“Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (v. 45).
Joshua 13–20 describes how Joshua allotted the promised land to Israel’s twelve tribes, each of them receiving specified boundaries and cities. One clan was conspicuously absent, however: Levi. Remember that the twelve sons of Jacob, including Joseph and Levi, fathered the tribes of Israel. Yet, there was no tribe of Joseph. And after the patriarchal era, Levi was not typically included in the count of the “twelve tribes” of Israel. What happened? Two of Joseph’s sons—Ephraim and Manasseh—were granted the right to be full tribes, taking Joseph’s place (Gen. 48–49). That resulted in thirteen tribes, from which Levi was separated to be the priestly clan. The Levites ministered in the tabernacle and taught God’s law to Israel (Num. 18; Deut. 33:8–11).
Because of their special place in Israel’s life and worship, the Levites did not get an allotment of land like the twelve tribes did. Instead, they were granted cities throughout the other tribal territories. In keeping with the promise given in Numbers 35:1–8, Joshua allotted towns to the Levites after the boundaries of the twelve tribes had been set (Josh 21:1–40). Levi received forty-eight cities in all (vv. 41–42). From these locales, the priests offered judgments in the matters they oversaw and taught the Word of God in Israel.
Joshua 21:43–45 concludes chapters 1–21, which detail the initial conquest under Joshua and the division of Canaan. In these verses, the author stresses the faithfulness of God in delivering the promised land into the hands of Israel. Not one of His promises failed to come to pass, and the people enjoyed rest from war. What Joshua accomplished in obedience to the Lord was an occasion for celebrating that God had kept His promises. What He had promised to Abraham centuries earlier had finally come to pass (Gen. 12:1–9; 15).
Of course, the same book of Joshua says that Israel did not take all of Canaan in the initial invasion (Josh 13:1–7). The author of Joshua certainly knew this, so he did not see the fact that land remained to be conquered as contradicting the fulfillment of God’s promises. As we have seen, that is because Joshua had taken the land in substance even if every square inch was not Israel’s yet. Furthermore, this declaration of a successful conquest would give Israel encouragement to fight on. Since God had proven Himself faithful to give Israel the land as He had promised, they could go forth and finish the task, knowing that He would be with them.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
The Christian faith is founded on the promises of God and testifies to the fact that the Lord has kept His promises and will keep all His promises. At times, we can find it hard to believe that God will keep His promises, but texts such as Joshua 21:45 encourage us that the Lord always does what He says He will do. Let us believe that God will keep His promises this day, and let us turn to His Word to strengthen our trust in His fidelity.