Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The tabernacle is set up at Shiloh, Jos 18:1. Seven of the tribes having not yet received their inheritance, Jos 18:2. Joshua orders three men from each tribe to be chosen, and sent to examine the land and divide it into seven parts, which should be distributed among them by lot, Jos 18:3-7. The men go and do as commanded, and return to Joshua, Jos 18:8, Jos 18:9. Joshua casts lots for them, Jos 18:10. The lot of Benjamin, how situated, Jos 18:11. Its northern boundaries, Jos 18:12-14. Its southern boundaries, Jos 18:15-19. Its eastern boundary, Jos 18:20. Its cities, Jos 18:21-28.
Israel assembled together at Shiloh - This appears to have been a considerable town about fifteen miles from Jerusalem, in the tribe of Ephraim, and nearly in the center of the whole land. To this place both the camp of Israel, and the ark of the Lord, were removed from Gilgal, after a residence there of seven years. Here the tabernacle remained one hundred and thirty years, as is generally supposed, being the most conveniently situated for access to the different tribes, and for safety, the Israelites having possession of the land on all sides; for it is here added, the land was subdued before them - the Canaanites were so completely subdued, that there was no longer any general resistance to the Israelitish arms.
How long are ye slack to go to possess the land - We find an unaccountable backwardness in this people to enter on the inheritance which God had given them! They had so long been supported by miracle, without any exertions of their own, that they found it difficult to shake themselves from their inactivity. When it was necessary that all the people should go out to battle, they went with a measure of confidence, expecting miraculous help from God, and confiding in their numbers, but when each tribe found it necessary to fight for itself, in order to its establishment and the extension of its borders, it was discouraged, and chose rather a life of inglorious ease than the possession of an inheritance which would cost it much labor to conquer.
Three men for each tribe - Probably meaning only three from each of the seven tribes who had not yet received their inheritance. It is likely that these twenty-one men were accompanied by a military guard, for without this they might have been easily cut off by straggling parties of the Canaanites.
They shall - describe it - It is likely they were persons well acquainted with geography and mensuration, without which it would have been impossible for them to have divided the land in the way necessary on this occasion.
Judah shall abide - on the south, and the house of Joseph - on the north - Joshua does not mean that the tribe of Judah occupied the south, and the tribe of Ephraim and Manasseh the north of the promised land; this was not the fact: but being now at Shiloh, a considerable way in the territory of Ephraim, and not far from that of Judah, he speaks of them in relation to the place in which he then was. Calmet considers him as thus addressing the deputies: "Go and examine the whole of the country which remains yet to be possessed; do not take into consideration the tribe of Judah, which is on the south, nor the tribe of Ephraim, which is on the north of where we now are, but carefully divide the remaining land which is not occupied by these tribes into seven equal parts." This makes a very good sense, and frees the place from embarrassment.
The priesthood of the Lord is their inheritance - We have already seen that the priests and Levites had the sacrifices, oblations tithes, first-fruits, redemption-money of the firstborn, etc., for their inheritance; they had no landed possessions in Israel; the Lord was their portion.
And described it in a book - This as far as I can recollect, is the first act of surveying on record. These men and their work differed widely from those who had searched the land in the time of Moses; they went only to discover the nature of the country, and the state of its inhabitants; but these went to take an actual geographical survey of it, in order to divide it among the tribes which had not yet received their portions. We may suppose that the country was exactly described in a book, that is, a map, pointing out the face of the country, accompanied with descriptions of each part.
And the lot - of Benjamin came up - On the manner of casting the lot, see on Jos 14:2 (note), and Num 26:55 (note). There were probably two urns, one of which contained the names of the seven tribes, and the other that of the seven portions. They therefore took out one name out of the first urn, and one portion out of the second, and thus the portion was adjudged to that tribe.
The wilderness of Beth-aven - This was the same as Beth-el; but this name was not given to it till Jeroboam had fixed one of his golden calves there. Its first name signifies the house of God; its second, the house of iniquity.
To the side of Jebusi - The mountain of Zion, that was near Jerusalem; for Jebusi, or Jebus, was the ancient name of this city.
En-shemesh - The fountain of the sun; a proof of the idolatrous nature of the ancient inhabitants of this land.
Geliloth - As the word signifies borders or limits, it is probably not the proper name of a place: And went forth towards the Borders which are over against the ascent to Adummim.
The north bay of the Salt Sea - As the word לשון leshon signifies the tongue, it may here refer to the point of the Dead or Salt Sea. Of these tongues or points it had two, one on the north, and the other on the south.
Now the cities - Some of these cities have been mentioned before, and described; of others we know nothing but the name.
And Gaba - Supposed to be the same as Gibeah of Saul, a place famous for having given birth to the first king of Israel; and infamous for the shocking act towards the Levite's wife, mentioned Jdg 19:16-30, which was the cause of a war in which the tribe of Benjamin was nearly exterminated. Judges 20:29-48.
Gibeon - See before, Jos 10:1-14 (note). This place is famous for the confederacy of the five kings against Israel, and their miraculous defeat. Ramah, a place about six or eight miles north of Jerusalem. Beeroth, i.e., wells; one of the four cities which belonged to the Gibeonites, who made peace with the Israelites by stratagem. See Jos 9:3-15.
And Mizpeh - This place is celebrated in the sacred writings. Here the people were accustomed to assemble often in the presence of the Lord, as in the deliberation concerning the punishment to be inflicted on the men of Gibeah, for the abuse of the Levite's wife. Jdg 20:1-3. Samuel assembled the people here to exhort them to renounce their idolatry, Sa1 7:5, Sa1 7:6. In this same place Saul was chosen to be king, Sa1 10:17. It was deemed a sacred place among the Israelites; for we find, from 1 Maccabees 3:46, that the Jews assembled here to seek God, when their enemies were in possession of the temple.
And Zelah - This was the burying-place of Saul, Jonathan, and the family of Kish. See Sa2 21:14.
Jebusi, which is Jerusalem - We often meet with this name, and it is evident that it was the ancient name of Jerusalem, which was also called Salem; and was probably the place in which Melchizedek reigned in the days of Abraham; though some think a different place is meant; for that there was another place of the same name, is evident from Joh 3:23. This place, called Salim by the evangelist, is said to be near to Enon, and there John baptized, because there was much water in the place. This, however, must not be confounded with the Salem mentioned above; for that this was a name of Jerusalem, is evident from Psa 76:1, Psa 76:2 : In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel. In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling-place in Zion. This must refer to Jerusalem, where the temple was situated. Whether Jebus or Jebusi had its name from the Jebusites, or the Jebusites from it, cannot be ascertained.