Joshua 18: Lessons from the Inheritance of the Last Seven Tribes and Benjamin

Introduction. The division of the Promised Land happened in two stages. There were those tribes who eagerly seized the lands that God had offered them. These included Judah and the two tribes of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. The second group included tribes who refused to settle in their lands without the rebuke of Joshua. This included seven tribes. These tribes symbolize slothful believers in Jesus who fail to seize their full spiritual inheritance. The first of the remaining seven tribes to receive an inheritance was Benjamin. From this chapter, God reveals seven lessons for seizing your full spiritual inheritance without delay.

First, from the first gathering of the Jewish leaders at the tent of meeting at a place called “Shiloh,” which means rest, God reveals that He will reward you with a spiritual inheritance of rest and peace when you seek Jesus. Second, from the rebuke of the seven tribes who delayed in seizing their inheritance, He reveals that He will bless you when you seize your full spiritual inheritance for His glory without delay. Third, through the use of lots to divide up the remaining lands, He reveals that He will bless you when you let the Holy Spirit guide your decisions. Fourth, from the example of the Levites, He reveals that He will bless you when you choose an inheritance in Him over the world. Fifth, from the obedience of the 21 leaders in surveying the remaining lands, He reveals that He will bless you when you are obedient to Him. Sixth, from the large territory granted Benjamin’s tribe for its faithfulness in the wilderness, He reveals that He will bless you when you are faithful to Him. Finally, from the 26 specific cities granted to the tribe of Benjamin, He reveals that He is faithful to keep His promises to every member of His flock. He will ensure that every believer in Jesus is provided for both here and in heaven.

1. When You Seek Him Out, Jesus Offers the Blessings of Rest and Peace. Josh. 18:1.

  • The assembly of the tribes of Israel before the tent of meeting at Shiloh. Seven years after the Jews had completed the invasion of the Promised Land, God selected the city of “Shiloh” as a central location within Israel for the leaders of the 12 tribes to gather for the first time in front of the tent of meeting: “1 Then the whole congregation of the sons of Israel assembled themselves at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there; and the land was subdued before them.” (Josh. 18:1). The Tabernacle had previously been kept in Gilgal until the Jews subdued the lands. Led by the Spirit, the Jews moved the Tabernacle to Shiloh, called Scilun today, as a more central place for the Tabernacle to be kept. Although the location was meant to be a central, neutral location for the 12 tribes to reach, it was within the territory of Ephraim, Joshua’s tribe. It was approximately 15 miles from modern day Jerusalem, halfway to modern day Nablous. Here the Tabernacle remained one hundred and thirty years (Adam Clarke on Joshua Chapter 18).1 It stayed here through the times of the judges until the Philistines captured it (1 Sam. 4:3-4). The name “Shiloh” means “rest.” The placement of the Tabernacle within the city symbolized the rest that God had given the Jews from their battle for survival. It also symbolized the rest that He provides from your struggles when you seek Him out.

  • Jesus will bless you with the spiritual inheritance of rest and peace. On his deathbed, Jacob later prophesized of the Messiah by the same name “Shiloh”, here translated as the “peaceful one”: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Gen. 49:10). As explained by one commentator, “It is supposed by some that the city was thus called, when it was chosen for the resting-place of the ark, which typified our great Peace-maker, and the way by him to a reconciled God.” (Matthew Henry on Joshua Chapter 18).2 Jesus provides every believer rest from the struggle for salvation: “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.” (Heb. 4:9-11). He is also the prince of peace: “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is. 9:6). He will provide you with peace when you seek Him out and lay your burdens at His feet: “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,” (Eph. 2:14). “and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Col. 1:20). “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Ro. 5:1). His peace is also one of the nine fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). If you are burdened and need either rest or peace, are you seeking out Jesus and giving your concerns to Him?

2. God Will Bless You When You Seize Your Inheritance Without Delay. Josh. 18:2-3.

  • The seven tribes who delayed in claiming their inheritance. At the tent of meeting, God used Joshua to rebuke the seven tribes who had failed to seize the inheritance that He had granted to them: “2 There remained among the sons of Israel seven tribes who had not divided their inheritance. 3 So Joshua said to the sons of Israel, ‘How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” (Josh. 18:2-3). There were three kinds of slothfulness that caused these Jews to fail to seize the land that God had given them. First, they were reluctant to leave the nomadic way of life that they had lived for more than 40 years to accept the new kinds of work and challenges that would come from an agricultural way of life. Second, they become dependent upon God’s miracles while living in the wilderness. They were unwilling to work for their blessings. Third, fully possessing these lands would require them to drive out the remaining Canaanites. The lesson is that believers should never delay in seizing their spiritual inheritance, even when it involves sacrifice.

  • 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. If you are failing to use your talents for His kingdom, you have committed the sin of slothfulness in His eyes. “The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing.” (Prov. 20:4; 21:25). “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” (Prov. 10:4; 12:24). When one disciple asked Jesus, “‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father,’” He responded, “‘Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.’” (Matt. 8:21-23). He does not want you to wait to get your personal affairs in order before you go and serve Him. Are you being disobedient to a calling in your life by waiting until a time you think is convenient?

3. God Will Bless You When You Let the Spirit Guide Your Decisions. Josh. 18:4-6.

  • The selection of the lands for the remaining seven tribes by lot. Through Joshua, God directed each of the seven remaining tribes to select three men, for a total of 21 leaders, to survey the remaining land: “4 Provide for yourselves three men from each tribe that I may send them, and that they may arise and walk through the land and write a description of it according to their inheritance; then they shall return to me. 5 They shall divide it into seven portions; Judah shall stay in its territory on the south, and the house of Joseph shall stay in their territory on the north. 6 You shall describe the land in seven divisions, and bring the description here to me. I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God.” (Josh. 18:4-6). The purpose of the land survey would be to ensure that each of the remaining tribes received an allotment proportionate to their size. As explained by one commentator, “There were probably two urns, one of which contained the names of the seven tribes, and the other that of the seven portions. They therefore took out one name from the first urn, and one portion out of the second, and thus the portion was adjudged to that tribe.” (Adam Clarke on Joshua Chapter 18). The point of the exercise was to ensure that God controlled all of the major decisions for Israel.

The use of lots to divide up the remaining portions of the Promised Land3

  • Consult the Holy Spirit through the Word and prayer in all major decisions. Believers are also warned against trying to presume that they know what is best without consulting God (Ja. 4:13-17). “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12). Today, Jesus has left you with His Word to guide your feet: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23). “I know, O LORD, that a man's way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.” (Jer. 10:23). He has also left you the Holy Spirit to interpret His Word: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;” (Jo. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Ro. 8:26). He will also guide you in prayer when you seek wisdom: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Ja. 1:5). Are you seeking His guidance by regular reading of His Word and daily prayer?

4. God Will Bless You When You Choose an Inheritance in Him over the World. Josh. 18:7.

  • The two kinds of tribes without an inheritance inside the Promised Land. Before surveying the land, God reminded the tribes that the other tribes had chosen between two kinds of inheritance. One group (the Levites) had chosen an inheritance in Him while another group had chosen an inheritance in the world: “7 For the Levites have no portion among you, because the priesthood of the Lord is their inheritance. Gad and Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh also have received their inheritance eastward beyond the Jordan, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave them.’” (Josh. 18:7). The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh had chosen an inheritance in Jordan outside the Promised Land (Nu. 32:33-42; Josh. 14:3). Although the Levites also would live within the Promised Land, they gave up the blessing of a land inheritance for an even greater blessing that would come from a relationship with God (Josh. 13:14). “The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the Lord’s offerings by fire and His portion. They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the Lord is their inheritance, as He promised them.” (Dt. 18:1-2; 10:9; 12:12; Nu. 18:20). Their blessing of a relationship with God would come from prayer, worship, serving, and helping others. Like the Levites, God wants you to choose an inheritance in Him over an inheritance in the things of the world.

  • If you choose Jesus as your inheritance, you will also be blessed. Jesus is your High Priest (Heb. 4:14). To fulfill the Law, He lived without owning land while He lived as man on Earth (Matt. 8:20; Lk. 9:58). Like the Levites, you are today part of His holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Like the Levities, He calls upon every believer to store up all forms of wealth (not just land) in heaven: “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). Like the Levites, He will also reward you with a relationship with Him as part of your inheritance: “And it shall be with regard to an inheritance for them, that I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel-- I am their possession.” (Ezek. 44:28). “The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words.” (Ps. 119:57). “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot.” (Ps. 16:5). “But you will be called the priests of the LORD; you will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, everlasting joy will be theirs.” (Is. 61:6-7). The Holy Spirit is His down payment on your eternal inheritance: “who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” (2 Cor. 1:22). Also, when you act in one accord with your fellow believers for Jesus, Jesus further gives part of His glory to you (Jo. 17:22). Thus, unlike the Jews, you have an inheritance of both land and a relationship with Jesus in heaven. If you are grateful for what you are going to receive, what are you doing with your life to give thanks to Him? (Ro. 12:1-2).

5. God Will Bless You When You Are Obedient to Him. Josh. 18:8-10.

  • The obedience of the Jews in dividing the remaining lands. Although the seven tribes had delayed in seizing their inheritance, the 21 leaders acted with obedience in surveying the remaining land, just as God commanded: “8 Then the men arose and went, and Joshua commanded those who went to describe the land, saying, ‘Go and walk through the land and describe it, and return to me; then I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh.’ 9 So the men went and passed through the land, and described it by cities in seven divisions in a book; and they came to Joshua to the camp at Shiloh. 10 And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord, and there Joshua divided the land to the sons of Israel according to their divisions.” (Josh. 18:8-10). The Jews had scouted the land previously. But this is the oldest recorded land survey. While Joshua could have recorded in one sentence that the men did as God commanded, he recorded the obedience of the 21 leaders as an example for all believers to follow. The three leaders from each tribe symbolized the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The number seven symbolized their complete obedience and submission to God’s will in their lives.

  • Jesus also wants your complete obedience and submission. Obedience was a command that Moses and Joshua gave frequently (e.g., Dt. 6:3-4; 9:1; 20:3; Josh. 1:7). They knew that the purpose behind the Law might not always appear clear at the time. The Jews were required to be obedient, even if they did not understand. God’s thoughts and His ways are greater than our own (Is. 55:8). Today, Christians are no longer “under the law” in the sense that they must comply with it to be saved (Gal. 5:18; Ro. 7:6; 8:3). By “fulfilling” the Law, Christ freed us from the impossible task of trying to obtain salvation through the Law (Matt. 5:17). But Jesus also says that, if you love Him, you will keep His Commandments: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). He is the great “I AM” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:14). His “disciples” were the “disciplined ones” in keeping His Commandments. As bondservants or freed slaves, they were obedient out of love, not obligation. Whether you follow the Law out of love instead of obligation is also a test for whether you really know God: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 Jo. 2:3). Even Paul observed that: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” (1 Cor. 7:19). Do you follow the Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit out of love and not obligation?

6. God Will Bless You When You Are Faithful to Him. Josh. 18:11-20.

  • The territory granted to the descendants of the tribe of Benjamin. The first of the seven remaining tribes to receive its allotment was the tribe of Benjamin: “11 Now the lot of the tribe of the sons of Benjamin came up according to their families, and the territory of their lot lay between the sons of Judah and the sons of Joseph. 12 Their border on the north side was from the Jordan, then the border went up to the side of Jericho on the north, and went up through the hill country westward, and it ended at the wilderness of Beth-aven. 13 From there the border continued to Luz, to the side of Luz (that is, Bethel) southward; and the border went down to Ataroth-addar, near the hill which lies on the south of lower Beth-horon. 14 The border extended from there and turned round on the west side southward, from the hill which lies before Beth-horon southward; and it ended at Kiriath-baal (that is, Kiriath-jearim), a city of the sons of Judah. This was the west side. 15 Then the south side was from the edge of Kiriath-jearim, and the border went westward and went to the fountain of the waters of Nephtoah. 16 The border went down to the edge of the hill which is in the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is in the valley of Rephaim northward; and it went down to the valley of Hinnom, to the slope of the Jebusite southward, and went down to En-rogel. 17 It extended northward and went to En-shemesh and went to Geliloth, which is opposite the ascent of Adummim, and it went down to the stone of Bohan the son of Reuben. 18 It continued to the side in front of the Arabah northward and went down to the Arabah. 19 The border continued to the side of Beth-hoglah northward; and the border ended at the north bay of the Salt Sea, at the south end of the Jordan. This was the south border. 20 Moreover, the Jordan was its border on the east side. This was the inheritance of the sons of Benjamin, according to their families and according to its borders all around.” (Josh. 18:11-20). The lot of Benjamin was immediately north of the tribe of Judah and south of the allotments given to the two tribes of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh (Marten Woudrstra, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, the Book of Joshua (William Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1981) p. 276). Its territory on the south also touched the north side of the “Salt Sea,” which is known today as the Dead Sea (Josh. 18:19). Benjamin was the second and the last son of Rachel. His tribe was also the last of the 12 tribes (Gen. 35:24). Through Benjamin’s example in the wilderness, God showed that believers can grow in their walk, even when they journey in the desert. While in the wilderness, Benjamin’s tribe grew from 35,400 to 45,600 fighting men (Nu. 1:37; 26:41). In 38 years, this was an increase of 10,200 or 28.81%. The amount of territory that it received increased based upon its increased size from its obedience.

  • A special inheritance awaits those in heaven who are faithful. The division of land by lot was an unearned act of grace (Nu. 33:54; 26:55; Josh. 18:8-10). 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 Benjamin grew in size due to its obedience in the wilderness. Therefore, it had a larger 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. Yet, if you are obedient here on Earth, God has rewards for you in heaven. This can include any one or more of five different kinds of “crowns”. (See, (1) 2 Tim. 4:8; (2) 1 Cor. 9:25-27; (3) Jam. 1:12; Rev. 2:10; (4) 1 Pet. 5:2-4; (5) 1 Thess. 2:19). Or, He may reward you with treasures (Matt. 6:20). Are you storing up crowns or treasures in heaven through acts of faith and obedience for His glory here on Earth? (Matt. 5:12).

The territories allotted to the 12 tribes4

7. God Will Bless You Because He is Faithful to Keep His Promises. Josh. 18:21-28.

  • The cities granted to the descendants of Benjamin. Finally, after listing the territory for the tribe of Benjamin, God listed the 26 specific cities that He had assigned to the tribe: “21 Now the cities of the tribe of the sons of Benjamin according to their families were Jericho and Beth-hoglah and Emek-keziz, 22 and Beth-arabah and Zemaraim and Bethel, 23 and Avvim and Parah and Ophrah, 24 and Chephar-ammoni and Ophni and Geba; twelve cities with their villages. 25 Gibeon and Ramah and Beeroth, 26 and Mizpeh and Chephirah and Mozah, 27 and Rekem and Irpeel and Taralah, 28 and Zelah, Haeleph and the Jebusite (that is, Jerusalem), Gibeah, Kiriath; fourteen cities with their villages. This is the inheritance of the sons of Benjamin according to their families.” (Josh. 18:21-28). Jacob blessed Benjamin as a protector of Israel: “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, and in the evening he divides the spoil.” (Gen. 49:27). Moses later blessed Benjamin as the protector of the place of God’s future Temple, represented as the “place between the shoulders.”: “Of Benjamin he said, “May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him, who shields him all the day, and he dwells between His shoulders.” (Dt. 33:12). As a fulfillment of this prophesy, God gave Benjamin the city of “Jebusite,” which would later become known as Jerusalem (Josh. 18:28). In addition to granting Benjamin control over the future capital of Israel, God also blessed it with the opportunity to have Israel’s first king. After the Jews took control of the Promised land, they demanded to have a king like the other nations: “Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” (1 Sam. 8:5(b)). Justice was absent, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Jdgs. 21:25). “Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.” (Acts 13:21). Saul was born in the city of Zelah (2 Sam. 21:14). This city is first mentioned here as one of the cities granted to Benjamin (Josh. 18:28). The Jews, however, suffered under Saul’s corrupt rule. They gave up their God-given freedom for the yoke of bondage. But God would raise up a future descendant of the tribe of Benjamin who would give hope to both Jews and gentiles throughout the world through his writings, his faith and his love for Jesus. Paul was also a descendant of this great tribe: “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” (Ro. 11:1). While the Jews’ first king was a failure, God would also raise up a future Jewish King, Jesus, who will bring peace. Jesus will rule in the future as the King of Kings. He “will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jer. 23:5).

  • 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 Jesus. He will ensure that each and every member of the body of Christ will receive a dwelling place in heaven. No believer 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 you.

The cities of tribe of Benjamin5

  • The failure of Benjamin to drive out the Jebusites. Although God gave Benjamin the privilege to occupy Jerusalem (Josh. 18:16, 28), they failed to drive out the Jebusites who lived there (Josh. 15:63). God warned the Jews not to leave behind the Canaanites who escaped the larger battles for control of the Promised Land (e.g., 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). Thus, He gave the tribe of Benjamin a 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.” (Jdgs. 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 (Jdgs. 1:8). But it remained a territory that was considered unsafe during that time (Jdgs. 19:10-12). The Jebusites remained in the area and continued to threaten the Jews 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.” (Zech. 12:3). The lesson is that sin cannot be left unchecked. If left unchecked, it will rise like leaven in bread. Are you ignoring the sin within the community around you? Are you a light to the lost and salt in the wound of sin?