Joshua Chapter 16: Seven Lessons on God’s Blessings From Joseph’s Inheritance in Israel

Introduction: Joshua Chapter 16 describes God’s inheritance for the descendants of Joseph within the Promised Land. While some might read this as simply a dry list of ancient city names, the details of this account are important because they fulfill prophesies that God laid out through Jacob / Israel in Genesis 48 and 49 just before his death. From the fulfillment of these prophesies, He reveals several important lessons about His blessings both here and in heaven.

First, from the blessing that God gave Joseph for his righteousness, He reveals that He will also bless you for your righteousness. Yet, His blessings for your righteousness are separate and unrelated to your salvation, which is based upon faith alone. Second, by blessing Joseph with a large land inheritance with some of the best lands in Israel, God reveals that He is faithful to fulfill all of His promises, even if they may take hundreds of years to be fulfilled. Third, through His double blessing to Joseph through his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, He reveals that He can also offer double blessings for your acts of righteousness. Fourth, by reversing the blessings for Manasseh and Ephraim out of their birth order, He reveals that His blessings are not tied to your status or family heritage. Fifth, by blessing Ephraim despite its sins, He reveals that His blessings are based upon His grace. Sixth, by blessing Manasseh despite its sins when half of the tribe chose to live outside the Promised Land, He also reveals that He does not want to punish believers and is quick to pardon their iniquities. Finally, from His warning to the tribes of Joseph to drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, He reveals that He blesses those who are obedient who make no provision for the flesh. Yet, these tribes were not obedient to drive out the people of Gezer. The Canaanites in Gezer later became a thorn in the Jews’ flesh.

1. God Blesses Those Who Remain Faithful and Deny Themselves. Josh. 16:1.

  • Joseph’s blessing for his faithfulness. After granting the tribe of Judah the first land inheritance, God gave Joseph’s tribes the second inheritance: “1 Then the lot for the sons of Joseph went from the Jordan at Jericho to the waters of Jericho on the east into the wilderness, going up from Jericho through the hill country to Bethel.” (Josh. 16:1). Joseph was the first of two sons of Rachael and the eleventh of Jacob’s twelve sons (Gen. 30:22-25). Like Benjamin, Joseph was also a child of “the promise,” not the flesh. Joseph foresaw a future filled with the fullness of God’s blessings. He had been bitterly attacked by ten of his brothers. Yet, when most would have forsaken God, Joseph remained faithful and denied himself for God’s righteousness. First, he denied himself and remained faithful when he was sold into slavery (Gen. 37:27-28). Second, he denied himself when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. Third, he denied himself by not trying to defend himself when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him and he was placed in jail. (Gen. 39:20.) Fourth, he stayed faithful to God in prison by giving Him the credit for his ability to interpret dreams. Fifth, he denied himself when he was later made second in command over all of Egypt. There, he refrained from extracting revenge against his brothers. Both Jacob and Moses gave Joseph the longest blessings. Jacob blessed him with greatness beyond both his brothers and his ancestors because he remained steadfast in his faith while a prisoner in Egypt: “22 Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; its branches run over a wall. 23 The archers bitterly attacked him, and shot at him and harassed him; 24 But his bow remained firm, and his arms were agile, from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), 25 From the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.” (Gen. 49:22-26). Like Joseph, are you living your life for God at all times?

  • Jesus’ promise of rewards in heaven for those who deny themselves for Him on Earth. Like Joseph, God also promises to reward you in the eternal Promised Land if you deny yourself for His righteousness: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;” (Matt. 6:20). “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matt. 13:44). “I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.” (Is. 45:3). The treasures that He promises will never perish (1 Cor. 9:25). To store up treasures in heaven you must deny yourself for His righteousness: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”’ (Matt. 16:24). Yet, to receive your reward in heaven, you must also deny yourself in secret. If you deny yourself or do good works for the recognition of others, you have received your reward (Matt. 6:4). Are you denying yourself for Him to store up treasures in heaven? (Josh. 16:2-3).

2. God is Faithful to Fulfill His Promises. Josh. 16:2-3.

  • Joseph’s blessing of a large land inheritance. In addition to being the second tribe to receive a land inheritance, God also blessed Joseph’s tribe with a large land inheritance: “2 It went from Bethel to Luz, and continued to the border of the Archites at Ataroth. 3 It went down westward to the territory of the Japhletites, as far as the territory of lower Beth-horon even to Gezer, and it ended at the sea.” (Josh. 16:2-3). Joseph’s tribe received this large area as his inherited firstborn double land blessing. “[Reuben’] birthright was given to the sons of Joseph . . .” (1 Chr. 5:1). These lands were located in central Israel, north of the land granted to both Judah and Benjamin. The large inheritance for Joseph through his sons was also the fulfillment of God’s prophesy through Jacob that his descants would grow into a great nation: “15 He blessed Joseph, and said, ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, 16 The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name live on in them, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” (Gen. 48:15-16). According to Moses’ blessing, Joseph received some of the best lands in Israel. Moses blessed this tribe with “the choice things of heaven,” which included the fullness of the blessings of the Spirit: “13 Of Joseph he said, ‘Blessed of the Lord be his land, with the choice things of heaven, with the dew, and from the deep lying beneath, 14 And with the choice yield of the sun, and with the choice produce of the months. 15 And with the best things of the ancient mountains, and with the choice things of the everlasting hills, 16 and with the choice things of the earth and its fullness, and the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush. Let it come to the head of Joseph, and to the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers. 17 As the firstborn of his ox, majesty is his, and his horns are the horns of the wild ox; with them he will push the peoples, all at once, to the ends of the earth. And those are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and those are the thousands of Manasseh.”’ (Dt. 33:13-17). The details of the blessing for the tribe of Joseph are important because they are meant to encourage you when you feel defeated.

  • God is also faithful to fulfill His promises to you. Even when you sin or fall short, He will also be faithful to keep His promises to you: “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:9). “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;” (Heb. 10:23; same, 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:18; 1 Thess. 5:24; 2 Thess. 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:13). When you encounter struggles, do you trust in His promises to protect you? Are you encouraging others with God’s promises when others fall into doubt or despair?

3. God Offers a Double Blessing For Acts of Faith and Righteousness. Josh. 16:4.

  • Joseph’s blessing of a double inheritance. After confirming the blessing to Joseph, God confirmed that each of his sons would receive a separate inheritance, similar to Jacob’s other sons: “4 The sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, received their inheritance.” (Josh. 16:4). Before his death, Jacob claimed Joseph’s two first sons as his own to allow them to receive future separate inheritances within the Promised Land: ‘“5 Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 ‘But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance.’” (Gen. 48:5-6). One of these tribes replaced the tribe of Levi, who performed the duties as priests for the people (Josh. 14:4-5). This also fulfilled Jacob’s (Israel’s) prophesy at the time of his death that Joseph would receive an extra blessing beyond its brothers: “Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers. “I give you one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.”’ (Gen. 48:17). Just as God gave Joseph a double blessing through his sons, He can also give you a double blessing when you are faithful.

  • God’s grace in giving Joseph’s descendants a double blessing. Manasseh and Ephraim’s double inheritance was an act of grace. The Jews were not allowed to marry persons who were not Jewish (Dt. 7:3). Also, to be considered Jewish, the mother had to be Jewish. Yet, their mother was the daughter of an Egyptian priest (Gen. 46:20). Thus, the tribes were both half-breeds who were not technically Jewish at all. God therefore gave them a double allotment out of grace. Your good works should be motivated by devotion and gratitude, not a reward. Are you engaging in good works with the expectation that God owes you something?

4. God’s Blessings Are Not Tied to Your Status or Heritage. Josh. 16:5

  • The land blessing for the tribe of Ephraim for its faithfulness. Although Manasseh was Joseph’s oldest son, God gave the first and most important land blessing to the younger tribe of Ephraim: “5 Now this was the territory of the sons of Ephraim according to their families: the border of their inheritance eastward was Ataroth-addar, as far as upper Beth-horon. 6 Then the border went westward at Michmethath on the north, and the border turned about eastward to Taanath-shiloh and continued beyond it to the east of Janoah. 7 It went down from Janoah to Ataroth and to Naarah, then reached Jericho and came out at the Jordan. 8 From Tappuah the border continued westward to the brook of Kanah, and it ended at the sea.” (Josh. 16:5-8(a)). This also fulfilled a prophesy through Jacob (Israel) that the younger brother would be placed ahead of the older brother: “13 Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right, and brought them close to him. 14 But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn” . . . . “17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on Ephraim’s head, it displeased him; and he grasped his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to his father, ‘Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head.’ 19 But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know; he also will become a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.’ 20 He blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you Israel will pronounce blessing, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!’ Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.” (Gen. 48:13, 17-20). Joshua, a hero of the faith and the successor to Moses, was a member of the Ephraim tribe (Nu. 13:8, 14:6-9). Jesus also warned that He does not pick people based upon their status amongst others: “But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” (Matt. 19:30). Are you seeking to be first amongst others? Or, are you placing your own needs second to the needs of others?

  • God’s blessings in your life are also not tied to your status or heritage. God does not pick people based upon their status in life or based upon the sins of their families. He can use you even if your parents have sinned or if you have sinned. Your wealth and your status amongst others mean nothing to Him. Your blessings can also be lost when His blessings cause you to become filled with pride. After Solomon’s death when the Kingdom of Israel separated into two, Ephraim was the dominant power in the north. Yet, the tribe of Ephraim was later condemned for its pride (Judges 8:1; 12:1). It was then also condemned for apostasy (Hosea 4:17; 5:3). Its pride led to its decline (Prov. 16:18). Have you become prideful or boastful based upon the blessings that God has given you?

5. God’s Blessings Are Based Upon His Grace. Josh. 16:8(b).

  • God’s grace in the inheritance for the tribe of Ephraim. God then confirmed his promise by repeating His promise to Ephraim: “This is the inheritance of the tribe of the sons of Ephraim according to their families,” (Josh. 16:8(b)). In addition to fulfilling a prophesy, Ephraim’s inheritance showed God’s grace. First, like Manasseh, Ephraim was not Jewish because his mother was Egyptian (Gen. 41:50). Second, Ephraim’s tribe had sinned in the wilderness. As a result, the fighting men in their tribe shrank from 40,500 fighting men (Nu. 1:33) to 32,500 (Nu. 26:37), a decrease of 19.75%. Thus, God will not forsake you or remove your promised blessings merely because you have sinned. Nor will He withhold your promised blessings based upon the sins of your parents.

6. God Does Not Want Any to Perish and is Quick to Forgive Believers. Josh. 16:9.

  • God’s grace in His inheritance for the half tribe of Manasseh. After confirming His promises to Ephraim, He confirmed His promises to the half tribe of Manasseh which decided to live within the Promised Land: “9 together with the cities which were set apart for the sons of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Manasseh, all the cities with their villages.” (Josh. 16:9). God’s gift of land was to the tribe of Manasseh was an act of grace because half of the tribe decided to join two other rebellious tribes and live outside the Promised Land (Nu. 32:33, 40-42). The tribes of Reuben and Gad previously gave up their right to claim land that God had promised within Israel and instead chose to live east of the Jordan river (Nu. 32:19). They symbolized dual minded believers who choose the things of the world over God. Moses only agreed to give these lands to them if they helped the Jews subdue Israel (Nu. 32:29; Dt. 3:8, 12). Moses agreed to the requests of Reuben and Gad because God cannot force people into His Promised Land if they don’t want to be there. Yet, unlike Rueben and Gad, Manasseh was the most obedient of all the tribes in the wilderness, and it grew the most. By the beginning of their journey, the Manasseh tribe had fighting men totaling 32,200 (Nu. 1:35). By the end of their 38-year-journey, their fighting men totaled 52,700 (Nu. 26:34). This was an increase of 20,500 or 63.66%. Apparently, even the most zealous believers can be brought down through “bad company” (1 Cor. 15:33). Half of this tribe gave up God’s blessings for a counterfeit promise of a better life outside the Promised Land. The lesson is that you should not let yourself be unequally yoked with others (2 Cor. 6:14). If you do, you might be pulled off your walk with God.

7. God Blesses Those Who Make no Provision for the Flesh. Josh. 16:10.

  • The failure of the Jews to drive out the Canaanites in Gezer. Finally, after listing the blessings for these tribes, God warned the tribe of Ephraim to drive out the Canaanites who lived in the city of Gezer: “10 But they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites live in the midst of Ephraim to this day, and they became forced laborers.” (Josh. 16:10). Joshua had already defeated the people of Gezer (Josh. 10:33). Yet, the tribe of Ephraim refused to drive out the people of Gezer. Thus, the city remained semi-independent (cf. Jdgs. 1:29). The city was located in the southwestern portion of the territory of Ephraim, approximately 18 miles from Jerusalem. The tribe of Ephraim later made the Canaanites slaves to serve their needs. In so doing, they ignored God’s Law that they not make peace with these people (e.g., Ex. 23:32; Dt. 7:2; 19:13). As one commentator explains: “The Israelites did not fully conquer for two reasons. First, they wanted peace at any cost. Second, they wanted wealth. For the sake of ease and money, they disobeyed God and fell short of what He had for them - as we do today also.” (David Guzik on Joshua chapter 16). As a result of the Jews’ refusal to follow God’s warning, the Canaanites grew in size and later threatened the Jews. The Jews would later be forced to fight wars and suffer from spiritual corruption. The lesson is that if you ignore the sins of the flesh, they will grow into a large problem. You must also always follow God’s Law, even when it seems expedient in the short term to ignore it. If you make no provision for the flesh, God will bless you with the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). Are you compromising God’s law in any area of your walk because you believe that it will help you get ahead in the short term?