Joshua – Week 9: The division of the Land

Chapters 13 – 21 – The division of the Land

Literary context

Chapter 13: It starts with a listing of areas that still remain to be conquered. Special note can be taken of the Philistine cities. This section ends with a promise of God that He will drive these people out;

Next is a description of the land given to the tribes east of the Jordan. Interesting is the fact that this section begins and ends (i.e. it is bracketed) with the statement that Moses gave no land to the Levites as God would be their inheritance.

Chapter 14: This chapter contains the story of Caleb claiming the land promised to him. It starts with the statement that the land was divided by the priest Eleazar, Joshua and the tribal leaders. The land was divided by lots (in accordance with the Lord’s command) and there is another reference to the Levites.

Caleb was 40 years old when they went into the land as spies, they then travelled in the desert for 40 years, and to be 85 years old, it means that the nation must have been fighting in Canaan for 5 years.

After the blessing of Caleb and the allotment of his land, the section ends with the statement that “the land had rest from war.”

Chapter 15: This section outlines the borders of Judah’s territory, a story about Caleb defeating the Anakites (finally) and his daughter getting a piece of land as a gift.

The Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem were not driven out by Judah and “live among the people of Judah to this day”, indicating that the book of Joshua was written before the time of David.

Chapter 16: The land given to Ephraim and Chapter 17, the land given the Manasseh west of the Jordan. This chapter also contains a story about the clan who did not have any male descendants, so the female descendants also received land. There is a constant refrain of the Israelites not able to drive out the Canaanites completely, and then promises that it will be done in the future.

Chapter 18: The nation gathers at Shiloh and sets up the Tabernacle there. Joshua wants to know when they will be taking the rest of the land that has been given to them. Again scouts will go out with proposed borders this time, and there is yet another statement about the Levites not inheriting land and that the Lord is there allotment. The rest of the chapter outlines the area and towns given to Benjamin.

Chapter 19 gives the territories given to the other tribes: Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, Dan and finally Joshua. The land given to Caleb at the beginning and Joshua at the end brackets the allotment of the land.

Chapter 20 deals with the designation of the cities of refuge for where people can go when they accidentally kill someone. This is designated in Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 4 and 19.

Chapter 21 finally breaks the tension as what is to happen with the Levites. They are given towns and land out of the grants of each tribe.

This section ends with a summary of God’s faithfulness – Not a single one of all the good promises the Lord had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; everything he had spoken came true. (NLT)

Historical context

The map of how the land was divided looks like the map on the left. The map on the right is how the land looked like in the time of the Judges, but more about that below.

 josh map 1  josh map 2


After the hill country was conquered and the scouts were sent out to divide the land, it was allotted to the different tribes as indicated on the map on the left hand.

This is in stark contrast with what the situation looked like in reality. The map on the left hand side is what the division of the land looked like in the time of the Judges and on the right hand side is a map of Saul’s Kingdom.

 josh map 3  josh map 4


The map indicating the territory held by Israel during the time of the judges looks much different from the ideal, or the divided land as described in Joshua. What is also notable are the various cities within the Israelite territories that are still inhabited by Canaanites. Note the large areas held by the Philistines. The time period is estimated around 1200BC.

In the time of Samuel and Saul, (1075-1011BC), the scenario looked almost exactly the same. Israel did not really lose any territory, but they also did not win any.

After Saul’s death, David (1004 – 971 BC) reigned from Hebron. After he gained the loyalty of the Northern tribes, David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and made it his capital. Throughout his reign, David expanded the kingdom until it looked almost exactly the same as the map in Joshua – about 200 years later.

 josh map 5  josh map 6

Note: All the maps were obtained from the NLT Online Study Bible.

Analysing narrative

What sort of narrative is this? I think that it is very clear that this is a report. There is a little bit of drama (tension) regarding what will happen with the Levites, but for the rest it is a brief and factual report of how the land was divided.

When analysing a report, we most often compare against other reports. The one aspect in the historical context that we did focus on is what the actual division of the land looked like at the time of God’s promise, at a later stage during the reign of Israel’s first king, and finally during the reign of King David.

The contrasts are obvious. God made a promise and actually gave the land to the Israelites. It was theirs, and all they needed to do was to take it. In Joshua’s time, most of the land was taken and the presence of Israel in the area was established. However, it was far from a complete victory and domination of the land.

During the time of the Judges, much of the land was occupied by the Philistines, and in fact Israel was dominated into slavery by them from time to time. In Saul’s time, the Philistines were a thorn in the flesh of the nation, until David appeared on the scene – especially with the defeat of Goliath. After that David eventually took possession of the whole land as promised by God to Moses and Joshua.

There is an obvious parallel for us. We live in a world of sin (Israel in Canaan), but God wants us to be holy and separate. He also wants us to resist the enemy and fight him. In this process we become sanctified, but while we live in this world, we will never be fully sanctified (holy). However, when Jesus came (from the line of David), he earned justification, righteousness, holiness on our behalf, so that we can be seen as fully righteous in God’s eyes and therefore reconciled to Him and able to enter eternal rest – see Hebrews 4 on entering God’s rest through the work of Christ.

Another contrast is that of the Levites. There are numerous references to them not getting any specific land, but that the Lord would be their inheritance. The last chapter then details how each tribe give some towns and land to the Levites. There is an obvious reference to God’s fulltime workers and the responsibility of the pastorate (the nation) to give over some of that which God gave them for the livelihood of the pastor.


What is the main theme?

For me the main theme of this section is definitely related to the Israelites getting the land from God as their inheritance. They then have to fight for it, and God will make good on his promise. We can only gain complete victory through Christ.

The secondary point of tithing is also relevant.


This section also has many applications. Try to think of applications in your life relating to the main theme identified above. Try to be specific. Think of something that you can apply to your life the moment you write it down. When you get up you have to be able to do it. Maybe there is sin (or anything else) in your life that you have not conquered yet or need to deal with. Even though, as a believing Christian, you are righteous before God and fully justified, He may be speaking to you regarding this and would like you to achieve victory in this area. This passage gives me assurance that God has already achieved victory over this through Christ. We now need to appropriate (take possession of) that which is already ours in Christ.







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