JOSHUA 13-24

Disposition of the Land & the Covenant

We have already suggested that this book is chiastic in its arrangement, Our study in this section will be the last half of that chiasm.

Opening Exhortation, Circumcision & Passover (1-5)

Closing Exhortation & Renewal of the Covenant (23-24)



Battles for the Land (6-12)


Distribution of the Land (13-21)

As can be seen from this chart, the major portion of this section deals with the Distribution of the Land to the various tribes of Israel.

The Distribution of the Land



Special Allotments

East of the Jordan


Two & a half Tribes



West of the Jordan



Major Allotments to the 9 ˝ Tribes


The Sons of Joseph


Remaining 7 Tribes


Cities of Refuge

Special Provisions

Both Sides of the Jordan




Summary Statement

Reading through much of this portion of Joshua is a bit like reading through the telephone book. You don't know the names and they don't mean a lot to you. But it would be different if you took an old personal address book and had a walk down "memory lane."

This would be full of old friends and would likely bring back many fond memories.

These chapters would have meant a lot more to the original recipients of the book of Joshua. After all, they were living in the land that was portioned out. It was their inheritance and their possession. We also have an inheritance. Not a physical inheritance, but one reserved in heaven for us.

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:16-17).



We have already seen the story of the 2 ˝ Tribes which chose for themselves the lands on the east bank of the Jordan and therefore took 2nd best.

Because of their impatience, they had fought for a land that they could not now inherit. As a result, there would develop something of a schism between those Israelites living on the west bank and those living on the east bank.

A special allotment is awarded to Caleb.

Then the sons of Judah drew near to Joshua in Gilgal, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, "You know the word which the Lord spoke to Moses the man of God concerning you and me in Kadesh-barnea." (Joshua 14:6).

Calab had some unique characteristics. He was...

"Now then, give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out as the Lord has spoken." (Joshua 14:12).

If I had been Caleb, I might have said, "Joshua, I'm not as young as I used to be. Why don't you give me a little peaceful place where I can live quietly?"

But Caleb didn't real the need to do that. Caleb had a big God. How big is your God? Perhaps the reason He only does a little is because you think so little of Him.

By the way, Caleb didn't have the best pedigree. His relatives had come into the Israelite community through the back door. He was the descendant of one of the sons of Judah and Tamar. He was part Canaanite. But he was given a portion from among the Jews.

"And now behold, the Lord has let me live, just as He spoke, these forty-five years, from the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, when Israel walked in the wilderness; and now behold, I am eighty-five years old today.

I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in." (Joshua 14:10-11).

Notice to what it is that Caleb attributes his long life.

Not in the eating of health food. Not a regular program of exercise. Not good luck - or good genes. It is the promise of the Lord that has kept Caleb healthy and going strong.

Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow. (James 1:17).

There is a saying that the Scots are a race of self-made men, thereby relieving the Almighty of a terrible responsibility. But the truth is that there are no self made men.



1. The Complaint from Joseph.

Then the sons of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, "Why have you given me only one lot and one portion for an inheritance, since I am a numerous people whom the Lord has thus far blessed?"

And Joshua said to them, "If you are a numerous people, go up to the forest and clear a place for yourself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you."

And the sons of Joseph said, "The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the valley have chariots of iron, both those who are in Beth-shaen and its towns, and those who are in the valley of Jezreel."

And Joshua spoke to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, saying, "You are a numerous people and have great power; you shall not have one lot only, but the hill country shall be yours. For though it is a forest, you shall clear it, and to its farthest borders it shall be yours; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, even though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong." (Joshua 17:14-18).

The double tribe of Joseph brought a complaint to Joshua. It was that their inheritance was too small.

I cannot help but wonder whether they thought they would get special privileges because Joshua was from Ephraim - one of the tribes of Joseph.

Complaint #1: The land is too small.

Answer: Clear the forests from the hill country.

Complaint #2: There is still not enough land and the Canaanites have iron chariots.

Answer: You are a numerous and a powerful people - use your numbers and your power to drive out the Canaanites.

A lot of Christians are like these two tribes. They complain that they have not been given enough.

m Enough money.

m Enough good looks.

m Enough ability.

What they often need to do is to use the gifts and abilities and resources that they HAVE been given.

2. Shiloh.

Then the whole congregation of the sons of Israel assembled themselves at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there; and the land was subdued before them. (Joshua 18:1).

We are not told why Shiloh was chosen as the site for the Tabernacle. Perhaps it was because this was a central location for all the tribes of Israel. Another possibility is that it was considered to be uncontaminated by pagan religion due to its having been deserted for such a long time. This was to be the center of worship until the time of Samuel.

3. A Survey of the Land.

Then the men arose and went, and Joshua commanded those who went to describe the land, saying, "Go and walk through the land and describe it, and return to me; then I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh.

So the men went and passed through the land, and described it by cities in seven divisions in a book; and they came to Joshua to the camp at Shiloh.

And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord, and there Joshua divided the land to the sons of Israel according to their divisions. (Joshua 18:8-10).

The Israelites had no maps or drawings of the land. This made it rather difficult to divide the land among the various tribes.

And so, before such a distribution could be made, Joshua ordered that three men be commissioned from each tribe who would do the work of a surveyor, traveling through the land and writing out a detailed description.

It was also their job to divide the land into seven distinct parcels (two and a half tribes already had their land on the east bank of the Jordan). They would try to be as even as possible, since it was not known which parcel their own tribe would inherit.

When the job was completed, these descriptions were brought back to Joshua and he cast lots before the Lord. The implication was that the LORD was making the decision as to where each tribe would live.

The lot is cast into the lap,

But its every decision is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:33).



1. Cities of Refuge.

Then the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, `Designate the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who kills any person unintentionally, without premeditation, may flee there, and they shall become your refuge from the avenger of blood.'" (Joshua 20:1-3).

The concept of the Cities of Refuge had been set forth in Numbers 35:6-34. Such a concept was needed to keep the peace in the absence of a police force. It was to be implemented in the case of manslaughter - when a man had been killed either by accident or in an unpremeditated altercation. In such a case, it would often be the inclination the friends and family of the deceased to see that justice was done. But to stop blood feuds from starting, six cities were designated as places of refuge. These were cities belonging to the tribe of Levi. No vengeance was to be taken within these cities.

Cities West of the Jordan

Cities East of the Jordan



These cities were distributed throughout the length of Canaan. A person who had caused the death of another could flee here until a trial could be arranged.

"And he shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment..." (Joshua 20:6a).

2. An Offending Altar.

And the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home and departed from the sons of Israel at Shiloh which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, to the land of their possession which they had possessed, according to the land of Moses. (Joshua 22:9).

These are the two and a half tribes who had opted for second-best. They had asked for their inheritance to be the lands on the east side of the Jordan River. They were granted their request on the condition that they first cross over and fight alongside the rest of Israel to take the land of Canaan. But now the fighting is finished. And so, they are permitted to return home.

And when they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance. (Joshua 22:10).

When news of the construction of this altar reaches the other tribes of Israel, they jump to the conclusion that these two and a half tribes have apostatized. After all, the only proper place to build an altar is at the tabernacle - and there is only one tabernacle.

Therefore the Israelites prepare themselves for war against the two and a half tribes. But before they march, they send Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the high priest along with a representative from each of the 10 tribes.

When they meet, the leaders of the two and a half tribes explain that the altar which they have constructed is not an altar for burnt offerings or for sacrifice, but rather a mound of memorial stones. It is to remind the Israelites who live in Canaan that there are people of the covenant who do not live in the land of Canaan but that they are no less children of the covenant.

Instead of intending to divide the nation, this altar was to be a symbol of their unity. There is a lesson here. All too often, we tend to judge people's actions in the worst possible light. The better part of wisdom is that we make certain of ALL of the facts before passing judgment.






An Offending Altar

Joshua's Final Charge

To the Elders

To the People

People to People

Leader to Leaders

Leader to People

Take Care not to Offend Others

Be Certain to Warn Others

Be Faithful to Challenge Others

1. Joshua’s Charge to the Leaders of Israel.

As Joshua is soon to die, he gathers the leaders of the nation together to give them a closing charge.


What God Has Done

Fighting for you


Giving you an inheritance


What You Are To Do

Be firm to keep what is written in the book of the Law


Cling to the Lord your God


Love the Lord your God


Warning Against Apostasy

If you...

  • go back
  • cling to them
  • intermarry with them

They will be a snare and a trap to you


God's word has never failed


His word will not fail either for good or for bad

These are the reflections of an old man. They are lessons for leaders. And they are also lessons for life.

a. God is central.

Both this chapter and the next begin with what GOD has done. This is the basis for everything else Joshua has to say.

b. History is important (23:14).

Look at how much Joshua talks about remembering. He points to the promises of God and shows how they have not failed.

c. Compromise is evil.

When Joshua names sin, he does not mention murder or stealing or fornication. He mentions compromise (23:11-14). The thing that Joshua feared the most for his people is that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between them and the inhabitants of the land.

2. The Covenant Renewal.

Joshua 24 describes the renewal of the covenant. It was to take place at Shechem, the place where Jacob had first purchased a portion of land (Genesis 33:18-19). This was the first place where Abraham had built an altar to the Lord (Genesis 12:6-7).

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel and for their heads and their judges and their officers; and they presented themselves before God. (Joshua 24:1).

This chapter follows the five-fold outline for a covenant (this same outline is seen in expanded form in the entire book of Deuteronomy).

But that is not all. A memorial stone is set up which is to also serve as a witness of the covenant (24:26-27).

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. (Joshua 24:25).

The terms of this covenant were put in writing. Literally, the Hebrew says that "Joshua CUT a covenant..." This may have involved the sacrificing of an animal.

And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.

And Joshua said to all the people, "Behold, this stone shall be for a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke to us; thus it shall be for a witness against you, lest you deny your God." (Joshua 24:26-27).

Joshua set up a large stone near the tabernacle. It was to be a memorial-stone. The stone would serve as a witness of the covenant.

It is reminicent of the time that Jesus was entering the Temple in Jerusalem to the praises of the people. When the Jewish authorities heard these praises, they objected. Jesus replied, "If these become silent, the STONES will cry out!" (Luke 19:40).

3. "I Sent the Hornet before you..." (Joshua 24:12).

In Joshua 24:12, the Lord is describing how He had fought for Israel and He says, "I sent the hornet before you and it drove out the two kings of the Amorites from before you..." There are two ways of looking at this:

It should also be noted that this was a fulfillment of a prophecy given at the outset of the Wilderness Wanderings.

"I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies trun their backs to you.

"And I will send HORNETS ahead of you, that they may drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hivites before you." (Exodus 23:27-28).

4. Closing Notes.




Death of Joshua

Burial of Joseph

Death of Eleazer

Buried in the Hill Country of Ephraim

Buried at Shechem (inheritance of Joseph's sons)

Buried in the Hill Country of Ephraim

There is a sense in which the narrative begun in Genesis comes to a final completion here at the end of Joshua. Genesis ends with a promise that the bones of Joseph will be returned to the Promised Land. Joshua closes with the fulfillment of that promise.

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