Having established a firm foothold for Israel in Canaan (Josh. 1–12), Joshua then moved to divide the land among the twelve tribes of Israel, as God had commanded him in the days of Moses (Num. 34; see also Josh. 13:1–17). The tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh had been alloted land east of the Jordan River in the days of Moses (Josh. 13:8–33). Judah received land in the southern part of Canaan (chaps. 14–15). Ephraim and the other half of the tribe of Manasseh received territory west of the Jordan River in the central part of Canaan (chaps. 16–17). That left seven tribes—Benjamin, Dan, Issachar, Zebulun, Simeon, Naphtali, and Asher—that still needed to have the boundaries of their land identified.
The specific allotments for those seven tribes are described in Joshua 18:11–19:51, which we will not study in detail. We will, however, look at the instructions given for mapping out these tribal lands that are found in today’s passage. First, let us note that these instructions were given when “the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh” (18:1). Until the time of Eli, Shiloh was an important place of worship, for that is where the “tent of meeting” or the tabernacle stood. Shiloh was located thirty miles north of Jerusalem in the territory of Ephraim, which was one of the most important tribes. Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim (Num. 13:8, 16), and Ephraim became the leading tribe in the northern kingdom of Israel when it split from Judah after the death of Solomon (1 Kings 11:26–12:33).
Second, God and the Israelites both took action to set the boundaries for the seven tribes that still needed land. Joshua sent three men from each of those tribes to map out the remaining land into seven divisions (18:4–9). Lots were then cast before God, and He directed the results to determine the allotments (v. 10; see Prov. 16:33).
Finally, Joshua allotted all of Canaan to Israel even though the nation had not yet taken possession of all of it, indicating that there was more to do. The land was Israel’s in principle because of the conquest, and Joshua exhorted them to take the rest of it (Josh. 18:3). There is a parallel here with Christ and the church. Like Joshua, Christ has already conquered, but our Savior has done so far more decisively, defeating sin and death (Rom. 6). Consequently, His people have inherited in principle a vast territory—the whole earth (Matt. 5:5). It now remains for the church to take possession of it. Unlike ancient Israel, we do that not with the sword but with the gospel (Eph. 6:17).