Joshua 13:1-14:5

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years, and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess. This is the land that yet remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites (from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron, it is counted as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron), and those of the Avvim, in the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, to Aphek, to the boundary of the Amorites, and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrise, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath, all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Sidonians. I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh.” [1]

As we mentioned last week, 13:1 is the beginning of the second-half of the book of Joshua. Before we launch into a detailed exploration of this text, this is a good point just stand back and take a look at the big picture of the book as a whole.

Dividing biblical texts helps us analyze their content and themes, but doing so is entirely subjective to the student. There are not normally right or wrong answers for how someone chooses to divide up Bible passages, it is simply that doing so creates a building block for the book as a whole. Reading a text to look for its divisions can deepen and enrich your understanding of the material.

In any historical book of scripture the most basic division is into two parts, since there is normally a pivotal point on which the narrative hinges. One example would be Exodus, where the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai is the pivot that divides the book into its pre- and post-Sinai halves.

Our pivoting point here in the book of Joshua is the summary of 11:23. The first half of the book is about the conquest of the land, and the second-half will be about its allocation to the 12 tribes. We move from vivid dramatic action narratives to lists of places and people. With its sedentary pace and relaxed tone and relative lack of action, it is a dramatic contrast to the first half of the book.

Once we see the major division, subdivisions become clearer. Chapters 1-12 can be divided into two major sections, as we have seen. The first five chapters give us the preparations for the actual conquest, which is then dealt with in detail in chapters 6-12. In that subsection there are four key battles or stories of conquest: Jericho, Ai, Gibeon, and the waters of Mermom. There are also two major setbacks caused by Achan’s sin and the Gibeonite deception. Both of those sad events are overruled by God for the ultimate deepening of his people’s trust and the development of his sovereign purposes.

In the second-half of the book we find a major subdivision. Chapters 13-21 deal with the distribution of the land as God’s gracious inheritance to his people, Israel. This section contains a chiastic structure, a writing technique in which the material focuses down to a pivotal point and then fans back out again. The focus point of this section is the establishment of the Tabernacle at Shiloh and the writing of a description of the land in 18:1-10 as the pivotal point. The second subdivision is chapters 22-24 as the concluding section of the book. It concerns the return of the 2 1/2 tribes east of the Jordan and Joshua’s farewell address to the leaders and to the nation.

As we work through this section comprising chapters 13-21, which forms a substantial portion of the book’s entire content, we are entering the book’s center of gravity because of its historical and theological significance. But we have to admit that to us, as 21st-century Christians, it does not really grab our attention. After the excitement of the battles and the celebrations of the Lord’s victories, it’s understandable to read these nine chapters as almost anticlimactic. It is arduous work to mine the treasures out of this section.

If this were a seminary course on the book of Joshua, we would certainly be justified in spending a series of classes slogging through the geography of the land and the history of the tribal divisions. We might even use some PowerPoint maps to help keep you awake. We know that all scripture is profitable (2nd Timothy 3:16), And this is certainly part of God’s inspired inerrant Word. John Calvin wrote:

I have already premised, that I would not be very exact in delineating the site of places, and in discussing names, partly because I admit that I am not well acquainted with topographical or chorographic science, and partly because great labor would produce little fruit to the reader; nay, perhaps the greater part of readers would toil and perplex themselves without receiving any benefit. [2]

We are going to follow Calvin’s suggestion. Over the next few chapters, we will not have a detailed exposition of places and people but rather, using the tools of biblical theology and practical application, we will draw out the principles that are still valuable for us today as we battled to possess our spiritual inheritance in Christ and enter more fully into his rest, both now and in the eternity.

Before we move on, we need to recognize our position in relation to this material is quite different from that of its original readers. For us in the modern West the title deeds to the property we own or the lease agreement for the place we rent are especially important legal documents. They might make for boring reading, but we make sure they are carefully stored and preserved as indisputable proof of the property to which we have a right. Hopefully, that gives you some perspective on why these chapters mattered so much to Israel and to each tribe, clan, and family group. These are the title deeds to their inheritance, written down and authorized by their appearance in the holy scriptures.

They are the reference point of indisputable authority for any controversies that might occur in the generations to come. That is what made Joshua a document of great practical importance for its original readers. It also underlines for every successive generation that the Lord gave Israel the land and that these arrangements were disposed and enjoyed under the authority of their sovereign covenant God, on whom they depended for all things.


13:1-7 control our understanding of everything that follows. Joshua’s old age (13:1) triggers the command for him to divide the land for an inheritance now (13:7). Joshua’s role in the division of the land is crucial. As we have worked our way through the first half of the book, we have seen his stature with God and with the people grow. As God promised, he is now exalted in the sight of all Israel (3:7; 4:14).

No other person in Israel has the authority and leadership exercised by Joshua. When he dies, he will leave behind him an immense vacuum without any hint of a successor being provided. If you read even one chapter of the next book, Judges, you will see the unfolding tragedy of sheep without a shepherd, leading eventually to the demand for and the establishment of the monarchy. Although “there remains yet very much land to possess (13:1), the allocation and distribution of it among the tribes must be conducted by Joshua, under God’s direction, while he is still alive and active.

Of course, the fact that large swaths of the land are not yet under Israelite control will be a stimulus to trust and action among the people in order to secure the reality of what God has assigned to them by promise. The people had great motivation because what they were promised was within their grasp and indisputably secured by the promise of YHWH.

There is, of course, a parallel analogy to our Christian experience, backed up by Paul in Philippians. Speaking of the resurrection, he writes, “not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). We have God’s unshakable promise that we will be joint heirs to a new and perfect and eternal land. It is ours by God’s decree, the fact of which he increasingly weaves into the fabric of our lives in practice by our pressing on.

Paul continues, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14). To be receiving a settled faith that the promised blessings of the gospel are ours now in a measure and will be ours increasingly will change our entire perspective on how we live our lives in the present.

So much of our Christian experience is the practice of making apparent what is hidden. Correctly applied, these chapters of Joshua can have a beneficial effect on our discipleship. Think what God has promised you and press on toward the prize of your upward call of God in Christ Jesus.


13:2-6 describe the full dimensions of the land yet to be won, and they are significant. Beginning in the West on the Mediterranean coast, from the Shihor, the Nile, east of Egypt in the south, all the way to Ecron in the north (vv. 2-3). The area is predominantly settled by the Philistines, who originally immigrated from Crete. But it is “counted as Canaanite” (13:3) geographically, if not ethnically. Therefore, it was part of the promised inheritance.

The five principal cities are named and with them the Avvim, the people who many scholars believe were the original Canaanite inhabitants who were now squeezed into the south (13:4a). In the north, the whole land of the Canaanites extends to the Sidonians and the Amorites, likely modern Lebanon, as verse 5 indicates. No doubt there are still pockets of resistance in the hill country, but this description emphasizes the need to push into the plains.

These verses show that Israel carved out its territory in the mountains of Palestine while the native populations remained in the plains, because Israel was intimidated by their iron chariots (17:16; Judges 1:19). Chariots were suited to fighting on flat ground but were not all-terrain vehicles (which is why the northern coalition abandoned their horses and chariots when they fled into the hills as we read last week).

This is the challenge that God lays before Joshua and the people. It is a large geographical area with many key cities and numerous people groups, well-armed and resourced. Nevertheless, it is “the land that yet remains” (13:2). Israel certainly has more than a toehold in the land. They are in control of much of the eastern half of the country, and that is because of the Lord’s fulfillment of his promise. All of God’s fulfillment up to this point is intended to be encouragement for all yet to be done.

In this context the Lord graciously reaffirms his promises: “I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel” (13:6b). Because of God’s promise appropriated by trust, the allocation of the land is not an empty action of dreaming. It is obedience to God’s instruction generated by God’s spiritual gift of unshakable confidence in his promises. To trust is to obey. What Joshua has to do is clear (v.7).


13:8-33 is a replay of what God had already promised and given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh as their inheritance east of the Jordan, back in the days of Moses. The same story was previously revisited in 12:1-6. The story is likely repeated to stress the unity of the entire nation. It also reminds the readers that the inheritance east of the river was as much God’s gift to the 2 1/2 tribes as the land to the west, which they had fought with their brothers to conquer.

Since this section comprises the survey and legal deed of the tribes to their various lands, it is included here again. The land belongs to God as its Creator. He has the superior right to absolutely everything in the universe. He is the Landlord and has the right to evict whom he will and give to whom he wills. God grants these sections of the land to the tribes in trust for their possession and enjoyment.

The individual tribes are to make their allotments of land their own, to settle, govern, and use in accordance with God’s instructions. The conquest is only the first step (one yet to be completed) on the road that is intended to stretch down the centuries as Israel serves God by her faithful tenancy of the property, the land. As with any other obligation under the Covenant of Works, Israel must remain faithful to the Landlord in order to earn the right to stay in the land.

The survey begins with the territories of Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, who “Moses had struck and driven out” (13:12). It is described as all the area east of the Jordan already distributed (13:8-12). However, 13:13 sounds a note of warning. From his own historical perspective, the author records Israel’s failure to deal with Geshur and Maacath “to this day.” The author is clearly not interested in creating propaganda. He is driven to tell the truth no matter how embarrassing it may be.

God’s clear promise in verse 6 that he would drive out the pagans was conditional upon Israel’s willingness to act on the command. There was no conditionality in the will and purpose of God, but there was nothing automatic about the fulfillment of the promise if Israel failed to activate it by trust and action. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Israel can only remain in the land through obedience.

The similarities and differences to the New Testament believer are clear. Those trusting into the perfectly lived life and sacrificial blood shedding death of the risen, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ have been drawn to God who has, “granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2nd Peter 1:4).

By living righteously and perfectly, Christ kept the covenant of works for us. Our place in his new and eternal and unconditional and sin-free land is guaranteed. But we must believe the gospel and trust into Christ. Electricity flows through the grid, but until an appliance is plugged in and switched on, none of its potential can be realized. The covenant of works teaches us it is impossible for us to plug into God. The covenant of grace teaches us that God raises dead hearts to life and gives us the desire to plug into his power, to receive his gift of life.

Another thing we should notice is that Geshur and Maacath were mentioned in 12:5 as defeated by Moses, but that clearly did not imply complete annihilation. There is always more to be done, and in spiritual matters, as in political matters, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Verse 14 lists Levi as the only tribe without title deeds to a portion of the physical land. They are mentioned again in verse 33 where the same comment is made. God declares that their inheritance is not land but the blessing of serving him through “the offerings by fire to the Lord God of Israel” (13:14, 33). They would be given cities and other tribal areas in which they were to live, but their special calling and privilege, in the service of the tabernacle, marked them as distinct. The tithes and offerings of the landed people would be the means of their support.

Verses 15-23 are the deed to Reuben’s section of the land in the south of the country, consisting mainly of the area formerly ruled over by King Sihon from his capital, Heshbon (13:17a). Their allotment includes 12 captured cities in the tableland (13:17-21). Some of the land is described in Numbers and Deuteronomy. The text in front of us also makes reference to Balaam (13:22), hired by King Balak to curse the Israelites. But God turned his cursing into blessings (Numbers 22-24) and gave him over to the Israelites to slaughter when that section of land was taken. He was evidence of God’s sovereignty over all who conspire against him and his purposes.

Versus 24-28 continue the story with the inheritance given to Gad. Like Ruben, their land is bordered by the Jordan on the west, occupying the central region of the country, which is described in verses 26 and 27. Again, the author notes the cities and villages throughout this region as part of the inheritance.

Finally, 13:29-31 list the inheritance of half the tribe of Manasseh, which is mostly the previous territory of Og, king of Bashan. This is the area further to the north and east of Galilee, on the plateau beyond Gilead. Again, this is land they had previously fought for in which the enemy has been mostly subdued. It was granted to them by Moses.

The rest of the inheritance of the land to be divided among the tribes will be by lot, but these have already been determined, and the purpose of the statements here serve to underline the authenticity and to keep the tribes east of the Jordan anchored to the unified entity that is the emerging nation.


The first five verses of chapter 14 deal with the allocation of land West of the Jordan all the way to the coast. They also form an introduction to the long account of the distribution to the 9 1/2 remaining tribes, excluding Levi, which will run to the end of chapter 19. These verses establish the authority by which the process was conducted.

The mention of Eleazar, the son and successor of Aaron as high priest, tells us this is a process of spiritual significance. He was a part of Joshua’s commissioning, and now he stands with the military and political leader and with the 12 leaders of the tribes. But none of them decides the details of the inheritance. There’s no governing committee, no inner circle of influence. “Their inheritance was by lot” (14:2a). In Numbers 26:52-56, God commanded Moses to use this method, and once again Joshua is faithful to perform according to the Law. Larger groups will have larger areas, but no human being determines the location.

The deeper reality behind this introduction, of course, is the sovereignty of God over this inheritance just as in every other situation. Casting lots was a method of discerning God’s will in matters where there was no clear word of revelation to determine the right course of action. It was an acknowledgment of God’s sovereign rule of all things, even the smallest decisions. Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but it’s every decision is from the Lord.” We could say, “Man rolls the dice, but God makes the spots turn up.

Roughly 1/3 of all the references to casting lots in the Old Testament occur in the book of Joshua. It was clearly the most important ingredient in the allocation of the tribal lands west of the Jordan. It was the clearest way in which the will of God could be made known. Even as late as Acts 1:24-26 we find the practice used to select Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot. This was done in the context of prayer, but the prayer presupposed that God would control the outcome of the lot casting.

The clear expectation was that in the right context of prayer and dependence on God, the Lord would reveal his will through the lots. However, after the gift of the Holy Spirit to all of God’s believing people (Acts 2:38, 39), we read no more of casting lots but rather of seeking the inner work of the Holy Spirit to give wisdom and guide God’s people into his will. With the completion of the canon of scripture in the New Testament, we have a much richer and more detailed resource of revealed truth on which to base our decision-making.

So, the casting of lots in Acts 2 belongs to the period between Jesus’ ascension and the Pentecost. Jesus had gone and the Holy Spirit had not yet fully and visibly come in full power to all the church. If there are better ways of appointing the right man for the right church job, there are certainly also worse ways. And no doubt all of you can think of many.

Calvin points out, “It is to be known, therefore, that they were not selected simply to divide the land by lot, but also afterwards to enlarge or restrict the boundaries of the tribes by giving to each its due proportion.”[3] That involved more than a simple casting of lots, as we shall learn in chapter 18.

Next week, we will look at the allotments to the tribes that settle west of the Jordan, beginning with the tribe of Judah, the largest and most important tribe in Israel’s history. So, we will close with this historical introduction to next week by hearing Jacob’s blessing of his sons in Genesis 49. “Judah, your brothers shall praise you . . . your father’s sons shall bow down before you” (v. 8). “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall . . . by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you. . .. May they [God’s blessings] be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers” (vv. 22–26). With these blessings already in place, it is not surprising that Judah comes first in the list of allocations, and chief among them one of the greatest heroes of the Old Testament story, Caleb, the son of Jephunneh. It is his story that will now takes center stage … next week.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jos 13:1–7.

[2] John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Commentary on the Book of Joshua (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 200–201.

[3] John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Commentary on the Book of Joshua (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 192.