Notes on Joshua chapter 17

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Jos 17:1, KJV 1 There was also a lot for the tribe of Manasseh; for he (was) the firstborn of Joseph; (to wit), for Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead: because he was a man of war, therefore he had Gilead and Bashan.


Even though Manasseh was the oldest son of Joseph and Asenath (his Egyptian wife, see Genesis 46:20), Jacob gave Ephraim, the second son, a special blessing (Genesis 48). By this Jacob was elevating Ephraim to the superior status.

Notice how different this was from the time Rebekah and Jacob conspired to steal the father’s blessing from Esau (Genesis 27). There, Jacob lied and claimed to be Esau the firstborn; here, Jacob knowingly placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head. There, Jacob had to flee for his life because Esau wanted to kill him; here, Manasseh and Ephraim seemed to accept the situation and went on with their lives.

Machir, son of Manasseh, was given Gilead and Bashan on the east side of Jordan.

2 There was also (a lot) for the rest of the children of Manasseh by their families; for the children of Abiezer, and for the children of Helek, and for the children of Asriel, and for the children of Shechem, and for the children of Hepher, and for the children of Shemida: these (were) the male children of Manasseh the son of Joseph by their families.

These descendants of Manasseh lived on the west side of Jordan.

3 But Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons, but daughters: and these (are) the names of his daughters, Mahlah, and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 4 And they came near before Eleazar the priest, and before Joshua the son of Nun, and before the princes, saying, The LORD commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brethren. Therefore according to the commandment of the LORD he gave them an inheritance among the brethren of their father. 5 And there fell ten portions to Manasseh, beside the land of Gilead and Bashan, which (were) on the other side Jordan; 6 Because the daughters of Manasseh had an inheritance among his sons: and the rest of Manasseh's sons had the land of Gilead.

Their story is told in Numbers 27:1-11 and Numbers 36.

7 And the coast of Manasseh was from Asher to Michmethah, that (lieth) before Shechem; and the border went along on the right hand unto the inhabitants of Entappuah. 8 (Now) Manasseh had the land of Tappuah: but Tappuah on the border of Manasseh (belonged) to the children of Ephraim; 9 And the coast descended unto the river Kanah, southward of the river: these cities of Ephraim (are) among the cities of Manasseh: the coast of Manasseh also (was) on the north side of the river, and the outgoings of it were at the sea: 10 Southward (it was) Ephraim's, and northward (it was) Manasseh's, and the sea is his border; and they met together in Asher on the north, and in Issachar on the east.

Here again, the “sea” is the Mediterranean Sea.

11 And Manasseh had in Issachar and in Asher Bethshean and her towns, and Ibleam and her towns, and the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, and the inhabitants of Endor and her towns, and the inhabitants of Taanach and her towns, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns, (even) three countries.

Endor later

was known where a certain witch was living. King Saul went to her, and asked her to raise Samuel from the dead. This was among the last things Saul ever did before he died in battle (see 1 Samuel 28 for the story).

12 Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out (the inhabitants of) those cities; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land. 13 Yet it came to pass, when the children of Israel were waxen strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute; but did not utterly drive them out.

Still another case of incomplete obedience.

14 And the children of Joseph spake unto Joshua, saying, Why hast thou given me (but) one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I (am) a great people, forasmuch as the LORD hath blessed me hitherto?

This question is interesting. First, according to Numbers 1, Manasseh had 32,200 men aged 20 and older and Ephraim had 40,500; nearly 40 years later, Manasseh had 52,700 (nearly double!) and Ephraim had slightly fewer at 32,500 (compare Numbers 1:33 and 35 with 26:34 and 37). Together, with nearly 86,000 men of military age, they could truly be called a “great people”.

Second, the question isn’t exactly accurate. Part of Manasseh had been given land on the east side of the Jordan but from the viewpoint of, perhaps, “Hey, what about us? We’re still over here!” that may explain one reason for the question.

Third, this seems to be the only question about how much land they had been promised—and yet, they complained about it.

Finally, since Joshua was an Ephraimite himself, could it be that they were appealing to their common ancestry as children of Ephraim, if not Joseph?

15 And Joshua answered them, If thou (be) a great people, (then) get thee up to the wood (country), and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants, if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee.

Notice that Joshua does not insert himself into the situation. Instead, he directed the people of Ephraim and Manasseh to literally remove the problems: the forest, which could be cut down; and the enemies, who could have been driven out, with God’s help, of course.

16 And the children of Joseph said, The hill is not enough for us: and all the Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron, (both they) who (are) of Bethshean and her towns, and (they) who (are) of the valley of Jezreel.

They had already put some of the Canaanites to forced labor or tribute so this argument doesn’t make sense. Besides, Israel had already been promised victory over chariots (Deut 20:1).

[17 And Joshua spake unto the house of Joseph, (even) to Ephraim and to Manasseh, saying, Thou (art) a great people, and hast great power: thou shalt not have one lot (only): 18 But the mountain shall be thine; for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut it down: and the outgoings of it shall be thine: for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, (and) though they (be) strong.]

Joshua reminded them that were a great people and they would not have only one lot. He simply repeated what he had told them before and encouraged them to drive out the enemy. Victory would be theirs if they followed God’s instructions.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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