Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The inheritance of Manasseh on this side of the Jordan was on the north of Ephraim.
Before proceeding to the more detailed description of the inheritance, the historian thinks it necessary to observe that the Manassites received a double inheritance. This remark is introduced with the words "for he was the first-born of Joseph." On this account, in addition to the territory already given to him in Gilead and Bashan, he received a second allotment of territory in Canaan proper. With the word למכיר (for Machir) the more minute account of the division of the Manassites commences. וגו למכיר is first of all written absolutely at the beginning of the sentence, and then resumed in לו ויהי: "to Machir, the first-born of Manasseh ... to him were Gilead and Bashan assigned, because he was a man of war," i.e., a warlike man, and had earned for himself a claim to the inheritance of Gilead and Bashan through the peculiar bravery which he had displayed in the conquest of those lands. By Machir, however, we are not to understand the actual son of Manasseh, but his family; and הגּלעד אבי does not mean "father of Gilead," but lord (possessor) of Gilead, for Machir's son Gilead is always called גלעד without the article (vid., Jos 17:3; Num 26:29-30; Num 27:1; Num 36:1; Ch1 7:17), whereas the country of that name is just as constantly called הגּלעד (see Jos 17:1, the last clause, Jos 17:5; Jos 13:11, Jos 13:31; Num 32:40; Deu 3:10.). "And there came, i.e., the lot fell (the lot is to be repeated from Jos 17:1), to the other descendants of Manasseh according to their families," which are then enumerated as in Num 26:30-32. "These are the male descendants of Manasseh." הזּכרים must not be altered, notwithstanding the fact that it is preceded and followed by הגּותרים; it is evidently used deliberately as an antithesis to the female descendants of Manasseh mentioned in Jos 17:3.
Among the six families of Manasseh (Jos 17:2), Zelophehad, a descendant of Hepher, left no son; but he had five daughters, whose names are given in Jos 17:3 (as in Num 26:33; Num 27:1; Num 36:10). These daughters had petitioned Moses for a separate portion in the promised land, and their request had been granted (Num 27:2., compared with Josh 36). They therefore came before the committee appointed for dividing the land and repeated this promised, which as at once fulfilled. Consequently there were ten families of Manasseh who had received portions by the side of Ephraim, five male and five female. "And (Jos 17:5) there fell the measurements of Manasseh (as) ten," i.e., ten portions were assigned to the Manassites (on the west of the Jordan), beside the land of Gilead, because (as is again observed in Jos 17:6) the daughters of Manasseh, i.e., of Zelophehad the Manassite, received an inheritance among his sons (i.e., the rest of the Manassites).
Boundaries and extent of the inheritance of the ten families of Manasseh. - Jos 17:7-10, the southern boundary, which coincides with the northern boundary of Ephraim described in Jos 16:6-8, and is merely given here with greater precision in certain points. It went "from Asher to Michmethah, before Shechem." Asher is not the territory of the tribe of Asher, but a distinct locality; according to the Onom. (s. v. Asher) a place on the high road from Neapolis to Scythopolis, fifteen Roman miles from the former. It is not to be found, however, in the ruins of Tell Um el Aschera (V. de Velde) or Tell Um Ajra (Rob. Bibl. Res. pp. 310, 327), an hour to the south of Beisan, as Knobel supposes, but in the village of Yasir, where there are magnificent ruins, about five hours and ten minutes from Nabulus on the road to Beisan (V. de Velde, Mem. pp. 237, 289; R. ii. p. 295). Michmethah, before Shechem, is still unknown (see Jos 16:6). Shechem was founded by the Hivite prince Shechem (Gen 33:18), and is frequently mentioned in the book of Genesis. It stood between Ebal and Gerizim, was given up by Ephraim to the Levites, and declared a free city (city of refuge: Jos 21:21; Jos 20:7). It was there that the ten tribes effected their separation from Judah Kg1 12:1.), and Jeroboam resided there (Kg1 12:25). In later times it was the chief city of the country of Samaria, and the capital of the Samaritans (Joh 4:5); and the name of Neapolis, or Flavia Neapolis, from which the present Nabulus or Nablus has come, was given to it in honour of Vespasian (see v. Raumer, Pal. pp. 161ff.). From this point the boundary went אל־היּמין (i.e., either "to the right side," the south side, or to Yamin), "To the inhabitants of En-tappuah." Whether Yamin is an appellative or a proper name is doubtful. But even if it be the name of a place, it is quite certain that it cannot be the village of Yamn, an hour to the south-east of Taanuk (Rob. iii. pp. 161, 167, etc.), as this is much too far north, and, judging from Jos 17:11, belonged to the territory of Asher. In the case of En-tappuah, the inhabitants are mentioned instead of the district, because the district belonged to Manasseh, whilst the town on the border of Manasseh was given to the Ephraimites. The situation of the town has not yet been discovered: see at Jos 16:8. From this point the boundary ran down to the Cane-brook (see Jos 16:8), namely to the south side of the brook.
"These towns were assigned to Ephraim in the midst of the towns of Manasseh, and (but) the territory of Manasseh was on the north of the brook." The only possible meaning of these words is the following: From Tappuah, the boundary went down to the Cane-brook and crossed it, so that the south side of the brook really belonged to the territory of Manasseh; nevertheless the towns on this south side were allotted to Ephraim, whilst only the territory to the north of the brook fell to the lot of the Manassites. This is expressed more plainly in Jos 17:10: "To the south (of the brook the land came) to Ephraim, and to the north to Manasseh." In Jos 17:10 the northern and eastern boundaries are only briefly indicated: "And they (the Manassites) touched Asher towards the north, and Issachar towards the east." The reason why this boundary was not described more minutely, was probably because it had not yet been fixed. For (Jos 17:11) Manasseh also received towns and districts in (within the territory of) Issachar and Asher, viz., Beth-shean, etc. Beth-shean, to the wall of which Saul's body was fastened (Sa1 31:10.; Sa2 21:12), was afterwards called Scythopolis. It was in the valley of the Jordan, where the plain of Jezreel slopes off into the valley; its present name is Beisan, a place where there are considerable ruins of great antiquity, about two hours from the Jordan (vid., Seetzen, ii. pp. 162ff.; Rob. iii. p. 174; Bibl. Res. p. 325; v. Raumer, Pal. pp. 150-1). This city, with its daughter towns, was in the territory of Issachar, which was on the east of Manasseh, and may have extended a considerable distance towards the south along the valley of the Jordan, as the territory of Manasseh and Ephraim did not run into the valley of the Jordan; but Asher (Yasir) is mentioned in Jos 17:7 as the most easterly place in Manasseh, and, according to Jos 16:6-7, the eastern boundary of Ephraim ran down along the eastern edge of the mountains as far as Jericho, without including the Jordan valley. At the same time, the Ghor on the western side of the Jordan below Beisan, as far as the plain of Jericho, was of no great value to any tribe, as this district, according to Josephus (de Bell. Jud. iv. 8, 2, and iii. 10, 7), was uninhabited because of its barrenness. The other towns, Ibleam, etc., with the exception of Endor perhaps, were in the territory of Asher, and almost all on the south-west border of the plain of Esdraelon. Ibleam, called Bileam in Ch1 6:55 (70), a Levitical town (see at Jos 21:25), was not very far from Megiddo (Kg2 9:27), and has probably been preserved in the ruins of Khirbet-Belameh, half an hour to the south of Jenin; according to Schultz, it is the same place as Belamon, Belmen, or Belthem (Judith 4:4; 7:3; 8:3). With דאר ואת־ישׁבי the construction changes, so that there is an anacolouthon, which can be explained, however, on the ground that ל היה may not only mean to be assigned to, but also to receive or to have. In this last sense ואת is attached. The inhabitants are mentioned instead of the towns, because the historian had already the thought present in his mind, that the Manassites were unable to exterminate the Canaanites from the towns allotted to them. Dor is the present Tortura (see at Jos 11:2). Endor, the home of the witch (Sa1 28:7), four Roman miles to the south of Tabor (Onom.), at present a village called Endr, on the northern shoulder of the Duhy or Little Hermon (see Rob. iii. p. 225; Bibl. Res. p. 340). Taanach and Megiddo, the present Taanuk and Lejun (see at Jos 12:21). The three last towns, with the places dependent upon them, are connected more closely together by הנּפת שׁלשׁת, the three-hill-country, probably because they formed a common league.
The Manassites were unable to exterminate the Canaanites from these six towns, and the districts round; but when they grew stronger, they made them tributary slaves (cf. Jos 16:10).
Complaint of the Descendants of Joseph respecting the inheritance allotted to them. - Jos 17:14. As the descendants of Joseph formed two tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh), they gave utterance to their dissatisfaction that Joshua had given them ("me," the house of Joseph, Jos 17:17) but one lot, but one portion (חבל, a measure, then the land measured off), for an inheritance, although they were a strong and numerous people. "So far hath Jehovah blessed me hitherto." עד־אשׁד, to this (sc., numerous people), is to be understood de gradu; עד־כּה, hitherto, de tempore. There was no real ground for this complaint. As Ephraim numbered only 32,500 and Manasseh 52,700 at the second census in the time of Moses (Num 26), and therefore Ephraim and half Manasseh together did not amount to more than 58,000 or 59,000, this tribe and a half were not so strong as Judah with its 76,500, and were even weaker than Dan with its 64,400, or Issachar with its 64,300 men, and therefore could not justly lay claim to more than the territory of a single tribe. Moreover, the land allotted to them was in one of the most fertile parts of Palestine. For although as a whole the mountains of Ephraim have much the same character as those of Judah, yet the separate mountains are neither so rugged nor so lofty, there being only a few of them that reach the height of 2500 feet above the level of the sea (see Ritter, Erdk. xv. pp. 475ff.; V. de Velde, Mem. pp. 177ff.); moreover, they are intersected by many broad valleys and fertile plateaux, which are covered with fruitful fields and splendid plantations of olives,vines, and fig trees (see Rob. iii. p. 78, Bibl. Res. pp. 290ff.; Seetzen, ii. pp. 165ff., 190ff.). On the west the mountains slope off into the hill country, which joins the plain of Sharon, with its invariable fertility. "The soil here is a black clay soil of unfathomable depth, which is nearly all ploughed, and is of such unusual fertility that a cultivated plain here might furnish an almost unparalleled granary for the whole land. Interminable fields full of wheat and barley with their waving ears, which were very nearly ripe, with here and there a field of millet, that was already being diligently reaped by the peasants, presented a glorious sight" (Ritter, Erdk. xvi. pp. 567-8).
Joshua therefore sent them back with their petition, and said, "If thou art a strong people, go up into the wood and cut it away," i.e., make room for houses, fields, and meadows, by clearing the forests, "in the land of the Perizzites and Rephaim, if the mountain of Ephraim is too narrow for thee." The name "mountain of Ephraim" is used here in a certain sense proleptically, to signify the mountain which received its name from the tribe of Ephraim, to which it had only just been allotted. This mountain, which is also called the mountain of Israel (Jos 11:16, Jos 11:21), was a limestone range running from Kirjath-jearim, where the mountains of Judah terminate (see at Jos 11:21), to the plain of Jezreel, and therefore embracing the greater part of the tribe-territory of Benjamin. The wood, which is distinguished from the mountain of Ephraim, and is also described in Jos 17:18 as a mountainous land, is either the mountainous region extending to the north of Yasir as far as the mountains at Gilboa, and lying to the west of Beisan, a region which has not yet been thoroughly explored, or else, as Knobel supposes, "the broad range of woody heights or low woody hills, by which the mountains of Samaria are connected with Carmel on the north-west (Rob. iii. p. 189), between Taanath and Megiddo on the east, and Caesarea and Dor on the west." Possibly both may be intended, as the children of Joseph were afraid of the Canaanites in Beisan and in the plain of Jezreel (Jos 17:16). The Rephaim were dwelling there, a tribe of gigantic stature (see at Gen 14:5), also the Perizzites (see at Gen 13:7).
The children of Joseph replied that the mountain (allotted to them) would not be enough for them (מצא, as in Num 11:22; Zac 10:10); and that all the Canaanites who dwelt in the land of the plain had iron chariots, both those in Beth-shean and its daughter towns, and those in the valley of Jezreel. ארץ־העמק, the land of the plain or valley land, includes both the valley of the Jordan near Beisan, and also the plain of Jezreel, which opens into the Jordan valley in the neighbourhood of Beisan (Rob. iii. p. 173). The plain of Jezreel, so called after the town of that name, is called the "great field of Esdrelom" in Judith 1:4, and τὸ μέγα πεδίον by Josephus. It is the present Merj (i.e., pasture-land) Ibn Aamer, which runs in a south-westerly direction from the Mediterranean Sea above Carmel, and reaches almost to the Jordan. It is bounded on the south by the mountains of Carmel, the mountain-land of Ephraim and the range of hills connecting the two, on the north by the mountains of Galilee, on the west by the southern spurs of the Galilean highland, and on the east by the mountains of Gilboa and the Little Hermon (Jebel Duhy). Within these boundaries it is eight hours in length from east to west, and five hours broad; it is fertile throughout, though very desolate now (see v. Raumer, Pal. iii. pp. 39ff.). "Iron chariots" are not scythe chariots, for these were introduced by Cyrus, and were unknown to the Medes, Persians, and Arabians, i.e., to the early Asiatics before his time (Xen. Cyr. vi. 1, 27, 30), as well as to the ancient Egyptians (see Wilkinson, Manners and Customs, i. p. 350); they were simply chariots tipped with iron, just as the Egyptian war-chariots were made of wood and strengthened with metal nails and tips (Wilkinson, pp. 342, 348).
As the answer of the children of Joseph indicated cowardice and want of confidence in the help of God, Joshua contented himself with repeating his first reply, though more fully and with the reasons assigned. "Thou art a strong people, and hast great power; there will not be one lot to thee:" i.e., because thou art a numerous people and endowed with strength, there shall not remain one lot to thee, thou canst and wilt extend thine inheritance. "For the mountain will be thine, for it is forest, and thou wilt hew it out, and its goings out will become thine." By the mountain we are not to understand the mountains of Ephraim which were assigned to the Ephraimites by the lot, but the wooded mountains mentioned in Jos 17:15, which the children of Joseph were to hew out, so as to make outlets for themselves. "The outgoings of it" are the fields and plains bordering upon the forest. For the Canaanites who dwelt there (Jos 17:15) would be driven out by the house of Joseph, just because they had iron chariots and were strong, and therefore only a strong tribe like Joseph was equal to the task. "Not one of the tribes of Israel is able to fight against them (the Canaanites) because they are strong, but you have strength enough to be able to expel them" (Rashi).