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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 13

 

 

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 13. The Land That Remained to be Possessed - The Division of the Land Begins - Transjordan.

The writer now outlines the parts of the land that Joshua’s activities have not touched, or had not effectively brought under control, and then goes on to describe that allocated to Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh in Transjordan.


Verses 1-6

The Land Not Yet ‘Possessed’ (Joshua 13:1-6).

Joshua 13:1

Now Joshua was old and bearing the signs of old age (well stricken in years). And YHWH said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to be possessed.” ’

Reference here is to lands untouched or uncontrolled by Joshua. ‘Possessed’ here refers not so much to the initial conquest of land and weakening of the peoples in preparation for moving in and taking over, but to that moving in and taking over. Joshua had expressed Israel’s ‘right’ of ownership. Such peoples were now vulnerable and weakened, and it would be up to the different tribes to take advantage of the situation and possess them literally. But some had still not been ‘possessed’. It must be remembered that conquering kings saw land as ‘possessed’ once they had conquered it, thus in terms of the times most of Canaan was ‘possessed’. But that possession then had to be continually enforced in order that tribute or settlement might be received. That was a more difficult matter, and was the problem that Israel faced.

Most of Canaan probably did not see themselves as possessed. In contrast Israel now considered that the land was theirs, not only by promise but by conquest. Final possession would, however, only become evident when tribute was claimed or the conquerors began to settle in the land. This case was especially unusual in that Israel were a stateless people and would therefore actually want to settle in the ‘possessed’ land and take it over, whilst YHWH had demanded the expulsion of the local inhabitants. This task, a very different thing from initial ‘conquering’, would now pass on to the individual tribes. But meanwhile a new problem had arisen. The arrival of the Philistines in the coastal plain.

“Old and advanced in years.” Forty years (a generation) had passed since Joshua had been one of the spies in Canaan (Numbers 13:8), plus the time spent in conquering Canaan. Thus he was at least in his seventies, or even older.

Joshua 13:2-4 a

“This is the land that yet remains. All the regions of the Philistines, and all the Geshurites, from the Shihor which is before (east of) Egypt even to the border of Ekron northward, which is counted to the Canaanites; the five Tyrants of the Philistines, the Gazites and the Ashdodites, the Ashkelonites, the Gittites, and the Ekronites. Also the Avvim to the South.”

All this up to verse 9 is described as words of YHWH. What this means is that as Joshua summarised the situation he was conscious that he was expressing YHWH’s will communicated to him probably through his thoughts. He saw all his plans as YHWH’s plans because he was seeking to fulfil God’s requirements as outlined in the Books of Moses.

The mention of these as yet unpossessed lands was a reminder that even Joshua’s ‘conquests’ had not covered the whole of the land promised to Israel, most of which, if not all, would be in the hands of the people of God at one time or another before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. YHWH wanted it to be known that their present exclusion was not intended to be permanent, therefore they are mentioned first.

It is clear that the Philistines were now seen as in the land although not yet as a major threat to Israel. This would date this statement to around 1200 BC and support the 13th century BC date for the conquest (the alternative suggested is the 15th century BC).

It is always possible that the particular phrase ‘ the five Tyrants (seranim) of the Philistines’ was inserted later by a scribe to bring the passage up to date, (with ‘land of the Philistines also possibly being an update, although this could refer back to the earlier occupation by a trading station - Genesis 26) and it would then read ‘which is counted to the Canaanites; the Gazites and the Ashdodites, the Ashkelonites, the Gittites, and the Ekronites. Also the Avvim.’ But ‘counted to’ fits well with the idea of the references to the Philistines being original, with the idea being that in spite of being Philistine it belonged to the land of Canaan, and the phrase itself makes better sense that way. The Philistines were a race of warriors who brought the Canaanites under their own domination, with they themselves being the military aristocracy. They did not try to drive them out of the country in the way that, at least theoretically, the Israelites did. Altering the text to fit a theory without any other evidence usually casts doubt on the theory.

As the text stands the Geshurites (compare 1 Samuel 27:8) were a people living in the Negeb between the Philistines and the Egyptian border (and were not the same as the Geshurites in Joshua 12:5; Joshua 13:11, although possibly connected). The Shihor is given as the border. In Isaiah 23:3; Jeremiah 2:18 the Shihor (egyptian ‘s-hr’, waters of Horus) is the Nile proper, thus here the branch in the Delta nearest to Canaan is considered roughly to be the boundary so as to include the Wilderness of Shur. The idea is that anything east of the Egyptian Delta is included in the inheritance. In view of this there is no real justification for seeing the ‘Torrent-Wadi (nahal) of Egypt’ (Joshua 15:4; Joshua 15:47 - probably Wadi el-Arish) as being in mind.

Ekron is the northernmost of the five major Philistine cities, ruled over by five ‘Tyrants’ (seranim - a word uniquely used of Philistine lords) whose inhabitants are mentioned. Thus the description covers both Philistine and Geshurite territory. All this was seen as Canaanite territory, ‘counted to the Canaanites’, and thus included in the inheritance. If we connect ‘on the South’ to the Avvim, who ‘lived in villages as far as Gaza’ (Deuteronomy 2:23) and were displaced by the Philistines, this would place the Avvim within the broad description of Geshurite territory.

Joshua 13:4-5 (4b-5)

‘All the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah which belongs to the Zidonians, to Aphek, to the border of the Amorites and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon toward the sunrising (the east), from Baal-gad under Mount Hermon to the entering in of Hamath.’

These refer to northern areas. ‘Canaanites’ probably here signifies ‘Phoenicians’ south of Zidon (see Judges 3:3 - ‘Canaanites’ does not just refer to people who lived in the land of Canaan but is also regularly used extra-Biblically of Phoenicians further to the north). Me‘arah was presumably an important area on the southern Zidonian border (although ‘Me’ may be ‘from’ followed by the name of a town). Mention of ‘the Amorites’ here probably has reference to the kingdom of the Amurru in Lebanon, well known from Hittite and Egyptian sources. Aphek, which means ‘fortress’ and was a common name, was probably on its southern border. Designations of peoples were very fluid and depended on the viewpoint of those who used them.

Gebal (Byblos) was an important coastal town north of Zidon. The land of the Gebalites would possibly be in some way connected with it and this may have in mind its southern border. ‘All Lebanon’. The adjoining regions to the Lebanon Range, probably again thinking of its southern border. It is not likely that Joshua had these territories in mind as part of the promised land. Baal-gad (compare Joshua 11:17) was in the far north of Israel’s territories at the foot of and to the west of Mount Hermon. It may be Tell Haus or Hasbeiyah, both in the Wadi et-Teim. ‘The entering in of Hamath’ or more probably ‘Lebo of Hamath’ (mentioned in inscriptions), is modern Lebweh at the head of the road north to Hamath.

Joshua 13:6

All the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Zidonians, them will I drive out from before the children of Israel. Only allot it to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you.”

For Misrephoth-maim compare Joshua 11:8. The reference is to the Zidonians in the hill country south of Zidon. This too was allotted to Israel as an inheritance. For the whole range of unpossessed territory compare Judges 3:3. Thus God confirmed His promise that the whole land would be theirs. He always gives full measure. It was not His fault if they did not go ahead and take it.


Verse 7

The Command to Divide the Land (Joshua 13:7).

Joshua 13:7

Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance for the nine tribes and the half tribe of Manasseh.’

“This land” is the whole land of Canaan not just the part mentioned above. God has now turned from the land yet to be possessed to the whole land. It was to be divided between all but the two and a half tribes Beyond Jordan. The inheritance was under the covenant. It was a fruit of the covenant promises, reminding them that it was a gift from God.


Verses 8-14

The Land Allocated to the Two and a Half Tribes Beyond the Jordan - Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh - And Levi’s Inheritance (Joshua 13:8-14).

Joshua 13:8

With him the Reubenites and the Gadites received their inheritance, which Moses gave them Beyond Jordan Eastward, even as Moses the Servant of YHWH gave them.’

This takes up the previous reference to Manasseh. Manasseh (‘with him’) also received, along with Reuben and Gad, an inheritance east of Jordan. Note the double stress on it being ‘given by Moses’. The writer wishes the listener to be aware that they too received what was promised and in the will of YHWH, as expressed by Moses, and that that was also an inheritance under the covenant. This inheritance will now be delineated.

It will be noted that in Joshua there is a continually heavy emphasis on the allotment to the two and a half tribes (Joshua 1:12-15; Joshua 4:12; Joshua 12:1-6; Joshua 13:8-13; Joshua 22:1-34). This points to the early date of the narrative. It was written when there was a great consciousness of the fact that they had received their inheritance outside the land, and to justify their having done so. The writer wanted it made clear that they were equally a part of Israel, within the covenant and in obedience to YHWH.

Joshua 13:9-10

From Aroer which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland of Medeba to Dibon, and all the cities of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, to the border of the children of Ammon.’

This was the kingdom of Sihon. Aroer was on the edge of the southern border (Moab’s northern border) marked by the Arnon River as it flowed through the deep valley of Arnon. It had its guardpost actually in the deep valley right on the edge of the river (see Joshua 12:2; also Deuteronomy 3:12). ‘The tableland of Medeba to Dibon’ was describing from north to south. The two cities were joined by a highway. It refers to the high plateau of Moab at a level of around six hundred metres (two thousand feet). Together with ‘the cities’ it was intended to represent the whole of ‘half Gilead’ to the Ammonite border (see Joshua 12:2).

Medeba (modern Medaba) was ten kilometres (six miles) south of Heshbon. It was situated on a high mound and could be seen across the whole plain of Medeba. It was an old Moabite town originally captured by Sihon (Numbers 21:21-30) and then taken from him by Israel, becoming a Reubenite city (Joshua 13:16). It was mentioned along with Dibon (where the Stone was found) on the Moabite Stone as being later taken from Moab by Omri (of Israel), and then recovered by Mesha, king of Moab. These towns thus changed hands fairly regularly.

Dibon was modern Dhiban, six kilometres (four miles) north of the Arnon. In Joshua 13:17 it is reckoned to Reuben. Along with Aroer it was rebuilt by Gad (Numbers 32:34), being renamed Dibon-gad (Numbers 33:45). Gad were presumably giving assistance to Reuben in order to guard the southern border. Dibon was also later the name of a town in Judah (Nehemiah 11:25). (Alternately Dibon-gad may have been named that to distinguish it from Dibon in Reuben, just as there was another Aroer (Joshua 13:25)).

Gad and Reuben were closely connected tribes which was no doubt why they wished to settle down together. They shared a position on the south side of the Tabernacle with Simeon (Numbers 2:10-16). They were in ‘the camp of Reuben’. Compare Numbers 32:1 where they together desired ‘the land of Jazer’, connected with the city of Jazer (Numbers 21:32 - Khirbet Gazzir?) and the land of Gilead, of which the southern part was divided between them. They cooperated fully with each other in possessing the land, and Gad helped Reuben with their defences. But Reuben would take the full force of Moabite invasions and would become weaker and weaker so that Gad eventually became the major tribe and Reuben virtually disappeared from view. By the time of the Moabite Stone they had lost any significance and were not mentioned on it.

Joshua 13:11-12

And Gilead, and the border of the Geshurites and Maacathites, and all Mount Hermon, and all Bashan to Selecah. All the kingdom of Og in Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei, the same (Og) was left of the remnant of the Rephaim, for these did Moses smite and drove them out.’

See for this on Joshua 12:4-5. The last phrase must refer to the people (the kingdom) of Og. The Rephaim were dealt with by Moab and Ammon (Deuteronomy 2:9-12; Deuteronomy 2:21).

Joshua 13:13

Nevertheless the children of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites, nor the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacah dwelt in the midst of Israel to this day.’

These peoples were Aramaeans to the north of Bashan, south west of Mount Hermon (see Deuteronomy 3:14). This is the first of a series of similar statements, compare Joshua 15:63; Joshua 16:10; Joshua 17:12. These were people living ‘in the land’ who worshipped ‘the gods of Aram’ (Judges 10:6). It was important land as the main trade route to Damascus ran through it (and it was south of Laish where Dan finally settled). They should have been driven out, but even at this stage, while Joshua was still alive, Israel were disobedient and did not seek to do it. They were content with what they had. God had done His part, but they did not do their part.

This is often the case with God’s people. Having achieved a certain amount they then relax and do not go on to greater things. They settle down and miss the opportunities that face them, and allow things to linger in their lives that may one day be their ruin or make them second best. Let us each take care that that does not happen to us.

Joshua 13:14

Only to the tribe of Levi he gave no inheritance. The offerings of YHWH, the God of Israel, made by fire are his inheritance.’

As the inheritances of the tribes were now revealed it was made clear that for the tribe of Levi there was no earthly inheritance. Their inheritance was to partake of the holy things (but see also Joshua 14:4). The inference was that this was something better than earthly riches could supply.

Compare Joshua 13:33 where their inheritance was ‘YHWH the God of Israel’; Joshua 14:3-4 where their inheritance included the Levitical cities to dwell in situated among each of the tribes, together with the country around for their cattle and substance. But they were ‘sojourners’ there, not permanent dwellers (e.g. Judges 17:7; Judges 19:1); and Joshua 18:7 where their inheritance was ‘the priesthood of YHWH’. Thus the idea of the inheritance of Levi was other-worldly, spoken of within the context of the tribes whose inheritance was outside the land, as theirs was ‘outside’ the land, and then again by Joshua when finally settling the distribution (Joshua 18:7). The pattern is consistent and clear.

The phrase ‘offerings of YHWH made by fire’ or similar is found regularly in the Law of Moses referring to various offerings and sacrifices which were burnt by fire and where certain parts went to the priests and Levites (over sixty times - see for example Leviticus 1:9; Leviticus 2:3; Leviticus 3:3; Leviticus 7:5; Deuteronomy 18:1; 1 Samuel 2:28). Fire was the means by which holy things could be put beyond the reach of men and separated to God.


Verses 15-23

The Portion of Reuben (Joshua 13:15-23).

Joshua 13:15

And Moses gave to the tribe of Reuben according to their families.’

The division of the land took account of the sizes of the tribes (Numbers 26:53-54). Note how the ‘numbers’ are expressed as ‘according to their families’. Thus ‘families’ is basically a number word in these contexts. The word for ‘tribe’ also signifies a staff or rod of authority, also used for chastisement. It is used especially in formal lists and descriptions where authority over, and responsibility for chastisement of, the people is in mind. In a sense the tribe was the rod, to direct and to punish.

Between Joshua 13:14-15 LXX adds ‘This is the division which Moses divided to the sons of Israel in the plains of Moab beyond Jordan over against Jericho.’ This was clearly an insertion in order to explain ‘Moses gave’. It is stressed that the original division in the land Beyond Jordan Eastward was arranged by Moses.


Verses 16-20

And their border was from Aroer which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon, and the city which is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland by Medeba; Heshbon and all her cities which are in the tableland; Dibon and Bamoth-baal and Beth-baal-meon, and Jahaz and Kedemoth and Mephaath, and Kiriathaim and Sibmah, and Zereth-shahar in the mount of the valley, and Beth-peor, and the slopes of Pisgah and Beth-jeshimoth.’

The inheritance was deliberately listed in terms of cities and villages rather than borders (see verse 23), although borders were briefly mentioned. This was to bring out the splendour of what they had received. As they had already been settled the identification of borders was not so important (they were already practically determined). For the first mentioned cities see on Joshua 12:2; Joshua 13:9.

Bamoth-baal means ‘high places of Baal’ (Numbers 22:41). Thus it had almost certainly been a centre of Baal worship. It is also mentioned in Numbers 21:19-20. Balak took Balaam to it when he wanted to look down over the full extent of the forces of Israel so it must have been in a commanding position. For Beth-baal-meon, modern Ma‘in, compare ‘Beth-meon’ (Jeremiah 48:23) and Beon (Numbers 32:3). Built by the Reubenites it was later captured by the Moabites and along with Kiriathaim and Jahaz was mentioned in the Moabite Stone.

For Jahaz see Joshua 21:36; Numbers 21:23; Deuteronomy 2:32; Judges 11:20. It was the place where Sihon fought Israel and was vanquished. Residence in it was soon to be assigned to the Merarite Levites (Joshua 21:24; Joshua 21:36). It was later lost to Israel. Its site is in doubt. Kedemoth is probably modern ez-Za‘feran about sixteen kilometres north of the Arnon just inside Sihon’s territory on the eastern border. It became a levitical city (Joshua 21:37; 1 Chronicles 6:29) giving its name to a nearby desert area (Deuteronomy 2:26). The site of Mephaath is unknown (but see Joshua 21:37; Jeremiah 48:21) although Tel el-Yawah has been suggested. Kiriathaim is the dual form of qirya (city, town) and therefore means double city. See Numbers 32:37; Genesis 14:5). Its site has not yet been located.

“Sibmah, and Zereth-shahar in the mount of the valley, and Beth-peor, and the slopes of Pisgah and Beth-jeshimoth.” Sibmah is identical with Sebam (Numbers 32:3; Numbers 32:38). Originally a land for cattle (Numbers 32:4) it became famous for its vines and summer fruit. It later reverted to Moab. Isaiah 16:8-9 and Jeremiah 48:32 bewailed its desolation. It is possibly to be identified with Khirbet Qurn el-Qibsh near Heshbon. Zereth-shahar was probably situated on a height overlooking the Jordan Rift valley (compare verse 27). It has been connected with es-Sara, the hot springs on the north west slope of Mount ‘Attarus.

Beth-peor (House or Temple of Peor) was probably related to the worship of Baal-peor (Numbers 25:3-5). It was near here that Israel gathered to hear Moses’ final exhortation (Deuteronomy 3:29; Deuteronomy 4:44-46) and that Moses was buried (Deuteronomy 34:6). It was thus near Mount Nebo. It is remarkable that the site of Moses’ sepulchre was so quickly forgotten (Deuteronomy 34:6), a sign of how involved the people were with the conflicts in Canaan. Possibly he was buried secretly by Joshua at his own request to prevent an obsession with his tomb, because he did not want men’s eyes fixed outside the land of God’s promises and covenant. Or it simply be that his body was never found. (We do not know what, ‘He (YHWH) buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor’ actually indicates, and whether He was to be seen as using a human instrument).

Beth-jeshimoth (house of the deserts) was near the north east shore of the Dead Sea (Numbers 33:49) in the Jordan Rift valley. The ‘slopes of Pisgah’ (Ashdoth-pisgah’) may refer to the entire edge of the Moabite plateau east and north east of the Dead Sea (compare Joshua 13:20; Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:49). Pisgah also refers to a specific peak or ridge associated with Mount Nebo (Numbers 21:20; Deuteronomy 3:27; Deuteronomy 34:1).

So all these towns and cities had been redeemed for YHWH. But because of Israel’s later disobedience they were lost and seized by Moab. It is a warning of what happens if we start well but fail to go on in the same way.


Verse 21-22

And all the cities of the tableland and all the kingdom of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, whom Moses smote with the chiefs of Midian, Evi and Rekem, and Zur and Hur, and Reba, the princes of Sihon who dwell in the land. Balaam also, the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword among the rest of their slain.’

For ‘cities of the tableland’ compare Deuteronomy 3:10. This was clearly a local name for the whole area. (Contrast ‘the cities of the plain’ - Genesis 19:29).

The description is a brief summary of larger events occurring at different times, the slaying of Sihon and his forces at one time (Numbers 21:21-31) and the slaying of the ‘leaders of Sihon’ and Balaam at another (Numbers 31 where they are also named). It would appear that these Midianite chiefs were vassals to Sihon, probably due to receiving certain rights to the use of lands for grazing, who were not present when Sihon was slain. Their subsequent appearance to avenge Sihon was met with by the denunciation of YHWH and their defeat at the hands of Israel (Numbers 31). The word translated ‘princes’ is a rare one occurring only five times in the Old Testament. See especially Psalms 83:11 where it refers to Midianite leaders as here. Thus it was seemingly a term especially applied to Midianite leaders. The other references are Ezekiel 32:30 where it refers to vague ‘princes of the north’; Micah 5:4 where it is subordinate leaders to the shepherds; and Daniel 11:8 where it has a different meaning altogether.

Balaam was said in Numbers 24:25 to have ‘returned to his place’ (see Numbers 22:5). However it appears that either he dwelt among the Midianites or was recalled by the Midianites to obtain revenge for Sihon for here he was slain along with them. The slaying of such a powerful soothsayer (compare Deuteronomy 8:14), who was made wealthy by divining on behalf of people against their enemies, was looked on as a great feat.


Verse 23

And the border of the children of Reuben was Jordan, and its border. This was the inheritance of the children of Reuben according to their families, its cities and villages.’

Literally ‘the border was --- Jordan and a border.’ The phrase occurs in Joshua 13:27; in Joshua 15:12; Joshua 15:47 of the Great Sea; Numbers 34:6 of the Great Sea; Deuteronomy 3:16-17 of the Arnon in its valley and of Jordan. It seems to be a technical term to describe water as forming a continuing border.


Verses 24-28

The Portion of Gad (Joshua 13:24-28).

Joshua 13:24

And Moses gave to the tribe of Gad, to the children of Gad according to their families.’

“The tribe of Gad” indicates Gad as a unity under its leaders. ‘The children of Gad’ sees them as inheriting from YHWH as ‘children’ of Gad. They too received ‘according to their families’ (see Joshua 13:15).

The southern border of Gad was indicated as north of Heshbon (Joshua 13:26), its eastern border as ‘half the land of the children of Ammon to Aroer east of Rabbah’, a different Aroer from that on Reuben’s southern border. It also incorporated in it the Jazir towns and ‘all the cities of Gilead’ which was probably a technical term similar to ‘the cities of the tableland’ in Reuben.

“All the land of Gilead” was used of the whole of Transjordanian territory from the northern border of Bashan to the Arnon (2 Kings 10:33), then distinguished as comprising Bashan and ‘Gilead’, the latter specifically stated as including territory in Manasseh, Gad and Reuben . So ‘Gilead’ could refer to both. But each Transjordanian tribe also applied it to their own section of Gilead.

More confusingly ‘half the hill country of Gilead’ could be applied to the combined territory of Reuben and Gad (Deuteronomy 3:12) with ‘the rest of Gilead’ being applied to the territory of Manasseh (Joshua 3:13). However ‘half Gilead’ could refer separately to the part of Gilead that was in Reuben (Joshua 12:2), as compared with the part that was in Gad (Joshua 12:5).

Here then it represents part of the northern ‘half Gilead’ (Joshua 12:5) in contrast with the southern ‘half Gilead’ (Joshua 12:2) of ‘all Gilead’ (Deuteronomy 3:10) which included both, as in Numbers 32:29. The term ‘Gilead’ was also used elsewhere of the portion of Machir (Manasseh) - Numbers 32:39-40. (Deuteronomy 3:13 describes this as ‘the rest of Gilead’). Compare Judges 11.

The reference to cities in Numbers 32:34-36 in respect of ‘building’ activities possibly included cities that Gad fortified in Reubenite territory, while Reuben were fortifying others, and would not then refer to cities they inherited. Gad did not fear invasion from Reuben but did fear the Moabites and so assisted in rapidly building defence points in Reuben before they dared cross the Jordan with Joshua. Alternately they may have included cities of a similar name.

Joshua 13:25

And their border was Jazer, and all the cities of Gilead, and half the land of the children of Ammon, to Aroer that is east of (‘before’) ‘Rabbah.’

Strictly this was indicating the border by the cities and towns contained within it. Jazer was a group of towns as well as a city and was frequently mentioned (see Joshua 21:39; Numbers 21:32; Numbers 32:1; Numbers 32:3; Numbers 32:35). It fell on the border between the Amorites and the Ammonites. During David’s time it furnished ‘mighty men of valour’ (1 Chronicles 26:31) and was one of the towns on the route of the census taking (2 Samuel 24:5). In Isaiah 16:6-12 and Jeremiah 48:28-34 it was once more regained by Moab, and even later by Ammon (1 Maccabees 5:4). It may possibly be identified with Khirbet Gazzir on the Wadi Sza‘ib near es-Salt.

“All the cites of Gilead” was an identifiable area consisting of an area within Gad. ‘Half the land of the children of Ammon’ was a third area on the western side of the north-south extension of the Jabbok, stretching to Aroer east of Rabbah, originally taken from Ammon by the Amorites. Rabbath was the capital of Ammon (Rabbath-ammon - Judges 11:33 - now called Amman)

Joshua 13:26

And from Heshbon to Ramath Mizpeh, and Betonim, and from Mahanaim to the border of Lidebir.’

Heshbon in Reuben indicated the southern border of Gad as commencing north of Heshbon. Ramath-mizpeh (the watchtower Ramath) was clearly the northern border. It was possibly the same as Ramoth-gilead (Ramoth in Gilead - Joshua 21:38). This was a walled city that featured regularly in wars with Syria. It provided residence for the Merarite Levites (Joshua 21:38; 1 Chronicles 6:80). Betonim means ‘pistachio nuts’. It has not been identified directly but Batneh, three miles west of es-Salt, recalls the name. Mahanaim means ‘two camps’. It was on the border of Gad with Manasseh (see Joshua 13:30), probably close to the northern bank of the River Jabbok. (Gad extended some kilometres north of the Jabbok). It was where Jacob met the angels of God before meeting Esau (Genesis 32:2). It was a Merarite Levite city in the territory of Gath (Joshua 21:38). Lidebir may have been Lo-debar (2 Samuel 9:4), probably not far from Mahanaim.

Joshua 13:27

And in the valley, Beth-haram and Beth-nimrah, and Succoth and Zaphon, the rest of the kingdom of Sihon, king of Heshbon, Jordan and a border to the uttermost part of the Sea of Chinnereth Beyond Jordan eastward.’

“The valley” is the Jordan Rift valley from the Sea of Chinnereth (later the Sea of Galilee) to the Dead Sea. These cities were in the Jordan valley with Jordan as the border. Beth-haram (Beth-haran - Numbers 32:36) is probably to be identified with Tell Iktanu, twelve kilometres north east of the mouth of the Jordan. It was probably a border strongpoint to protect their cattle. Beth-nimrah (Nimrah - Numbers 32:3; Nimrim - Isaiah 15:6; Jeremiah 48:34) is possibly Tell Nimrin beside the Wadi Shaib. Succoth (see Psalms 60:6) was not far from a water passage (Joshua 8:5; Joshua 8:16) and from Zarethan (1 Kings 7:46) in the Jordan Rift valley. It refused sustenance to the men of Gideon (Judges 8:5-6) and its leaders were severely punished for it (Judges 8:14-16). Zaphon was near Succoth and is mentioned in Judges 12:1.

These formed the remainder of the kingdom of Sihon, with Jordan up to the Sea of Chinnereth as the border.

Joshua 13:28

This is the inheritance of the children of Gad according to their families, the cities and the villages of it.’

The children of Gad inherited all these towns and cities and their surrounding countryside, both on the Transjordan tableland and in the Jordan Rift valley.


Verses 29-31

The Portion of the Half-tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 13:29-31).

Joshua 13:29

And Moses gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh and it was for the half-tribe of the children of Manasseh according to their families.’

For this compare Joshua 13:15; Joshua 13:24. It is noteworthy that their portions are said to be given by Moses, not by YHWH. It must not be overemphasised but it is suggesting that it was not YHWH Who gave them this land east of Jordan. It was theirs by concession. Later much of it would be lost because of their disobedience to YHWH.

Joshua 13:30-31

And their border was from Mahanaim, all Bashan, all the kingdom of Og, king of Bashan, and all the towns of Jair which are in Bashan, sixty cities, and half Gilead, and Ashtaroth and Edrei, the cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan, were for the children of Machir, the son of Manasseh, even for the half of the children of Machir according to their families.’

The description of the portion of the half-tribe of Manasseh is succint and to the point. It included the whole of the former kingdon of Og, king of Bashan, including the towns of Jair. Jair was a descendant of Manasseh who took several towns and villages in Bashan and Gilead when Bashan was invaded (Numbers 32:41) calling them Havvoth-jair (‘the towns of Jair’ - see also Deuteronomy 3:14). He seems originally to have had sixty ‘cities’ (mainly tent villages?), which reduced to twenty three, which at some time Geshur and Aram (Syria) took from him (1 Chronicles 2:22). But later in the period of the Judges his descendant ruled over thirty cities (Judges 10:3) so he or one of his descendants must have re-established them.

This brings out the precarious nature of life in Bashan. It was a land of cattle and sheep farming and pasturage (Psalms 22:12; Ezekiel 39:18; Amos 4:1; Jeremiah 50:19) and of mighty oaks (Isaiah 2:13; Ezekiel 27:6), but there were enemies to the north. If only they had obeyed God and removed the Geshurites and the Maacathites (Joshua 13:13) they would have avoided many of these troubles. As well as Bashan they possessed north Gilead.

Ashtaroth was presumably a centre for the worship of the Canaanite goddess Ashtaroth and is probably Tell Ashtarah thirty kilometres (eighteen miles) east of the Sea of Galilee (Chinneroth). It is also probably to be identified with the strt of the records of Tuthmosis III, the astarte of the Amarna letters and the astartu of Assyrian inscriptions. Edrei is probably modern Der‘a. It occupies a key point for communications in the Bashan area and has remains dating from the early bronze age.

“Were for the children of Machir, the son of Manasseh, even for the half of the children of Machir according to their families.” Manasseh’s son Machir was clearly a strong character and a powerful man for his name to be applied to the family tribe of Manasseh (Asriel may well have died young - 1 Chronicles 7:14). He represented the whole of Manasseh both east and west. He established his own sub-tribe, the Machirites, and was the father of Gilead, the ancestor of the Gileadites (Numbers 26:29). The warlikeness of his sub-tribe was one reason why they were given Bashan and Gilead (Joshua 17:1). See also Numbers 32:39-40; Numbers 36:1; Deuteronomy 3:15.

(‘Father of’ and ‘son of’ are relationships that can have wide meaning. They may indicate direct descent, distant descent or adoption. Note how in Genesis 10 indication is given of tribes ‘descended from’ patriarchs because they were connected with patriarchal descendants).


Verse 32-33

These are the inheritances which Moses distributed in the plains of Moab Beyond Jordan at Jericho eastward. But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance. YHWH the God of Israel is their inheritance.’

The contrast is again drawn between the inheritance Moses gave and the inheritance he could not give. That which was Beyond Jordan eastward was gifted by Moses. But Levi had their inheritance directly from YHWH, and He was their inheritance. The two and one half tribes coveted Transjordan because it was good and suited their way of life. They did not consider the fact that it was outside the promised land, even though granted with YHWH’s permission. But Levi had all their heart set on God, and all they had came from Him. They were truly blessed and could never lose their inheritance, for it was untouchable. It is a reminder to us that we do well not to look at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen, for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

“The plains (or ‘steppes”) of Moab.’ These were a plain in the land taken from Moab by Sihon, north of the Dead Sea eastward (see Numbers 22:1; Numbers 26:3; Numbers 26:63).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/joshua-13.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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