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David Howard: The descendants of Joseph—Ephraim and Manasseh—received two large portions west of the Jordan, in the center of the land, plus a portion in Transjordan for half of the tribe of Manasseh. This reflects the favor that was to be shown Joseph, mentioned years earlier in Jacob’s blessing on his sons (Gen 49:22–26). However, the author of the book clearly considers the tribes of Joseph to be one with each other, giving us several lines of evidence that point to this.

  • First, they received one lot (16:1).
  • Second, the southern boundary of Ephraim, the southernmost tribe of the two, is in some sense considered the southern extremity for both tribes. It is given in detail in 16:1–3, then 16:5 gives Ephraim’s southern border in an abbreviated form.
  • Third, the story about the tribes’ demanding two portions underscores this even further (17:14–18).

Robert Hubbard: The two tribes of Joseph now receive their inheritance (16:1–17:13), but Joshua turns down their request for a supplemental allotment (17:14–18). The Josephite southern border runs from east of Jericho to Bethel then southwesterly near Lower Beth Horon to Gezer and on to the Mediterranean. Interestingly, their southern boundary (16:1–4) does not directly abut Judah’s northern border but instead leaves room for Benjamin in between them (18:11–28). The details of each tribe’s inheritance now follow (16:5–17:13).

Helene Dallaire: The two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, each receive a portion of land in the central hill country, north of Benjamin and south of Asher and Issachar. Both tribal allotments are bordered on the east by the Jordan River. The western border of Manasseh’s allotment is the Great Sea (Mediterranean Sea), while the western border of Ephraim is the territory of the Danites. The biblical text presents the tribe of Joseph both as a single unit—the people of Joseph (Jos 16:1–3; 17:14–18; 18:5, 11; Jdg 1:22, 35; 2Sa 19:20)—and as two separate tribes (Jos 16:4; 17:9–10; 1Ch 9:3).

Kenneth Gangel: Jacob gave his longest and most favorable blessing to his son Joseph. We cannot understand the allocation of rich, fertile land in central Canaan to Ephraim and Manasseh unless we review and understand that blessing (Gen. 49:22-26). . .

The settling of the promised land should have been an easy task after the seven-year conquest, but we find that the tribes lacked the initiative and courage to drive out the Canaanite inhabitants completely. This problem repeats itself throughout the second half of the Book of Joshua.

Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Those attitudes largely marked the conquering Israelites for seven years. Then the entitlement programs began, and complacency, compromise, and complaint began to get the better of the day. In our spiritual warfare we might try combating those three negative C-words with some positive T-wordsthink, try, and trust.


A.  (:1-3) Defining Joseph’s Southern Boundary

  1. (:1)  From Jordan to Jericho to Bethel

Then the lot for the sons of Joseph went from the Jordan at Jericho to the waters of Jericho on the east into the wilderness, going up from Jericho through the hill country to Bethel.

  1. (:2)  From Bethel to Luz to Ataroth

And it went from Bethel to Luz, and continued to the border of the Archites at Ataroth.

Richard Hess: Two population groups appear for the first time in the book of Joshua, the Arkites and the Japhletites. Both groups are in the hill country on the southern border of Ephraim. Like other groups in this region, they may represent northerners who migrated south.  Except for Hushai, David’s diplomat who was an Arkite, the two groups are not otherwise attested.

  1. (:3)  Westward to Gezer — Ending at the Mediterranean Sea

And it went down westward to the territory of the Japhletites, as far as the territory of lower Beth-horon even to Gezer, and it ended at the sea.

David Howard: The southern boundary of the Joseph tribes—Ephraim and Manasseh—is given in some detail in vv. 1–3, moving from the Dead Sea in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. It corresponds to the northern boundary of Benjamin (18:12–13), although there are elements in each description not found in the other. The common elements in both lists, however, show that the line was drawn and understood fairly precisely.

B.  (:4) Summary Statement

And the sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, received their inheritance.

David Howard: The unified treatment of the two Joseph tribes now ends, completing the common southern boundary that separated them from the southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah. From this point on, the boundaries are given for each tribe individually.

F. B. Meyer: What a wonderful wealth of blessing these children of Joseph came into! There were the precious things of heaven, the dew, and the deep that couched beneath; the precious fruits of the sun and of the growth of the moons; the metals of the ancient mountains and the everlasting hills; the precious things of the earth, and the fulness thereof, and, above all, the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush (Deuteronomy 33:13–16). Surely they were blessed with all manner of blessings — more than they had asked or thought! The rich gifts of God’s grace! An inheritance which could not have been won by their prowess or arms, but was the free gift of God’s love — to be taken and enjoyed!

These things happened to them as types; the spiritual counterparts of all are ours in Christ. He is precious — nay, priceless: his promises are exceeding great and precious. The blood by which we were redeemed is precious, has meanings not yet explored; the very trial of our faith is precious as the gold taken from the everlasting hills. How much preciousness there is for us who believe! (1 Peter 2:7, R.V.). But we are poor, and wretched, and miserable, and blind, and naked, because we have not taken our inheritance.

We need to do more than ask for it. He that asketh should not rest satisfied till he receiveth. We must take by a faith which claims, appropriates, employs. Open your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, that He may cause you to receive and enjoy all his precious gifts. In Christ all things are yours: go in and possess; take your inheritance; believe that you do receive; thank Him, and go on your way rejoicing.


A.  (:5a) Summary Introduction

“Now this was the territory of the sons of Ephraim according to their families:

David Howard: The focus is now on Ephraim as a tribe by itself rather than on both Ephraim and Manasseh as the Joseph tribes. However, since the southern boundary was the same from both perspectives, its description is abbreviated here.

Van Parunak: Ephraim loses its position of numerical superiority to Manasseh! It is the larger tribe at the beginning of the wanderings (10th compared with Manasseh’s 12th), but the lesser afterward (11th to Manasseh’s 6th).

Where then are we to find the fulfillment of Jacob’s promise? Answer: The tribe was much more prominent in Israel’s later history.

B.  (:5b-8a) Geographic Description of Ephraim’s Territory

the border of their inheritance eastward was Ataroth-addar, as far as upper Beth-horon. 6 Then the border went westward at Michmethath on the north, and the border turned about eastward to Taanath-shiloh, and continued beyond it to the east of Janoah. 7 And it went down from Janoah to Ataroth and to Naarah, then reached Jericho and came out at the Jordan. 8 From Tappuah the border continued westward to the brook of Kanah, and it ended at the sea.

C.  (:8b-9) Some Cities Shared with Manasseh

This is the inheritance of the tribe of the sons of Ephraim according to their families, 9 together with the cities which were set apart for the sons of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Manasseh, all the cities with their villages.

David Howard: According to v. 9 some of Ephraim’s cities were actually part of Manasseh’s inheritance. The reason for this is not clear, but it may have its basis in the greater blessing extended to Ephraim by Jacob (Genesis 48). Manasseh also inherited cities from other tribes’ territory: from Issachar and Asher (17:11) and even from Ephraim (17:9).

D.  (:10) Ephraim’s Compromise Concerning Gezer

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.

David Howard: Joshua had earlier conquered Gezer to some degree (Josh 10:33), but evidently it was not a complete conquest, or else it had been repopulated in the interim. Gezer remained outside of Israelite control until the time of Solomon, when the Egyptian pharaoh captured it and gave it as a dowry for his daughter, Solomon’s bride (1 Kgs 9:16). . .

In these contexts the subjugation of the Canaanites was not a positive accomplishment for the Israelites, however, because they did this without making any peace with them. According to Deut 20:16–18, they should have completely annihilated the peoples, not spared them and subjected them to the forced labor. Thus, the Ephraimites and the rest failed in their duties, even though the lasting result was their subjugation of native peoples. The status of the inhabitants of Gezer with respect to the Ephraimites was somewhat similar to that of the Gibeonites (see 9:27), except that there was no treaty involved here, so the status of these Canaanites was somewhat lower than that of the Gibeonites.

Kenneth Gangel: [quoting Campbell]  Motivated by a materialistic attitude, they chose to put the Canaanites in Gezer under tribute to gain additional wealth. That proved to be a fatal mistake for in later centuries, in the time of the Judges, the arrangement was reversed as the Canaanites rose up and enslaved the Israelites. In addition to the historical lesson there is a spiritual principle here. It is all too easy for a believer to tolerate and excuse some pet sin only to wake up some day to the grim realization that it has risen up to possess and drive him to spiritual defeat. It pays to deal with sin decisively and harshly (Campbell, BKC, 360).

One question remains in chapter 16. We know Manasseh was the firstborn followed by Ephraim, and yet Ephraim’s territory is mentioned first. Perhaps that order reflects the ascendancy of Ephraim (Gen. 48:12-20) and the fact that in later years it would be the more important tribe. We might also note that the inheritances of these two tribes look different in the text because they contain no list of towns.

David Guzik: If they had the power to make the people of Gezer forced laborers, they certainly had the power to defeat them completely, especially because Gezer was a city that Joshua had already conquered (Joshua 10:33 and Joshua 12:12).  This sort of compromise seems innocent, but it became the way that much idolatry and immoral worship was adopted by the people of Israel. This is one reason why we see so many struggles in the days of the Judges.


Richard Hess: There are two reasons for the absence of town lists within the territories of the Joseph tribes:

(1)  it emphasizes the difficulty of settlement beyond the major towns due to the forested land described in Joshua 17:12–18; and

(2)  they do occur for Manasseh in the male and female descendants as described in Joshua 17:2–6.

Kenneth Gangel: Throughout its long and tumultuous history, Israel learned over and over again that complacency, compromise, and complaint always lead to failure.

A.  (:1-6) Transjordan Territory Revisited

  1. (:1-2)  Sons of Manasseh Recounted

Now this was the lot for the tribe of Manasseh, for he was the first-born of Joseph. To Machir the first-born of Manasseh, the father of Gilead, was 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.

Helene Dallaire: The introduction to chapter 17 revisits Transjordan. The narrative highlights the descendants of Makir, the Gileadites, who are great men of war and inhabitants of the land of Gilead and Bashan. The names Makir and Gilead serve to identify both people (Nu 26:1, 29–30; 36:1; Jdg 5:17) and geographical locations (Ge 31:21; Nu 32:29, 39; Dt 2:36; 3:12; 34:1; 2Sa 24:6). The focus on Transjordan provides the background for the narrative about Zelophehad’s daughters’ request for a portion of land among Manasseh (eastern tribe) (vv.3–6). This pericope has the main characteristics of a “land grant,” in which (1) an individual petitions a leader for land, (2) Moses had already promised land to the petitioner, and (3) the request is granted.

David Howard: Makir, Manasseh’s firstborn, was his only son (Gen 50:23; Num 26:29). His descendants represented the half-tribe of Manasseh that had already received a separate portion east of the Jordan, in Gilead and Bashan (13:29–31). The rest of Manasseh’s portion was west of the Jordan (17:2, 7– 11). . .  Verse 1 thus explains why a portion of Manasseh’s descendants inherited the lands east of the Jordan, and it forms the backdrop for understanding why the rest of Manasseh’s descendants received their inheritance west of the Jordan (v. 2).

Trent Butler: The present text underlines the unusual order of the allotment. Manasseh, the firstborn, received his allotment after his younger brother Ephraim (cf. Deut 21:15–17). This follows the pattern set in Gen 48. It also represents the leadership exercised by Ephraim during the period of the Judges.

  1. (:3-6)  Exceptional Circumstances of Daughters of Zelophehad

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 And 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.” 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.

Trent Butler: The verses are included here to stress again that Joshua carried out all the commands of Moses and Yahweh (Num 27:1–11; cf. 36:1–13). As with Achsah (Josh 15:18–19), so here we find women rewarded for their assertiveness.

David Howard: One of the six sons of Gilead named in v. 2, Hepher, had a son Zelophehad who had five daughters, but no sons. Because the inheritance of land normally passed through the male descendants, Zelophehad’s family was at risk of losing its inheritance, and his daughters knew this. They had approached Moses about the problem many years earlier, and he had inquired of the Lord about it. The Lord’s answer was that these women’s claim was legitimate and that they should receive their father’s portion. He went further and made it a general principle that the inheritance of a man dying without sons was to go to his daughters, or, lacking daughters, to his brothers, or, lacking brothers, to his uncles, or, lacking uncles, to his next nearest relatives. This story is told in some detail in Num 27:1–11.  In the account in Joshua, Zelophehad’s daughters reminded Eleazar and Joshua of the Lord’s ruling and command, and Joshua gave them their rightful inheritance.

Several features of this account bear mentioning.

  • First, the daughters’ names and Zelophehad’s genealogy are carefully recorded in v. 3. This is to show the legal legitimacy of their claim, to prevent any misunderstandings or misinterpretations arising from confused identities. The case is introduced clearly, and the precedent in Numbers 27 can be easily checked. The care with which the tribes’ boundaries and cities are recorded extends down to the inheritance for individuals, even these daughters.
  • Second, “Eleazar the priest” and “Joshua son of Nun” were the officials to whom the daughters presented their case. This too shows that everything was being done carefully and in order. Eleazar’s role in the land distribution lists is always linked with Joshua’s as one who gave the tribes their rightful inheritance. In each case he is identified as “Eleazar the priest,” and Joshua is called by his full name, “Joshua son of Nun” (14:1; 17:4; 19:51; 21:1).
  • Third, the account (esp. 4b) shows once again Joshua’s concern to obey the word of the Lord down to the very letter.
  • Fourth, it reinforces the principle enunciated in Numbers 27 that daughters could indeed—and did indeed—inherit land, under the conditions mentioned there. Indeed, they received a total of five portions, not one to divide between all five. The entire account makes this point, but 6 explicitly states, lest the point be missed, that “the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance among the sons.
  • Fifth, this story accounts for the number of land tracts inherited by the tribe of Manasseh (see 5). East of the Jordan, the descendants of Gilead had received two tracts: Gilead and Manasseh. West of the Jordan, the total was ten. This was accounted for as follows: five tracts for the descendants of the five sons in v. 2—Abiezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, and Shemida. The lineage of Hepher, the sixth son, went through Zelophehad to his five daughters, and they each received one portion. In this way, Hepher’s inheritance was multiplied fivefold. Thus, the grand total of portions in Manasseh’s inheritance was twelve, two east of the Jordan and ten to the west.

B.  (:7-13) Cisjordan Territory

  1. (:7-11)  Description of Geographic Borders

And 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 And 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 And 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.

Helene Dallaire: At this point, the digression into Transjordan ends and the reader returns to Cisjordan, to the territory given to the western half-tribe of Manasseh. The southern boundaries overlap slightly with Ephraim, whose towns lie among those of Manasseh. The northern boundaries of Manasseh overlap with those of Issachar and Asher.

David Howard: Manasseh’s actual inheritance is outlined now, primarily in the form of a boundary list, although it is abbreviated and contains some significant gaps. A few cities are mentioned in vv. 7–10 (the boundary list proper), and several more are given in v. 11, which delineates Manassite sovereignty within other tribes’ territories, but there is no city list proper.  Two cities in its boundary description became Levitical cities: Shechem (vv. 2, 7; see 21:21) and Taanach (v. 11; see 21:25).

  1. (:12-13)  Manasseh’s Compromise with the Canaanites

But the sons of Manasseh could not take possession of these cities, because the Canaanites persisted in living in that land. 13 And 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.

David Howard: The notice here is somewhat different from those in 15:63 and 16:10 in that it emphasizes the Canaanites’ stubborn determination in v. 12, whereas no such statement is made in the earlier notices. This is reinforced by v. 13, which states that when the Israelites were able to grow strong enough, they did put the Canaanites to forced labor. Nevertheless, the result was the same as earlier: they were not able to drive out the inhabitants of these cities completely. Ironically, the three most important tribes, highlighted by their place and prominence in the lists, all were not able to drive out the Canaanites from portions of their lands. As E. R. Clendenen notes, they had the power to remove the Canaanites from the land and so to be God’s instruments of judgment to remove wickedness, but they chose to tolerate wickedness and to use for their own purposes that which God had devoted to destruction. And so they sowed the seeds of their own destruction. Just like Achan. Peace with wickedness is preferred to war for righteousness.


A.  (:14) Complaint: Not Enough Land for Too Many People

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?’

David Howard: The two-chapter account of the Joseph tribes’ inheritance comes to an end as it began, with the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh being considered together, as one unit (cf. 16:1–4). They are called “the sons of Joseph” in both 16:4 and 17:14, and they speak as one, using first-person singular address— “me” and “I“—and Joshua addresses them in the second-person singular (“you” [singular]). These two tribes are depicted as being dissatisfied with their allotted territory, challenging Joshua, and being challenged by him in return. . .

The Joseph tribes exhibited a degree of arrogance and greed in their confrontation with Joshua. The tone here sharply contrasts with the far more humble requests presented by Caleb (14:6–12) and the daughters of Zelophehad (17:4), both of whom appealed to the Lord’s promises as the basis for their requests. Here these tribes cited no such precedent, only their subjective evaluation that their great numbers justified the request. Furthermore, they challenged the outcome of the lot, which was controlled by God. Thus, in their request they were challenging the very workings of God himself.

B.  (:15) Challenge of Joshua: Make it Work

And 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.’

Robert Hubbard: “I” demand to know, united Joseph asks, why “you” (Joshua) assigned “me” only “one lousy portion” (my paraphrase), despite the fact that, by Yahweh’s abundant blessing, “I” am a very large people.  The implication is that Yahweh’s blessing entitles “me” to land commensurate with “my” population size.

Joshua’s reply turns the petitioner’s premise (“I am a very large people”) around. If the hill country of Ephraim (or, more narrowly, Mount Ephraim) lacks room (lit., “be too narrow”), he challenges Joseph to wield his large population as a powerful saw against the forest where the Perizzites and Rephaites live (v. 15).  It, too, comprises part of the basic territory assigned him—it merely needs development. So, Joshua orders, add more useable land within your allotment by clearing out the forest and its current inhabitants. In short, behind the difficulty lurks an opportunity.

C.  (:16) Complaint Extended:  Task is Too Dangerous

And 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.’

Kenneth Gangel: They thought that because of their size they deserved more land. Joshua told them to clear some forest land and settle there. But they complained that the forest lands wouldn’t work because this would put them too close to Canaanites with iron chariots. And we thought entitlement programs were an invention of the late twentieth century! These tribes didn’t want to work or fight for their land. They wanted something given to them. Their complaining and fear got in the way of their blessing.

D.  (:17-18) Challenge of Joshua Expanded: You Have Sufficient People and Power to Prevail

And 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.’

Trent Butler: Joshua replies with an answer that is at the same time conciliatory and challenging. He accepts the fact that they are a great and thus blessed people. He emphasizes their great power and their great potential. He concedes the necessity to grant their request, that is, that they have more than one lot. This explains how the house of Joseph came to be viewed as comprising two tribes—Manasseh and Ephraim.

Helene Dallaire: Unyielding to the demands of the people of Joseph, Joshua repeats his original response. In a hortatory tone, he reassures them that they are well able to subdue the Canaanites and to settle safely in the area. His reply to the people of Joseph is a clear, “Go for it! You can do it! Clear the forest and settle there! There is no other solution!”

David Howard: A further aspect of the Joseph tribes’ greed is visible in the second exchange. Whereas Joshua had challenged them to clear the forests of “Mount Ephraim,” they retorted that the (entire) hill country was not enough for them (v. 16). They also revealed a fear of the Canaanites living in the plain, who had iron chariots. These were not effective in the hills, especially in forested areas.  However, the Joseph tribes felt hemmed in by the Canaanites’ dominance in and around Beth Shan and the Jezreel Valley, which were in the northern portions of Manasseh’s territory.  Their complaints here about the Canaanites is reminiscent of similar complaints by the ten spies who came back from the land in Moses’ day (Num 13:26–33); they too were cowed by the Canaanites’ seeming superiority.

Joshua once again turned the Joseph tribes’ challenge back on them in vv. 17–18: because they were numerous and powerful, they would not be limited to only one allotment (v. 17). They would take the forested hill country out to its extreme edges and, by extension, project their power into the plains, driving out the Canaanites in their iron chariots (v. 18).

Robert Hubbard: Joshua’s final ruling (vv. 17–18) parries both prongs of the Josephite argument.

(1)  He encourages them not to sell themselves short. “You [sing.] are numerous and very powerful” means that they already have the personnel and means to succeed. As in the wilderness (Num. 14:6–9), Joshua seeks to counter the growing Canaanite-ophobia before him with a positive word.

(2)  He turns their “one lousy portion” against them and reiterates his earlier challenge concerning the opportunities that the forest offers.  If they expand in that direction, there is no limit to how far beyond that one allotment they can extend their holdings through the larger hill country. Above all, they will destroy the Canaanites and even expand into the problematic plain, Canaanite iron chariots notwithstanding.

David Guzik: How different is their attitude from Caleb’s attitude (Joshua 14:11-12)! They want “easy land” given to them, instead of taking God’s promises and going out and taking what God has given them. The principle applies just as strongly for us today; if we desire more of something, the first thing to do is to be as faithful as we can where we are.