Joshua 17: Lessons from Manasseh’s Tribe on Seizing Your Spiritual Inheritance

Introduction: Joshua Chapter 17 tells of the inheritance given to the half tribe of Manasseh, which decided to live within the Promised Land. From this chapter, God reveals seven important lessons regarding how to seize the full spiritual inheritance to which you are entitled.

First, from the inheritance granted to the descendants of Manasseh’s firstborn son Machir for their faith in battle, He reveals that your inheritance is based upon your faith. Second, from the inheritance granted to the descendants of the daughters of Zelophehad, He reveals that He wants you to petition Him for both your needs and for the needs of others. Third, through the equal inheritance that He gave to the male and female descendants, He reveals that He rewards the righteous prayers of His believers. Along with Numbers chapter 27, this chapter is also noteworthy because it shows His concern for gender equality. The women were entitled to an inheritance just like the men. Fourth, from the shared inheritance granted to the tribe of Manasseh within the lands of three other tribes, He reveals that your spiritual inheritance is in part tied to the wellbeing of your brothers and sisters in Christ. When you help the poor or the homeless or those in need, you are helping Christ. He in turn may reward you when you give with the right motives. Fifth, by the failure of the tribe of Manasseh to fully drive out the Canaanites, He reveals that your spiritual inheritance can be compromised when you make accommodations with the desires of your flesh. Sixth, from the demands of the descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh for a greater land inheritance without making full use of the land given to them, He reveals that He may not reward the slothful believers with their full spiritual inheritance. Working hard is part of God’s plan for all believers. Finally, rather than rebuking Ephraim and Manasseh for their slothfulness, Joshua encouraged the tribes to fully seize their inheritance from the land that God had already provided. From this example, God reveals that He wants you to also encourage others to seize their full spiritual inheritance.

1. Your Spiritual Inheritance in Heaven Comes through Faith. Josh. 17:1-2.

  • The inheritance for Machir from the tribe of Manasseh. After describing in detail the inheritance of the tribe of Ephraim, Joshua revealed the inheritance for the half of the tribe of Manasseh, which elected to live within the Promised Land. Yet, before listing the boundaries for this half of the Manasseh tribe, he listed the special inheritance for the descendants of Manasseh’s firstborn son Machir: “1 Now this was the lot for the tribe of Manasseh, for he was the firstborn of Joseph. To Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead, were allotted Gilead and Bashan, because he was a man of war. 2 So the lot was made for the rest of the sons of Manasseh according to their families: for the sons of Abiezer and for the sons of Helek and for the sons of Asriel and for the sons of Shechem and for the sons of Hepher and for the sons of Shemida; these were the male descendants of Manasseh the son of Joseph according to their families.” (Josh. 17:1-2). As Joseph’s firstborn son, Manasseh symbolized the joy that a child can bring a parent in times of trouble: “Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household.’” (Gen. 41:51). Manasseh’s only son was Machir, and Machir’s firstborn was named Gilead. The descendants of Manasseh’s firstborn grandson became known as the Gileadites: “The sons of Manasseh: of Machir, the family of the Machirites; and Machir became the father of Gilead: of Gilead, the family of the Gileadites.” (Nu. 26:29). Assuming Machir lived a normal life span, he would have died during the first half of the 400-year captivity. Thus, when Joshua spoke of Machir as “a man of war” he was speaking of Machir’s descendants (Josh. 17:1). Joshua was not commending Machir’s descendants for being bloodthirsty. Instead, he was rewarded for them for their faith for fighting for what God had offered.

Manasseh’s lands to the East of the Jordan River (Machir)1

  • Through faith in Christ, seize your spiritual inheritance. Like the descendants of Manasseh, you have no legal right to an inheritance in heaven. Because of sin, none of us are righteous before God (Ps. 14:2-3; 53:2-3; Ro. 3:10, 23; 6:23). Like the tribe of Manasseh, your inheritance in the Promised Land is an act of grace: “For by grace you are saved through faith; and it is not of yourselves: it is a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9). It is also based upon your faith alone (Jo. 3:16; Ro. 10:9-13). Like Machir’s descendants, He wants you to fight in faith for His Kingdom. Through faith, are you seizing the full inheritance that He has offered to you?

2. Petition Christ For Both Your Needs and For Others in Need. Josh. 17:3-4(a).

  • The demand of Zelophehad’s daughters for an equal inheritance. After Machir received his inheritance, the daughters of the deceased Zelophehad approached Eleazar and Joshua to remind them that Moses had promised them an inheritance as well: “3 However, Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons, only daughters; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. 4 They came near before Eleazar the priest and before Joshua the son of Nun and before the leaders, saying, ‘The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brothers.’” (Josh. 17:3-4(a)). The account of Zelophehad’s daughters is first told in the book of Numbers: “Zelophehad son of Hepher had no sons; he had only daughters, whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah.” (Nu. 26:33; 27:1). When they brought their complaint to Moses, God revealed to Moses that the women were correct in challenging the male-dominated rules that precluded them from receiving a portion of their father’s inheritance. After Moses prayed for guidance, God revealed to him that: “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father's brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them.” (Nu. 27:7). This story challenges the notion that God is somehow against women. Instead, He corrected an injustice once He was asked for His opinion. The lesson is that believers should always seek His will on questions of governance.

The daughters of Zelophehad petition for their fair inheritance2

  • Manasseh’s unearned inheritance. Like Machir, the daughters of Zelophehad demonstrated that, through faith and petitioning, you also can receive a spiritual inheritance. Yet, for seven reasons, their inheritance was based upon God’s grace. First, Manasseh was not technically Jewish because his mother Asenath was Egyptian (Gen. 41:50). Joseph’s marriage to her was prohibited under the Law (Dt. 7:3). His marriage could have disqualified his children from their inheritance. Second, Manasseh was not entitled to one of the 12 divided lots of land. The tribe was not one of the original 12 tribes. By grace, God selected it (out of the normal birth order) to replace the tribe of Levi, which was to receive no land as a nation of priests. Third, after losing his firstborn status to Ephraim (Gen. 41:52; 48:13, 17-20), the tribe normally would not be entitled to a special inheritance. Many focus on the fact that Jacob reversed the birth order between Joseph’s two sons when he gave his blessings: “Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.” (Gen. 48:13, 17-20). But as an act foreshadowing God’s grace, Jacob still elevated Manasseh with a blessing and an inheritance equal to his own children (Gen. 48:5). Fourth, the tribe had sinned against God when half of it decided to live outside the Promised Land (Nu. 32:33, 40-42). Fifth, like the tribes of Reuben and Gad who previously gave up their right to live in the Promised Land (Nu. 32:19), they symbolized “dual minded” believers who choose the things of the world over God. God warns that a dual minded believer will receive nothing (Jam. 1:8). They were pulled off their walk because they were unequally yoked with others (2 Cor. 6:14). Thus, they were not entitled to any type of special inheritance. Sixth, Zelophehad died because of his sins in the wilderness, which could have also caused his heirs to lose their inheritance (Nu. 27:3). Finally, under Jewish civil law, property was inherited through men, not women. But God rewarded Zelophehad’s daughters for asking in faith for their father’s share of the land. Through grace, He granted them an unearned inheritance (Nu. 27:7). The lesson is that He may also grant you a spiritual inheritance. But you should seek your spiritual inheritance with humility because it is based upon grace.

3. God Rewards the Prayers of Those Who Pray for Righteous Needs. Josh. 17:4(b)-6.

  • God’s reward for the righteous prayers of the daughters of Zelophehad. God rewarded the five daughters of the deceased Zelophehad for their righteousness by giving them an equal inheritance to the five male descendants: “So according to the command of the Lord he gave them an inheritance among their father’s brothers. 5 Thus there fell ten portions to Manasseh, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is beyond the Jordan, 6 because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance among his sons. And the land of Gilead belonged to the rest of the sons of Manasseh.” (Josh. 17:4(b)-6). The daughters of Zelophehad symbolized the Church. Like them, God wants you to seek out your spiritual inheritance through prayer and petitioning to your High Priest Jesus.

  • Your spiritual inheritance brings restoration and righteousness. God rewarded Zelophehad’s daughters for their faith in seeking their inheritance in the Promised Land (Nu. 27:6-11). They also spoke out of righteousness because what they asked for was the fair result of an unjust set of male-oriented inheritance rules. As a result of their faith and their righteousness, God restored their family’s inheritance. Our first father Adam also destroyed our right of inheritance through his sins (Ro. 5:12). As a result, we too were once dead to our sins (Ep. 2:1). Moreover, by not being part of the original 12 tribes, we have no blood right to the Promised Land. Yet, through our faith in Jesus, we are resurrected, made righteous, and grafted into the line of inheritance as “children of God”. (Lk. 20:36; Gal. 3:26; Col. 2:13). Zelophehad’s daughters were an example to us by their righteousness. Like Zelophehad’s daughters, you too have been given a mouth to speak for righteousness. What have you done with the voice God has given you? Are you petitioning God for the disadvantaged, the poor, and the powerless to receive their spiritual inheritance? (Is. 1:17). Or, do you seek only a worldly inheritance for yourself?

  • Zelophehad’s daughters challenged injustice. Under the probate laws of that time, women in the Middle East had no right to an inheritance. God previously killed Judah’s son’s Er and Onan after they both refused to give Tamar, Er’s wife, an heir (Gen. 38:7-10). Tamar’s son would have provided for her, continued the family name, and given the line of the Messiah an inheritance (Matt. 1:3). God did not establish this system of inheritance. But He made sure that the men were punished when they refused to provide for an innocent woman under their own system. In this story, for the first time, Zelophehad’s daughters challenged this system of inheritance. Instead of simply judging under the law at that time as he had the power to do, Moses asked God for His guidance. Because God is just, He ordered that women be given a right of inheritance (Nu. 27:8-11). His response was revolutionary at that time. Giving the daughters 100% of the father’s estate broke the norms of Middle Eastern probate law. Indeed, under the Koran (circa 610 A.D.), if a father dies with no sons and only one daughter, she only takes one-half of the estate. With additional daughters, the total percentage going to the daughters will decrease further. The rest of the estate will go to male relatives of the deceased father. The Bible proclaims that: “[w]ith righteousness, He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” (Is. 11:4). Critics claim that the Bible is sexist or against social change. These verses refute that view.

  • Guided by the Holy Spirit, you also should advocate for the inheritance of the poor. God rewarded Zelophehad’s daughters for fighting inequality. The Bible also repeatedly tells believers to advocate for the poor, the disadvantaged, and to challenge social injustice. For example, Jesus taught that, on the Day of Judgment, He will ask what each person did for the poor and the needy: “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40). He instructs that “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (Jam. 1:27). He also expects you to: “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic. 6:8). He also wants you “learn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow.” (Is. 1:17). Like Zelophehad’s daughters, you also should plead or petition for those who are weak and powerless in society. But you should not be rebellious in seeking change. For rebellion in God’s eyes is like witchcraft (1 Sam. 15:23). Zelophehad’s daughters did not protest against Moses or occupy the Tabernacle. Our leaders are appointed by God (Rom. 13:1-2). Thus, not all change or demands for change are proper before the Lord. Today, people have protested for abortion rights and for changes to the definition of the family. In petitioning your leaders against inequality or injustice, you must first make sure that the change you seek conforms with God’s Word (Ps. 119:105). Likewise, you must also pray for wisdom from the Holy Spirit (Jam. 1:27). Are you seeking out change based upon His will or your own?

  • Leave a spiritual inheritance for others. Zelophehad left behind an estate. Without that estate, these laws would be meaningless, and his heirs would have received nothing. Some Christians assume that storing wealth is wrong under any circumstances. They rely upon Jesus’ statement that we should not store up your treasures on Earth for ourselves (Matt. 6:19-20). But does this mean that you can neglect providing for your descendants after your death? King Solomon, the wisest man ever to live, proclaimed: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children . . .” (Prov. 13:22). God also gives us wealth so that we can tithe with it to fund His church on Earth (Mal. 3:8-10). It is only “[t]he love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10). These examples establish that storing wealth for descendants is not wrong as long as it is not rooted in a love of money. Life insurance is one example where you can provide for your descendants without benefiting yourself. But if you store other kinds of wealth for your descendants that lead to greed, slothfulness, or covetousness, it is not of God. Have you been a good steward with His funds to provide for your descendants?

4. Your Spiritual Inheritance is in Part Tied to the Needs of Others. Josh. 17:7-11.

  • God’s blessing of a shared land inheritance to the half tribe of Manasseh. After recounting the special land inheritance granted to the descendants of Manchir and daughters of the deceased Zelophehad, God revealed that the half tribe of Manasseh that stayed in the Promised Land was entitled to a large land inheritance. Yet, their inheritance was mixed within the lands given to three other tribes: “7 The border of Manasseh ran from Asher to Michmethath which was east of Shechem; then the border went southward to the inhabitants of En-tappuah. 8 The land of Tappuah belonged to Manasseh, but Tappuah on the border of Manasseh belonged to the sons of Ephraim. 9 The border went down to the brook of Kanah, southward of the brook (these cities belonged to Ephraim among the cities of Manasseh), and the border of Manasseh was on the north side of the brook and it ended at the sea. 10 The south side belonged to Ephraim and the north side to Manasseh, and the sea was their border; and they reached to Asher on the north and to Issachar on the east. 11 In Issachar and in Asher, Manasseh had Beth-shean and its towns and Ibleam and its towns, and the inhabitants of Dor and its towns, and the inhabitants of En-dor and its towns, and the inhabitants of Taanach and its towns, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and its towns, the third is Napheth.” (Josh. 17:7-11). The Manasseh tribe shared a border on the north side of the Ephraim tribe in central Israel (Ezek. 48:5). Part of Manasseh’s territory was within the tribes of Issachar, Asher, and Napheth. The following seven cities were in other territories: (1) Beth-shean; (2) Ibleam; (3) Dor; (4) En-dor; (6) Taanach; and (7) Megiddo (Josh. 17:11). These seven cities symbolized the fact that they had a shared inheritance with the other tribes. They were all accountable to each other living within each other’s lands.

  • You also have a shared inheritance with your brothers and sisters in Christ. You also have a shared spiritual inheritance with your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is only where two or more are gathered in His name that Jesus is present (Matt. 18:20). Likewise, when you help the hungry or the homeless you provide for Jesus (Matt. 25:35). As led by the Spirit, the early Church made sure that none of their members were left hungry or without help when in need (Acts 2:45). To know the needs of your brothers and sisters and to keep yourself accountable, He commands you not to forsake the fellowship of other believers (Heb. 10:25). Have you made yourself accountable to others through a fellowship group? Are you helping your brothers or sisters in need?

  • Manasseh’s large land inheritance was based in part upon its obedience. Even though half of the tribe of Manasseh decided not to live in the Promised Land, the tribe was the most obedient in the wilderness until that point. Of all the tribes, it grew the most. At the beginning of their journey, they had fighting men totaling 32,200 (Nu. 1:35). By the end of their 40-year-journey, their fighting men totaled 52,700 (Nu. 26:34). This was an increase of 20,500 or 63.66%. Together with the tribe of Ephraim, the tribe of Joseph was second in size only to Judah. As a result of their larger population, they were also blessed with a greater share of the Promised Land (Nu. 26:54). Their large size may also account for why they received lands within the territories of three other tribes. If you are obedient and motivated by the right motives, He may also reward you.

5. Don’t Compromise Your Inheritance by Accommodating Your Flesh. Josh. 17:12-13.

  • The failure of the people of Manasseh to drive out the Canaanites. Although God instructed the Jews to drive the Canaanites out of the Promised Land, the tribe of Manasseh failed to drive out the Canaanites dwelling amongst them: “12 But the sons of Manasseh could not take possession of these cities, because the Canaanites persisted in living in that land. 13 It came about when the sons of Israel became strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely.” (Josh. 17:12-13). Because they failed to drive out the Canaanites, they would later grow in strength and pose a challenge to the Jews: “But Manasseh did not take possession of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; so the Canaanites persisted in living in that land.” (Jdgs. 1:27). Yet, like the people of Ephraim, once they had the strength to subdue the Canaanites, they turned them into slave labor instead of driving them out: “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). “It came about when Israel became strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely.” (Jdgs. 1:28; 1 Kgs. 9:21). Using the Canaanites as slave labor was also against God’s plan. He 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). Because the Jews failed to drive out the Canaanites, they later grew to become a threat to them. God tells us of their mistakes as a lesson for all believers.

  • Don’t make accommodations with the flesh. Like the Canaanites who fought against the Jews, your flesh is constantly at war with you (Gal. 5:17). You are not to make accommodations with the lusts of the flesh. If you do, those accommodations will come back to haunt you. Are you making accommodations with unholy things in your life?

6. God May Not Reward the Slothful Believers with their Full Inheritance. Josh. 17:14-16.

  • The complaints from Joseph’s tribes about the size of their inheritance. After receiving their inheritance and after refusing to fully drive out the Canaanites, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh complained to Joshua about the size of their inheritance: “14 Then the sons of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, ‘Why have you given me only one lot and one portion for an inheritance, since I am a numerous people whom the Lord has thus far blessed?’ 15 Joshua said to them, ‘If you are a numerous people, go up to the forest and clear a place for yourself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.’ 16 The sons of Joseph said, ‘The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the valley land have chariots of iron, both those who are in Beth-shean and its towns and those who are in the valley of Jezreel.’” (Josh. 17:14-16). When added together, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh had a land inheritance that was second only to Judah. But they still complained about their inheritance. They were slothful because they did not want to work to receive their inheritance by driving out the Canaanites. Nor did they make full use of the land granted to them. Joshua was also a descendant of the tribe of Ephraim (1 Chr. 7:20-27). Thus, they may have thought that Joshua would grant them special favors through an act of nepotism. The lesson is that God does not reward slothful believers. If you can work, it is a sin to look for handouts from others: “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you;” (2 Thess. 3:7-8).

  • Labor for the Lord to receive your full spiritual inheritance. From this account, God reveals that He wants His believers not to be slothful. He wants all believers to labor for Him: “The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor.” (Prov. 12:24). Jesus tells us that we have all been given “talents” or abilities from God. If we fail to use our talents for God, we are robbing from the labor and talents that God meant for His Church: “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.”’ (Matt. 25:26-27). If God has given you the ability to labor for His kingdom and those in need and you don’t work, your slothfulness is also a form of theft from God: “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” (Eph. 4:28). “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35). Are you laboring hard to support God’s kingdom and those in need around you?

7. Encourage Others to Fully Seize Their Spiritual Inheritance. Josh. 17:17-18.

  • Joshua’s encouragement to the tribes of Joseph to fully seize their inheritance. Rather than rebuking the tribes for their slothfulness, Joshua encouraged the tribes to work to fully seize the inheritance that was already available to them: “17 Joshua spoke to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, saying, ‘You are a numerous people and have great power; you shall not have one lot only, 18 but the hill country shall be yours. For though it is a forest, you shall clear it, and to its farthest borders it shall be yours; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, even though they have chariots of iron and though they are strong.” (Josh. 17:17-18). These two tribes had not fully seized the lands that God had allotted them because they lacked the faith to confront the Canaanite armies that remained who possessed chariots made of iron. Fear and lack of faith kept them from confronting their enemies. By contrast, unlike these two tribes, Caleb was ready to fight the remaining fortified Canaanite cities at age 85 (Josh. 14:10:12). Joshua and Caleb’s examples of encouragement and faith provide lessons for all believers. God wants you to encourage others to seize all the blessings and promises that He offers.

Encourage others to seize their spiritual inheritance through Jesus3

  • Encourage others with the encouragement that God has given you. God also wants you to encourage one another with the encouragement that you have received. “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11; Eph. 4:29). Do your words build up or tear down others?