Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Joshua 20

The cities of refuge (vs. 1-9)--This was a pretty important part of the Israelites judicial system simply because tribal revenge (personal vengeance) was extremely common in the ancient world. Most people/tribes did not have sophisticated law systems, and usually reciprocity was the means of justice--if you killed somebody in my family, regardless of the cause, then somebody in my family killed one of yours in return. That usually ended it; there were no Hatfield-McCoy type feuds. To mitigate that kind of injustice, Jehovah provided for cities of refuge "that the slayer who kills a person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there; and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood" (v. 3). Premeditated murder was dealt with capitally, of course, but this law relates to involuntary manslaughter. The "guilty" party fled to one of those cities and stood outside the gate, pleading his case to "the elders of that city" (v. 4). They were to take him in and protect, and "the avenger of blood"--the one seeking vengeance--could not touch him. The city of refuge didn't just accept the word of the killer; there was to be some sort of trial (v. 6), and if he was proven innocent, then he would stay in that city "until the death of the one who is high priest in those days" (v. 6; verse 9 mentions the same thought about a trial “before the congregation”). Then he could return to his own city and home.

There is some punishment involved here, even though the killing was not premeditated. The fact that the killer could lot live in his own home among his own people for a while was a form of retribution; human life was to be regarded as sacred and not to be taken lightly. So even involuntary manslaughter carried some penalty.

There were six cities appointed for refuge, located equally on both sides of the Jordan River, and they were spread pretty well throughout the land—west of the Jordan, there was a city in Naphtali (north), Ephraim (central), and Judah (south). On the eastern side of the Jordan, each of the three tribes, Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh contained a city of refuge (vs. 7-9). As far as I know, there is no historical evidence mentioning the use of the cities of refuge.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Joshua 18 and 19

Surveying the rest of the land (18:1-7)--These two chapters are fairly simple and discuss the division of the rest of the land, i.e., who got what. A map is essential if the reader is interested in following the borders. Again, I strongly suggest that every Bible student at least take a look at a map of Israel to see where the various tribes had their borders. Not all of them are terribly important, but it's still a good idea a have a general vision in mind. In the first seven verses of chapter 18, the children of Israel set up the tabernacle at Shiloh (v. 1). It will eventually be moved to Jerusalem. There were seven tribes who had not yet received their allotment (v. 2). Joshua chides them a bit (v. 3) for delaying in obtaining their parcel, so three men from each tribe are sent out to survey the rest of the country (v. 4). He mentions again in verse 7 that the Levites have no territory of their own.

The land surveyed (18:8-10)--The men sent did as charged, "and wrote the survey in a book in seven parts by cities" (v. 9). They brought the survey back to Joshua who cast lots to determine boundaries. We don't know exactly what the casting of lots consisted of, but it was an effective means for distributing the land.

Benjamin's territory (vs. 11-28)--Some of the tribes in subsequent Israeli history are more important than others. Judah and Ephraim will be the most important, and Benjamin probably ranks third. This tribe will stay with Judah when the kingdom is divided under Rehoboam, and there are other instances where Benjamin is involved in significant matters. It almost got obliterated because of an event that took place as described in the last few chapters of Judges. The territory of Benjamin and its cities are discussed in the remainder of chapter 18. It bordered on both Ephraim and Judah, and important cities such as Jericho and Gibeon were within its territory.

The rest of the land divided (19:1-48)--There is nothing more here than a listing of the land given to the remaining tribes, with one addition at the end of the chapter to be duly noted. Here's the lineup:

The territory of Simeon (vs. 1-9). It's important to note that Simeon's territory was entirely within the borders Judah, and apparently this tribe will be eventually be swallowed up by Judah.

The territory of Zebulon (vs. 10-16). There are no cities listed here that play any significant role in the subsequent history of Israel.

The territory of Issachar (vs. 17-23). Issachar’s territory “went to Jezreel” (v. 18) which is of some importance in later centuries.

The territory of Asher (vs. 24-31). Asher’s region “reached to Mount Carmel”—the location of Elijah’s battle with the 400 prophets of Baal (I Kings 18), and apparently touched the powerful Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon (vs. 28-29).

The territory of Naphtali (vs. 32-39). It bordered Judah and the Jordan River.

The territory of Dan (vs. 40-48). Judges 18 tells us a little more about how Dan came about conquering the territory it eventually possessed.

It’s important to remember that very little of this land had been conquered and settled yet. Joshua gave the people a foothold in the land of Canaan, but the full conquest is far from complete.

The inheritance given to Joshua (vs. 49-51)—To reward him for his wonderful, dedicated service, the people gave Joshua a special plot of land. His home was in the “mountains of Ephraim” (v. 50). A lovely retirement home for a great man.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Joshua 17

Manasseh's western territory (vs. 1-18)--As we have already noted several times, the tribe of Manasseh received a portion of their land on the eastern side of the Jordan. Now their western allotment is detailed. The "Machir" of verse one was surely dead by now, or he would have been over 200 years old. So no doubt his descendants are meant. Gilead and Bashan were mainly the territories occupied by Manasseh on the east of the Jordan River.

The story of Zelophedad's daughters is here recounted again. In Numbers 27, we learned that a man named Zelophedad had only daughters, no sons. They come to Moses requesting land of their own, lest they be left destitute. Moses took the matter before Jehovah who sided with Zelophedad's five daughters and announced that if a man died without having any sons, then the inheritance was to pass to his daughters. If he had no daughters, either, then his brother received his land. If no brothers, then to his uncles (Numbers 27:1-9). However, the daughters of Zelophedad were required to marry within their tribe or they would lose their inheritance (Numbers 36:3). Their circumstance is mentioned here again in Joshua 17:3-6).

Verses 7-11 delineate the land given to Manasseh west of the Jordan. It was a large piece of geography in the center of Palestine. Verse 11 indicates that Manasseh even received some cities within the territory of the tribes of Asher and Issachar (north of Manasseh). En-dor is famous; it is the location where Saul went to consult the witch (I Sam. 28:7). Verse 12 indicates that the warriors of Mannaseh apparently wearied of trying to drive the inhabitants of certain cities out of their region, so they put them to tribute instead. This indicates a lack of faith in God, and perseverance. We must not give up hope and trust in Him.

The "children of Joseph"--both Ephraim and Manasseh (v. 17) want more land (v. 14), "since we are a great people." Joshua tells them to go conquer more land in the mountain region (v. 15). But even that wasn't good enough for them so Joshua indicates they "shall not have only one lot, but the mountain country shall be yours" (vs. 17-18). This seems to be a conversation Joshua had with the two tribes before the land was divided up. Because Manasseh and Ephraim together outnumbered the rest of the tribes, they thought they should have more land, and Joshua agreed. But Ephraim and Manasseh were to "drive out the Canaanites" (v. 18), something, as we saw, they did not do.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Joshua 16

The lot of the "children of Joseph" (vs. 1-10)--Joseph, of course, had two children, Ephraim and Manasseh. Manasseh was the oldest, but Ephraim's descendants became the most significant in Israel's history. After the kingdom was divided in the days of Rehoboam (Solomon's son), the northern kingdom of Israel is often referred to as "Ephraim" because of the dominance of that tribe in the affairs of that people. As we have seen, half the tribe of Manasseh asked for, and received, an inheritance east of the Jordan River. The rest of the tribe receives its land here, and the borders are described.

The two lots had a common boundary. The entire territory of the two tribes is described in verses 1-5. It was rather extensive, dominating the central part of the country. Manasseh's border took up most of the Jordan River, although, interestingly, it had no common boundary with its brethren east of the Jordan. West Manasseh then stretched all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Samaria, the eventual capital city of the northern kingdom, Israel, will be located within Manasseh's territory. Ephraim's territory, described in verses 6-10, was roughly 55 miles wide by 30 miles broad, and stretched from the Jordan to the sea. The tribe's territory was judiciously located in very fertile land and on the north-south trade route. This richness partly explains its leadership in the northern kingdom. The last verse of the chapter indicates a disobedient spirit already manifesting itself among this tribe. God had told the Israelites to utterly destroy or drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, but the Ephraimites did not do that. Rather they made slaves of many of the peoples they conquered, and this will eventually become a reason for their downfall (Hosea 7:8).