Tribal Boundaries

Joshua 13:1

The land was now empty, waiting for Israel to possess it. But for a while the people were content to stay together and live off the countryside around them. Finally, God spoke to Joshua and prodded him to occupy the whole land.

Joshua 14:1-5

The first task was to determine the portion for each tribe. A high council including Joshua, the priest Eleazar, and leaders of the tribes sat down to distribute the land west of Jordan in a fair manner. The land east of Jordan had already been given to Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh. Nine-and-a-half tribes still needed a place to settle. After dividing the western land into portions, they cast lots to determine the portion of each tribe.

Joshua 14:6-11

After finishing his last campaign in the north, Joshua had returned to Gilgal and made it his headquarters. Soon, the nation gathered and sought his direction concerning the work that remained. Among them was a man of Judah named Caleb, who had gained prominence forty years before Joshua rose to leadership.

Back then, the leader was Moses, who sent twelve men to spy out Canaan, where they saw men nine or ten feet tall. No wonder they reported back to the nation, "And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight" (Num. 13:33).

Ten spies advised the nation that the Canaanites were too strong for Israel. The other two disagreed. They were Joshua, the spy from the tribe of Ephraim, and Caleb, the spy from Judah. They urged the nation to invade the land without delay. But the nation heeded the ten and refused to move forward. They rejected the Lord’s direction given through Moses. In anger, the Lord condemned the nation to forty years of wandering in the wilderness, until all the adults who refused to enter the land had died off. But because Joshua and Caleb had given the nation good advice based on faith and courage, the Lord rewarded each with a long life. Neither died off during the forty years.

In fact, forty-five years later, when Caleb came to Joshua at Gilgal, he reported that he had not aged at all since serving as a spy. He was now eighty-five years old, yet he could still fight like a man of forty.

We see in Caleb’s experience how God rewards His faithful servants. Caleb took a stand for God against an angry mob. And as a result, he had to wander through the wilderness with his countrymen and share in their hardships for the next forty years before he could gain his own inheritance. Yet the Lord preserved his strength so that he suffered no loss. Even as an older man, he could win an inheritance by his own sword—an inheritance equal to what he would have won as a younger man.

Getting Practical

Divine repayment for sacrifice

Also with us, God does allow us to suffer any real loss if we serve Him. We may have to endure trials. We may have to wait for the day of blessing. But the day of blessing will come, and everything we sacrifice for the Lord will be repaid many times over.

Joshua 14:12

Not only was Caleb’s body as strong as ever, so was his faith. Years earlier, he was sure that no enemy could stop Israel. Now, after entering the land, he was sure that no enemy could stop him, a captain of Israel. He asked Joshua for permission to attack the giants and take possession of their city, Hebron, a fenced city in the mountains. These were the same giants who in days past had so intimidated the nation that they refused to obey God's order to invade the land. One of the two spies who insisted the giants could be defeated was Caleb, the very man who later proved his prophecy to be true.

Caleb wanted the hardest challenge of all. Yet his desire to do a great deed was not just a form of vanity. He was confident not in himself, but in the Lord. He said, "if so be the LORD will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out" (Josh. 14:12).

Joshua 14:13-15 (15:13-14)

What happened? Joshua granted Caleb’s request. He gave him Hebron as his inheritance and sent him off to meet the giants in battle. When Caleb climbed to the city, he found it defended by three sons of Anak—Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai—together with their families and supporters. He drove all of them out and made himself master of the city.

Delving Deeper

Dual accounts

Earlier in the Book of Joshua we read about Israel's war against the Anakim, leading to their expulsion from Hebron and other cities and to their total annihilation in the mountainous region (Josh. 11:21–23). Then in chapter 14, in the passage telling how Caleb gained his inheritance, we read again about the giants being overcome. Critics claim that the repetition amounts to contradiction. But conservative scholars offer a simpler explanation. The two accounts are merely two summaries of the same campaign. The Book of Joshua includes both because each helps to furnish a full story. The account in chapter 11 concludes the story of Israel's conquest of the whole land, whereas the account in chapter 14 starts the story of how the land was divided.1

Joshua 15:1-12

One of the best portions of the land went to the tribe of Judah. They received almost the entire hill country west of the Dead Sea. Their borders ran all the way to the Mediterranean in the west and the wilderness in the south.

Joshua 15:15-17

Soon after gaining possession of Hebron, Caleb went to another city nearby, Kirjath-sepher, which was included in his inheritance. He promised that he would give his daughter in marriage to any young man who could take the city. His nephew Othniel stepped forward and led the assault. His courage won him not only the city, but also a wife, the fair Achsah.

Joshua 15:18-19

Being married to Achsah proved to be a great boon to Othniel. Her father viewed her with such tender regard that he could hardly refuse her anything she wanted. She prodded Othniel to ask for more land, and evidently his father-in-law gave it to him gladly, for he was no less inclined to favor Achsah's husband than the girl herself. But having obtained one favor so easily, the girl was not satisfied. Apparently she saddled her donkey and went off to seek a second favor. No sooner had she dismounted than her father invited her to make another request, and she did. She asked for springs of water so that they might support themselves more comfortably on their land. So dear was she that Caleb gave her not one springs but two, apparently one at a higher elevation and another at a lower elevation.

Getting Practical

Modern Calebs

In the history of Christian service, there have been many Calebs—men whose rare dedication to God's priorities won for them an unusually long and productive life, marked by great victories even after they had outlived most other men of their generation.

John Wesley, remembered as the chief founder of all churches known as Methodist, was actually a far larger figure. He was one of the preachers in the eighteenth century who helped to spark the enormous and far-reaching revival of Biblical Christianity known as the Great Awakening. His whole life after his conversion was wholly dedicated to ministry. While founding and building churches in England, he rode 250,000 miles mostly on horseback and preached 40,000 sermons, generally two or three per day, and he continued this superhuman effort until he was 86 years old. After bodily weakness finally came upon him and forced him to retire, he died at age 87.2 God strengthened his body through many earlier decades because he was a warrior willing to engage the giants of unbelief and corruption that stood all around him in the decadent society that prevailed in England at the beginning of his ministry. Largely through him, God brought life to countless thousands of souls.

Another Caleb was George Mueller, famous as the man who could accomplish great feats through the prayer of faith. While still fairly young, he acquired a great burden to champion the cause of neglected orphans, whom he saw roaming the streets in great numbers. Step by step, he pursued the work of building an orphanage, relying on funds that the Lord gave in answer to prayer. Never did he make a public appeal for money. Instead, he limited his appeal to God alone. And God never left him wanting. Mueller started one orphanage, gradually added children, then embarked on expanding his facilities until at last he possessed a large complex of buildings sufficient to provide housing and schooling for about two thousand children. Over the course of his lifetime, he took care of over ten thousand orphans. Also, he established 117 schools that furnished a Christian education to about 120,000 children. All this was accomplished by the prayer of faith. Mueller testified that he never failed to gain access to the throne room of God. The reason for the power of his prayers is that in serving as spokesmen for many helpless children, he always touched the heart of God, who is, above all, a God of love and mercy.

But Mueller was not only a prayer warrior like Daniel; he was also a giant-slayer like Caleb. At age seventy, he ceased from active administration of his orphanage and undertook the work of worldwide evangelism. In the next seventeen years, he traveled more than 200,000 thousand miles to preach the gospel in many countries. The difficulties of travel before the jet age did not stop him. Only when he was 87 did he finally return home. Yet he did not retire exactly. He kept busy in God's work until God suddenly took him when he was 92.3

A picture of Mueller during his later years is a marvelous window to the man's soul. Never have I seen a clearer picture of kindness, aglow with a sincerity that would instantly win the confidence of a child. No wonder he was such a mighty doer of great deeds in God's kingdom of love.

Joshua 16:1-4

Centuries before, when the patriarch Jacob lay on his deathbed, he gave a double inheritance to his son Joseph, who was then the Egyptian prime minister (Gen. 48:3–6). He was rewarding Joseph for bringing the family to Egypt during a time of famine and saving them from starvation. Ever afterward, the two sons of Joseph—Ephraim and Manasseh—were counted as sons of Jacob. When the council divided the land of Canaan, they gave one full portion to Ephraim and one to Manasseh, as if each were a whole tribe.

Ephraim's allotment appears in verses 5–10 of this chapter and Manasseh's in chapter 17, verse 1–11. Yet notice what it says at the conclusion of each passage. Instead of occupying all of its assigned territory, Ephraim could not evict some of the Canaanites who lived in the lowlands (Josh, 16:10). The same obstacle prevented Manasseh from taking full possession of its inheritance (Josh. 17:12). Although Joshua had earlier vanquished the kings in this region and exterminated all the Canaanites who failed to escape from the sweep of his armies, some of the enemy evidently managed to flee into Philistine territory. Then after Israel retreated to its places of encampment, a large number of Canaanites returned to their homes. There they resettled, perhaps with the material assistance and military support of the Philistines. For long years afterward, they were a continual thorn in Israel's side.

Joshua 21:1-3

The high council of the tribes gave no portion of land to the Levites. Instead, they gave them cities scattered throughout the whole land. God had set aside the Levites to be His own special servants. They assisted in the services at the tabernacle, and they taught the people about the law of God. Therefore, God wanted Levites to live in the midst of every tribe.

Spiritual Interpretation

The passage of Israel from a state of war to a state of peace is a picture of the church entering its eternal home. Thus, the custom of equating the Promised Land to heaven touches on real truth. It was not like heaven so long as Israel was engaged in war. Then, it pictured the Christian life. But as soon as the tribes won a secure peace, the Promised Land was like heaven. In this world a Christian cannot escape from struggle and conflict, but in the world to come, in the presence of Christ, there will be only peace.

Our land of promise in eternity will be far better than Israel’s land of promise in this world. Canaan was a rugged land where a primitive people could gain no more than a meager living by our standards. But in eternity Christians will dwell with God in a beautiful world newly created, without sin or suffering or corruption of any kind. We too will inherit dwellings that we did not build, for Christ Himself will prepare mansions for us (John 14:1–4). Whether we will enjoy milk and honey, we do not know. But we do know that we will partake of something much better, the tree of life, giving a different luscious fruit in each month of the year (Rev. 22:2).

How may we obtain this land of promise? We obtain it as a free gift of God. All we must do is believe on Jesus, and God will pour out His goodness upon us for all eternity. There is nothing worth having that He will deny us.

How long is eternity? Name any large sum of years that you like—a million years, a billion years, whatever—and you will merely have succeeded in defining the first point in eternity.

What will keep us busy? You will have insatiable curiosity, but however much you know, there will always be more to learn. And because knowing is a tool for doing, you will be forever building and creating new things. And the object of it all will be love. There will always be new ways to bring happiness to others, and always room for love to grow. We will never sink into boredom.

If you have not believed on Jesus, please heed the call of the gospel, "But as many as received him [the Lord Jesus Christ], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12).


  1. Marten H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981), 229.
  2. "John Wesley," Wikipedia, Web (, November 27, 2017.
  3. "George Müller," Wikipedia, Web (üller), November 27, 2017.