I don’t know about you, but as I was reading Joshua 17 my mind began to wonder. I could stare at this passage all day without understanding any of it, but then I busted out the trusty ol’ Holman Bible Atlas (because everyone should own a Bible Atlas!) and found this handy-dandy map of the tribal allotments. Re-reading the passage with renewed zeal, things began to click.
Looking back at Joshua 13:8 we see the tribes given land east of the Jordan River. Something happens in this verse that a casual observer will not catch. That is, in verse 7 we read “…and the half-tribe of Manasseh. [Now verse 8] Half the tribe of Manasseh…” (NLT) Did you catch it? The ESV makes things a little clearer with verse 8 referring to the “other half of the tribe of Manasseh.” However, because we see often repeated “the half-tribe of Manasseh,” it can be easy to miss that Joshua is talking about half of the half-tribe of Manasseh.
Hopping back into Joshua 17, we get what Paul Harvey might call “the rest of the story.” Joshua 17 is about the half of the half-tribe of Manasseh that settled on the west side of the Jordan River. Verse 1 harkens back to those on the east side of the Jordan mentioned in Joshua 13, while verse 2 and following are about “the remaining families within the clans of the tribe of Manasseh.” (NLT).
A great deal of Joshua 17 is understood through a careful study of the map. However, there are two notable events that break up the monotony of the land allotments. The first is when the daughters of Zelophehad (pronounced Ze-low-fa-had), who “had no sons,” approached the priest Eleazar and Joshua. While the ancient world was not especially kind to women, Joshua understood the heart of God and followed “the command of the Lord and he gave them an inheritance among their father’s brothers” (17:4, NASB). This was a big deal, and reflected God’s love that defies cultural norms.
The second event occurred in verses 11–18, noting especially verse 13. The map above represents the ideal for land allotments. The regions controlled by the 12 tribes never looked like what is pictured above. Not only did Israel face resistance, but even when they were capable of defeating Canaanites they chose not to expel them like God said, but to put them to work. As one commentator writes,
“Several cities located in the tribes of Issachar and Asher were given to Manasseh. These were the Canaanite fortresses of Beth Shan, Ibleam … Dor, Endor, Taanach, and Megiddo. (Dor, the third in the list, was also known as Naphoth.) Apparently it was considered necessary for military purposes that these cities be held by a strong tribe. The decision, however, was in vain for the sons of Manasseh, like the Ephraimites, chose tribute over triumph. (Bible Knowledge Commentary)
The last few words are a scathing indictment for Israel. Instead of choosing triumph, taking the land God gave them, they chose tribute and permitted ungodly inhabitants. This arrangement would plague northern Israel with idolatry and their troubles will multiply greatly in the time of the Judges and after—all because at this moment, they chose not to follow what God had said.
God’s Word gives us a lot of instruction, and we may not always understand why God has arranged things as such. However, Manasseh’s example is that God wants what’s best for his people, but in disobeying his command, they set themselves and further generations up for unimaginable heartache and trouble. Disobedience has consequences.
By: Tyler Short