“The Distribution of the Inheritance” Joshua 13:1-33
We have come to the part of the book of Joshua that is after the formal conquest of the land. Chapter 12 documents God’s great faithfulness in defeating this long list of powerful kings through Joshua and the armies of Israel. Now we come to chapter 13, and we begin to discover that although the major battles are all won, more conquering needs to take place to fully possess the promises that God had made to Israel.
Although all of these names of cities that describe the boundaries of God’s allotment of their inheritance don’t mean much more than stumbling blocks for our tongues to trip over, they were very real cities and places that described what God had given them. Just as we can visualize an area marked by cities in our states, these who would inherit could understand as God verbally drew a map of their possession. As we explore this list of bequests from God to His people we encounter a couple of important thoughts that speak to us today. They are the promises that God has given and the most important inheritance of all.
I love how chapter 13 begins. “Now Joshua was old, advanced in years. And the LORD said to him: ‘You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land yet to be possessed’” (Joshua 13:1). While the LORD Himself repeats word for word what we have just been told in the verse to Joshua, we need to realize that Joshua did not read these words. God acknowledged a reality Joshua and the people of Israel needed to understand. Flat out, God told Joshua he was getting to be an old man. Joshua had limited strength and stamina. God was not going to replace him as the leader of His people yet, but He was going to transfer some of Joshua’s duties to others.
The major duty God lifted from Joshua’s shoulders was the responsibility to subdue the rest of the Promise Land. If much land needed to be possessed, how would it be taken if Joshua was not going to do it? The individual tribes of the people of God who inherited the land had to conquer the peoples.
How were they going to do that? These enemy nations were still big and strong and feisty. Along with the distribution of the inheritance, God provided for the conquest and possession. After specifically drawing out the borders of what He had promised, God told them how it would be accomplished. “[All this territory in the list] I [God Himself] will drive out from before the children of Israel; only divide it by lot to Israel as an inheritance, as I have commanded you. Now therefore, divide this land as an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh” (Joshua 13:6–7).
Let us pause and apply this. The Children of Israel relied on Joshua to conquer the land with the army. They did not automatically think they could conquer the people in their own territory armed with God’s promise. We also too often think that the job of reaching lost with the message of the Gospel is a job for the ministry professionals (our modern day Joshuas) we call or hire. Sometimes missionary presentations leave the impression that the Great Commission is just for missionaries. Churches fulfill the command by taking on missionaries to do the job. We forget that God is saying to each church and individual like those in Judah, much work needs to be done. We are responsible to obey the Great Commission where we are. God has given us what is necessary to accomplish the task. We just need to believe the promise and do the work. “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20.
Did the nine and a half tribes actually possess the whole of the land allotted to them? No, they did not. Whose fault was that? Was it God’s fault? No. It was the people of Judah’s lack of faith. It is very easy for us to sit back and blame them, never realizing the indictment might fit us also. Do we ever fail to possess all that God has for us? I am sure we do. There is a passage that has always haunted me. In Hebrews 12:1–4 we read, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” How much effort are we spending obeying our Lord and avoiding or fighting sin? Are we really serious about being all that the Lord Jesus Christ wants us to be? Are we serious about running the race that He has set before us?
A significant part of this promise involved the land of the Philistines. “From Sihor, which is east of Egypt, as far as the border of Ekron northward (which is counted as Canaanite); the five lords of the Philistines—the Gazites, the Ashdodites, the Ashkelonites, the Gittites, and the Ekronites; also the Avites; from the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians as far as Aphek, to the border of the Amorites.” (Joshua 13:3–4). Although God specifically gave the land of the Philistines to the Children of Israel, they never possessed it. This disobedience (an act of omission) cost the nation of Israel greatly. Think of all the times the Philistines oppressed, attacked, and discomforted Israel over the years just because they did not do what God asked them to do.
Will there be anything like the Philistines in our backgrounds when we stand before God? Will there be anything of the promise of God for us that we could have had if only we had obeyed?
Most of the inheritance that God handed out to the tribes through Joshua was a very tangible inheritance. It had boundaries and it could be located on a map. But there is one tribe who did not receive that kind of inheritance, the Levites. We read of them in two verses in this chapter. “Only to the tribe of Levi he had given no inheritance; the sacrifices of the LORD God of Israel made by fire are their inheritance, as He said to them” (Joshua 13:14). The Levites are mentioned again in the end of the chapter. “But to the tribe of Levi Moses had given no inheritance; the LORD God of Israel was their inheritance, as He had said to them.” (Joshua 13:33).
This was the best inheritance anyone could have. The best inheritance did not include a land. The best inheritance is God Himself. Moses first mentioned it in Numbers 18:24. “For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.’” This verse like Joshua 13:14 stated the first way the Levites inherited is by receiving from the worship of the true and living God. The Levites were keepers and protectors of the true worship, the only acceptable worship of the one true God. We also are responsible as believer priests today to worship the true and living God in an acceptable way; in Spirit and Truth.
Second, they inherited God Himself. This echoes some other places in the Bible that speak of God Himself being our portion. Psalm 73:22-26 always warms my heart. “I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
We are not a covenant nation like Israel was. We have not been allotted an inheritance of physical land. But we still have an inheritance in our God. God Himself has committed Himself to be our inheritance. He is our joy and our salvation. Do we recognize that we have no one in heaven and earth like Him? Are we sure that He is ours?