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Bible: What Does Joshua 18-22 Teach Us About Principles of Government and Justice?

Updated on September 15, 2016



Parceling Out the Land

Before Joshua casts lots to parcel out the rest of the Land, he sends out seven, three-man survey teams from Shiloh, Israel's new campsite (vv. 1-6).

The seven remaining tribes delay their conquest, so the general forcefully directs them to present a seven-part land survey to him (vv. 2-6).

Judah, Joseph, the two and one-half tribes, and even the landless Levites acquire their inheritance; now it is their time to move (v. 7).

The teams obey Joshua’s directive and survey the Land; after receiving their report, he casts lots for them (vv. 8-10).

Next in line is Benjamin, whose land lies between Judah and Joseph (v. 11).

Joshua traces Benjamin's territory along his north side (vv. 12-13), then the west (v. 14), the south (vv. 15-19) and the east at the Jordan (v. 20).

Twenty-six cities (12+14, vv. 24, 28) comprise Benjamin's holdings (vv. 21-28).

[Staying at home where it is comfortable seems preferable, but that belief is a delusion.

Father Joshua "kicks" the seven children of Israel "out of the nest"-- for their own good].

Joshua 19

In order, Joshua chooses Simeon (vv. 1-9), Zebulun (vv. 10-16), Issachar (vv. 17-23), Asher (vv. 24-31), Naphtali (vv. 32-39), and Dan (vv. 40-48).

Last, the general receives his own city in the mountains of Ephraim (vv. 49-50). Thus concludes the dividing of God's inheritance to the children of Israel (v. 51).

Some interesting features of these final lottery drawings include:

(1) Simeon shares Judah's land, because the latter “was too much for them.”

[Does this mean that Judah had been given too much land, or that the land was too much for him to maintain?] (v. 9)

(2) Dan captures a city, Leshem, and names it after his father (v. 47);

(3) Timnath Serah is the name of Joshua's inheritance (v. 50).

Hebron, The City of Refuge in Judah


Principles of Government

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Joshua 20

Yahweh now sets up a system of justice whereby a manslayer must receive a trial by his peers (that is, the congregation) before the "avenger of blood" can lay a finger on him.

The accused killer may flee to one of six cities of refuge where he can present his case before the elders (vv. 1-4a).

Once they determine that he is telling the truth, he is safe from the "avenger" until he has had a fair trial and after the high priest's death (vv. 4b-6).

[Does the congregation determine his innocence or guilt, or does it just parrot the decision of the elders so that the avenger is satisfied?]

[Two principles of government: trial by peers, and the accused is innocent until proven guilty].

Israel appoints Kedesh (Galilee) [Naphtali], Shechem (Ephraim), Hebron (Judah), Bezer (Reuben), Ramoth (Gilead) [Gad], and Golan (Bashan) [Manasseh] as cities of refuge.

[The latter three are situated east of the Jordan].

Joshua concludes the list with a summary statement of God's purpose for these cities (vv. 7-9).

Joshua 21

Next, the Levites appear before Joshua, requesting their cities and common-lands (vv. 1-2).

The Kohathites (Aaron's sons) receive thirteen cities (Judah, Simeon, Benjamin); the other sons have ten (Ephraim, Dan, half-tribe of Manasseh) [vv. 3-5].

Israel chooses thirteen cities for Gershon (Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, half-tribe of Manasseh) and twelve cities for the Merarites (Reuben, Gad, Zebulun) [vv. 6-7].

Emphasized in this passage is Yahweh's command for Israel to provide cities for the Levites (vv. 2-3,8).

Israel gives Aaron's children the city of Hebron, though Caleb still possesses the fields and villages (vv. 9-12).

Joshua then lists their other cities (vv. 13-19). The remaining sons of Kohath receive Shechem (vv. 20-21) and nine more sites (vv. 22-26).

Gershon's portion includes Golan (v. 27) plus twelve (vv. 28-33), and Merari's living spaces have Ramoth in Gilead as its city of refuge as well as eleven other communities (vv. 34-40).

Each of the forty-eight cities given to the Levites includes their common-lands (vv. 41-42).

Finally, Joshua exults in Yahweh's faithfulness in giving the Land to Israel (v. 43), in giving him rest from his enemies (v. 44), and in coming through on every promise that He made to His people (v. 45).

[God makes sure that His chosen people are safe, secure, and amply supplied].



Inter-Tribal Controversy

Which party handled the inter-tribal controversy better, greater Israel or lesser Israel?

See results

Joshua 22

Having witnessed the faithful service of the two and one-half tribes on behalf of their brethren, Joshua permits them to return to their possessions on the other side of the Jordan (vv. 1-4).

Before giving them his blessing, however, he admonishes them to persevere in their obedience to the LORD and His commandments (vv. 5-6).

[Verse five includes a six-part exhortation.

Why did Joshua think it necessary to drill home so forcefully their obligation to follow Yahweh?]

The author first distinguishes between the two halves of the tribe of Manasseh (v. 7), then exhorts the departing half to divide their great spoil with their brethren when they settle in their new home (v. 8).

As the two and one-half tribes leave Shiloh for Bashan in Gilead, some sadness must have descended upon Israel, even though the separation occurs "according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses" (v. 9).

If the nine and one-half tribes thought that they would not see their brethren for awhile, they were mistaken; for the latter builds a controversial altar on the former's territory near the Jordan (vv. 10-11)!

Believing that "lesser Israel" (the latter) had apostatized by building an altar to a pagan god, "greater Israel" (the former) assembles for war and sends a delegation of eleven (Phinehas and ten rulers, one from each tribe) to confront the seeming wrongdoers in Gilead (vv. 12-14).

Representing greater Israel, the spokesman (probably Phinehas) leaps to the conclusion that the two and one-half tribes had rebelled against God (vv. 15-16).

Stressing his disapproval of their action, he cites the "iniquity of Peor" and the sin of Achan as examples of disobedience for which the LORD severely punished the whole congregation (vv. 17-18, 20).

He even offers them an opportunity to return to Canaan if they found their land unclean (v. 19).

Lesser Israel's spokesman responds with a reasonable explanation, calling upon God to judge their motives (vv. 21-23).

“The altar,” he argues in essence, “is in no way an act of rebellion against Yahweh, but a way of preventing a future greater Israel from making lesser Israel cease fearing the LORD” (vv. 24-25).

As a replica of the altar in Shiloh, it would stand not as a competitor, but as a witness to future generations that lesser Israel still belongs to Yahweh (vv. 26-29).

Once Phinehas and the other rulers understand the truth that their brethren had not rebelled, that they only wanted their altar "Witness" to demonstrate their faithfulness to Yahweh, they return to Canaan and report to the people with joy (vv. 30-32, 34).

Then all Israel rejoices and is at peace (v. 33).

[One wonders whether lesser Israel even considered how greater Israel would react to the new altar once they learned about it.

If they had this insight, they should have sent a small party to Phinehas with the explanation.

Phinehas, on the other hand, probably should not have overreacted the way he did.

Apparently, it did not enter his mind that people could use an altar for a purpose other than sacrifice.

Yet an objective observer can also see how easily such a misunderstanding could occur].

© 2013 glynch1


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    • glynch1 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Thank you for your continual encouragement. Perhaps your friend needs to use a modern version--one, of course, that is still a faithful translation.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Those two principles of government are still good. Just last night I talked with a friend who said he's through with the OT -- too difficult to read. You help make it understandable. Thank you.


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