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The Distribution of Territory West of the Jordan


These are the inheritances that the Israelites received in the land of Canaan, which the priest Eleazar, and Joshua son of Nun, and the heads of the families of the tribes of the Israelites distributed to them. 2Their inheritance was by lot, as the L ord had commanded Moses for the nine and one-half tribes. 3For Moses had given an inheritance to the two and one-half tribes beyond the Jordan; but to the Levites he gave no inheritance among them. 4For the people of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim; and no portion was given to the Levites in the land, but only towns to live in, with their pasture lands for their flocks and herds. 5The Israelites did as the L ord commanded Moses; they allotted the land.

Hebron Allotted to Caleb

6 Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal; and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the L ord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. 7I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the L ord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land; and I brought him an honest report. 8But my companions who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholeheartedly followed the L ord my God. 9And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholeheartedly followed the L ord my God.’ 10And now, as you see, the L ord has kept me alive, as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the L ord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel was journeying through the wilderness; and here I am today, eighty-five years old. 11I am still as strong today as I was on the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war, and for going and coming. 12So now give me this hill country of which the L ord spoke on that day; for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; it may be that the L ord will be with me, and I shall drive them out, as the L ord said.”

13 Then Joshua blessed him, and gave Hebron to Caleb son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. 14So Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholeheartedly followed the L ord, the God of Israel. 15Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba; this Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim. And the land had rest from war.

1. And these are the countries, etc He now proceeds to the land of Canaan, from which nine tribes and a half were to obtain their lots. And he will immediately break off the thread of the narrative, as we shall see. Yet the transition is seasonably made from that region whose situation was different, to let the reader know that the discourse was to be concerning the land of Canaan, which was to be divided by lot. We have said that Joshua and Eleazar not only divided what the Israelites had already acquired, but trusting in the promise of God, confidently included whatever he had promised to his people, just as if they had been in actual possession of it. We shall see, indeed, that the division was not all at once made complete, but when the first lot turned up in favor of Judah, the turns of the others were left in hope.

Here a difficult question arises. How can it be said that the distribution of the land was made by Joshua, Eleazar, and the princes, if lots were cast? For the lot is not regulated by the opinion or the will or the authority of man. Should any one answer, that they took charge and prevented any fraud from being committed, the difficulty is not removed, nay, this evasion will be refuted from the context. It is to be known, therefore, that they were not selected simply to divide the land by lot, but also afterwards to enlarge or restrict the boundaries of the tribes by giving to each its due proportion. That this business could not be accomplished by a naked lot is very apparent. For while, according to human ideas, nothing is more fortuitous than the result of a lot, it was not known whether God might choose to place the half tribe of Manasseh where the tribe of Judah obtained its settlement, or whether Zebulun might not occupy the place of Ephraim. Therefore they were not at liberty at the outset to proceed farther than to divide the land into ten districts or provinces. In this way, however, the space belonging to each would remain indefinite. For had an option been given to each, some would have chosen to fix themselves in the center, others would have preferred a quiet locality, while others would have been guided in their choice by the fertility of the soil, or the climate and beauty of the scenery. But the lot placed the tribe of Judah, as it were, at the head, while it sent that of Zebulun away to the seashore, placed the tribe of Benjamin adjacent to that of Judah, and removed that of Ephraim to a greater distance. In short, the effect of the lot was that ten divisions fell out from Egypt towards Syria, and from the north quarter to the Mediterranean Sea, making some neighbors to the Egyptians, and giving to others maritime positions, to others hilly districts, to others intervening valleys.

This being understood, the office remaining for the rulers of the people was to trace out the boundaries on all sides in accordance with the rules of equity. It remained, therefore, for them to calculate how many thousand souls there were in every tribe, and to assign more or less space to each, according to the greatness or the smallness of their numbers. For in conformity to the divine command, a due proportion was to be observed, and a larger or narrower district was to be assigned, according as the census which was taken had ascertained the numbers to be. (Numbers 26) To the judgment of the princes was it in like manner left to shape the territories, regulating the length and breadth as circumstances might require. It is necessary also to bear in mind what is said in Numbers 26, that the ten who are here called heads of families were appointed to execute this office, not by the suffrages of men, but by the voice of God. Thus each tribe had its own overseers to prevent either fraud or violence from being committed. Then it would have been impious to have any suspicion of those who had been nominated by God. Such is the manner in which Joshua may be said to have distributed the land, though it was portioned out by lot.

4. They gave no part unto the Levites, etc It is here repeated for the third time with regard to the Levites, that they were not included in the number, so as to have the portion of a tribe assigned to them; but it is mentioned for a different purpose, for it is immediately after added, that the sons of Joseph were divided into two tribes, and were thus privileged to obtain a double portion. Thus had Jacob prophesied, (Genesis 49) or rather, like an arbiter appointed by God, he had in this matter preferred the sons of Joseph to the others. God therefore assumed the Levites to himself as a peculiar inheritance, and in their stead substituted one of the two families of Joseph.

6. Then the children of Judah came, etc Here the account which had been begun as to the partition of the land is broken off to make way for the insertion of a narrative, namely, that Caleb requested Mount Hebron to be given to him as he had been promised by Moses. This happened a long time before the people had ceased from making war, and it became necessary to cast lots. It is stated to be the fifth year since their entrance into the land, and he does not ask for a locality to be given up to him which was already subdued and cleared of the enemy, but in the midst of the noise and heat of warfare, he asks to be permitted to acquire it by routing and slaying its giants. He only seeks to provide, that when his valor has subdued the giants, he is not to be defrauded of the reward of his labor. The method of so providing, is to prevent its being included in the common lot of a tribe. Accordingly, he does not put forth the claim by himself alone, but the members of his tribe, the sons of Judah also concur with him, because the effect of conferring this extraordinary benefit on one family was so far to make an addition to all. Hence though Caleb alone speaks, all the tribe whose interest it was that his request should be granted were present.

I am not clear why the surname of Kenite was given to Caleb. He is so called also in Numbers 32. I am not unaware of the conjecture of some expositors, that he was so surnamed from Kenas, because either he himself or some one of his ancestors dwelt among the Kenites. But I see no solid foundation for this. What if he gained this title by some illustrious deed, just as victors sometimes assume a surname from the nations they have subdued? As the promise had not been inserted into any public record, and Joshua was the only witness now surviving, he makes his application to him. And it is probable that when the ten spies made mention of the names of the Anakim, with the view of terrifying the people, Caleb, to refute their dishonesty, answered with truth, that when he beheld them on Mount Hebron, they were so far from being terrible, that he would attack them at his own hand, provided that on their expulsion he should succeed to their lands; and that on these conditions Moses ceded to him a habitation in that locality which he should have acquired by his own prowess.

7. Forty years old was I, etc He seems to talk of his own virtue in rather loftier terms than becomes a pious and modest man. But let us remember that, seeing the thing was in itself invidious and liable to many objections, it stood in need of special commendation as a means of suppressing envy. He therefore mentions that he had acted in good faith in bringing back an account of what he had learned concerning the land. For the expression, “As it was in my heart,” evidently denotes sincerity, the heart being thus opposed to deceitful words. It is a ridiculous fiction to imagine that he had said it in his heart, because from fear of being killed by his companions he had not ventured to mention anything of the kind by the way. Nothing more is meant than simply this, that he acted honestly according to the command given him, without gloss or dissimulation. He enlarges on the merit of his integrity, because though he was opposed by all his colleagues, with the exception of Joshua, he did not yield to their malice, nor was dispirited by their iniquitous conspiracy, but steadfastly pursued his purpose. The words taken in their most literal sense are, I filled or fulfilled to go after thy God; but the obvious meaning is, that he was not seduced from a faithful discharge of his duty by the wicked machination of ten men, however difficult it was to resist them, because he followed God with inflexible perseverance, feeling perfectly assured that God was the author of the expedition, from which those perfidious men were endeavoring to draw off the people.

Let us learn from this passage, first, that unless the last part corresponds to the first, good beginnings vanish away; secondly, that constancy is deserving of praise only when we follow God.

9. And Moses swear on that day, etc Here, then, is one fruit of the embassy honestly and faithfully performed — to gain possession of an inheritance of which the whole people is deprived. For although long life is justly accounted one of the mercies of God, the end proposed by it is here added, viz., that Caleb may obtain the inheritance which is denied to others. This was no ordinary privilege. He next extols the faithfulness of God in having prolonged his life, and not only so, but supplied vigor and strength, so that though he was now above eighty years of age, he was not a whit feebler than when in the flower of his youth. Others, too, had a green old age, but they were few in number, and then in their case there was not added to the even tenor of their days a manly vigor, remaining wholly unimpaired up to their eighty-fifth year. For he lays claim not only to the skill and valor of a leader, but also to the physical strength of a soldier.

He next adds the other offices and actions of his life. For to go out and in is equivalent in Hebrew to the observance and execution of all parts of our duty. And this Caleb confirms by fact, when he demands it as his task to assail and expel the giants. He is not, however, elated by stolid pride to a confident assurance of victory, but hopes for a prosperous event from the assistance of God. There seems, indeed, to be an incongruous expression of doubt in the word Perhaps, as if he were begirding himself fortuitously for the fight. 141141     French, “Il est vrai que ce mot Peut estre, qui est une marque ordinaire de doute, semble estre estrange et ne convenir point, comme s’il se preparoit au combat a l’adventure;” “It is true, indeed, that this word Perhaps, which is an ordinary mark of doubt, seems strange and unsuitable, as if he were preparing himself for the combat at hap-hazard.” — Ed. Those expositors who think that he is distrusting himself from a feeling of modesty and considering his own weakness, say something to the point, but do not say the whole. They certainly omit what is of principal import, viz., that this Perhaps refers to the common feelings which men would entertain on taking a view of the actual state of matters.

The first thing necessary is duly to consider what his design is. Had he asked the gift of a mountain, which he could have seized without any great exertion, it would have been more difficult to obtain it. But now when the difficulty of the task is plainly set forth, he gains the favor of Joshua and the princes, because in assenting to his prayer, they grant him nothing but the certainty of an arduous, doubtful, and perilous contest. Knowing, then, that the children of Israel trembled and were in terror at the very name of the giants, he speaks according to their opinion as of a matter attended with doubt and uncertainty. As regards himself, the words clearly demonstrate how far he was from viewing that which had been said to him with a dubious or vacillating mind. I shall drive them out, he says, as the Lord has declared. Shall we say that when he utters the declaration of God, he is in doubt whether or not God will do what he promised? It is quite plain that he only reminded them how dangerous the business was, in order that he might the more easily obtain their assent. Although it is not uncommon in Hebrew to employ this term to denote difficulty merely, without meaning to imply that the mind is agitated by distrust or disquietude. How very difficult it was to drive out the giants from that fastness, 142142     Latin, “Ea munitione.” French, “Cette forteresse si bien munie;” “That stronghold so well fortified.” — Ed. may be inferred from the fact that the death of Joshua took place before Caleb ventured to attack them.

13. And Joshua blessed him, etc He prayed thus earnestly to show the delight he felt. For it was expedient by way of example to extol his valor, by which others might be incited to surmount all their fears. For it was just as if he had gained an eminence from which he could look down upon the giants. The blessing of Caleb, therefore, includes in it praise which may have the effect of an exhortation to the people. In the end of the chapter it is said, that the name of Hebron was Ciriath-Arba, (Kirjath-Arba.) Here it is to be observed, that it is not the mountain itself that is meant, but the principal city, of which there is frequent mention in Scripture. It is said to have received the surname from a giant famous for his stature. And this refutes the imagination of those expositors who insist that it was so called from having been the burial-place of four patriarchs — Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

It is plain that Caleb, in making the request, had not been looking to present ease or private advantage, since he does not aspire to the place that had been given him till many years after. Wherefore it was no less the interest of the whole people than of one private family, that that which as yet depended on the incomprehensible grace of God, and was treasured up merely in hope, should be bestowed as a special favor. A grant which could not take effect without a wonderful manifestation of divine agency could scarcely be invidious.

A question, however, arises. Since Hebron not only became the portion of the Levites, but was one of the cities of refuge, how could the grant stand good? If we say that Caleb was contented with other towns, and resigned his right to the Levites, it is obvious that the difficulty is not solved, because Caleb is distinctly appointed owner of that city. But if we reflect that the right of dwelling in the cities was all that was granted to the Levites, there will be no inconsistency. Meanwhile, no small praise is due to the moderation of Caleb, who, in a locality made his own by extraordinary privilege, did not refuse an hospitable reception to the Levites. 143143     According to the explanation here given, the Levites held Hebron only by a kind of precarious tenure, dependent on the good will of Caleb, who gave them an hospitable reception, but might have declined it. It would seem, however, from other passages, and more particularly from Joshua 20:7, and Joshua 21:9-13, that their right to Hebron was as complete and absolute as that which they possessed to any of their other cities. Moreover, as these cities were allocated by lot, or in other words, by divine arrangement, no injustice was done to Caleb, and it would have been strangely inconsistent with all that we have previously learned of his conduct and character, had he on this occasion offered any remonstrance. — Ed.

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