Joshua 18
Pulpit Commentary
And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there. And the land was subdued before them.
Verse 1. - Congregation. The word signifies a body of persons gathered together at a spot before indicated. The LXX. renders by συναγωγή. The idea is evidently that of an assembly gathered together for some specific acts of worship. This passage teaches the duty of a national recognition of religion. Whatever evils there might be in Israel at that time, the absence of a general and formal acknowledgment of God was not one of them. When that public acknowledgment of Him ceased, the downfall of the nation was at hand. It was the absence of such acknowledgment that was the ruin of Israel, while the hypocritical and purely external recognition of God by Judah was equally offensive in God's sight. Assembled. Literally, was summoned; by whom, we are not told. But this general gathering to set up the tabernacle was at once an act of due homage to Him by whose power they had done so many great deeds, and also the establishment of a centre of national life. As long as the worship of God was maintained in its purity, the unity of Israel would be preserved, in spite of the twelve-fold division into tribes, and without the need to introduce the monarchical power. When fidelity to the outward symbol of Israelitish unity, the tabernacle at Shiloh, relaxed, then dissension and weakness crept in, and Israel became a prey to her enemies. A remarkable instance of an opposite character meets us in the history of our own country. The prey of various unconnected Teutonic tribes, the island was one vast scene of anarchy and confusion, until the great Archbishop Theodore came over and founded a National Church. It was this religious unity and cooperation which tended to harmonise the conflicting forces in the land and steadily pioneered the way to an union of the rival tribes under one head. Without attempting to say whose fault it is that this religious unity is lost, or how it may best be reestablished, it surely is the duty of every patriot and every Christian to cooperate to the best of his ability and knowledge, with all the forces that he sees tending towards unity, and both pray and labour for the coming of the day when men may once more "with one mind and with one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," and be willing to meet together "with one accord in one place." Shiloh. In Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 14, we find God prescribing that only in a place chosen by Himself shall the public worship of the congregation be paid to Him. Thither were all the males to resort three times a year. It is obvious how such a regulation tended to keep alive national feeling among the Israelites. The reason for the choice of Shiloh (which was probably made by Urim and Thummim, the case being important enough for such a decision) is to be found in its central position, five hours south of Shechem, and eight hours north of Jerusalem. Its situation is minutely described in Judges 21:19. It is difficult to understand why; since Shiloh must have been well known to all the dwellers in Israel at that time, unless it was to explain to those who were not acquainted with the localities in the tribe of Benjamin the reason for the selection of Shiloh, namely, that it lay close by the road between Bethel and Shechem (see, however, note on Joshua 24:1). The place has been identified. It is the modern Seilun, but only a few ruins remain to mark the place once so famous in the history of Israel, where Eli abode, where Samuel spent his early years. Rejected by God Himself, as the Jewish Psalmist relates with patriotic pride (Psalm 78:60, 67-69), it fell into utter neglect, and even in the days of Jeremiah it seems to have become a by word (see Jeremiah 7:12, 14; Jeremiah 26:6, 9. Also Pal. Expl. Fund, Quart. Paper, Jan., 1873, where an account, with a plan, is given of the place in its present condition. There are a few rock-hewn tombs there). Whether it was named Shiloh on account of the word used in Genesis 49:10, it is impossible to say. The name appears to signify rest, and was an appropriate name to be given to the visible symbol of rest from warfare which Joshua had obtained for Israel (see Joshua 11:23; Joshua 14:15; Joshua 21:44; Joshua 22:4). The difficult passage in Genesis 49:10 is not of course included in this interpretation of the meaning of the word Shiloh. Congregation The word here differs slightly from the word translated "congregation" in the first part of the verse, but it comes from the same root. And the land was subdued before them. That is, the land in which the tabernacle was set up. We know from the next verse that the land as a whole was not subdued.
And there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance.
And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the LORD God of your fathers hath given you?
Verse 3. - How long are ye slack? This "slackness" (the translation is a literal one) in the arduous conflict against the powers of evil is not confined to Jews. The exhortation needs repeating to every generation, and not less to our own than any other, since the prevalence of an external decency and propriety blinds our eyes to the impiety and evil which still lurks amid us unsubdued.
Give out from among you three men for each tribe: and I will send them, and they shall rise, and go through the land, and describe it according to the inheritance of them; and they shall come again to me.
Verse 4. - Give out from among you. Calvin enlarges much upon the boldness of these twenty-one men in venturing upon the task of the survey, rightly supposing that the difficulty of the task was enhanced by the number who undertook it (see note on Joshua 14:12). And here it is impossible to come to any other conclusion than that the twenty-one commissioners went together, for the object of their selection was to obviate complaints of a kind which, as we have already seen, the Israelites were not slow to make (see Joshua 17:14-18). But the Israelites had inspired quite sufficient awe into the inhabitants of the land to make such a general survey by no means a difficult task. Nor is it probable that the commissioners were unprovided with an escort. Three men for each tribe. Literally, for the tribe. This selection, which was intended to secure an impartial description of the country, would render impossible all future complaints, since the boundaries would be settled according to reports sent in by the representatives of each tribe.
And they shall divide it into seven parts: Judah shall abide in their coast on the south, and the house of Joseph shall abide in their coasts on the north.
Ye shall therefore describe the land into seven parts, and bring the description hither to me, that I may cast lots for you here before the LORD our God.
Verse 6. - Ye shall therefore describe the land into seven parts. Literally, ye shall write the land, seven parts. Similarly in ver. 8. That is to say, a written report was to be brought up in seven parts, a fair and equal division of the land having previously been agreed upon among the commissioners. This report having been accepted, division was afterwards made (ver. 10) by lot. Bishop Horsley and Houbigant here, as elsewhere, would rearrange the chapter, supposing it to have been accidentally transposed. But there seems no ground for the supposition. The repetition, with its additional particulars at each repetition, is quite in the style of the author (see ch. 2 and notes). That I may cast lots. Or, and I will cast a lot. The somewhat unusual word ירה to throw, is used here. The more usual word is הפּיל caused to fall, though other expressions are also used.
But the Levites have no part among you; for the priesthood of the LORD is their inheritance: and Gad, and Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh, have received their inheritance beyond Jordan on the east, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave them.
Verse 7. - But the Levites (see Joshua 13:14, 33). The priesthood of the Lord. An equivalent expression to that in ch. 13. Here the office of the priesthood, there, more accurately, the sacrifices which it was the privilege of that tribe to offer up, are said to be the possession of the tribe of Levi. By cities. It was evidently not a land survey, entering into such particulars as the physical conditions of the ground, its fitness for agriculture, for pasture and the like. The division was made by cities. These cities had been taken and destroyed by Joshua, and now it was the intention of the Israelites to be guided by the ancient political system of the country, to occupy those cities, and to cultivate the adjacent land, as the Phoenicians had done before them. Thus, not so much the area of the land, as the size and importance of its cities, was to be the leading principle of the division. And not unwisely. The Israelites were about to relinquish their nomad life, and if they settled in Palestine, how, without walled cities, could they hold their own against the powerful nations round about them? And came again to Joshua. "The result of this examination, which was unquestionably a more careful one than that made by the spies of Moses, was that the unsubdued territory was found to be too small for the wants of seven tribes, while that apportioned to Judah was seen to be disproportionately large. To remedy this difficulty a place was found for Benjamin between Judah and Ephraim, and the portion of Simeon was taken out of the southern portion of Judah, while both Judah and Ephraim had to give up some cities to Dan" (Ritter).
And the men arose, and went away: and Joshua charged them that went to describe the land, saying, Go and walk through the land, and describe it, and come again to me, that I may here cast lots for you before the LORD in Shiloh.
Verse 8. - Shiloh (see note on ver. 1 and Joshua 24:1). The seat of the tabernacle became, for the present at least, the headquarters of the Israelites.
And the men went and passed through the land, and described it by cities into seven parts in a book, and came again to Joshua to the host at Shiloh.
And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the LORD: and there Joshua divided the land unto the children of Israel according to their divisions.
Verse 10. - Cast lots. Here, and in ver. 8, yet another phrase is used to describe the casting of the lots.
And the lot of the tribe of the children of Benjamin came up according to their families: and the coast of their lot came forth between the children of Judah and the children of Joseph.
Verse 11. - The children of Benjamin. Lying as their inheritance did between that of Ephraim and Judah, the chief places of note on their border have been already mentioned either in ch. 15. or in ch. 16.
And their border on the north side was from Jordan; and the border went up to the side of Jericho on the north side, and went up through the mountains westward; and the goings out thereof were at the wilderness of Bethaven.
And the border went over from thence toward Luz, to the side of Luz, which is Bethel, southward; and the border descended to Atarothadar, near the hill that lieth on the south side of the nether Bethhoron.
And the border was drawn thence, and compassed the corner of the sea southward, from the hill that lieth before Bethhoron southward; and the goings out thereof were at Kirjathbaal, which is Kirjathjearim, a city of the children of Judah: this was the west quarter.
Verse 14. - And the border was drawn thence, and compassed the border of the sea. This is a serious mistranslation, arising from the same word being used for sea and west in Hebrew. The LXX. has πρὸς (some copies have παρὰ) θάλασσαν. The literal translation is, and the border extended, and deflected to the western side. What is meant is that the further portion of the border now described was the western side of Benjamin. Southward. The western border of course ran in a southerly direction. Quarter. This is the same word that is translated border above, in the phrase, "border of the sea." Kirjath-Jearim. Any one who will take the trouble to examine a map will see how much more probable the site Kuriet el Enab is here, than any place "four miles from Beth-shemesh," as suggested by Lieut. Conder. The distance from nether Beth-horon to Kuriet el Enab is not great. It is improbable that the boundary should have run double that distance without any mention of locality.
And the south quarter was from the end of Kirjathjearim, and the border went out on the west, and went out to the well of waters of Nephtoah:
And the border came down to the end of the mountain that lieth before the valley of the son of Hinnom, and which is in the valley of the giants on the north, and descended to the valley of Hinnom, to the side of Jebusi on the south, and descended to Enrogel,
And was drawn from the north, and went forth to Enshemesh, and went forth toward Geliloth, which is over against the going up of Adummim, and descended to the stone of Bohan the son of Reuben,
Verse 17. - Geliloth (see Joshua 15:7).
And passed along toward the side over against Arabah northward, and went down unto Arabah:
And the border passed along to the side of Bethhoglah northward: and the outgoings of the border were at the north bay of the salt sea at the south end of Jordan: this was the south coast.
And Jordan was the border of it on the east side. This was the inheritance of the children of Benjamin, by the coasts thereof round about, according to their families.
Now the cities of the tribe of the children of Benjamin according to their families were Jericho, and Bethhoglah, and the valley of Keziz,
And Betharabah, and Zemaraim, and Bethel,
And Avim, and Parah, and Ophrah,
Verse 23. - Avim. Most probably Ai (see note on Joshua 7:2).
And Chepharhaammonai, and Ophni, and Gaba; twelve cities with their villages:
Verse 24. - Ophrah. Not the Ophrah of Gideon, who (Judges 6:11; Judges 8:2, 32) was a Manassite. Gaba. Some (as Knobel) think this the same as Gibeah of Saul. But see below, ver. 28. Also Isaiah 10:29. Gibeah and Gaba, however, must have been near together, for Ramah is near both of them (see Ezra 2:26).
Gibeon, and Ramah, and Beeroth,
And Mizpeh, and Chephirah, and Mozah,
Verse 26. - Ramah. Now er-Ram. This would seem, from Jeremiah 31:15, and from a comparison of Jeremiah 1:1 and Jeremiah 40:1, to have been the Ramah of later history, famous as the dwelling place of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1, etc., for Mount Ephraim is applied to territory in Benjamin. Cf. Judges 4:5; 2 Samuel 20:1, 21). It was near Gibeah (Judges 19:13; Isaiah 10:29), and not far from Bethel (Judges 4:5). It was rebuilt by Baasha (1 Kings 15:17, 21). Mizpeh. This is the Mizpeh, or Mizpah, of Benjamin, whither the tribes were wont to gather together, and where the tabernacle appears to have been removed (see Judges 20:1, 3; Judges 21:1-8). If, as Lieut. Conder supposes, Nob and Mizpeh were identical, and were near Jerusalem, this would explain the presence of the tribes within the border of Benjamin on this occasion. They were near the border; and the Benjamites had retired to their mountain fastnesses. This seems almost implied in Judges 20:3. Similar gatherings are recorded in the Book of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:5-7, 11, 12, 16; 1 Samuel 10:17). Mizpeh was the seat of Gedaliah's administration, and of the tragedy of his assassination (2 Kings 25:23-25; Jeremiah 40:10-13; Jeremiah 41.).
And Rekem, and Irpeel, and Taralah,
And Zelah, Eleph, and Jebusi, which is Jerusalem, Gibeath, and Kirjath; fourteen cities with their villages. This is the inheritance of the children of Benjamin according to their families.
Verse 28. - Gibeath. Almost certainly the same as "Gibeah of Saul" (1 Samuel 11:4). It was Saul's home (1 Samuel 10:26; 1 Samuel 13:2, 15, 16). It was near Saul's home, at the time his temporary refuge, that the Philistines encamped when Jonathan (1 Samuel 14.) made his daring attack on them. It was the scene of the terrible outrage recorded in Judges 19. Lieut. Conder has identified it with Jeba, not far from Miehmash, situated on one of the branches of the precipitous Wady Suwaynit. The situation explains the otherwise unintelligible narrative in 1 Samuel 13:14. This is the inheritance of the children of Benjamin. Dean Stanley ('Sinai and Palestine,' ch. 4.) reminds us how the very names suggest the "remarkable heights" which constitute the "table land" of which the inheritance of Benjamin consists. Thus Gibeon, Gibeah, Geba, or Gaba, all signify hill. Ramah signifies high place, and Mizpeh, watch tower, which of necessity must be situated on an eminence. Only by narrow passes along deep torrent beds could access be obtained to this mountainous region. Thus it was that the otherwise inexplicable resistance to all Israel in arms, recorded in Judges 20, 21, was maintained. In a country like this the skill of the Benjamites with the sling (Judges 20:16) and the bow (2 Samuel 1:22) could be used with terrible effect upon foes powerless to come to a hand-to-hand conflict. To Dean Stanley's vivid description of the physical geography of the country the student is referred for a detailed account.

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