The Eastern Heirs

“With the other half-tribe the Reubenites and the Gadites received their inheritance, which Moses had given them, beyond the Jordan eastward, as Moses the servant of the Lord had given them” (Josh. 13:8).

- Joshua 13:8-33

In chapter 12, we saw a summary of Israel’s conquests that began with the taking of the lands east of the Jordan under Moses. Now, just before the partitioning of Canaan begins, the writer of Joshua recounts Moses’ division of the eastern lands for the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh. This account, like the summary of the conquest, shows the Israelites that God is using Joshua to complete what Moses began, thereby fulfilling His promises to His people.

These somewhat dry accounts of territorial boundaries are sprinkled with reminders of God’s goodness to Israel. The first allotment was to the tribe of Reuben; its territory generally stretched eastward from the northern half of the Dead Sea. Within that area, Israel had conquered Sihon king of the Amorites (Num. 21:21–24) and taken vengeance on the “princes of Midian” (Num. 31:1–8; see also Num. 25). It was there, too, that Israel killed Balaam, who attempted to curse Israel but blessed it instead (Num. 22:1–24:25; 31:8). And Mount Pisgah, where Moses viewed the Promised Land before his death, was in this territory. The next allotment was for Gad; its land lay north of Reuben’s and stretched eastward from the Jordan between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. This was more of Sihon’s realm and encompassed Gilead, famous for its medicinal “balms,” and Sharon, noted for its roses. Finally, north of Gad and to the east and northeast of the Sea of Galilee lay the inheritance of half the tribe of Manasseh. Part of this land was taken from Og (Num.21:33–35), and the Manassehites drove out other inhabitants (Num. 32:39–42).

Two other aspects of this passage bear mention. First, the tribe of Levi received no inheritance in the east. This was according to God’s design; the Levites were to have cities among all the tribes and were to receive portions of the people’s offerings for their maintenance (Josh. 13:14). Above all, God Himself would be their inheritance as they served Him in tabernacle and temple (Josh. 13:33). Second, the eastern tribes failed to drive certain enemies out of their territories (v. 13). We will see this same failure by the tribes settling in Canaan itself, but the indictment is particularly strong here in juxtaposition to God’s assurance of divine aid (v. 6). Sadly, it appears that the Israelites lost their zeal to carry out God’s command as they settled in their lands.

Coram Deo

David was of the tribe of Judah, but he sometimes speaks like a Levite, referring to God as his “portion” or “inheritance” (Pss. 16:5; 142:5). He wanted God more than land or treasure. We, too, should see God as our supreme treasure and count it our greatest blessing to possess Him and be possessed by Him.

Passages for Further Study

Numbers 18:20
Psalm 73:26; 119:57
Jeremiah 10:16
Lamentations 3:24

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