THEME: The Faithful God
This week’s lessons teach us about God’s faithfulness in settling each of Israel’s tribes in their territories, and what our response needs to be toward his directing of our lives.
The book of Joshua is divided into two main parts. The first part, chapters 1 through 12, tells about the conquest of the land of Canaan. And the second section, chapters 13 through 24, deals with the settlement of the land. As we come now to chapter 13, we are beginning the chapters that tell about the settlement. Now we would think, as we have studied these preceding chapters, that this war of conquest must have taken a relatively short time. Everything we read about seems to indicate speed. And yet, when we come to this chapter, we are aware immediately that there has been a considerable passage of time. The chapter begins by saying, “It was when Joshua was old now and well advanced in years that the Lord gave him instructions for the dividing of the land.”
How long did this campaign take? Well, there’s a way of figuring it out. In the next chapter, Caleb is talking with Joshua, and he begins to review all his years of service. He says in verse 7 that he was 40 years old when God sent him to spy out the land; then in verse 10 he says that he is now 85 years old. So 45 years had passed singe that initial spying operation. We also know that 38 years were spent wandering in the desert, which means that there were approximately seven years of fighting.
Most commentators think that here as chapter 13 begins, Joshua was probably about 90 years old. And he had done a great work; he had been a brilliant general. He had carried forward the campaign forcefully. There was not any city worthy of note that he had not subdued. And yet, the clue to this section is found in the very first verse where God says to him, “There are nevertheless large areas of the land to be taken over.” Joshua and his armies had broken the power of the Canaanites, but you just can’t drive a whole people out of a land, especially a land that is as extensive as this territory was. So although all of the major cities had been overthrown, there were nevertheless still strongholds of the Canaanites throughout the country that needed to be conquered.
God had a plan for how this was to happen. He said, “Now that the power of the resistance is broken, you don’t need these massed armies anymore. Now it’s time to divide up the land. So, the plan is this. You divide up the land, each of the tribes receiving a portion that I am going to determine. And then each of those tribes is to move into that particular territory, the territory given to that tribe. And they are to occupy that land and, by their occupation, complete the subjugation of the Canaanites, which has been begun by these military operations.”
Now Joshua was a well-organized man. And even here in what we would call his old-age and on the verge of retirement, we have a man who obviously still knew what he was doing and was still in charge. These chapters that tell of the division of the land fall into two parts because there were two stages to the division. The first stage is covered in chapters 13-17. This division of the land was not a random thing. It was made while the people were still at Gilgal, and seems to have been decided with military concerns in mind. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were settled to the east of the Jordan; Judah was settled in the south; and the tribes of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh were in the north.
What plan did God give to Joshua for how the rest of Canaan was to be conquered?
What do we learn about God from the opening details given concerning the division and settlement of the land for the Israelites?