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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Joshua 19

Verse 1

Next followed the lot of the tribe of Simeon, not as a mark of honor, but rather as a mark of disgrace. Jacob had declared with regard to Simeon and Levi, “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” (Genesis 49:7) The punishment of Levi, indeed, was not only mitigated, but converted into an excellent dignity, inasmuch as his posterity were placed on a kind of watch-towers to keep the people in the paths of piety. In regard to Simeon, the dispersion of which Jacob prophesied, manifestly took place when certain cities within the territory of Judah were assigned to his posterity for their inheritance. For although they were not sent off to great distances, yet they dwelt dispersed, and as strangers in a land properly belonging to another. Therefore, on account of the slaughter which they had perpetrated with no less perfidy than cruelty, they were placed separately in different abodes. In this way the guilt of the father was visited upon his children, and the Lord ratified in fact that sentence which he had dictated to his servant. The truth of the lot also was clearly proven.

In the circumstance of a certain portion being withdrawn from the family of Judah, we again perceive that though the dividers had carefully endeavored to observe equity, they had fallen into error, which they were not ashamed to correct as soon as it was discovered. And though they were guided by the Spirit, there is nothing strange in their having been partially mistaken, because God sometimes leaves his servants destitute of the spirit of judgment, and suffers them to act like men on different occasions, that they may not plume themselves too much on their clear-sightedness. We may add that the people were punished for their carelessness and confident haste, because they ought at the outset to have ascertained more accurately how much land could be properly assigned to each. This they neglected to do. Through their unskillful procedure, the children of Judah had received a disproportion accumulation of territory, and equity required that they should relinquish a part. It would also have been better for themselves to have their limits fixed with certainty at once than to be subjected to a galling spoliation afterwards. Add that each tribe had indulged the vain hope that its members would dwell far and wide, as if the land had been of unlimited extent.

Verse 9

9.Out of the portion of the children of Judah, etc The praise of moderation is due to the tribe of Judah for not contending that the abstraction of any part of the inheritance already assigned to them was unjust. They might easily have obtruded the name of God, and asserted that it was only by his authority they had obtained that settlement. But as it is decided by the common consent of all the tribes that more has been given to them than they can possess without loss and injury to the others, they immediately desist from all pretext for disputing the matter. And it is certain that if they had alleged the authority of God, it would have been falsely and wickedly, inasmuch as though their lot had been determined by him in regard to its situation, an error had taken place with regard to its extent, their limits having been fixed by human judgment wider than they ought. Therefore, acknowledging that it would have been wrong to give them what would occasion loss to others, they willingly resign it, and give a welcome reception to their brethren, who must otherwise have remained without inheritance, nay, submit to go shares with them in that which they supposed they had acquired beyond controversy.

Verse 10

10.And the third lot came up, etc In the lot of Zebulun there is a clear fulfillment of the prophecy of Jacob, which had foretold that they would dwell on the sea-coast. An old man, an exile who could not set a foot on his own land, (168) assigned a maritime district to the posterity of his son Zebulun. What could be more extravagant? But now, when the lot assigns them a maritime region, no clearer confirmation of his decision could be desired. It was just as if God were twice thundering from heaven. The tribe of Zebulun, therefore, do not occupy the shore of their own accord or by human suffrage, but a divine arrangement fixes their habitation contiguous to the sea. Thus, although men erred, still the light was always seen shining brightly in the darkness. Jacob goes farther, and makes a clear distinction between Zebulun and Issachar. The former tribe will travel far and wide, carrying on trade and commerce; the latter remaining in his tents, will cultivate ease and a sedentary life. (Genesis 49:13) Hence it is probable that the sea-coast where Zebulun settled, was provided with harbors and well adapted for the various forms of commercial intercourse, (169) whereas the children of Issachar were contented with their own produce, and consumed the fruits which they had raised by their own labor and culture at home.

Those who are thought to be well acquainted with these countries, affirm that the land of the tribe of Asher was fertile in corn. (170) This is in complete accordance both with the letter and the spirit of Jacob’s prophecy. (Genesis 49:20) From the fact that only a small number of cities are designated by name, we may infer that there were then many ruined cities which were not taken into account, and from the other fact that the people dwelt commodiously, we may also infer that they built many cities, with which it is plain from other passages that the land was adorned. And it is certainly apparent that only a summary of the division is briefly glanced at, and that thus many things were omitted which no religious feeling forbids us to investigate, provided we do not indulge in an excessive curiosity leading to no beneficial result. There cannot be a doubt that those to whom twenty or even only seventeen cities are attributed, had more extensive territories. Therefore, all we have here is a compendious description of the division as it was taken from the general and confused notes of the surveyors.

(168) French, “Estant un vieillard, povre banni, qui n’avoit pas un pied de terre a luy ou il peust marcher;” “Being an old man, a poor exile, who had not a foot of land of his own on which he could walk.” — Ed.

(169) The extent of coast possessed by Zebulun was of very limited extent, but included the large and beautiful bay of Acre, which commences in the north at the promontory on which the town of Acre stands, and is terminated magnificently in the south by the lofty heights of Mount Carmel. — Ed.

(170) The greater part of it consisted of a rich and undulating plain, diversified by gentle hills, well watered by the Leontes and other streams which derived their supplies from the snowy heights of Lebanon, and sloping gradually to that part of the sea-coast, on which were built the famous cities of Tyre and Sidon. According to Clarke, the plain of Asher and Zebulun bore a considerable resemblance to the southern districts of England. — Ed.

Verse 32

The next lot mentioned is that of Naphtali, and it seems to correspond with the disposition and manners of that tribe. For Jacob had testified, Naphtali is a hind let loose; he gave goodly words. For this reason they seem to have been contiguous on one side to the children of Judah, and to have been surrounded on other sides by the enclosures of their brethren. (171) Indeed, in its being said that the tribe of Dan took Lesen, there seems to be a tacit comparison, because the children of Naphtali did not employ arms to force their way into their inheritance, but kept themselves quietly in a subdued territory, and thus enjoyed safety and tranquillity under the faith, and, as it were, protection of Judah and the other tribes. The capture of Lesen by the children of Dan, in accordance with the divine grant which they had received of it, did not take place till after the death of Joshua. But the fact which is more fully detailed in the book of Judges is here mentioned in passing, because praise was due to them for their boldness and activity in thus embracing the right which God had bestowed upon them, and so trusting in him as to go down bravely and defeat the enemy.

(171) The tribe of Naphtali, as marked out by Joshua, Eleazar, and the heads of the tribes, harmonizes well with the figurative description of it given by Jacob, for both in scenery and fertility it is one of the fairest in the Promised Land, but the locality assigned to it in the Commentary is singularly inaccurate. In the Latin it is said that the children of Naphtali “Videntur contigui ab una parte fuisse filiis Juda: alibi autem cincti coste ils estoyent contigus aux enfans de Juda; et d’autrepart qu’ils estoyent environnez du secours de leurs freres;” “It seems that on one side that they were surrounded by the help of their brethren.” The fact, however, is that Judah and Naphtali are at the opposite extremities of the country, and so far from being contiguous to each other, are widely separated by the intervention of no fewer than five tribes, which commencing on the frontiers of Judah, and proceeding northwards, are, in succession, Benjamin, Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun. Then, as it stretched from the shores of the lake of Gennesaret, north to the roots of Lebanon, it cannot well be said to have been surrounded on all sides by the enclosures of other tribes. It certainly had Zebulun on the south-west, and Asher on the west, but on the north and east, it formed the extreme frontiers of the Promised Land, and, of course, bounded with foreign and hostile settlements. — Ed.

Verse 49

49.When they had made an end of dividing, etc We have here, at length, an account of the gratitude of the people towards Joshua. For although the partition of the land of Canaan, among the posterity of Abraham, behooved to be equitable, yet Joshua, by his excellent virtues, deserved some honorary reward. Nor could any complain that a single individual was enriched at their expense. For, first, in the delay there was a striking proof of the moderation of this holy servant of God. He does not give any heed to his own interest till the commonweal has been secured. How seldom do we find any who, after they have given one or two specimens of valor, do not forthwith make haste to the prey? Not so Joshua, who thinks not of himself till the land has been divided. In the reward itself also the same temperance and frugality are conspicuous. The city he asks to be given to himself and his family was a mere heap of stones, either because it had been demolished and converted into a heap of ruins, or because no city had yet been built upon it.

It is conjectured with probability, that with the view of making the grant as little invidious as possible, the city he requested was of no great value. If any one thinks it strange that he did not give his labor gratuitously, let him reflect that Joshua liberally obeyed the divine call, and had no mercenary feelings in undergoing so many labors, dangers, and troubles; but having spontaneously performed his duty, he behooved not to repudiate a memorial of the favor of God, unless he wished by perverse contempt to suppress his glory. For the grant voted to him was nothing else than a simple testimonial of the divine power, which had been manifested through his hand. Truly no ambition can be detected here, inasmuch as he desires nothing for himself, and does not rashly act from a feeling of covetousness, but seeks in the popular consent a confirmation of the honor which God had already bestowed upon him. To have been silent in such a case, would have been more indicative of heartlessness than of modesty. The statement in the concluding verse of the chapter, that Joshua and Eleazar made an end of dividing the land, points to the perpetuity of the boundaries, which had been fixed, and warns the children of Israel against moving in any way to unsettle an inviolable decree.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Joshua 19". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.