Joshua 17:16: The Sons of Joseph Fail to Meet Joshua’s Challenge

Verse 16:[1] And the children of Joseph said, The hill is not enough for us: and all the Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have (Judg. 1:19; 4:3) chariots of iron, both they who are of Beth-shean and her towns, and they who are (Josh. 19:18; 1 Kings 4:12) of the valley of Jezreel.

[We shall not be able to go up to the mountain, לֹֽא־יִמָּ֥צֵא לָ֖נוּ הָהָ֑ר] That mountain does not, or will not, suffice for us (Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Pagnine, Vatablus, similarly the Septuagint, Junius and Tremellius), understanding, to inhabit (Vatablus): that is to say, There is by no means enough space for us on mount Ephraim. To no purpose are we sent back to the Perizzites and Rephaims, equipped with chariots, etc. But I prefer to translate it, That hill will not be obtained by us: that is to say, Thou commandest us to cultivate the wooded places: But those places, if they be mountainous, will be defended more easily by our enemies; but if they be plain, those that inhabit them are equipped with chariots armed with scythes. For the verb מָצָא, to find, while it is used in expressions permission, or, as the Grammarians say, while without qualification it generally signifies to be in readiness, or, to be in the nature of things, and altogether περιγίνεσθαι, to prevail over: it both signifies the action, and to be that which exhibits, presents, etc. (Masius). Others: it will not be found (Montanus, Piscator). Thus Numbers 11:22;[2] Judges 21:14;[3] Hosea 12:8[4] (Piscator).

The hill is not enough for us; if we should invade and conquer it, and cut down both wood and men, yet it would not be sufficient for us. Hebrew: The hill will not be found, that is, obtained, by us; those fierce and strong people the Perizzites and the giants will easily defend themselves, and frustrate our attempts, having the advantage of the woods and mountains. The Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley, that is, And if thou sayest, as we know thou wilt reply, that if the hill either cannot be conquered, or be not sufficient for us, we may go down and take more land out of the pleasant and fruitful valleys, we shall meet with no less difficulty there than in the mountains. Or thus, In going to the hills to which thou directest us, we must pass through valleys, where we shall be waylaid by powerful and armed enemies.

[Iron chariots] These were chariots armed with scythes, which, armed with scythes and swords, cut through men and whatever was in the way, and mowed them down, as it were (Lapide). [See the description of these in Bonfrerius, who in addition relates what great slaughters they were causing, and what remedies were contrived against them.]

Chariots of iron; not all made of iron but armed with iron, not only for defence, but for offence also, having as it were scythes and swords fastened to them, to cut down all that stood in their way.

[And Jezreel] But this valley is situated in the tribe of Issachar, Joshua 19:18. Therefore, either it was in the tribe of Issachar, or on the extreme Northern borders of Manasseh near Issachar (Bonfrerius).

The valley of Jezreel; which was either in the tribe of Issachar, or upon the borders of it, Joshua 19:18.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יוֹסֵ֔ף לֹֽא־יִמָּ֥צֵא לָ֖נוּ הָהָ֑ר וְרֶ֣כֶב בַּרְזֶ֗ל בְּכָל־הַֽכְּנַעֲנִי֙ הַיֹּשֵׁ֣ב בְּאֶֽרֶץ־הָעֵ֔מֶק לַֽאֲשֶׁ֤ר בְּבֵית־שְׁאָן֙ וּבְנוֹתֶ֔יהָ וְלַֽאֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּעֵ֥מֶק יִזְרְעֶֽאל׃

[2] Numbers 11:22:  “Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them, to suffice them (וּמָצָ֣א לָהֶ֑ם)? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them (וּמָצָ֥א לָהֶֽם)?”

[3] Judges 21:14:  “And Benjamin came again at that time; and they gave them wives which they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead:  and yet so they sufficed them not (וְלֹֽא־מָצְא֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם כֵּֽן׃).”

[4] Hosea 12:8:  “And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance (מָצָ֥אתִי א֖וֹן לִ֑י): in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in meלֹ֥א) יִמְצְאוּ־לִ֖י עָוֹ֥ן) that were sin.”

2 thoughts on “Joshua 17:16: The Sons of Joseph Fail to Meet Joshua’s Challenge

  1. John Calvin: ‘It is too apparent that they were thinking only of themselves, because they quibble as much as they can, in order to avoid following the suggestion of Joshua, than which, however, nothing was more reasonable. They object, that the mountain is rugged and little better than a desert, and therefore, though it were added to them, they would derive very little benefit from it. In regard to the plain, which was cultivated and fertile, they object that they are shut out and debarred from it because of the formidable array of the enemy. Accordingly, they make mention of their iron chariots, as if they had not already learned by experience that the Lord was able, without any difficulty, to trample down both horses and chariots. Joshua, however, by a simple and right-hearted answer, administers due castigation, as well to their avarice as their effeminacy and torpor. If the forest, as it now stands, is not sufficiently productive, cut down the trees and convert it into good fields; provided you are not sparing of your labor, you will have no reason to be dissatisfied with your habitation. Iron chariots, moreover, cannot prevent the Lord from performing what he has promised to you. The inheritance is yours; do only your part by entering with due confidence on the possession of it.’

  2. Matthew Henry: ‘[A] good part of that country which had now fallen to their lot was in the hands of the Canaanites, and that they were formidable enemies, who brought into the field of battle chariots of iron (Joshua 17:16), that is, chariots with long scythes fastened to the sides of them, or the axletree, which made great destruction of all that came in their way, mowing them down like corn. They urge that though they had a good portion assigned them, yet it was in bad hands, and they could not come to the possession of it, wishing to have their lot in those countries that were more thoroughly reduced than this was.’

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