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Chapters 15-17 are all very similar. Land is being allotted to the people and we read in great detail of places and borders. Again, whilst this might seem tedious to us, it certainly wouldn’t have been to the people finally receiving the land they were promised!
In 15.1-2 we see the people of Judah and their allotment, vv.13-19 is about Caleb and his family, and vv.20-62 is more on Judah and the places they captured. We read that, for now, Jerusalem could not be conquered (15.63). An easy city to defend yet, as David Guzik wrote,
“…no matter how hard the struggle, with God’s promise, and God’s help, we can triumph – there is really no good excuse for why this city must stay in Canaanite hands until the time of David
(2 Samuel 5:6-10)”.
Into 16.1-4 we see the allotment for the people of Joseph, and in vv.5-10 we read of the people of Ephraim. Sadly the people do not drive out those lingering in the land (v.10). The convenience of having people to work for you is not equal to the obedience they should have shown: convenience ≠ obedience.
17.1-2 shows us the allotment for the people of Manasseh and vv.3-6 for the daughters of Zelophedad. The promise given to them in Numbers 27.1-11 is claimed here and the daughters left with their inheritance. The remaining allotments for the territory of Manasseh are detailed in vv.7-13, and then we see a stark contrast in attitude:
“The descendants of Joseph said to Joshua, “Why have you assigned us only one tribal allotment? After all, we have many people, for until now the LORD has enabled us to increase in number.” Joshua replied to them, “Since you have so many people, go up into the forest and clear out a place to live in the land of the Perizzites and Rephaites, if the hill country of Ephraim is too small for you.” The descendants of Joseph said, “The whole hill country is inadequate for us, and the Canaanites living down in the valley in Beth Shean and its surrounding towns and in the Valley of Jezreel have chariots with iron-rimmed wheels.” Joshua said to the family of Joseph—to both Ephraim and Manasseh: “You have many people and great military strength. You will not have just one tribal allotment. The whole hill country will be yours; though it is a forest, you can clear it, and it will be entirely yours. You can conquer the Canaanites, though they have chariots with iron-rimmed wheels and are strong.”
(Joshua 17.14-18, NET)
Back in 14.11-12 Caleb was willing to step out in faith and take on a battle he knew the Lord could aid him with. Here, however, the people of Joseph wanted more land simply given to them. Joshua replies very shrewdly and says, simply, well, if you are indeed big and strong, go take some more from the hill country…clear some trees and go for it. So much had been given to the people and already they wanted more, but without the associated hard work.
In a chapter full of detail and description that many of us are detached from, perhaps this is the biggest takeaway for us: yes, God provides all we need, but that doesn’t diminish our own need to get up and get it. The land was there for the people of Joseph, they simply needed to realise fully what they had been given and get to work on it.