were sunk in sensuality and sloth. Keil would render "because" for "though," and regard the very fact of the strength of the Canaanites as the reason that the sons of Joseph would subdue them. But Exodus 13:17; Psalms 49:17 supply us with other instances of כִי. in the sense of although, which certainly is the best sense here. "Let it be remembered how long it was before the Saxons were firmly established in Britain, the Islamite Arabs in Egypt. Israel could look for no reinforcements from kindred left behind. So much the worse might afterwards be the position of the nation, left alone without hope of kindred auxiliaries to meet the repeated outbreaks of the half-subdued Canaanites" (Ewald, 'Hist. Israel,' 2 2. c).


Joshua 17:18

The lot of Joseph.

I. NO COMPROMISE WITH SIN. The Israelites, as we have seen, were promised the possession of Palestine on condition that they should exterminate its inhabitants. They did not do this, either

(1) because they were indisposed to the exertion, as in the case of the Jebusites (Joshua 15:63), or

(2) because they found the process of exacting tribute more convenient.

No type of the ordinary conduct of Christians is more precisely accurate. Constantly in youth they either

(1) will not give themselves the trouble to root out evil habits, but give way to them, because the task is so difficult, or

(2) indulge themselves in sin because it is so pleasant. The consequences are a disastrous captivity to sinful habits which lasts half a lifetime, and leaves its mark upon the sinner for his whole life. Great and mighty deliverers may arise within, as they did in Israel, but there is a liability to relapse, which long asserts itself. Instances of these truths are hardly difficult to find.

II. THEY THAT TOUCH PITCH SHALL BE DEFILED THEREWITH. The command to exterminate the Israelites was not an arbitrary one. It was given because of the terrible depravity of the Phoenician people, and because of the equally terrible attractiveness of their sins. God well knew (and the narrative in Numbers 26:1-65. is sufficient to prove it to us) that the Israelites could not resist the contamination of this evil influence if they allowed themselves to be exposed to it. But they did not, or would not, believe this. And consequently, till the Babylonish captivity, with its stern lessons, taught them better, they continued to fall lower and lower into the abominations of the abominable, revolting, and unfeeling worship of their neighbours; nor was it surprising, when we find that Solomon, with all his wisdom, could not escape the contagion. We may learn thus that neither intellect, nor prudence, nor even the sanctifying influences of a holy calling, will enable us to resist the allurements of bad company, when we voluntarily surrender ourselves to them. The only safe way for the Israelites to meet the Canaanites was in battle array, with arms in their hands. So the Christian's only safeguard against evil company is never to enter it, save on the path of duty, and never to part with his weapons of faith and prayer. "Surely," then, "in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird" (Proverbs 1:17).

III. WE MUST MAKE THE MOST OF THE OPPORTUNITIES WE HAVE. Ephraim complained of the narrowness of his lot, instead of cutting down the woods and thus finding room in what had been assigned to him. He is the type of many Christians who complain of the scantiness of their opportunities, while they are leaving one half of them unemployed. God will not vouchsafe us more opportunities if we neglect those He gives us. He did not give five more talents to the man who kept the one he had wrapped in a napkin.

IV. WE MUST NOT MAKE CIRCUMSTANCES A REASON FOR NOT DOING OUR DUTY. The Ephraimites wanted an increase of territory, no doubt at some one else's expense, while they did not make the most of their own. They not only did not cut down the wood, but they assigned as a reason for not driving out the Canaanites that they had chariots of iron, in spite of the promise God had given them that these should not be a hindrance to their success. So men assign circumstances now

(1) as a reason why they succumb to temptation,

(2) as a reason why they do not combat evil habits,

(3) as a reason why they leave work undone which they ought to have undertaken and carried out.

Let such remember Joshua's words, "Thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong."

V. GOD'S BLESSINGS WILL NOT BE GIVEN TO THOSE WHO NEGLECT THE CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH THEY WERE PROMISED. Ephraim had inherited blessings, and was fully conscious of the fact. Yet he makes this a reason why God should prosper him without any effort on his own part. So Christians very often expect God to work out their salvation for them without any labour or effort of their own. They permit evil tempers to take root in their hearts, and to grow and flourish there. They make no effort to cast them out, because "God hath blessed them hitherto." They are called to inherit God's blessings, and so they think they will have them without any trouble. They are "called to be saints," and expect to be so without the self discipline saintliness requires. God will not fulfil such expectations. He has promised "His Holy Spirit to them that ask it," but He expects them to "work out their own salvation" with His aid. Those who would appropriate the promises of Christianity without the endeavour necessary to give them effect, either become self-deceiving professors, who "have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof," or if more sincere in heart and less capable of hypocrisy, fall back into a state of indifference because their Christian calling has failed to realise all the hopes that they had formed,


Joshua 17:3, Joshua 17:4

Woman's rights.

I. WOMEN HAVE RIGHTS WHICH MEN COMMONLY DENY THEM. The justice of the Mosaic law and the just privileges accorded to women in the Jewish state stand out in favorable contrast with the almost universal injustice which marks the historic relations of men with women. In barbarous nations women are required to do the hardest manual labour. In semi-civilised nations they are kept in ignorance, idleness, and jealous seclusion. In more advanced nations they are hampered with needless social restrictions which prevent them from enjoying their fair privileges as human beings. This injustice may be traced to

(1) the superior brute force of men,

(2) the natural retiring nature of woman, and

(3) false sentiment which dishonours true modesty.

Chivalrous customs and domestic affection may soften the effects of injustice, but they do not remove the fact.

II. WOMEN SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO PROVE THEIR OWN RIGHTS AND CAPACITIES. Hitherto one half of the human race has taken upon itself to settle the position and destiny of the other half. Women have been treated as though men knew their rights and capacities better than these were known to themselves. It is at least just that women should be allowed some liberty of choice, some opportunity for proving their capacities to the world. If they then fail they take a lower position fairly. But it is most unreasonable to assert that they have not certain capacities, while men are jealously closing every channel through which they might prove the existence of those capacities by putting them into practice.

III. SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES REQUIRE JUSTICE TO WOMEN. This is required by the law (Numbers 27:8). It is still more fully required by Christianity. The spiritual privileges of the gospel are equally open to men and women. The elevation of women is one of the most beneficial fruits of the gospel (Matthew 26:13; Luke 10:38-42; Philippians 4:3).

IV. JUSTICE TO WOMEN DOES NOT IMPLY THE EQUALITY OF WOMEN WITH MEN. There must ever remain essential differences between the careers of men and women in many directions, owing to the essential differences of their physical and mental natures. Justice does not demand that all should receive the same privileges, and perform the same duties, but that there should be fairness in the distribution.

V. THE EXERCISE OF RIGHTS BY WOMEN CARRIES WITH IT THE OBLIGATION OF CORRESPONDING DUTIES. Duty corresponds to right. The extension of rights increases the obligation of duties. If women obtain larger privileges, in justice they will be called upon to undertake heavier responsibilities. Happily this was realised in Scripture history. The women of the Bible enjoying greater advantages than their neighbours are often distinguished by peculiarly noble conduct. Women are conspicuous for devotion and sacrifice among the early disciples of Christ (Luke 8:2, Luke 8:8). Much of the best work of Christendom has been done by good women. There is large work in the Church for women now.—W.F.A.


Joshua 17:6

Woman's rights.

This is rather a remarkable case. The family of Machir, one of the most warlike in Israel, had contributed more to the conquest of Gilead than any other, and there had been accordingly allotted to them a large share of it. It so happened that in one branch of the family there was not a single male among the children. Five women alone represented a warlike sire. They appeal to Moses, with an energy derived from their great ancestor, to prevent the passing of their property out of their hands. It is apparently the last cause which comes before Moses before his death. The great lawgiver takes occasion from it to make a general law applicable to all such cases. If there be a son left, then the son inherits; the daughter being supposed to find her provision in that of the husband she marries, and to be supported by her brother till she does so. But in the case of there being no brother, they were to inherit their father's land, and marry in their own tribe, so that the tribe might still retain its possessions intact, and all families have maintenance for their representatives, even though male issue should fail. It falls to Joshua to apply the principles Moses laid down, and accordingly he gives the five ladies "an inheritance amongst the sons" of Manasseh. We do not suggest that Moses legislated in the spirit of the advanced theorists on woman's rights; it would have been impossible for one so wise to legislate some thousands of years ahead of the general sentiments of mankind. But it is worth noting how ready Moses was to do justice by the weaker sex; and to pass a law, doubtless little to the mind of the rough men who would look enviously on women inheriting considerable estates. It raises the question how far Moses would have sanctioned the views of those who plead that men and women should stand on exactly equal platforms before the law. We can only briefly suggest the answer to this question. Every woman under the Mosaic legislation was more or less sufficiently provided for. The double portion of the firstborn was, by the usage of the East, assigned him chiefly that he might support his widowed mother and unmarried sisters. When marriage was universal, a temporary provision of this kind was all that was required. And where land was not wealth, but only the material out of which it could be gathered, we do not wonder at the law dividing the land (after the eldest son's double portion) equally among the other sons. Wherever, on the other hand, no sons were left, then the daughters divided equally the property between them, subject to the restriction that they should marry within their own tribe. We may venture to suggest that the spirit of these laws would, in the altered circumstances of our country, be altogether in favour of the equal distribution of property between sons and daughters. The patriarchal system that gave the widow and the unmarried daughters an established home in the old family house which the elder brother inherited, and made their maintenance a charge upon the double birthright, has passed away; and it is no longer the case that sisters share whatever an elder son inherits. Marriage is neither so early nor so universal now. And in the multiplicity of remunerative pursuits open to men in our land there is no longer any special reason for restricting the inheritance of the land to those able personally to work upon it. Thus woman has less protection if unprovided for, less certainty of the resource of marriage; and man less need for special provisions in his favour. In these altered circumstances it is probable that what Moses ruled for the daughters of Zelophehad he would have expanded into a larger rule, and would have required invariably the equal division of all property amongst sons and daughters alike. If we are right in urging this, a few conclusions of practical moment emerge from it.

I. Parents who, in their wills, make the shares of their sons much larger than those of their daughters, take a course which the spirit of Bible legislation forbids, and are guilty of grave injustice.

II. The laws of every country ought, with especial care, to protect the property of women, as being the weaker parties in disputes and the likeliest, therefore, to suffer.

III. A considerable improvement in the position of women would be ejected by the general adoption of such rules by parents and by states. Probably, if women in all directions found equal justice yielded them with men, the equality of legislative power and influence which some seek would be found superfluous.—G.

Joshua 17:14, Joshua 17:15

Greed and grumbling.

Joseph—i.e; Ephraim and Manasseh—wants a larger lot. He pleads his numbers, as giving him a right to more. There is, perhaps, in his discontent a modicum of justice. They were very numerous, and part of the land allotted them was that valley of Jezreel, which, though the richest part of Palestine, from its being good for cavalry, had been as yet retained by the enemy. There was, however, more of discontent than of hardship. One half of Manasseh had already had a large part of Gilead assigned them. The shares allotted to Ephraim and the other half were ample—in fact, probably double as large in proportion to their numbers as some of the adjoining tribes. But Ephraim, descended from Joseph, the saviour of Israel, the tribe of Joshua, its great captain, wanted to take the lead as the governing tribe. They feel, accordingly, that while their wants are met their dignity is not sufficiently endowed. "They are a great people," therefore Joshua should have allowed them a larger portion. It is not unusual for those conscious—legitimately or otherwise—of greatness to make somewhat loud complaints and large demands. But Joshua—the embodiment of justice—cannot be unfair, even when his own tribe solicit him. He meets their claim in a fine spirit. He admits their greatness, but argues otherwise from it. They are so many? Why, then, not clear the mountain of its forests and find thus an easy and unselfish enlargement? It is true the Canaanites hold Jezreel, and they are not yet in possession of the fertile plain. But Joshua argues that that is a reason for fighting their enemies with courage, and not for filching from their brethren, with meanness. "Thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they be strong," he says, with a fine, genial, bracing blending of irony and encouragement. We have thus a fine example of a question with two sides; a necessity with two ways of meeting it; a fact with two conclusions. "I am numerous. There are foes on my land," says Joseph; "therefore give me a slice off what has fallen to Judah." "Thou art numerous, and enemies are still on thy land," says Joshua; "therefore clear the mountain of its forests and the plains of thine enemies." The example of Manasseh and Ephraim here, and the reply of Joshua to them, has much in it suggestive. Observe first—

I. A LITTLE HEART SOMETIMES SPOILS GREAT POWERS. The complaint from which Ephraim was suffering was this: his heart was too little for his body; poor circulation of the vital elements. These tribes had plenty of power, plenty of stalwart men to clear the waste or to conquer their enemies; but they had not moral force to match. They were short of enterprise, resource, courage. What they could easily have won by work or war they prefer that others should give them. The breath they should have kept for conflict they waste in grumbling. They want to be the dominating tribe, without paying the price of lordship in daring and willingness to encounter difficulty and hardship. There are many Ephraims in the world who have it in their power to make for themselves any lot they like, who, instead of improving, merely lament their lot. Many keep troubling friends to do for them what it is quite within their power to do for themselves. Some are merely indolent—capable of work, but disinclined to do it. Some suffer from a feebleness which exists only in their imagination, but which prevents their working more than actual frailty would. Some are merely proud, and think they have a right to something more in the world than they have got. So some grumble for want of earthly comforts they are too dull to get for themselves. So some go about expecting to get by "interest" and "favour" what they would be wiser to seek by self reliance and energy. So some in the realm of religion go to God and complain they have not larger delights and richer usefulness and more power, when, as a matter of fact, all these things are within their reach if they would only put forth the powers they already have. This is a very general ailment. Few have the energy, the earnestness, the faith to do with their powers anything like the whole of what is possible to them. We are engines, built to work up to 30 lbs. pressure on the square inch, and we only work up to seven and a half. Seek not so much greater powers as the heart to use the powers you have. Observe secondly—

II. TRUE KINDNESS OFTEN DECLINES TO DO FOR MEN WHAT THEY CAN DO FOR THEMSELVES. When Ephraim has the power to win as much land as he needs, it is better that he be set to win it for himself. Men can rarely keep well any more than they can win bravely. To give Ephraim what he wants would be only to increase his indolence, his arrogance, and his weakness. To set Ephraim to get what he wants by his own prowess, increases his enterprise, his brotherliness, his courage, his diligence, his self respect. We learn best what we learn ourselves. We profit most by our own experience. It is no kindness to grant the requests of indolence and greed. The true kindness is Joshua's—to point out how much is within the reach of the aspiring, and set them to conquer it for themselves. Lastly observe—

III. GREATNESS SHOULD DWELL UPON ITS DUTIES RATHER THAN ON ITS CLAIMS. "I am a great people … give me," is the tone which a great multitude, besides Ephraim, assume. "I am a great people … therefore ought to work and fight," is the tone they ought to use. True greatness speaks in the latter, bastard greatness in the former tone. Sometimes it is an aristocracy that declares itself to be the most important class in a country, and with something of Ephraim's pitiable lament presents its claims for more consideration and influence. Sometimes a priestly order will, on the score of its greatness and importance, claim more authority than the people are disposed to grant it. Sometimes an ignorant class, puffed up with ambition, will desire more power than it has got. It is well to remember greatness is not given us to constitute a claim on others' services, but as a power to serve them and ourselves together. He is greatest who is servant of all, and he is chief who ministers to all. If you and Ephraim are so great and worthy, use your greatness and power for the good of yourselves and others, and none will grudge you what in this way you win.—G.


Joshua 17:14-18


I. IT IS FOOLISH TO COMPLAIN OF OUR LOT UNTIL WE HAVE MADE THE BEST USE OF IT. The Ephraimites had not cleared their forest, yet they complained of the narrowness of their possession. We do not know the extent of our advantages till we try them. In murmuring at the privations of life we spoil the enjoyment of its blessings. Hardships which we ascribe to the arrangements of Providence may often be traced to our own indolence. The one talent is buried because it is not five. We have no excuse for complaints before we have made the full use of what we possess. This may be applied to

(1) abilities,

(2) opportunities of service,

(3) means of self improvement, and

(4) sources of enjoyment.

II. OUR LOT IN LIFE WILL IMPROVE AS IT IS USED WELL. Joshua showed to the complaining Ephraimites that if they cleared their forest and so recovered the waste land, their lot would thereby be doubled. The neglected inheritance runs to weeds and becomes worthless. The cultivated possession improves with cultivation. Exercise strengthens the weak. If we make a good use of what opportunities for service we now possess, these will develop new and better opportunities. If we use well what powers God has given us, these will grow more effective. The talent that is not neglected produces other talents.

III. GREAT CLAIMS SHOULD BE SUSTAINED BY GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS. The Ephraimites claim to be great, and therefore deserving of a great inheritance. Joshua replies, "If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country and cut down for thyself there," etc. High rank should justify itself by high service, large wealth by large beneficence, titles of honour by deeds of sacrifice. Duty is proportionate to faculty. The more advantages we claim the more obligations shall we contract.

IV. THE BEST RIGHT TO A POSSESSION IS TO HAVE OBTAINED IT THROUGH THE EXERTION OF OUR OWN ENERGIES. Joshua bids the Ephraimites increase their lot, by the exercise of their valour in exterminating the Canaanites, and of their industry in felling the forest.

(1) It is unworthy to look to personal favour to secure us a position in the world not earned by merit or work. Joshua belonged to the tribe of Ephraim, and the Ephraimites seem to have expected favours on this account, but in vain.

(2) It is weak to depend on the paternal interference of the State when our own industry should obtain our rights.

(3) It is wrong to wait idly for a providential interposition on our behalf. God will give us our inheritance, but we must conquer it and cultivate it. He helps us when we do our best, but never so as to justify our indolence.—W.F.A.


Joshua 17:14-18

The Division of the Land

Let us make some further observations on the division of the land of Canaan among the tribes of Israel. The descendants of Joseph receive but a small lot. They complain bitterly of this, saying, "We are a great people." Joshua replies that, just because they are a great people, they may be contented with the share assigned them, for they will have the opportunity of perpetually extending their borders. "The mountain shall be thine; for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots and though they be strong" (verse 18). In this passage of their history there is a beautiful SYMBOL OF THE POSITION OF THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD. Manasseh and Ephraim have no assured possession. In order to retain what they have and to acquire sufficient territory, they must be ever fighting. Ever fresh conquests are the necessary conditions of their retaining that which they already possess. If they do not strengthen their position and enlarge their borders, they will be at once invaded by their enemies. Such is the position of the Church in the world.

(1) For the Church too, conquest is the condition of security. Pressed on every hand by a hostile world, it must be ever in an attitude of active self defence: it must ever have in its hand the sword of the Spirit. As soon as it falls asleep, in a supposed peaceful security, it finds itself assailed, and the enemy is in its midst before it is aware. Nothing is more easy, nothing of more frequent occurrence, than this intrusion of the world into the Church. Therefore the Church is bound to be ever armed with all the panoply of God, and ready for the fight. "We wrestle not," says the apostle, "against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12). This defensive warfare is also in a manner aggressive; forevery new generation born within the outward precincts of the Church needs to be won afresh for Jesus Christ. No one is born a Christian, though it may be a great advantage to be born in a land of historic Christianity. It is necessary, therefore, constantly to reconquer from the world and from the merely natural life, the posterity of Christians. In this primary sense the Church cannot hold its own without ever fresh conquests.

(2) Nor is this enough. Antichrist, under the form of paganism, or of simple infidelity, is still a formidable power on every hand. He who said to His disciples, "Go and teach all nations," opened before them a limitless field of conquest. The mission of the Christian Church is the fulfilment of the command of Joshua to Ephraim and Manasseh: "Thou art a great people and hast great power; get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the giants" (verse 15). The might which is in the Church, though invisible, is greater than that of the giants of antichrist, for it is the strength of Him who said, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20).—E. DE P.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Joshua 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/joshua-17.html. 1897.
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