I haven’t written about my weekly quiet time for some time. I’m still in the Book of Joshua. And, since I study a chapter a week, I have five weeks to go.
I studied Joshua 19 last week. What really caught my eye was v 9: “The inheritance of the tribe of Simeon formed part of the territory of Judah; because the portion of the tribe of Judah was too large for them, the tribe of Simeon obtained an inheritance within their inheritance” (NRSV).
Why did the tribe of Judah get more territory than it needed? God’s the one giving out the land, is he not? Couldn’t he have gotten the division right?
This detail of Joshua 19 reminds me of other things in the book. In Joshua 17:14-18, the tribe of Joseph complains to Joshua about its inheritance. “This amount of land is too small for us,” its representatives said. “We’re too numerous to live here!” And Joshua told them: “You want more land? Then go get it! A lot of land is still out there for the taking. But you have to take it from the dreadful Canaanites.”
Also, in Joshua 19, the author says that the tribe of Dan took Leshem. Judges 18 tells the story more explicitly, and it says that Dan did so because it got no inheritance of its own (v 1). But Joshua 19 states that Dan did get an inheritance: it was near Ephraim and the Shephelah, where the Philistines dwelt. And Judges 18 seems to have knowledge that Dan was there at some point, for v 2 presents Danites in Eshtaol and Zorah, which Joshua 19:41 says that Dan inherited. And so the King James Version tries to clarify Judges 18:1 or to harmonize it with Joshua 19. It renders the passage, “for unto that day all their inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel.” “All their” is not in the text, meaning that the KJV translators are supplying it. The implication may be that the Danites did not get all of the inheritance that they should have at the division. And so the translators appear to read Judges 18:1 in light of similar situations in the Book of Joshua: God divided up the land, but, for some reason, the division had problems.
But the problematic division ended up helping people. Judah had an opportunity to share land with Simeon, which became a loyal ally to Judah (Judges 1:3). Judah called Simeon his brother, and the two worked together to defeat the Canaanites. One could ask, “Why didn’t God only give Judah the land that it needed? God’s obviously not an efficiency expert, here!” Yet, the way God did things gave Judah a chance to be generous and fostered a special bond between two tribes.
Joseph didn’t get as much land as it needed, and that gave it a chance to step forward in faith and claim more land for itself. Joseph got an opportunity to dream and to exercise faith amidst seemingly insurmountable challenges. Those Canaanites had chariots, whereas the Israelites did not. But, as Oprah Winfrey once said, “No test, no testimony!” Joseph’s bad inheritance allowed it to experience God in ways that it otherwise would not have.
The same goes for Dan, assuming that the KJV translators interpreted Judges 18:1 correctly. But another interesting detail is this: It was good that Dan was not living way up north in the time of the Judges. Because Samson the Danite lived near the Shephelah, he got to beat up on the Philistines, the oppressors of Israel. And Samson really crippled them, especially when he destroyed their house. The Israelites could experience God’s salvation in a special way because Samson lived near the Shephelah. Dan was right where it was supposed to be, at the time when it was supposed to be there.
I often wonder why God allows so much inequality. Why does he bless some people with more talents and resources than others? The way God does things may look messy to us, but God can work all out for good. God is interested in our character. He wants to stretch us. If he did everything according to our standard of perfect efficiency, then we’d have no opportunities to grow. We’d also miss out on deeper experiences of him and his goodness.