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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 16

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-10



Joshua 16:1-4. The lot of the children of Joseph] Although Jacob had adopted the sons of Joseph to be as his own children (Genesis 48:5), and prophesied concerning them as the heads of two distinct tribes in Israel, yet in the chapter of tribal blessings he had spoken of them under the one name of Joseph (Genesis 49:22-26) Moses. also, though recognising the division into the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. had likewise given them a single blessing in the name of their common father (Deuteronomy 33:13-17). Thus the one lot for the two tribes was almost anticipated by these prophecies. As Calvin suggested, “the admirable counsel of God arranged that the brothers should be neighbours to each other.” As the situation of the two tribes was designated by a common lot, and an intermingling of territory is spoken of in Joshua 16:9, it seems more two chapters should be treated as one.

Joshua 16:1. Fell] Lit., “came forth;” i.e., “came out of the urn, or chest,” says Clericus, whom Keil follows, in opposition to the opinion of Rosenmüller, that the reference is to the land, which “came out from Jordan,” etc. The water of Jericho] The fountain now known as Ain es-Sultan, to the overflowing of which the neighbouring plain owes so much of its ferility. Here Elisha wrought his miracle of “healing the waters” (2 Kings 2:19-22). Dr. Robinson placed the site of the first Jericho by this fountain of Elisha, and that of the late Jericho by the opening of the Wady Kelt. The wilderness that goeth up from Jericho] This is the wilderness of Bethaven (chap. Joshua 7:2; Joshua 18:12).

Joshua 16:2. From Bethel to Luz] Knobel, and others, rendering the words as a composite noun, read “from Bethel-Luzah.” Keil understands the sense to be, “from the mountains of Bethel, from which the boundary-line proceeded to the city of Luz. i.e., to Bethel itself.” Undoubtedly, from the way is which they are invariably mentioned as one place, Lus should not be put, as by Crosby, “three and a half miles west of Bethel.” But cf. below, Dr. Cassel’s remarks on Judges 1:22. The borders of Archi to Ataroth] “The border of the Archite.” The Archites or Erechites, in Canaan, may have been descended from some settlers from the Erech of Nimrod (Genesis 10:10), in the land of Babylonia. “David’s friend,” or “companion,” Hushai the Archite, is the subject of the only further reference which is made to this name (2 Samuel 15:32; 2 Samuel 16:16; 1 Chronicles 27:33). Ataroth, according to Robinson, is the modern Atara, about four miles south of Jiljilia, and must be distinguished from the ruins of Atara, near to er Ram. The latter is mentioned in Joshua 16:7, while the former is named again as Ataroth-addar in Joshua 16:5 and in chap. Joshua 18:13.

Joshua 16:3. Beth-horon the nether] The lower Beth-horon is now Beit-ûr, at Tachta. In common with Gezer (cf. on chap. Joshua 10:33) it was afterwards given to the Kohathites (chap. Joshua 21:21-22).

Joshua 16:4. So the children of Joseph, etc.] Thus the southern boundary only is given, “which, in chap. Joshua 18:12-13, is repeated as the northern border of Benjamin.

Joshua 16:5-8. The border of the children of Ephraim, etc.] These verses contain a description which seems involved in inextricable confusion. This is perhaps, principally owing to three things: the places named are few, and thus far apart, marking, probably, some of the extreme positions; the sites of the places are nearly all unknown; and further, the inter-tribal line between these brother tribes seems to have been very complex, and, owing to the intermingling named in Joshua 16:9, may have been, at places, hardly capable of clear description in a brief record. Added to this, it is possible that some attempts may have been made by copyists to make the text clearer, these resulting eventually in greater obscurity than ever. Some such process may account for the utterly incomprehensible opening clause of Joshua 16:6; or, as between Joshua 16:5-10, a passage may have been left out between Joshua 16:5-6, rendering what follows uninintelligible.

Joshua 16:9. The separate cities] These were possibly so assigned, in order that by the intermingling of the two tribes the bond of brotherhood might be perpetuated.



As between these “children of Joseph,” Ephraim takes precedence of Manasseh. Though, as the elder son, Manasseh is named first in Joshua 16:4, yet the lot of Ephraim stands first in the record, and occupies the more important position in the land. This is as Jacob had prophesied it should be (Genesis 48:13-20). The ancient scene of the blessing of Joseph’s children, when compared with their inheritance as shewn here, is instructive. Joseph had opposed Jacob, but Jacob was right and Joseph wrong. Putting together the circumstances of Jacob’s prophecy, and the sequel which the history here begins to reveal, the following thoughts are suggested:

I. God’s special presence and guidance sometimes vouchsafed to the dying, not imaginary, but real. It does not appear that dying Jacob had received any particular promise that God would especially direct him in giving his prophetic blessings. Jacob assumed that it was so. The dying do not care for proofs and arguments. They simply believe, and thus speak. Jacob did not trouble himself with any explanation. He did not even claim God’s special teaching. He merely answered to Joseph’s objection, “I know it, my son, I know it;” and then, in the calmness of a man fully assured, went on with his blessing. Jacob believed that God was directing him. “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph” (Hebrews 11:21). Jacob had no great precedent for conduct like this. Dying Moses could look back and see how God had honoured Jacob’s trust, but Jacob could look back on nothing similar. He simply felt that God was with him, and was guiding him so unerringly, that the knowledge of his pious son Joseph must not be suffered, for a moment, to break in upon his own confidence. Jacob was not deceived. The history which begins in this appointment of the lots, goes on to assert through many generations that it was indeed God who had set Ephraim before Manasseh, though the elder son “also should be great.” Is not God thus present with His dying servants now, if not for prophecy, yet for support? He Himself has said, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.”

II. God’s special guidance of His servants in death sufficiently realized to enable their faith to overcome all obstacles. Take into consideration the circumstances by which Jacob was surrounded, and it will be seen that it was no light matter for him to persist in his trust.

1. There was the difficulty of getting away from Egypt. Would that be suffered by the Egyptians? Would the Israelites, settled in the fat land of Goshen, unanimously care to leave?

2. There was the task of overcoming the Canaanites. Jacob had lived among them during great part of his life, and must have well known of those cities “walled up to heaven,” and inhabited here by the Rephaim, there by the Anakim.

3. There was the division of the tribe of Joseph into two tribes. How was that to be brought about? Was Israel to have thirteen tribes? If not, which son was to give place? and how was he to be induced to give place?

4. Then there was the supremacy of Ephraim. Would not this be contested, even as Jacob’s own supremacy over Esau? Thus, in addition to the opposition of Joseph, and the weakness imposed by the presence of death, these things stood confronting the aged patriarch’s faith. He did not so much as speak of them as making the issue doubtful. He felt God to be so manifestly with him, that no amount of obstacles could present any measure of difficulty. So sufficient is God’s presence in the hour of His people’s need.

III. The special guidance of God in even the weak and dying, transcending physical strength and mental vigour. Joseph was strong, and Jacob was weak; the son could see, but the father’s eyes were dim with age; the younger man’s faculties and powers of mental perception were in the very pride of maturity, while the elder man was feeling throughout his entire frame the decay which precedes dissolution; yet Jacob was right, and Joseph was in error. The guidance of God in the feeblest is better than human perception at its best. Even the blind err not when the Lord leads them. The cultivated intellect of Joseph fails to discern the future of his children; the divinely taught, though decaying mind of Jacob, not only reads the centuries to come, but does not so much as think of the possibility of any mistake.

IV. The special guidance of God surpassing the ordinary spiritual apprehensions of an unusually faithful and pious life. Jacob’s life had been one full of grave mistakes. He had obtained the birthright of his brother through deep craft and oft-repeated lies. He may fairly be regarded as the prototype of commercial sharpness and cunning. He bargained with men, and even bargained with God. He assumed a demeanour of great moderation with Laban, depending on trickery to make the seeming moderation far more profitable than any open arrangement. His life was a long negotiation in the interest of himself. It had been eminently a life of self-seeking. Yet with all these “evil days,” as he himself terms them, Jacob had believed unquestioningly in God. God had ever been his refuge in his times of distress, and, apparently, never forgotten in his times of prosperity. Nevertheless, the life of Jacob stands out in dark and painful contrast to the life of Joseph. Joseph had shewn the same ardent belief in God, and had testified to the beauty of his faith by the excellence of his fidelity. The story of Jacob’s life is stained throughout, while that of Joseph comes down to us in an almost unsullied purity. For all this, in the instance before us, Jacob is unerringly right, and Joseph is wrong. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” “The pure in heart see God.” This is the ordinary rule of life and it is in no way shaken by this exception. God seems to teach us again, here that no man must rely on his purity. Fidelity is one thing, infallibility another. God sometimes corrects the judgment of His most faithful servants through those whose lives are far inferior. This also is well, lest pride become the heritage of piety. Again, it should be remembered that the special teaching of God through the weak is far more unerring than the discernment of the most spiritual of minds momentarily left to themselves.

V. The superior wisdom of God’s guidance waiting for the vindication of time. If not vindicated at the time, it was vindicated by time. Joseph quietly submitted to his father’s strong assurance. He offered no further remonstrance. Joseph may even have believed that it would be as his father had declared. Of this, nothing is said. When nearly two hundred and fifty years had passed, God began to confirm the words of Jacob by providing in another manner for the tribe of Levi, and in these appointments of the lots of Joseph’s children. The vision which God gives may tarry, yet it is for “an appointed time.” Divine proofs are never hastened, and ultimately they never fail.


The following excellent note by Dr. Cassel deals with three passages which have often been found difficult to harmonise with the statement, “Bethel, which is Luz,” frequently occurring elsewhere:

(1) with the obscure phrase “from Bethel to Luz,” in this verse;

(2) with the difficulty in chapter Joshua 18:13; Joshua 18:22, where, while Bethel is said to belong to Benjamin, the border of that tribe is stated to be south of Luz;

(3) and finally, with the representation in Judges 1:22-25, in which the children of Joseph are seen taking and occupying what might appear to be a city of Benjamin.

“As Jebus and Jerusalem are always identified, so it is everywhere remarked of Bethel, that it was formerly Luz; and as Jebus indicated particularly the fortress, Jerusalem the city,—although the latter name embraced both,—so a similar relation must be assumed to have existed between Bethel and Luz. Otherwise the border of Benjamin could not have run south of Luz (Joshua 18:13), while nevertheless Bethel was reckoned among the cities of Benjamin (Joshua 18:22). This assumption, moreover, explains the peculiar phraseology of Joshua 18:13 : ‘And the border went over from thence toward Luz’ (after which we expect the usual addition, ‘which is Bethel;’ but that which does follow is,) ‘on the south side of Luz, which is Bethel.’ It explains likewise the mention (Joshua 16:2) of the border ‘from Bethel to Luz,’ i.e., between Bethel and Luz. The latter was evidently a fortress, high and strong, whose city descended along the mountain slope. When Jacob erected his altar, it must have been on this slope or in the valley. One name designated both fortress and city, but this does not militate against their being distinguished from each other. Bethel belonged to two tribes in a similar manner as Jerusalem. The capture of Luz by Joseph would not have been told in a passage which treats of the conflicts of the individual tribes in their own territories, if that fortress had not belonged to the tribes of Joseph. By the conquest of Luz, Joseph secured the possession of Bethel, since both went by that name, just as David, when he had taken the fortress of the Jebusites, was for the first time master of Jerusalem. This deed is related as contrasting with the conduct of Benjamin (Judges 1:21). Benjamin did nothing to take the fortress of Zion: Joseph went up to Luz, and God was with him (Judges 1:22). This remark had been impossible, if, as has been frequently assumed, the tribe of Joseph had arbitrarily appropriated to itself the city which had been promised to Benjamin. The view of ancient Jewish expositors, who assume a Bethel in the valley and one on the mountain, does not differ from that here suggested. Robinson seems to have established the position of the ancient Bethel near the present Beitîn, where scattered ruins occupy the surface of a hill-point. A few minutes to the north-east, on the highest spot of ground in the vicinity, are other ruins, erroneously supposed to be Ai by the natives: these also, perhaps, belonged to Bethel. It cannot, however, be said that until Robinson this position was entirely unknown. Eshtori ha-Parchi, who in his time found it called Bethai, the I having fallen away, was evidently acquainted with it. In another work of the fourteenth century, the then current name of Bethel is said to be Bethin.” [Cassel, Lange’s Com.]


I. A stronghold thought by God’s people to be too strong for them to subdue, notwithstanding Divine promises to the contrary.
II. A stronghold which, it is pretended, cannot be overcome, and yet is put under tribute.

III. A stronghold too strong for unbelieving men who might have had the help of omnipotence, and presently taken by foreign idolaters, and given to the nation. (Cf. 1 Kings 9:16.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/joshua-16.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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