There may be some folks confused about the tribal designations used as the land is given to Israel. Chapter 16 begins by talking about the allotment to Joseph and then shifts to Ephraim and Manasseh. The tribe of Joseph was divided into 2 tribes, named after his two sons, because the tribe of Levi would not receive any land. Levi was the priestly tribe and would be given cities within the various tribal areas but no land, per se.
Let’s take note of two passages that give us a peek into the future difficulties facing Israel. In Joshua 16:10 , the writer records that the tribe of Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, but did make them do forced labor. Then, in Joshua 17:12-13 , the tribe of Manasseh could not take possession of certain cities due to Canaanite resistance, but as Israel grew stronger, they also imposed forced labor on these people but did not utterly drive them out. When we get to the book of Judges, we will see the problem brought about by their lack of faith and their disobedience. In fact, God will tell Israel in Judges 2:3 that because they failed to obey him and drive out the Canaanites from the land, “I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” Oh, the terrible cost of disobedience!
One other point of interest in chapter 17: Ephraim and Manasseh complained to Joshua about their allotment in Joshua 17:14 , saying that they were too numerous for such a small portion of land. Joshua tells them to take the adjoining forest land currently occupied by the Perizzites and the Rephaim, but they protest because these people have chariots of iron and are too strong to be defeated. Let me share three points of application here:
1. You can never please all the people all the time. The land was distributed according to the Lord’s design. If leaders make decisions to try to please people rather than out of obedience to God, disaster will result.
2. God’s people need to stop doubting, remember what he has done in the past, trust him, and then move! Over and over, Israel forgets and doubts. If God could defeat Egypt, don’t you think he could handle the Perizzites?
3. Spurgeon makes an interesting connection between the continued work facing Israel in driving out the remaining occupants of the land and the continued work required of a believer after coming to faith in Christ to drive out sin. Just as Israel’s final conquest of the land would require continued cleansing of pockets of Canaanite resistance, so our coming to faith is only the beginning of our battle for holiness. But God is faithful and has promised to complete what he began. As Spurgeon notes, “He that has brought us into this condition will not fail us or forsake us.”