OT History Part 1 – Joshua 11-21

This section in our Joshua Bible Study covers 11 chapters.  I will provide a link to BibleGateway for each chapter.  After finishing Joshua’s military command in Joshua 11-12 and summarizing the unconquered lands at the beginning of Joshua 13, the rest is the dividing lines for each tribe, the Levitical cities, Refuge Cities, and a final statement that God’s promises have been fulfilled.

Joshua 11
Joshua 12
Joshua 13
Joshua 14
Joshua 15
Joshua 16
Joshua 17
Joshua 18
Joshua 19
Joshua 20
Joshua 21

So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

  • Joshua 21:43-45

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Joshua 11:1-15 ‘Defeat of the Northern Kings’: “In the same fashion, Joshua is divinely encouraged to lead his people to preordained victory against the seemingly overwhelming forces of the kings of the north: ‘The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow at this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire” (11:6). Joshua 11:7-15 then goes on to describe the details of Israel’s comprehensive victory.”

  • Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Exploring Bible Prophecy

Joshua 11:16-17 ‘Joshua took all this land’: “The sweeping conquest covered much of Palestine. mountain country. In the south, in Judah. South. South of the Dead Sea. Goshen. Probably the land between Gaza and Gibeon. lowland. Or foothills; this refers to an area between the Mediterranean coastal plain and the hills of Judah. Jordan plain. The rift valley running south of the Dead Sea all the way to the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqabah. The hill country of Israel is distinct from that in 11:16, lying in the northern part of Palestine. The conquest reached from Mt. Halak, about six miles south of the Dead Sea, to Mt. Hermon about forty miles northeast from the Lake of Chinneroth.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Joshua 11:23 ‘the whole land’: “Here is a key summary verse for the whole book, which also sums up 11:16-22. How does this relate to 13:1, where God tells Joshua that he did not take the whole land? It may mean that the major battles had been fought and supremacy demonstrated, even if further incidents would occur and not every last pocket of potential resistance had yet been rooted out.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Joshua 11:23; 21:43-45 ‘Israel’s possession of the Promised Land’: “These two portions of Joshua, 11:23 and 21:43-45, have engendered a great deal of misunderstanding among interpreters. When these verses are taken by themselves and read outside the larger context of the book’s entire narrative account, it is not surprising that some, specifically interpreters of a Covenant theological persuasion, have mistakenly interpreted them as teaching the fulfillment of the land promises contained within the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 13:14-17; 15:18-21; 17:7-8; 22:16-18; 26:3-5; 28:13; 35:12).
“Understood within the book’s context, however, and read in light of other sections such as 13:1-6; 15:63, and 16:10, it becomes quite clear to the careful reader that huge chunks of Canaan failed to be conquered or controlled by Israel under Joshua.
Upon comparison with other passages, it becomes clear interpretively that the author of Joshua is making use of the well-known Hebrew idiom of a part standing for the whole. Accordingly, although Joshua only conquered key regional centers throughout the entirety of Canaan, as an idealized concluding statement it can be summarized as if he had taken the whole of the land (Madvig, ‘Joshua,’ p. 311; Woudstra, ‘The Book of Joshua,’ p. 194; Hess, ‘Joshua,’ pp. 284-86). Indeed, as Campbell (‘Joshua,’ p. 364) notes, basing his observation on Deuteronomy 7:22, ‘This did not mean that every corner of the land was in Israel’s possession, for God Himself had told Israel they would conquer the land gradually.’
“Even under the monarchy’s greatest territorial hegemony, under kings David and Solomon, the scriptural account makes clear that much of the Gentile regions were mere tributary nations, under Israel’s military control only, not incorporated into Israel proper (1 Kings 4:21). The balance of the revelation of Israel’s history, beginning immediately following Joshua in the subsequent book of Judges (1:19,21,27,29-36; 2:1-3,20-23), discloses that Israel’s possession of the land, settled by Jews from promised border to promised border, awaits future fulfillment within the context of the messianic kingdom (see, for example, Amos 9:14-15).”

  • Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Exploring Bible Prophecy

Joshua 13:1 ‘Joshua was old’: “The book of Joshua tells the story of your life and mine. If you cannot find the perils of your life in the book of Joshua, you are not looking closely enough, because they’re all there.
“The theme of the book is set forth in chapter 13, verse 1: ‘When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the LORD said to him, “You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.” ‘ The peril Joshua faced is one we all face from time to time. It’s the temptation to stop short of complete victory.
“Our indwelling Lord empowers us to experience victory over Satan, and when we experience that victory, it is a glorious experience indeed! Every believer has access to God’s power to experience this victory-but too many of us back away and stop short of complete victory. We say, ‘Why go on any further? I know I haven’t conquered all aspects of my sinfulness in the name of Christ—but I have conquered a lot. Lord, let me just rest here. No more challenges, no more battles—just for a while.’ Do you know that feeling? It’s always the enemy’s first subtle attack whenever we experience a moment of spiritual victory.
“Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled’ (Matt. 5:6). Our lives should be marked by a hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God. We are never to get over that hunger and thirst. Until the war is completely won and God calls us to a place of rest in the Land of Promise, we are on a war footing. We must see the battle through to victory—or the battle will be lost.”

  • Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible

Joshua 13:1-33 ‘The two and a half tribes east of the Jordan’: “Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh had agreed to help the other tribes conquer the land before they returned to the east side of the Jordan to enjoy their inheritance (Num. 32). They had asked for this land outside the boundaries of Canaan because it was especially suited to the raising of cattle. The fact that these two and a half tribes would not be living within God’s appointed land didn’t seem to worry them. Moses graciously agreed to their choice and let them settle across the Jordan. When we study the twenty—second chapter of Joshua, we’ll learn that while their choice may have been good for their cattle, it created serious problems for their children.
“These tribes became a sort of ‘buffer zone’ between the Jews in Canaan and the heathen nations like Moab and Ammon. Of course, their location made them extremely vulnerable both to military attack and ungodly influence, and both of these liabilities eventually brought about their downfall (1 Chron. 5:25-26). The boundaries are given for Reuben in the south (Josh. 13:15-23), and the half tribe of Manasseh in the north (vv. 29-52), with Gad sandwiched between (vv. 24-28).”

  • Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Strong

Joshua 14:1-17:18 ‘The two and a half tribes west of the Jordan’: “The two and a half tribes west of the Jordan (Josh. 14:1—17:18). The next tribes to be settled were Judah in the south (14:6—15:65), Ephraim across the middle of the land (16:1-10), and the other half of Manasseh in the north (17:1-18).
“Since Caleb belonged to the tribe of Judah and had been one of the two faithful spies, he received his inheritance first (Num. 13:30). Joshua, the other faithful spy, was the last to receive his inheritance (Josh. 19:49-51). Caleb reminded his friend Joshua of the promise Moses had made to them forty-five years before (Num. 14:24, 30; Deut. 1:34-36), that they would survive the years of wandering and receive their inheritance in the land. This promise gave Joshua and Caleb joy and courage as they endured years of wandering and waiting.”

  • Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Strong

Joshua 17:14 ‘chance or by God’s decree’: “It is not an easy task to divide land among different claimants. Joshua divided Canaan with strict impartiality. He was a man of God and was also shrewdly wise, as we may gather from many of his speeches. Nevertheless, he could not satisfy everybody. He who tries to please everyone attempts the impossible. If it is the design of providence to please men, it is a melancholy failure. Do we not find people everywhere dissatisfied with their portions? There is no pleasing people. Contentment should be natural to those who are born of the Spirit of God. The best advice I can give is that we should make the best of the portion God has given us. After all, Joshua had not arbitrarily appointed Ephraim and Manasseh their lots; they had fallen to them by God’s decree. Let us fall back on predestination and accept the grand truth of God that ‘a person’s steps are established by the Lord’ (Ps 37:23). Let us not seek to alter our destiny, but let us try to make the best of our circumstances. This is what Joshua exhorted Ephraim and Manasseh to do.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Joshua 17:18 ‘follow in my footsteps, if you have faith’: “When the children of Israel had come into Canaan, they were not immediately at rest. The Canaanites were there, in possession of strong cities. And they had to drive out these Canaanites before they could possess the country. In fact, this was the reason they were sent there. The Canaanites had been outlawed by God. They had been guilty of such horrible offenses that he had consigned their race to destruction. The Israelites were brought to the land as the Lord’s executioners—to exterminate the Canaanites. Some have dared to speak of it as a hideous massacre. But God knew best what was needful for the morals of the world, and he determined that the iniquity of the Amorites had reached its full measure and that they could no longer be endured. Canaan, then, can hardly serve as an adequate symbol of heaven. It is a far better emblem of someone’s state who has just become a believer. He has taken possession of the covenant heritage but finds sin and evil still in the land—both original sin within and temptation without. Before he can fully enjoy his privileges and experience the blessings of grace, he must contend with sin within and around him. No doubt many young Christians think that when they are converted the warfare is all over. No—the battle has just begun. Victory will be ours, but we will have to agonize to obtain it. He that has brought us into this condition will not fail us or forsake us.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Joshua 18:1-19:51 ‘The Assignments made at Shiloh’: “Five tribes now had been given their inheritance as Joshua, Eleazar, and the twelve tribal leaders cast lots at Gilgal. Then Joshua moved the camp to Shiloh, in the territory of Ephraim, where the tabernacle remained until David moved the ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6). The Lord must have directed Joshua to make this move or he would not have done it (Deut. 12:5-7). Shiloh was centrally located and was more convenient for all the tribes.
“Seven tribes still had to have their inheritance marked out for them, and apparently they were slow to respond to the challenge. Unlike Caleb and the daughters of Zelophehad, these tribes didn’t have faith and spiritual zeal. These tribes had helped fight battles and defeat the enemy, but now they hesitated to claim their inheritance and enjoy the land God had given them. ‘The lazy man does not roast what he took in hunting, but diligence is man’s precious possession’ (Prov. 12:27 NKJV).
“At this point, Joshua and the leaders inaugurated a new system for allocating the land. After each of the seven tribes appointed three men, all twenty-one men went through the remaining territories and listed the cities and the landmarks, describing each part of the land. They brought this information back to Joshua, who then assigned the various portions to the remaining seven tribes by casting lots before the Lord.”

  • Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Strong

Joshua 20:2-9 ‘cities of refuge’: “Moses had spoken God’s Word to name six cities in Israel as refuge centers. A person who inadvertently killed another person could flee to the nearest of these for protection (cf. Num. 35:9-34). Three cities of refuge lay west of the Jordan River, and three lay to the east, each reachable in a day for those in its area. The slayer could flee there to escape pursuit by a family member seeking to exact private justice. Authorities at the refuge protected him and escorted him to a trial. If found innocent, he was guarded at the refuge until the death of the current high priest, a kind of statute of limitations (Josh. 20:6). He could then return home. If found guilty of murder, he suffered appropriate punishment.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Joshua 20:3 ‘locations of the cities of refuge’: “Cities of refuge were situated so that one of them could be reached within half a day. In the same way the word of our salvation is near to us; Jesus is a present Savior, and the way to him is short. It is but a simple renunciation of our own merit and a laying hold of Jesus to be our all in all. We are told that the roads to the cities of refuge were strictly maintained so that the one who fled might find an easy passage. Wherever there were junctions and turnings, there were signposts clearly stating, ‘The city of refuge!’ This is a picture of the road to Christ Jesus. It is a straight road: ‘Believe and live.’ It is a road so hard that no self-righteous person can ever tread it but so easy that every sinner who knows himself to be a sinner may by it find his way to heaven. As soon as the one seeking refuge reached the outskirts of the city, he was safe; it was not necessary for him to be within the walls—the suburbs themselves were sufficient protection. We may learn from this that if we merely touch the hem of Christ’s garment, we will be made whole; if we can only lay hold on him with ‘faith the size of a mustard seed,’ we are safe. So waste no time; do not dillydally, for the avenger of blood moves quickly; and it could be that he is at our heels.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Joshua 21:1-45 ‘The Assignment of Levitical Cities’: “… the tribe of Levi didn’t have territory assigned to it but was scattered throughout the land. This way, they could teach the people the law and influence each of the tribes to be faithful to the Lord. But the Levites needed places to live and pastures for their cattle. Thus God assigned forty-eight cities for them to live in, along with a specific amount of land for pasture (Num. 35:1-5). The pastureland could not be sold, but their houses could be sold, and the Levites even had special privileges for redeeming their property.
“The two lists of Levitical cities that we have—Joshua 21 and 1 Chronicles 6:54—81—do not always agree, but names of cities and spellings change over the years, and it’s possible that from time to time new cities were selected and old ones abandoned.
“There were forty-eight Levitical cities, six of which were also cities of refuge. Each of the tribes contributed four cities, except Judah and Simeon, who together contributed nine, and Naphtali, who contributed three. The descendants of the three sons of Aaron—Kohath, Gershon, and Marari—were assigned to the various cities, although other Jews also lived in them. In Numbers 26:62, the writer states that there were twenty—three thousand Levites before Israel entered the land, a big crowd to distribute among forty-eight cities.”

  • Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Strong

Joshua 21:43-45 ‘So the Lord gave to Israel all the land’: “This sums up God’s fulfillment of His covenant promise to give Abraham’s people the land (Gen. 12:7; Josh. 1:2, 5-9). God also kept His Word in giving the people rest (Deut. 12:9, 10). In a valid sense, the Canaanites were in check, under military conquest as God had pledged (Josh. 1:5), not posing an immediate threat. Not every enemy had been driven out, however, leaving some to stir up trouble later. God’s people failed to exercise their responsibility and possess their land to the full degree in various areas.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

My Thoughts

Joshua 11 describes the northern military campaign.  Joshua 12 gives a long list of all the kings that were defeated.

But then Joshua 13 talks of what had not been done.  We know from the book of Judges and beyond that the peoples that were not destroyed totally became a thorn in their side.  The Israelites worshiped false gods instead of the true God.  As of Joshua 18, the tabernacle was moved from Gilgal to Shiloh.  That meant a sizable trek for those near the outer borders, but the false gods were available locally.

Thus, is laziness and convenience part of the fall of the Israelites in the book of Judges?

The words regarding the utter defeat blended with the words of what was not accomplished seem a contradiction, but as the scholar’s quotes above state, it is necessary to see in what context the statements are made.  The enemies were subdued or destroyed and when destroyed, they were utterly destroyed.

In Joshua 14, the saga of Caleb conquering his town, Hebron, is chronicled.  Caleb was 85, but as the scholars quoted.  Caleb and Joshua were promised by God.  They fought knowing that God had personally promised them.

Throughout these eleven chapters, there are more nuggets, beyond that of Caleb.  The daughters of Zelophehad were promised a full portion, just like any male cousin in that their father died without a male offspring.  In Joshua 17, it is repeated that in the agreement made in Numbers 27, the daughters of Zelophehad would be granted a portion of the land.

The cities of Refuge is an often misunderstood concept today.  Governments have established Sanctuary cities based on the concept to ignore certain laws that one political party or another disagrees with.  The city of refuge provided sanctuary, but only for people who killed someone by accident.  As soon as they arrived at the city, a trial was scheduled.  If the high priest died, the refugee was released to return, as Rev. MacArthur suggests as a statute of limitations.  But if the person is found guilty of murder, instead of his claim of accidental death, the refugee is handed over to the pursuers.  This is not how sanctuary cities are handled today, with total disregard of the law.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

Joshua 11: 1. At what points can you identify with Joshua: (a) When all his enemies are coming to attack him? (b) When he is winning, but the war is lasting a long time? (c) When the land finally had rest from war?
“2. Do you always expect success when you are obedient to God? Why or why not?
Joshua 12: 1. Has God helped you to conquer any of the following in your life: Bad temper? Shyness? Certain phobia? Smoking? Serious illness? Bad marriage? Weight problem? Poor self-image?
“2. The list could go on. Why not share one of these victories with your group?
“3. What one or two people have led the way for your own spiritual growth in the past year?
Joshua 13: 1. What could you once do, but not anymore, due to ‘advancing years’?
“2. What ‘unfinished business’ is left in your game plan for you to do?
“1. What have you received that you feel is a specific inheritance from the Lord? What have you done with it?
“2. If you had been a Gadite or Reubenite, what would have been the first thing you would have done in your new land: (a) Build a house to live in? (b) Cook a big feast? (c) Check out the neighbors? (d) Look for water? (e) Gather for worship? Why?
Joshua 14: 1. Caleb was still going strong at age 85. Do you think you will? Why?
“2. What else amazes you about Caleb? What quality of his life do you want for yourself and your family?
“3. Practically, what would it mean for you to serve God wholeheartedly in the coming year?
Joshua 15: 1. Do you think Judah‘s allotment has any relevance to the current debate over the borders of modern Israel? How so?
“2. What people management and match-making principles do you see in Caleb’s ministry? Are there any which are applicable to a situation you are facing?
“3. It would appear that OthnieI’s career as a judge was helped by his marriage to Acsah, the daughter of the hero Caleb. In your own life, have you seen this come true? How do you feel about this?
Joshua 16-17: 1. How do you feel when you see a promise of God coming true in your life? Describe an instance where this has happened. 2. What do Zelophehad‘s daughters encourage you to do: (a) Be assertive? (b) Know my rights? (c) Go straight to the ones in charge? (d) Join with others if I want something? 3. Ls there an area where you need to stand up for your rights? How will you do this in a helpful way? 4. Are you satisfied with the size of your Bible study group or church fellowship’? Or is it: (a) Not big enough‘? (b) Not friendly enough? (c) Not enough outreach into the community? (d) Not enough resources or iron chariots? (e) Not enough? 5. If you are dissatisfied or incomplete in any way, what is God calling you to do about it?
Joshua 18:1. What in your life have you begun but never finished? What will it take to get you going?
1. ls ‘bigger’ better, so far as you are concerned? As far as God is concerned? Give examples.
Joshua 19: 1. What principles for decision-making do you see between the lines of the chapter that uses chance allotment, survey work, divine prophecy, circumstances, and personal desires?
“2. Which of these factors do you weigh more than others in the decisions facing you?
“3. Where are you experiencing difficulty in taking possession of your rightful inheritance from Christ? What is holding you back from claiming the victory that is yours in Christ?
Joshua 20: 1. Where do you go (or to whom do you turn) when you feel in danger?
“2. is your church participating in the sanctuary movement, sheltering refugees? in what other ways could a church today be like a city of refuge?
Joshua 21: 1. What part of your life is God calling you to share with someone else right now’? How about your group?
“2. Write down some of the things the Lord has given to you this past year. Why not thank God for these good gifts?
“3. Can you honestly say from your experience, ‘Not one of the Lord’s promises to me has failed’? If not, would you feel comfortable sharing that disappointment with the group? Likely you are not alone. Together you can discern the Lord’s goodness in spite of apparent failure.”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There were so many chapters this week that I added a chapter heading.  Most chapter had one set of questions.  Joshua 16 and Joshua 17 were combined while Joshua 13 and Joshua 18 were split into two sections.  Although Joshua 18 only had one question for each section.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

And if you are 85 or older, the Joshua 14, question 1 should ask if you are indeed as strong as Caleb was?

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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