Monday, August 19, 2013

Bible Commentary - Joshua 19

In this chapter, Joshua assigns the inheritances to the six remaining tribes.

In the last chapter, Benjamin was given his inheritance, and this chapter contains whats left of the seven tribes that had their inheritances assigned by lot.

There isn't a whole lot to say about this chapter, which contains yet another endless stream of cities and brooks and stones and trees, demarcating the various borders between the tribes.  But there are a few points that I think are interesting or worthwhile to know.

First of all, as v. 1 points out, Simeon is given an inheritance drawn from the land of Judah.  The most significant result of this is that in future generations, Simeon is largely absorbed into Judah.  Judah eventually becomes the kingdom of Judah, and Simeon is barely ever mentioned again; in essence, it becomes part of Judah.

Second, most of these tribes are located north of Ephraim.  Dan (along with Benjamin from chapter 18) form a border between Judah and Ephraim, but all of Zebulun, Issachar, Naphtali and Asher are in the north, forming a corridor of land between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean.  While these tribes form an eventual kingdom with Ephraim, they maintain a separate cultural identity that persists for about as long as the tribes exist in the promised land.

Third, we are told that the inheritance assigned to Dan was "beyond them", so they went to find an easier place to capture.  The land they were supposed to take was west of Benjamin, near the land of the Philistines, but the land they actually captured was up north, in the northern parts of Naphtali (at the far northern tip of the promised land).  This is just another example of how the Israelites are struggling to take the promised land, and I think implicitly it reflects badly on them.  I think the author of Joshua is drawing a contrast between the faith of Caleb, who requested an inheritance among the strongest parts of the land ruled by Anakim (i.e. giants), while the "sons of Joseph" complain about the valley lands being too hard to take, and Dan simply ignores his inheritance entirely, relocating to the far north where the land is less defended.  Many of the other tribes also struggle to drive out the Canaanites from their assigned lands.

In an immediate sense, this probably implies a lack of faith on their part, because they had just won several victories due to the LORD's miraculous intervention, such as at Jericho and the great slaughter in Joshua 10.  Unlike Caleb, they were not able (or willing?) to attack and destroy the tribes in their inheritances.  We aren't told anything more about it, so I might be stretching my interpretation, but I do think this is the author's intention.  In the longer term, all of the Canaanites who are surviving within the promised land portend future idolatries for the Israelites, as per Deut 20.  I mean, if Israel was committing idolatry in the wilderness, how much more will they seek idolatry when they are surrounded by, and living with, idolatrous nations?  All of these things are foul omens for Israel's future.  Nevertheless, the land is divided and the purity of Joshua's leadership will keep the nation in check for so long as he lives.

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