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David Howard: Before Joshua’s distribution of the lands west of the Jordan, the previous land distribution is reviewed. It had been done under Moses and was to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Eastern Manasseh. This review performs several functions.

– First, it details the boundaries of the inheritances of the Transjordan tribes, which had not been so detailed before (only general summaries are given in Numbers 32 and Deut 2:26–3:17).

– Second, it emphasizes the unity of Israel—on both sides of the Jordan—that is important in 1:12–18 and 12:1–6, and that will be seen again in chap. 22.

– Third, it again emphasizes Joshua’s leadership position as Moses’ successor: in the same way that Moses had apportioned the Transjordan territories, so now Joshua was to do with the land west of the Jordan.

– Fourth, it anticipates the “landless” state of the Levites (vv. 14, 33) and the Levitical cities to be mentioned later (chap. 21), reminding us of the Levites’ importance.

– Fifth, it serves as a subtle warning that not all is entirely well at this juncture, because some peoples of the land still lived in Israel’s territory (see v. 13).

Robert Hubbard: This section reviews Moses’ prior land allocations east of the Jordan to two-and-a-half tribes (cf. Num. 32:33–42). He did so on one condition—that they fight to win inheritances for the other tribes on the west side of the Jordan. As Israel prepared to cross the river, Joshua reminded them of their acceptance of that stipulation (Josh. 1:12–18; cf. 4:12). Now, for Joshua to launch his long land distribution report with the Transjordanian tribes makes chronological sense since they had received their land first. But it also makes the important point that every tribe—the entire nation—received its inheritance from either Moses or Joshua—and on both sides of the Jordan. .

In sum, chapter 13 affirms that Moses gave Israel’s Transjordanian tribes their inheritances—and, thereby, the basis for their land claims—and reasserts that, despite the barrier of the Jordan, they help comprise larger Israel.

Dale Ralph Davis: We must not miss the repeated allusions to Israel’s victories over our old friends Sihon and Og (Josh 13:10, 12, 21, 27, 30–31), not to mention Balaam (Josh 13:22; see Nu 22–25; 31:8). What does this mean? It means that throughout all this geography and topography there are constant allusions to the victories Yahweh had previously given Israel under Moses. The allusions jog Israel’s memory and fortify their faith in face of any contemporary enemies; for it is in remembering how Yahweh handled Sihon and Og (Ps 135:10–12; Ps 136:17–22) that Israel finds assurance that Yahweh will still have compassion on his servants and that his covenant love persists into present prime time as well (Ps 135:14; 136:19b, 20b). This is the biblical prescription for faith; faith finds both steadfastness and expectancy by rehearsing and revelling in Yahweh’s past acts of faithfulness. (Joshua: No Falling Words)


Kenneth Gangel: These verses describe the tribes east of the Jordan River who obeyed in helping conquer the land in Canaan but failed to finish the job in their own backyard. This is the first of many such statements in the Book of Joshua. No immediate crisis took place, but the Israelites paid for this later as God said they would.

Why didn’t they complete the job? Laziness? Complacency? Dissatisfaction with where they were? Whatever the reason, they did not receive all that God had for them—a historical reminder of a spiritual condition in which many Christians live today. We should learn from these verses that God gives as we receive, he drives out as we stand up and fight, and he provides as we appropriate.

A. (:8) Receiving Their Inheritance

“With the other half-tribe, the Reubenites and the Gadites received their inheritance which Moses gave them beyond the Jordan to the east, just as Moses the servant of the LORD gave to them;”

David Howard: Not once is it said that any of the tribes west of the Jordan took (lq ) their lands. The focus in the later chapters is on God’s and Joshua’s giving of the land and their possessing it—and, sometimes, on the fact that the tribes did not dispossess the land’s inhabitants.

B. (:9-12) Reviewing Past Conquests

“from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of the Arnon, with the city which is in the middle of the valley, and all the plain of Medeba, as far as Dibon; 10 and all the cities of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, as far as the border of the sons of Ammon; 11 and Gilead, and the territory of the Geshurites and Maacathites, and all Mount Hermon, and all Bashan as far as Salecah; 12 all the kingdom of Og in Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei (he alone was left of the remnant of the Rephaim); for Moses struck them and dispossessed them.”

David Howard: It included Gilead (cf. 12:2, 5), which stretched northward from the Arnon River in the south to Bashan in the north. Gilead was an important area for Israel and is mentioned well over one hundred times in the Old Testament, in most periods of its history. Gilead was a fertile region at high elevation, with abundant forests (Jer 22:6; 50:19) and olives, grains, and vines flourishing on the western slopes. It was especially known for a healing balm used for medicinal purposes (Jer 8:22; 46:11); and spices, balm, and myrrh came from there (Gen 37:25).

C. (:13) Recognizing Remaining Challenges

“But the sons of Israel did not dispossess the Geshurites or the Maacathites;

for Geshur and Maacath live among Israel until this day.”

Trent Butler: This verse introduces a series of statements in Joshua and in Judg 1:19–36 describing territories not conquered by Israel, thus reflecting a task still before the people (cf. v 6) and providing a basis for the theological judgments of Judg 2-3. Theological judgment is only implied in the present context. Historically, the territories in the extreme north were controlled by Israel only under David (2 Sam 3:3; 10:6–14).

Rod Mattoon: Verse thirteen records the failure of God’s people to defeat the
ir enemies. Failure to conquer these enemies led to future problems. When we fail to conquer sinful habits in our life, it will lead to future problems for us. Why do God’s people fail in the first place?

• Indolence or laziness.

• Indifference … a contentment in being saved but the prize of God’s high calling is not attractive.

• Influence of others.

• Satisfaction or complacent … some are satisfied with achievements.

• Unbelief

• Lack of courage. Fear immobilizes faith.

• Lack of spiritual power and persistence. (Treasures From Joshua)

D. (:14) Respecting the Uniqueness of the Tribe of Levi

“Only to the tribe of Levi he did not give an inheritance;

the offerings by fire to the LORD, the God of Israel, are their inheritance,

as He spoke to him.”

David Howard: These passages show the important nature of the ministry of the Lord’s work. While these, his ministers, did not have land, they did have rights to the choicest of the offerings. It was a great privilege to serve the Lord, and he himself would be their inheritance (v. 33). It was to Israel’s great shame that, many years later, the Levites and temple singers were having to work in the fields in order to survive because God’s people were not bringing their tithes, the portions assigned to the Levites (Neh 13:10–13).

David Guzik: In this sense, if there is any tribe that Christians are spiritually connected to, it is the tribe of Levi. We also are called priests (1 Peter 2:5) and have a special inheritance in God (Ephesians 1:11, Colossians 1:12, and 1 Peter 1:4). Many of us are dissatisfied with our place before God. We wish He would have given us something different, and we can even get bitter towards God about this. The primary answer to this is to see ourselves as priests, and to understand that our real inheritance is God Himself.


A. (:15) Statement of Distribution

“So Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the sons of Reuben according to their families.”

Kenneth Gangel: the bulk of the passage that describes the territory given to Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. Once again the order reads south to north with Reuben occupying the territory immediately east of the northern half of the Dead Sea, dangerously bordered by Moab and Edom to the south and Ammon to the northeast. A simple glance at a settlement map shows Reuben in a most precarious spot. Just north of Reuben was the territory of Gad, west of Ammon and located right in the area where the Israelites gathered to cross the Jordan River. Towns like Adam and Zarethan that we have encountered earlier in Joshua fall into Gad’s territory. Finally, the territory east of the Sea of Kinnereth (Galilee) belonged to the half tribe of Manasseh stretching from Ramoth Gilead in the southeast and reaching up toward Mount Hermon in the north. The famous Golan Heights so significant in modern Israelite military history are located immediately in the center of the ancient allocation to Manasseh.

B. (:16-21) Description of the Territory

“And their territory was from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of the Arnon, with the city which is in the middle of the valley and all the plain by Medeba; 17 Heshbon, and all its cities which are on the plain: Dibon and Bamoth-baal and Beth-baal-meon, 18 and Jahaz and Kedemoth and Mephaath, 19 and Kiriathaim and Sibmah and Zereth-shahar on the hill of the valley, 20 and Beth-peor and the slopes of Pisgah and Beth-jeshimoth, 21 even all the cities of the plain and all the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites who reigned in Heshbon, whom Moses struck with the chiefs of Midian, Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the princes of Sihon, who lived in the land.”

David Howard: The reference to the Midianites is the only one in the Book of Joshua. These were a people well known to the Israelites, beginning with Joseph’s being sold to Midianite traders by his brothers (Gen 37:28, 36). Moses spent his wilderness years in the land of Midian (Exod 2:15), and he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, a priest of Midian (Exod 2:16–21). Later, the Midianites appeared as enemies of Israel (Numbers 22–24), and the Israelites fought and defeated them in the battle referred to here in Joshua 13 (Numbers 31). The Midianites were enemies of Israel in Gideon’s day, as well, and he led Israel when the Lord defeated Midian on Israel’s behalf (Judges 6–8).

C. (:22) Disposition of Balaam

“The sons of Israel also killed Balaam the son of Beor, the diviner,

with the sword among the rest of their slain.”

David Howard: Balaam is singled out in v. 22 for special mention. He was the Mesopotamian soothsayer hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 22–24). He only spoke what God told him to, yet he later sinned by inciting the Moabite women to seduce the Israelite men (Num 25:1–9; 31:16). This record of Balaam’s death echoes the notice found at Num 31:8. The story of God’s turning Balaam’s desire to curse Israel into a blessing was significant in Israel’s history, and it is told several times (see Josh 24:9–10; Deut 23:4–5; Neh 13:2; Mic 6:5).

Gordon Matties: Balaam is an ambiguous figure who represents the Lord’s instrument (in Numbers), but who is also perceived as representing the threat of pagan divination. Hence the book of Joshua notes Balaam’s death to suggest that with the removal of such divination, Israel might be prevented from being unfaithful in its allegiance to God. Yet even the book of Joshua (esp. in chs. 23-24) offers hints that such unstinting obedience will not (or cannot) last.

D. (:23) Summary Statement

“And the border of the sons of Reuben was the Jordan.

This was the inheritance of the sons of Reuben according to their families,

the cities and their villages.”


A. (:24) Statement of Distribution

“Moses also gave an inheritance to the tribe of Gad, to the sons of Gad, according to their families.”

B. (:25-27) Description of the

“And their territory was Jazer, and all the cities of Gilead, and half the land of the sons of Ammon, as far as Aroer which is before Rabbah;

and from Heshbon as far as Ramath-mizpeh and Betonim,

and from Mahanaim as far as the border of Debir;

and in the valley, Beth-haram and Beth-nimrah and Succoth and Zaphon, the rest of the kingdom of Sihon king of Heshbon, with the Jordan as a border, as far as the lower end of the Sea of Chinnereth beyond the Jordan to the east.”

David Howard: The description in v. 26 outlines the land in a south-to-north orientation. The first part goes from Heshbon in the south to two cities in the middle of Gad’s territory (Ramath Mizpah and Betonim), and the second part goes from Mahanaim in the central part northward to the territory of Debir in the far north. Mahanaim later became a Levitical city (21:38).

In v. 27, four cities in the Jordan Valley are mentioned (i.e., on the western border), and then an expansive claim to “the rest of the realm of Sihon” concludes the list, delineating the western border more specifically by mentioning the Jordan River as the western boundary, extending northward all the way to the Sea of Kinnereth.

C. (:28) Summary Statement

“This is the inheritance of the sons of Gad according to their families,

the cities and their villages.”


A. (:29) Statement of Distribution

“Moses also gave an inheritance to the half-tribe of Manasseh;

and it was for the half-tribe of the sons of Manasseh

according to their families.”

B. (:30-31) Description of the Territory

“And their territory was from Mahanaim, all Bashan,

all the kingdom of Og king of Bashan,

and all the towns of Jair, which are in Bashan, sixty cities;

also half of Gilead, with Ashtaroth and Edrei,

the cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan,

were for the sons of Machir the son of Manasseh,

for half of the sons of Machir according to their families.”

David Howard: Bashan was a fertile region on a rugged, high plateau north of Gilead, east and northeast of the Sea of Kinnereth (Galilee). It was surrounded by mountains (Ps 68:15[Hb. 16]), well-forested (Isa 2:13; Ezek 27:6), but its smooth plateau was ideal for the pasturelands that produced fatted cattle (Jer 50:19; Ezek 39:18; Mic 7:14).


David Howard: The concluding summary reiterates Moses’ place as the giver of the land (cf. vv. 8, 12, 15, 24, 29) and the Levites’ status as a “landless” tribe (cf. v. 14).

Here, however, we have a slightly different view of what constituted Levi’s inheritance. In v. 14, it was the Lord’s sacrifices; here, it is the Lord himself. These two perspectives show how closely bound up with each other were God and the sacrifices offered to him.

A. (:32) Transjordanian Territory Distribution

“These are the territories which Moses apportioned for an inheritance

in the plains of Moab, beyond the Jordan at Jericho to the east.”

B. (:33) Unique Situation for Tribe of Levi

“But to the tribe of Levi, Moses did not give an inheritance;

the LORD, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as He had promised to them.”