The Sons of Joseph
“So the children of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, took their inheritance” (v. 4). - Joshua 16:1–10
Jacob’s first son, Reuben, sinned with his father’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). Thus, his birthright was divided between his brothers Judah and Joseph. To Judah went the ascendancy, the leadership; from his tribe would come the kings of Israel and the eternal King, the Messiah. To Joseph went the double portion due to the firstborn (see Deut. 21:17; 1 Chron. 5:1). That meant a double portion of Jacob’s inheritance eventually would go to Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim. When Jacob blessed the boys (Gen. 48), he essentially adopted them as his own sons (v. 5). For this reason, they are named among the 12 tribes of Israel, replacing Joseph and Levi, whose people were consecrated for service to God in the tabernacle and temple. Jacob also gave preference to Ephraim over the older Manasseh; thus, Ephraim gets its land first in the division of Canaan. Yes, Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh have received land to the east of the Jordan at this point, but among the tribes inheriting within Canaan itself, Judah and Ephraim/Manasseh are first.
Just as Judah received most of the southern region of Canaan, Ephraim and the other half-tribe of Manasseh get most of the central region, with the Jordan on the east and the Mediterranean on the west. The border descriptions are not as precise as those for Judah. Also, no list of cities is given for either tribe, enhancing the difficulty of defining their boundaries. The text appears to draw the southern border of the tribes roughly parallel to but north of the border of Judah; in the space between them, Benjamin and Dan will receive land later. Ephraim’s limits are then spelled out. In this initial survey, its land touches the Jordan (v. 7) and die Mediterranean (v. 8), but later tribal allotments will take away some of its territory and leave it landlocked south of Manasseh, cut off from the river and the sea, and confined to the fruitful hills. However, the tribe apparently does receive some of the cities initially given to Manasseh (v. 9).
Just as Judah failed to drive the Jebusites out of Jerusalem, so the Ephraimites fail to drive the Canaanites out of Gezer. They subjugate them as laborers, but as Matthew Henry points out, John Calvin believed this may have been worse, for the Ephraimites may have spared the Canaanites out of a covetous desire for their labor.
Ephraim did not obey God’s command to drive the Canaanites out. That meant that idol-worshiping pagans lived in their midst, and their hearts were soon led astray. We often cannot foresee the negative consequences of disobedience and unbelief in God’s Word. Strive by faith to obey the letter and the spirit of God’s law.
Passages for Further Study
- Psalm 119:10, 160
- Matthew 5:18–19
- Luke 4:4