Joshua 15: Lessons from Judah’s Inheritance on God’s Blessings

Introduction. This chapter recounts the inheritance of the tribe of Judah. This chapter is filled with references to specific cities that are no longer referred to by the same names. Thus, it is tempting for some to skip this chapter. But this view is a mistake. God reveals that every Word of Scripture is not only inspired but profitable for teaching: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim. 3:16). Sometimes, He wants you to search out the hidden meaning behind His Word: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” (Prov. 25:2). From this chapter, He reveals seven lessons regarding His blessings.

First, from His gift of an inheritance to Judah (the fourth tribe) before all others inside the Promised Land, He reveals that His blessings are not based upon either your heritage or your status. Second, the tribe of Judah grew to be the largest based upon its faith and obedience. As a result, it also received the largest land inheritance inside the Promised Land. Excluding your salvation (which is based upon faith alone), He reveals that He will bless you in other areas of your life in accordance with your faith and obedience. Third, from the double land blessing given to Caleb, He reveals that He can also bestow double blessings on you for your faith and obedience. Fourth, through Caleb’s offer of his daughter and land to the soldier brave enough to defeat an enemy stronghold, He reveals that He wants you to seize all of the spiritual inheritance available to you. Fifth, from Acsash’s pleading to her father Caleb for a land inheritance with water, He reveals that He will bless you when you thirst after His righteousness. Sixth, from God’s meticulous allotment of land for every member of Judah, He shows that He cares about every member of His flock. He also shows that He will keep every promise that He makes. Finally, He warned Judah to defeat the Jebusites in Jerusalem, even though this land was given to Benjamin. From this, He reveals that He will bless you when you root out the sins of the flesh around you. A believer cannot ignore sins in his brother’s backyard without also being hurt.

1. God’s Blessings are Based Upon Grace, Not Your Heritage or Status. Josh. 15:1.

  • The first inheritance given to the tribe of Judah. Of the nine and a half tribes who decided to live in the Promised Land, the first tribe to receive its inheritance was Judah: “1 Now the lot for the tribe of the sons of Judah according to their families reached the border of Edom, southward to the wilderness of Zin at the extreme south.” (Josh. 15:1). By the world’s standards, Judah would not have been selected to receive the first and best inheritance of the Promised Land. Judah was Leah and Jacob’s fourth child (Gen. 29:35). After the sins of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, the blessings of being leadership fell to Judah. The firstborn double land inheritance, however, went to Joseph (1 Chron. 5:1). The sign of the tribe of Judah was the lion. Jacob said of Judah: “Judah is a lion’s whelp . . . He lies down as a lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him?” (Gen. 49:9). The Messiah was also prophesied to specifically come from this line (Jo. 7:42; Ps. 89:4). Jesus established that He was the Messiah by, among other things, being a descendant of the tribe of Judah (Mic. 5:2; Rev. 5:5).

The inheritance of the tribe of Judah1

  • God’s grace in giving Judah the preeminent role. Like his brothers, Judah did not deserve to have the preeminent role amongst the tribes. He encouraged his brothers to sell Joseph to the Midianites, the descendants of Ishmael, out of jealousy (Gen. 37:27-28). His first son was named Er. God later killed Er for refusing to follow His directions (Gen. 38:7). Onan was the next in line to be the firstborn. God also took his life after he disobeyed Him by refusing to give Er’s widow Tamar a son (Gen. 38:8-10). The Law required that Onan give Tamar an heir who would receive the blessings of the firstborn (Dt. 25:5-10). Judah later also broke the Law by withholding his third son Shelah from her (Gen. 38:11, 26). Judah then negotiated with what he thought was a “temple prostitute” for sex. Tamar tricked Judah by dressing as a prostitute. He had no trouble knowing what the price was, suggesting that he was no stranger to this practice (Gen. 38:16-17). He also must have done this regularly to get caught in this manner. This meant that he was also guilty of fornication. Judah later also showed himself to be a hypocrite for saying that Tamar should be burned for what he thought was her adultery (Gen. 38:24). Judah was deserving of the same fate as Onan – death. To show His mercy and grace, Jesus draws his genealogy through Judah and Tamar (Matt. 1:3). He also showed His mercy and grace by blessing Judah as the largest tribe. By the beginning of the book of Numbers, Judah’s tribe had grown to 74,600 fighting men, the largest tribe (Nu. 1:27). Judah further had the pre-emanate role (Gen. 49:8-12). By the end of their journey, they numbered 76,500 (Nu. 26:22). Although the size of the entire nation shrank due to disobedience, Judah’s tribe increased by 1,900 fighting men, an increase of 2.54 percent. This again shows God’s mercy and grace. No person would have picked Judah to start the lineage of the Messiah. The message is that He can bless you and appoint you to a leadership role amongst His people regardless of your background.

2. God Blesses Those Who are Faithful and Obedient. Josh. 15:2-12

  • The boundaries of the land given to Judah. Judah’s territory encompassed all of southern Israel stretching north to the Dead Sea and just south of modern day Jerusalem: “2 Their south border was from the lower end of the Salt Sea, from the bay that turns to the south. 3 Then it proceeded southward to the ascent of Akrabbim and continued to Zin, then went up by the south of Kadesh-barnea and continued to Hezron, and went up to Addar and turned about to Karka. 4 It continued to Azmon and proceeded to the brook of Egypt, and the border ended at the sea. This shall be your south border. 5 The east border was the Salt Sea, as far as the mouth of the Jordan. And the border of the north side was from the bay of the sea at the mouth of the Jordan. 6 Then the border went up to Beth-hoglah, and continued on the north of Beth-arabah, and the border went up to the stone of Bohan the son of Reuben. 7 The border went up to Debir from the valley of Achor, and turned northward toward Gilgal which is opposite the ascent of Adummim, which is on the south of the valley; and the border continued to the waters of En-shemesh and it ended at En-rogel. 8 Then the border went up the valley of Ben-hinnom to the slope of the Jebusite on the south (that is, Jerusalem); and the border went up to the top of the mountain which is before the valley of Hinnom to the west, which is at the end of the valley of Rephaim toward the north. 9 From the top of the mountain the border curved to the spring of the waters of Nephtoah and proceeded to the cities of Mount Ephron, then the border curved to Baalah (that is, Kiriath-jearim). 10 The border turned about from Baalah westward to Mount Seir, and continued to the slope of Mount Jearim on the north (that is, Chesalon), and went down to Beth-shemesh and continued through Timnah. 11 The border proceeded to the side of Ekron northward. Then the border curved to Shikkeron and continued to Mount Baalah and proceeded to Jabneel, and the border ended at the sea. 12 The west border was at the Great Sea, even its coastline. This is the border around the sons of Judah according to their families.” (Josh. 15:2-12). As one famous commentator explains, this was a vast territory: “The tribe of Judah occupied the most southerly part of the land of Canaan. Its limits extended from the extremity of the Dead Sea southward, along Idumea, possibly by the desert of Sin, and proceeding from east to west to the Mediterranean Sea, and the most eastern branch of the river Nile, or to what is called the river of Egypt. Calmet very properly remarks, that Joshua is particular in giving the limits of this tribe, as being the first, the most numerous, most important; that which was to furnish the kings of Judea; that in which pure religion was to be preserved, and that from which the Messiah was to spring.” (Adam Clarke on Joshua 15).2 When the northern tribes turned apostasy and were deported in battle, the kingdom of Judah in Southern Israel stood alone as the remnant of faithful believers.

Judah’s southern boundaries3

  • A special inheritance awaits those in heaven who are faithful. At the end of the journey through the wilderness, God instructed His people to “live” in the Promised Land (Nu. 33:53). He also wants everyone to live in His Promised Land. He does not want any to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). His command was a rebuke to the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and half of Manasseh who decided to live outside of the Promised Land (Nu. 32:33-42). He later repeated His promise that the tribes’ reward in the Promised Land would be both by grace and by obedience. The land division by lot (Nu. 33:54; 26:55) was an unearned act of grace. The Jews did nothing to deserve being there. But the amount of their land would be increased or decreased based upon the size of the tribes (Nu. 33:55; 26:54). The size of each tribe was in turn directly related to their blessings from obedience or decline from rebellion. The tribe of Judah grew in size due to its obedience. Therefore, it had a larger land inheritance in the Promised Land. Your inheritance in heaven is also in part rewarded by grace (Eph. 2:8). You don’t deserve to be there. But if your faith leads to obedience here on Earth, God has rewards for you in heaven. Are you storing up your treasures in heaven through acts of faith and obedience on earth? (Matt. 5:12).

3. God Can Give Double Blessings for Great Acts of Faith. Josh. 15:13-14.

  • The double blessing given to Caleb for his faithfulness. Before describing Judah’s inheritance, God began with Caleb’s special inheritance: “13 Now he gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh a portion among the sons of Judah, according to the command of the Lord to Joshua, namely, Kiriath-arba, Arba being the father of Anak (that is, Hebron). 14 Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak: Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the children of Anak.” (Josh. 15:13-14). This story is repeated in the book of Judges (Jdgs. 1:9-13). Caleb’s land inheritance as a leader of the tribe of Judah was separate and apart from the inheritance of Hebron, which he had just received for his faithfulness as a spy of the land 38 years earlier (Josh. 14:6-15). Caleb again showed faith after the Jews invaded the Promised Land by driving out the sons of Anak. Caleb’s reward again reveals that God can give extra blessings in heaven for great acts of faith here on Earth.

  • God will reward you in heaven for your acts of faith on Earth. All believers in Jesus will appear before the Bema seat of Christ where they will receive their rewards based upon their actions on Earth (2 Cor. 5:10). Each will receive a reward according to his or her labors (1 Cor. 3:8; Rev. 22:12; 2:23). Some will receive treasure if they deny themselves in secret to honor Jesus: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;” (Matt. 6:19-20; Lk. 12:33). Some will receive a reward “a hundredfold” beyond the value of what they gave up (Mk. 10:29-30). Some will be rewarded with a close relationship with Him: “ . . . I am their inheritance; . . . I am their possession.” (Ezek. 44:28; Ps. 119:57; 16:5). Others will be rewarded with responsibility as judges (Is. 1:26; Matt. 19:28). Others will be rewarded with one or more of His five crowns. These include: (1) the crown of life (Ja. 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:15; Rev. 2:10); (2) the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8); (3) the incorruptible crown (1 Cor. 9:25-27); (4) the a crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:4); and (5) the crown of rejoicing (1 Thess. 2:19; Dan. 12:3). These rewards are unrelated to your salvation, which is based upon faith alone (e.g., Jo. 3:16; Ro. 3:21-22; 4:1-5y, 9-12; 6:23; 10:9-10; Gal. 5:2-5). Your good works are instead the fruit of your faith and evidence of your transformation. Faith without any works is dead faith: “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (Ja. 2:14-17). Are you storing up for yourself treasures in heaven through acts of charity, faith, and love to those in need?

4. God Encourages Believers to Seize Their Spiritual Inheritance. Josh. 15:15-17.

  • Caleb’s encouragement to others to seize their inheritance. In addition to receiving a blessing for his faith and courage, Caleb also received a blessing by encouraging others to seize their inheritance: “15 Then he went up from there against the inhabitants of Debir; now the name of Debir formerly was Kiriath-sepher. 16 And Caleb said, ‘The one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will give him Achsah my daughter as a wife.’ 17 Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, captured it; so he gave him Achsah his daughter as a wife.” (Josh. 15:13-17). This story is repeated in the book of Judges (Jdgs. 1:14-16). In Old Testament times, a father had control of his children’s marriages. Kings would frequently offer a daughter in marriage to unite kingdoms or as a reward to a man for great acts of valor. Saul, for example, offered his daughter to any man who killed Goliath (1 Sam. 17:25). Caleb offered his daughter to the man who would show the faith to seize control of Debir / Kiriath-sepher. A brave warrior’s acceptance of the challenge foreshadowed David’s acceptance of the challenge in conquering Jerusalem. Shortly after this, he was crowned king of Israel (2 Sam. 5:1-13). At the time he began his conquest, David was based in Hebron, which was close to Debir. Thus, David followed in the footsteps of the plan that Caleb laid out here (Richard Hess, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Joshua (Inter-Varsity Press 1996) p. 245). These accounts signal the importance of fully seizing your spiritual inheritance.

God blessed the judge Othniel, the son of Kenaz, for his faith (See Judges 3:9)4

  • Seize your spiritual inheritance. Jesus has also given every believer an inheritance of “talents” that are to be used for His glory (Matt. 25:14-30). If you have been given gifts for teaching, preaching, hospitality, prayer, or any other skill, He wants you to seize and develop those talents for His glory. If you are successful and make money, that money can be used to further His kingdom. But you should avoid using your gifts to chase after either money or power: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Tim. 6:10). Likewise, the pursuit of the idols of the flesh like drugs, alcohol, pornography, fornication, and adultery will only lead to misery. Are you laying claim to only God’s spiritual inheritance for you and not the things of the flesh?

5. God Blesses Those Who Thirst For Righteousness. Josh. 15:18-19.

  • The blessing given Acsash, who thirsted for righteousness. After receiving her inheritance, Acsash realized that her inheritance did not include irrigated land. Thus, she approached Caleb to ask that he also bless her with fertile lands: “18 It came about that when she came to him, she persuaded him to ask her father for a field. So she alighted from the donkey, and Caleb said to her, ‘What do you want?’ 19 Then she said, ‘Give me a blessing; since you have given me the land of the Negev, give me also springs of water.’ So he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.” (Josh. 15:18-19; Jdgs. 1:14-16). The woman in this account symbolizes the Church. When members of the Church thirst for the righteousness offered by Jesus’ living waters, He will reward the seeker, regardless of the obstacles that he or she faces: “For the Christian, Ascah represents a woman who would not be denied her full inheritance. She is a model resembling the women of the gospels who sought out Jesus and refused to be turned back by the crowds and by Jesus’ own disciples. As a result, they found salvation, healing, and blessing for themselves and their families (see Mt. 9:20-22; 15:21-28; 26:7-13; Mk. 7:24-30; 14:3-9; Lk. 2:36-38; 7:11-15, 36-50; 8:43-48; 13:10-17; 18:1-5).” (Richard Hess, p. 245-6).

Caleb’s daughter (like the Church) was rewarded for her quest for the living waters5

  • If you seek after His righteousness, He will reward you as well. Jesus also promised that if you search after His righteousness, you will find fulfillment: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6). “[B]ut whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (Jo. 4:14). “A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Ps. 63:1). “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42:2). “Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God.” (Ps. 43:4). Are you pursuing after the things of God that bring satisfaction?

6. God is Faithful to Keep His Promises to Every Believer. Josh. 15:20-62.

  • The allotment of land for each family within the tribe of Judah. After describing Caleb’s allotment, God meticulously described the allotment for all the other members of the tribe of Judah: “20 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the sons of Judah according to their families. 21 Now the cities at the extremity of the tribe of the sons of Judah toward the border of Edom in the south were Kabzeel and Eder and Jagur, 22 and Kinah and Dimonah and Adadah, 23 and Kedesh and Hazor and Ithnan, 24 Ziph and Telem and Bealoth, 25 and Hazor-hadattah and Kerioth-hezron (that is, Hazor), 26 Amam and Shema and Moladah, 27 and Hazar-gaddah and Heshmon and Beth-pelet, 28 and Hazar-shual and Beersheba and Biziothiah, 29 Baalah and Iim and Ezem, 30 and Eltolad and Chesil and Hormah, 31 and Ziklag and Madmannah and Sansannah, 32 and Lebaoth and Shilhim and Ain and Rimmon; in all, twenty-nine cities with their villages. 33 In the lowland: Eshtaol and Zorah and Ashnah, 34 and Zanoah and En-gannim, Tappuah and Enam, 35 Jarmuth and Adullam, Socoh and Azekah, 36 and Shaaraim and Adithaim and Gederah and Gederothaim; fourteen cities with their villages. 37 Zenan and Hadashah and Migdal-gad, 38 and Dilean and Mizpeh and Joktheel, 39 Lachish and Bozkath and Eglon, 40 and Cabbon and Lahmas and Chitlish, 41 and Gederoth, Beth-dagon and Naamah and Makkedah; sixteen cities with their villages. 42 Libnah and Ether and Ashan, 43 and Iphtah and Ashnah and Nezib, 44 and Keilah and Achzib and Mareshah; nine cities with their villages. 45 Ekron, with its towns and its villages; 46 from Ekron even to the sea, all that were by the side of Ashdod, with their villages. 47 Ashdod, its towns and its villages; Gaza, its towns and its villages; as far as the brook of Egypt and the Great Sea, even its coastline. 48 In the hill country: Shamir and Jattir and Socoh, 49 and Dannah and Kiriath-sannah (that is, Debir), 50 and Anab and Eshtemoh and Anim, 51 and Goshen and Holon and Giloh; eleven cities with their villages. 52 Arab and Dumah and Eshan, 53 and Janum and Beth-tappuah and Aphekah, 54 and Humtah and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), and Zior; nine cities with their villages. 55 Maon, Carmel and Ziph and Juttah, 56 and Jezreel and Jokdeam and Zanoah, 57 Kain, Gibeah and Timnah; ten cities with their villages. 58 Halhul, Beth-zur and Gedor, 59 and Maarath and Beth-anoth and Eltekon; six cities with their villages. 60 Kiriath-baal (that is, Kiriath-jearim), and Rabbah; two cities with their villages. 61 In the wilderness: Beth-arabah, Middin and Secacah, 62 and Nibshan and the City of Salt and Engedi; six cities with their villages.” (Josh. 15:20-62). These places all existed. But most have different names today. The priests and the elders all played a role in dividing up the land to ensure that no member of Judah was left behind: “It is supposed that the family divisions were not determined by lot. These were left to the prudence and judgment of Joshua, Eleazar, and the ten princes, who appointed to each family a district in proportion to its number, etc., the general division being that alone which was determined by the lot.” (Adam Clarke on Joshua 15).6

Joshua and Eleazar, the High Priest, apportioned the lands with lots7

The lands given to Judah8

  • God is faithful to keep all of His promises to every member of His flock. Some might wonder why God would list off every city name in such meticulous detail if He knew in advance that people would forget the names of these places. But the lesson is not in the specific names. Instead, the meticulous detail shows that He ensures that every member of every tribe received an inheritance within the Promised Land. He does the same with every believer in Christ. He will ensure that each and every member of the body of Christ will receive a dwelling place in heaven. No believers will be left behind: “In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” (Jo. 14:2). The detailed listing of cities for every tribe also shows that He will keep all of His promises: “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (1 Thess. 5:24). “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;” (Dt. 7:9). When you face times of struggle, doubt, or fear, He wants you to trust in His promises to provide for you and protect you. Do you know all of His promises for you in the Bible? If you have never bothered to learn them, how much faith can you have in them?

7. God Blesses Those Who Help Their Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Josh. 15:63.

  • The warning to Judah to drive out the Jebusites from their brothers’ lands. Finally, God concluded the inheritance of the tribe of Judah with a warning about Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem on the northern border of their territory: “63 Now as for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the sons of Judah could not drive them out; so the Jebusites live with the sons of Judah at Jerusalem until this day.” (Josh. 15:63). God gave similar warnings to other tribes not to leave behind the Canaanites who escaped the larger battles for control of the Promised Land (Josh. 17:11-13). He also warned the Jews not to make peace with the people of Canaan because of the threat that they would pose to the Jews if left behind (Nu. 33:52-56; Dt. 7:1-2; 20:16-18). Jerusalem was promised to the tribe of Benjamin (Josh. 18:16, 28). But they did not clear out the Jebusites. Thus, God gave the tribe of Benjamin a similar warning at the beginning of the book of Judges: “But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.” (Jgs. 1:21). Jerusalem was a border town between the territories of Benjamin and Judah. Judah later took the city of Jerusalem, even though it was allotted to Benjamin (Jgs. 1:8). But it remained a territory that was considered unsafe during that time (Jgs. 19:10-12). The Jebusites remained in the area and continued to threaten the Jews. Araunah, the Jebusite, is just one example (2 Sam. 24:16). (Martin Woudstra, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, the Book of Joshua (William Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1981) pgs. 255-6). They remained a threat until the time of David (2 Sam. 5:7). They also foreshadowed the sins of the flesh that God warned would make the holy city a stumbling stone for peace to this day: “It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.” (Zeck. 12:3). The lesson is that sin cannot be left unchecked, even if it is in your brother’s land. If left unchecked, it will rise like leaven in bread. Are you ignoring the sin within the community around you?

  • Make no provision for the flesh. Like the Jebusites, your flesh is also at war with the Spirit for control of your body. Like the Jews, you must make no provision for the flesh: “. . . put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Ro. 13:14). “Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . .” (Rom 8:7). The lusts of the flesh can also defile you (Mk. 7:20). When you give into the lusts of the flesh, you let the ruler of this world control you: “[T]he lust of the flesh . . . is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 Jo. 2:16; Ro. 8:8). Moreover, without Jesus, “. . . flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 15:50; Ro. 8:6, 13). “[O]ne who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption . . .” (Gal. 6:8). When you do sin, are you seeking the Lord each day to renew your mind and repent of any evil thoughts? (Ro. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 6:15).

  • Joshua wrote the book of Joshua. The final verse of this chapter also refutes the claim of many that the book of Joshua was written hundreds of years after his death: “This verse is an additional proof that the book of Joshua was not written after the times of the Jewish kings, as some have endeavored to prove; for when this verse was written, the Jebusites dwelt with the children of Judah, which they did not after the days of David; therefore the book was written before there were any kings in Judea.” (Adam Clarke on Joshua 15).9