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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 13

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Joshua 13:0


Dividing Canaan Among the TribesRemaining Land to be ConqueredThe Distribution of the Land BeginsThe Land Still to be TakenLands Remain Unconquered
Joshua 13:1-7Joshua 13:1-7Joshua 13:1-7Joshua 13:1-7Joshua 13:1-2a
Joshua 13:2-5
Joshua 13:6-7
The Land Divided East of the JordanThe Division of the Territory East of JordanA General Survey of Trans-Jordan
Joshua 13:8-14Joshua 13:8-14Joshua 13:8-13Joshua 13:8-13Joshua 13:8-13
Joshua 13:14Joshua 13:14Joshua 13:14
The Land of ReubenThe Territory Assigned to ReubenThe Tribe of Reuben
Joshua 13:15-23Joshua 13:15-23Joshua 13:15-23Joshua 13:15-23Joshua 13:15-21
Joshua 13:22
Joshua 13:23a
Joshua 13:23b
The Land of GadThe Territory Assigned to GadThe Tribe of Gad
Joshua 13:24-28Joshua 13:24-28Joshua 13:24-28Joshua 13:24-28Joshua 13:24-27
Joshua 13:28
Half the Tribe of Manasseh (East)The Territory Assigned to East ManassehThe Half-Tribe of Manasseh
Joshua 13:29-31Joshua 13:29-33Joshua 13:29-31Joshua 13:29-31Joshua 13:29-31
Joshua 13:32-33Joshua 13:32-33Joshua 13:32-33Joshua 13:32-33

READING CYCLE THREE (from “A Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. This begins the second half of the book of Joshua. Chapters 1-12 are basically the conquest of the Promised Land and chapters 13-19 are the division of Canaan among the tribes of Israel.

B. The best way to study this section is to have a map close at hand. Archaeology is somewhat uncertain as to the exact locations of many of the cities and other sites mentioned in the Bible. The exact boundaries are uncertain, but the general area is relatively accurate.

C. In this type of passage books on geography become extremely significant.

1. Wycliffe Historical Geography of the Bible Lands by Vos, published by Moody Press

2. Biblical Backgrounds by Callaway, published by Broadman Press

D. The meanings of the Semitic names mentioned in these chapters are only possibilities. The exact etymology is often uncertain.

E. The type of geographical boundaries (i.e., natural land features and cities) has also been found in contemporary literature (i.e., Hittite and Ugarit), which helps confirm the historicity of Joshua.

Shisbah of Egypt invaded Palestine about 925 B.C. and lists his victories in a campaign list found at Karnack, but the names do not coincide with Joshua's list. Shisbah's list has many Hebrew family names, which implies that the list of Joshua (in the Negev) is older (see The New Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 246).

F. In chapter 13

1. Verses 2-3 refer to the unconquered area in the south.

2. Verses 4-6 refer to the unconquered area in the north.

3. Verses 8-14 refer to the unconquered area in the trans-Jordan area (eastern bank).

G. Chart of the tribes of Israel/Jacob

By motherBy Jacob's blessingBy Moses' blessingBy Joshua Casting Lots
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. Reuben by Leah Genesis 29:32Simeon by Leah Genesis 29:33Levi by Leah Genesis 29:34Judah by Leah Genesis 29:35Dan by Bilhah Genesis 30:6Naphtali by Bilhah Genesis 30:8Gad by Zilpah Genesis 30:11Asher by Zilpah Issachar by Leah Genesis 30:18Zebulun by Leah Genesis 30:20Joseph by Rachel Genesis 30:24 Benjamin by Rachel Genesis 35:18Genesis 49:3-4 Genesis 49:5-7 Genesis 49:5-7 Genesis 49:8-12 Genesis 49:16-18 Genesis 49:21 Genesis 49:19 Genesis 49:20 Genesis 49:14-15 Genesis 49:13 Genesis 49:22-26 Genesis 49:27Deuteronomy 33:6 ------- Deuteronomy 33:8-11 Deuteronomy 33:8-11 Deuteronomy 33:22 Deuteronomy 33:23 Deuteronomy 33:20-21 Deuteronomy 33:24-25 Deuteronomy 33:18-19 Deuteronomy 33:18-19 Deuteronomy 33:13-17 Deuteronomy 33:12Joshua 13:15-23 Joshua 19:1-9 ------ Joshua 14:6-63 Joshua 19:40-48 Joshua 19:37-39 Joshua 13:24-28 Joshua 19:24-31; Joshua 19:17-23 Joshua 19:10-16 Manasseh - Joshua 13:29-31;Joshua 17:1-13Ephraim - Joshua 16:4-10; Joshua 18:11-28

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 13:1-7 1Now Joshua was old and advanced in years when the LORD said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land remains to be possessed. 2This is the land that remains: all the regions of the Philistines and all those of the Geshurites; 3from the Shihor which is east of Egypt, even as far as the border of Ekron to the north (it is counted as Canaanite); the five lords of the Philistines: the Gazite, the Ashdodite, the Ashkelonite, the Gittite, the Ekronite; and the Avvite 4to the south, all the land of the Canaanite, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, as far as Aphek, to the border of the Amorite; 5and the land of the Gebalite, and all of Lebanon, toward the east, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. 6All the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon as far as Misrephoth-maim, all the Sidonians, I will drive them out from before the sons of Israel; only allot it to Israel for an inheritance as I have commanded you. 7Now therefore, apportion this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and the half-tribe of Manasseh.”

Joshua 13:1 “Now Joshua was old and advanced in years” We learn from Joshua 14:10 that Caleb was eighty-five years of age. We assume that Joshua was about the same age.

“and very much of the land remains to be possessed” It seems from the first twelve chapters of Joshua that he had completely defeated the Canaanites but because of (1) Joshua 11:18; (2) this verse; (3) the historical summary in Judges 1:0; and (4) archaeological evidence, it seems obvious that Joshua only broke the back of the main resistence of the Canaanite forces (i.e., the strong walled cities), but left it up to the individual tribes to fully possess (cf. Exodus 23:28-30) their own land allotments. Many of them never fully did this, as is obvious from Joshua 13:2ff.

Joshua 13:2 “all the regions of the Philistines” The term “regions” (BDB 165) originally may have referred to a circle (or heap) of stones (e.g., Joshua 7:26; Joshua 8:29; Genesis 31:46), but it became a way of referring to a region (cf. Joshua 18:17). The same root forms the name Gilgal (cf. Joshua 4:19).

The Philistines were apparently Greeks from the Aegean Islands. They were the only group of people in this part of the world who were uncircumcized. They were apparently a mercenary force who tried to attack Egypt in the twelfth century B.C. but were defeated. They then settled on the southern coast of Palestine. They had five major cities which are delineated in Joshua 13:3: Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gad, and Ekron. They were a major military problem throughout the period of the judges and even throughout the reign of Saul and David. The name “Palestine” comes from the word “Philistine.”

“the Geshurites” The Geshurites are mentioned in Joshua 12:5 but this is a different group with the same name. This same group appears in Joshua 13:11, Joshua 13:13, but it is also related to the one mentioned in Joshua 12:5. We learn from 1 Samuel 27:8 that Geshur is a tribe somewhere between Arabia and Philistia.

Joshua 13:3 “the Shihor” This is from a root which means “to be black” (BDB 1009). This term is used of the Nile River in Isaiah 23:3, but here it seems to refer to the border of the Promised Land. Most commentators say that this refers to a wadi called the River of Egypt. It is known today as the wadi El Arish. It is to the south of the city of Gaza.

“Gazite” This means “strong” (BDB 738).

“Ashdodite” This means “stronghold” (BDB 78).

“Ashkelonite” This seems to come from an Assyrian root which means “migration,” but there is a possibility that it comes from the Hebrew root for “weight” from which we get the word “shekel” (BDB 80).

“Gittite” This means “winepress” and is very similar to the New Testament term “Gethsemane,” which means “olive press.” The KJV translates this location as “Gath” (BDB 388) and this may be accurate.

“Avvite” This is a relatively unknown group which seems to be located in the area of Gaza (BDB 732, cf. Deuteronomy 2:23). Some commentators believe they were the original inhabitants of this entire southern coastal area until the invasion of the Philistines.

Joshua 13:4 “Mearah” This is a word which seems to come from the root for “cave” (BDB 792). It is located just to the north of the city of Sidon, which is in the land of the Phoenicians.

Joshua 13:5 “and the land of the Gebalite” This is the city of Gebal, which later became Byblos, which later became famous for its writing materials (i.e., parchment, cf. 1 Kings 5:18; Ezekiel 27:9). We get the English terms “book” and “bible” from this city.

“Baal-gad” It is obvious from the listing of these towns that fertility worship was the main religion of the Canaanites. The term “Ba'al” is a Hebrew word which means “master,” “owner,” “lord,” or “husband.” The female goddess is called Ashtaroth (cf. Joshua 13:12). See note at Joshua 11:17. For an excellent discussion of the Canaanite religion, see Archaelogy and Religion of Israel by William F. Albright, published by Anchor Books.

NASB“as far as Lebo-hamath” NRSV, JPSOA“to Lebo-hamath” NKJV, RSV“to the entrance to Hamath” TEV“to Hamath Pass” NJB“to the Pass of Hamath”

This phrase is made up of the PREPOSITION (BDB 723), a Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT of BDB 97, KB 112, and a proper name (BDB 333, i.e., fortress”). Hamath was a kingdom (cf. 2 Samuel 8:9) and represented the northern limit of the Promised Land (cf. 1 Kings 8:65; 1 Chronicles 8:4).

Joshua 13:6 “as far as Misrephoth-maim, all the Sidonians” This place name seems to refer to “burning water” or “hot springs” (BDB 977). From the same root come the angels called seraphim (i.e., “burning ones”). The fact that only Sidon is mentioned and not Tyre (cf. Joshua 19:29) points to the early date for this account (cf. R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 672).

“I will drive them out before the sons of Israel” YHWH takes full responsibility for the conquest of Canaan (cf. Exodus 34:24; Leviticus 20:24; Numbers 32:21; Numbers 33:53; Deuteronomy 1:39; Deuteronomy 4:38; Deuteronomy 5:31; Deuteronomy 9:4, Deuteronomy 9:5, Deuteronomy 9:6; Deuteronomy 11:23, Deuteronomy 11:31; Deuteronomy 12:1; Deuteronomy 15:4; Deuteronomy 16:20; Deuteronomy 18:12; Joshua 3:10; Joshua 13:6). The VERB (BDB 439, KB 441, Hiphil IMPERFECT) basically means “take possession of” or “dispossess.”

Joshua 13:6-7 There are two IMPERATIVES spoken by YHWH to Joshua.

1. “allot,” Joshua 13:6, BDB 656, KB 709, Hiphil IMPERATIVE (cf. Joshua 23:4)

2. “apportion,” Joshua 13:7, BDB 323, KB 327, Piel IMPERATIVE, cf. Joshua 14:5; Joshua 18:2, Joshua 18:5, Joshua 18:10; Joshua 19:51; Numbers 26:53, Numbers 26:55, Numbers 26:56

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 13:1-5 1Now these are the territories which the sons of Israel inherited in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the households of the tribes of the sons of Israel apportioned to them for an inheritance, 2by the lot of their inheritance, as the LORD commanded through Moses, for the nine tribes and the half-tribe. 3For Moses had given the inheritance of the two tribes and the half-tribe beyond the Jordan; but he did not give an inheritance to the Levites among them. 4For the sons of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim, and they did not give a portion to the Levites in the land, except cities to live in, with their pasture lands for their livestock and for their property. 5Thus the sons of Israel did just as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they divided the land.

Joshua 14:1 “Eleazar the priest” This was the son of Aaron, who was the High Priest at this time and who served Moses (cf. Numbers 20:24-29; Numbers 26:1-4, Numbers 26:63) and Joshua during this very difficult period (e.g., chapter 22). Moses assigned the task of apportionment to Joshua and Eleazar in Numbers 34:17.

Joshua 14:2 “by lot” We are not exactly certain as to how this apportionment was done (BDB 174, cf. Numbers 26:53-56; Numbers 33:54; Numbers 34:13). The rabbis say that there were two jars: one which contained the land allotments and the other which contained the tribes, but this is only speculation. It was the casting of dice or choosing a black or white rock out of a pouch or something like this, but we are just uncertain. Some try to relate it to the Urim and Thummin (cf. Exodus 28:30), which was kept in the breastplate of the High Priest; this is a real possibility. Whatever the means, it was seen as God's giving of the land to the tribes. The land could not be sold permanently (i.e., the year of Jubilee, cf. Leviticus 25:8-17).

“nine tribes” There are thirteen tribes. Joseph is given the double inheritance of the firstborn, thereby his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh each inherit. Levi, though a full tribe, does not inherit land. Therefore, only twelve tribes inherit portions of the Promised Land.

“the half-tribe” This refers to the fact that of all the tribes only Manasseh inherited land on both sides of the Jordan.

Verses 8-14

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 13:8-14 8With 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; 9from 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; 10and all the cities of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, as far as the border of the sons of Ammon; 11and Gilead, and the territory of the Geshurites and Maacathites, and all Mount Hermon, and all Bashan as far as Salecah; 12all 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. 13But the sons of Israel did not dispossess the Geshurites or the Maacathites; for Geshur and Maacath live among Israel until this day. 14Only 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.

Joshua 13:8 “with the other half-tribe” This refers to the tribe of Manasseh who inherited land in the eastern side of Jordan.

“Reubenites” The word “Reuben” means “behold a son” (BDB 910). One can almost see the excitement when this firstborn son was presented to his father, Jacob, by Leah.

Joshua 13:9 “Aroer” This is a city (BDB 792 I) very close to the southern border of Reuben, near to the Arnon River, which separated Moab from the Amorites.

Joshua 13:12 “Og” The capture of this area is related to Numbers 21:33-35.

“Ashtaroth” This is the name of the female fertility goddess of the Canaanite pantheon (BDB 800 III). We are not exactly sure of the relationship between Ba'al and Ashtaroth because in Canaanite documents they are brother and sister, not lovers. See note at Joshua 9:10.

“Rephaim” This word is used three different ways in the Bible: (1) it may refer to the dead (cf. Job 26:5); (2) it may refer to a tribal group; or (3) it may refer to the giants (cf. Joshua 14:12-15). The terms “Anakim” and “Rephaim” both seem to refer to the giants. See note at Joshua 11:21.

Joshua 13:14 “only to the tribe of Levi he did not give an inheritance” The Levites were to receive their allotment from the altar by serving God (cf. Deuteronomy 18:0). They take the place of the firstborn (cf. Exodus 13:0). The Levites did receive forty-eight cities spread throughout the Promised Land (eastern and western, cf. Joshua 20-21). They were also allowed a plot of farm land just outside the walls of these cities to grow food for their families.

“the God of Israel” It is somewhat surprising that the etymology of the term “Israel” is uncertain. From Genesis 32:28 it seems to mean “may God preserve,” but some see it as “right with God.” As with many of these words, we simply do not know the exact etymology.


Verses 15-23

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 13:15-23 15So Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the sons of Reuben according to their families. 16Their 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; 17Heshbon, and all its cities which are on the plain: Dibon and Bamoth-baal and Beth-baal-meon, 18 and Jahaz and Kedemoth and Mephaath, 19and Kiriathaim and Sibmah and Zereth-shahar on the hill of the valley, 20and Beth-peor and the slopes of Pisgah and Beth-jeshimoth, 21even 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. 22The sons of Israel also killed Balaam the son of Beor, the diviner, with the sword among the rest of their slain. 23The 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.

Joshua 13:15-23 This is the tribal allocation of Reuben. It is best seen by looking at a map which delineates the tribal allocations.

Joshua 13:17 “Bamoth-baal and Beth-baal-meon” There was a Ba'al for every town. These two towns were named for the “high places of baal” (BDB 119 and 127, cf. Numbers 22:41) and the “houses of baal” (BDB 111, cf. Numbers 32:38; 1 Chronicles 5:8; Jeremiah 48:23; Ezekiel 25:9).

Joshua 13:19

NASB, NRSV, JPSOA“on the hill of the valley” NKJV“on the mountain of the valley” TEV“on the hill in the valley” NJB“in the highlands of the Arabah”

This phrase is uncertain in Hebrew.

Joshua 13:20 “the slopes of Pisgah” In Deuteronomy 34:1 this is another reference to Mt. Nebo.

Joshua 13:21 “even all the cities of the plain” The cities included

1. Dibon, Joshua 13:9

2. Beth-Jeshimoth, Joshua 12:3

3. Jahaz, Joshua 13:18

4. Kedemoth, Joshua 13:18

5. Mephaath, Joshua 13:18

The ones in Joshua 13:18 are mentioned again at Joshua 21:26-27.

Joshua 13:22 “Balaam the son of Beor” The account of this prophet who caused Israel real problems is found in Numbers 22-25.

“diviner” This PARTICIPLE (BDB 890, KB 1116, Qal PARTICIPLE) means “trying to know and control the future.” Several different methods were used

1. casting lots

2. consulting idols

3. examining sheep livers

4. necromancy

5. cloud reading

6. flight and perching of birds

Some typical texts are Numbers 22:7; Numbers 23:23; Deuteronomy 18:10, Deuteronomy 18:14; Joshua 13:22; 1 Samuel 6:5; 1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Samuel 28:8; 2 Kings 17:17; Isaiah 2:6; Isaiah 3:2; Isaiah 44:25; Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 27:9; Jeremiah 29:8; Ezekiel 12:24; Ezekiel 13:6, Ezekiel 13:7, Ezekiel 13:9, Ezekiel 13:23; Ezekiel 21:21, Ezekiel 21:22, Ezekiel 21:23, Ezekiel 21:29; Ezekiel 22:28.

It is based on the pagan world-view that there is information about the future hidden in natural events and that gifted humans (i.e., false prophets, e.g., Jeremiah 27:9; Jeremiah 29:8; Ezekiel 13:9; Ezekiel 22:28) can know and influence this future.

Verses 24-28

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 13:24-28 24Moses also gave an inheritance to the tribe of Gad, to the sons of Gad, according to their families. 25Their 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; 26and from Heshbon as far as Ramath-mizpeh and Betonim, and from Mahanaim as far as the border of Debir; 27and 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. 28This is the inheritance of the sons of Gad according to their families, the cities and their villages.

Joshua 13:24-28 This is the tribal allocation of Gad.

Joshua 13:25 “as far as Aroer which is before Rabbah” There are two different towns by this name, “Aroer” (BDB 792 II).

A. Aroer

Joshua 1:13:25 and Judges 11:33 (in allotment of Gad)

Joshua 2:13:16 (in allotment of Reuben)

B. Rabbah (BDB 913, “great” or “populous”) is also two different towns.

1. Rabbah - Ammon, Deuteronomy 3:11; 2 Samuel 11:1; 2 Samuel 12:26-27; Amos 1:14 (capital of Ammon)

2. Rabbah - in Judah, Joshua 15:60

Joshua 13:26

NASB“as far as the border of Debir” NRSV“the territory of Debir” TEV“to the border of Lodebar” NJB“as far as the territory of Lo-Debar”

The revocalization of the MT (lodebar) in the dynamic equivalent translations (TEV, NJB) is an attempt to relate this text to the place in 2 Samuel 9:4, 2 Samuel 9:5; 2 Samuel 17:27; Amos 6:13.

Joshua 13:27 “the sea of Chinnereth” This body of water has several different names in the Bible: (1) the Sea of Genesseret; (2) the Sea of Tiberias; and (3) the Sea of Galilee.

Verses 29-31

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 13:29-31 29Moses 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. 30Their 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; 31also 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.

Joshua 13:29-31 This is the allocation of part of the tribe of Manasseh, one of Joseph's two sons, who became a tribe within Israel along with his brother, Ephraim. Manasseh is the only tribe which inherited land on both sides of the Jordan River.

Verses 32-33

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 13:32-33 32These are the territories which Moses apportioned for an inheritance in the plains of Moab, beyond the Jordan at Jericho to the east. 33But 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.

Joshua 13:32-33 This is a summary statement.

Joshua 13:33 See Deuteronomy 18:1-5 and Joshua 20-21.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Joshua 13". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/joshua-13.html. 2021.
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