Joshua 16 and 17 form one literary unit dealing with the allotment of land to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh—the two sons of Joseph. In the midst of the details about territorial boundaries, these chapters contain fascinating lessons for all of us involved in leading God’s people.
God views men and women as equals when it comes to inheritance.
The five daughters of Zelophehad approach Joshua to remind him of Moses’ promise to give them the land promised to their father (17:3). Normally, land inheritance in Israel was given to sons, but Zelophehad’s children were all girls. So Joshua ensures they receive a tract of land. Here we are reminded of an important biblical truth: God sees men and women of value and worth. This is why Paul calls all Christians (men and women) “sons of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26) and “heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). While we learn from other Scriptures that there are differences in the roles and responsibilities given to men and women, we equally inherit the gift of salvation through faith in Christ.
Without a robust faith, wide opportunities seem narrow and obstacles seem insurmountable.
The people of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) are given much more land than most tribes (excepting Judah). However, they argue their allotment was “not enough” (17:16). They want more land. Actually, they want “easier” land. As Joshua points out, they have ample land—it just needs to be cleared of trees (on Mt. Ephraim) or Canaanites (on the plains). The real problem wasn’t lack of land, but lack of vision, faith and determination. That’s still the case today; without a robust faith in God, we see only obstacles where there are ample opportunities.
Ideally, boundaries are clear and clean; reality can be messier.
I find it interesting and puzzling that some tribes were given cities located within the boundaries of another tribe. For example, Ephraim had some towns within Manasseh (17:9) and Manasseh had towns within Issachar and Asher (17:11). Why this happened, we aren’t told. However, it’s safe to assume there was some reason that made sense at the time. As leaders, we need to remember that our ministries won’t always be perfectly tidy organizations. Reality is messier than we like to admit.
Leaders don’t let complainers off the hook.
The people of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) weren’t happy with their assigned inheritance. They thought it too small and confining in light of their size (17:14). Joshua would have none of it. Instead of giving them more land, he challenges them to use more of the land they were given. They needed to follow the example of Caleb, who specifically requested a difficult area but believed that, with the Lord’s help, he could clear it. Those of us in leadership need to follow Joshua’s example and call those we lead to step into challenges with faith, not shrink from challenges in fear.