Joshua 18:4, 5: New Survey for the Seven Tribes, Part 3

Verse 4:[1] 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.

[Choose ye three of each of the individual tribes] Question: Whether of the seven tribes only? or also of Judah, Ephraim, and Manasseh? Response: The matter is doubtful. But they appear to have been selected from these also; for it was of concern to them as well, so that they, if anything was to be taken from their own portions, as was done, might not be able to have grounds for complaining that the matter was carried through unjustly (Bonfrerius). Moreover, all things are yet done among them with a shared and fraternal spirit (Masius). Three men, etc., he sends, because of the difficulty of valuation. For the portion were to be equal, not with respect to space, but with respect to the goodness of the land. But you will say, If the parts were equal, why does God prescribe that a more spacious inheritance be given to the Tribe of greater number, and a narrower to the Tribe of lesser number, Numbers 33:54? They respond that those commandments have regard, not to the primary casting of lots, namely, of the tribes, but of the secondary, namely of the families, to which then the Officers were giving to the individual families their own portions. Others maintain that equal portions were made by the surveyors, which nevertheless the twelve men were able both to extend and to contract. But to me it appears that the equality of the patrimonies is able to be established with good reason. For, according to the present number fellow tribesmen it appears inadequately equal to make one tribe richer in lands than another; when the matter itself showed within a few years some were greatly increased, others diminished. But you will say that the same was able to happen to the families. But it was lawful for the families to alienate their possessions among themselves, but it was not lawful for the tribes. But I leave this obscure matter open. But I shall say this, that Canaan was sufficiently spacious for them all; and that no enlargement of the portions was necessary, even if all were equal, if only those fellow tribesmen would not desert them through laziness. Moreover, if the entire nation had increased, God Himself would have given more spacious borders, into which they would have been able to send colonies, all the way to Euphrates: concerning which see what things are on Joshua 1:4. If you would oppose the Simeonites to me, 1 Chronicles 4:38, I would say that they did not go out of their borders, but they advanced within them. Question: But how were these surveyors safe, while they were walking throughout those regions, the greatest part of which were even at that time held by their adversaries, and were examining all things thoroughly? Response: This came to pass from a certain hidden and Divine terror sent upon the Canaanites, and a heavenly confidence instilled in the souls of the Israelites, so that through this ἄδειαν, freedom from fear, and security of those few surveyors the Tribes might be animated to accept their inheritance. Moreover, the Canaanites were affected with such a loathing of war, that they subordinate all things to their quiet (Masius).

Three men; three, not one, for more exact observation both of the measure and quality of the several portions, and for greater assurance and evidence of their care and faithfulness in giving in their account. Of each tribe; either one of each of these tribes, who were yet unprovided for; or rather, two of all the tribes, even of them who had already received their portions; which was highly expedient, that in case it should appear that there was not a sufficiency for each of these tribes who wanted their portions, their brethren might be more ready either to assist them in procuring more land, or to part with some of their own portion to them. Go through the land; which they might now safely do, because the terror of the late war was yet upon the Canaanites, who were loth to rouse so near and potent an enemy.

[And let them describe it according to the number of each multitude, לְפִ֥י נַֽחֲלָתָ֖ם] Verbatim: to the mouth of their inheritance (Montanus); according to their inheritance, or possession (Syriac, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius, Vatablus), that is, according to the reckoning of the inheritance which they are obliged to undertake (Vatablus). Into as many parts as their inheritance is to be divided (Tigurinus Notes); as your inheritance requires (Arabic); just as it will be proper to divide it (Septuagint). According to their inheritance: I think that it is the same thing as what is next said, into seven parts (Masius). According to the possession of their tribes, which is going to come to them; or, as many parts as are the remaining Tribes (Malvenda, Bonfrerius). Rabbi Salomon thus explains it, that those seven portions ought to be, not equal, but greater or lesser according to the multitude or fewness of each Tribe. But this is foolish. How were the surveyors able thus to do, since the whole outcome was depending upon the casting of the lot (Masius)? [Nevertheless, others thus take it:] that the individual Tribes might receive an equitable inheritance according to the reckoning of their multitude (Menochius, Lapide). Thus he explains himself in the following verse (Lapide).


Verse 5:[2] And they shall divide it into seven parts: (Josh. 15:1) Judah shall abide in their coast on the south, and (Josh. 16:1, 4) the house of Joseph shall abide in their coasts on the north.

[Divide for yourselves the land, etc., וְהִֽתְחַלְּק֥וּ אֹתָ֖הּ לְשִׁבְעָ֣ה חֲלָקִ֑ים] Verbatim: And they shall be divided themselves into it according to seven parts (Vatablus).

Seven parts; which were of equal extent or worth; for no tribe was so great but one of these parts in its full extent would abundantly suffice them; and there was no reason why the portions should be greater or less according as the tribes at present were more or fewer in number, because of the various changes which happened therein successively; it being usual for one tribe to be more numerous than another in one age, which was fewer in the next. And if the several tribes had increased more, and not diminished their numbers by their sins, they might have sent forth colonies, and taken any part of the land, even as far as Euphrates, all which the Lord of the whole earth had given them a right to, which when they pleased they might take possession of.

[Let Judah be in his borders, עַל־גְּבוּלוֹ] In his province. Verbatim: according to his border (Vatablus). Judah shall retain his lot, etc. Understand, unless a particular portion is either to be removed or to be added (Bonfrerius). They did not, therefore, unjustly cut off seven parts from the inheritance of the Judahites (Masius).

Shall abide in their coast on the south: they shall not be disturbed in their possession, but shall keep it, except some part of it shall be adjudged to another tribe.

[And the house of Joseph on the North] Not with respect to the entire Promised Land, but only of the Tribe of Judah (Menochius). In the more Northerly part (Menochius). The twelve men cause to be confirmed the casting of lots performed at Gilgal, but in such a way that those Tribes remain in their lots; not that, however, their portions might be unbroken and entire: For otherwise the Josephites would have dwelt all the way to Libanus (Masius).

On the north; in respect of Judah, not of the whole land; for divers other tribes were more northern than they.

[1] Hebrew: הָב֥וּ לָכֶ֛ם שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה אֲנָשִׁ֖ים לַשָּׁ֑בֶט וְאֶשְׁלָחֵ֗ם וְיָקֻ֜מוּ וְיִֽתְהַלְּכ֥וּ בָאָ֛רֶץ וְיִכְתְּב֥וּ אוֹתָ֛הּ לְפִ֥י נַֽחֲלָתָ֖ם וְיָבֹ֥אוּ אֵלָֽי׃

[2] Hebrew: וְהִֽתְחַלְּק֥וּ אֹתָ֖הּ לְשִׁבְעָ֣ה חֲלָקִ֑ים יְהוּדָ֞ה יַעֲמֹ֤ד עַל־גְּבוּלוֹ֙ מִנֶּ֔גֶב וּבֵ֥ית יוֹסֵ֛ף יַעַמְד֥וּ עַל־גְּבוּלָ֖ם מִצָּפֽוֹן׃

1 thought on “Joshua 18:4, 5: New Survey for the Seven Tribes, Part 3

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘He puts them in a way to settle themselves…. The land that remained must be surveyed, an account taken of the cities, and the territories belonging to them, Joshua 18:4. These must be divided into seven equal parts, as near as they could guess at their true value, which they must have an eye to, and not merely to the number of the cities and extent of the country. Judah is fixed on the south and Joseph on the north of Shiloh, to protect the tabernacle (Joshua 18:5), and therefore they need not describe their country, but those countries only that were yet undisposed of. He gives a reason (Joshua 18:7) why they must divide it into seven parts only, because the Levites were to have no temporal estate (as we say), but their benefices only, which were entailed upon their families: The priesthood of the Lord is their inheritance, and a very honourable, comfortable, plentiful inheritance it was. Gad and Reuben, with half of the tribe of Manasseh, were already fixed, and needed not to have any further care taken of them. Now…The surveyors were three men out of each of the seven tribes that were to be provided for (Joshua 18:4), one-and-twenty in all, who perhaps for greater expedition, because they had already lost time, divided themselves into three companies, one of each tribe in each company, and took each their district to survey. The matter was thus referred equally, that there might be neither any partiality used in making up the seven lots, nor any shadow of suspicion given, but all might be satisfied that they had right done them.’

Leave a Comment