Coordination (Joshua 13-22)Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
The length of text devoted to land allotment Joshua 13-22 reflects the essential role of the land in shaping Israel’s identity, although it can make eyelid-drooping reading if we don’t look at the big picture of the action. These chapters detail the work of setting boundaries, assigning cities and towns, and creating procedures to resolve conflicts —the work of organizing and cultivating a society for human flourishing and glorifying God. Joshua took scrupulous measures to ensure the distribution was done fairly (Joshua 14:1). Such passages remind us that productive labor depends in large measure on cooperation and fair play, meaning organization and justice. The Israelites need to know what belongs to whom, so that they could then organize their communities in a peaceful and productive manner. It takes work (in this case, quite a bit of work) to address the realities of geographical and social organization.
These realities are brought home with special force in Joshua 22, when the Transjordan tribes are accused of separatism after they erect an altar in their territory. As it turns out, the installation of the memorial altar is a shrewd move on the part of those tribes, which serves to maintain their standing within Israel.
If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith toward the Lord, do not spare us today for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord; or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or offerings of well-being on it, may the Lord himself take vengeance. No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord. Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and offerings of well-being; so that your children may never say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.” (Judges 22:22-27)
We see from all the detail that allotting the land fairly, creating governance structures, resolving conflicts, and maintaining a united mission was a complex process. Joshua was in overall charge, but all the people had roles to play, and even the tussles and crafty positioning were necessary to keep a nation of imperfect individuals working in harmony. This could give us an appreciation for the practice and science of management today. Building an international supply chain, for example, requires aligning incentives, communicating specifications, sharing ideas, resolving competing-yet-cooperative interests, increasing your own profitability without driving other elements into losses, attracting and motivating skilled contributors, and overcoming unforeseeable obstacles, similarly to what Israel’s leaders had to do. The same is true in universities, government agencies, banks, agricultural cooperatives, media companies, and virtually every kind of workplace. Society also depends on those who research and teach management methods and who shape corporate and government policy accordingly.
If God guided Joshua and the other leaders and people of Israel, can we expect him to guide today’s managers? We have the resources of Scripture, prayer, worship, group studies, and the counsel of other Christians. How, exactly, can each of us weave these into our own ways of receiving guidance from God about the administration, management, and leadership we exercise?
Although possession of the land and governance of the people were of first importance to the nation, the later chapters in this section show us that neither the conquest of the land nor the organization of the nation was fully completed. In chapter after chapter, we hear the troubling refrain, “but they did not drive out” the various Canaanite tribes in their territories (Joshua 15:63, 16:10, 17:12-13). The Lord had commanded Israel to drive out the Canaanites in order to establish a new order not degraded by the previous occupants’ abominable practices. The Canaanites’ continued presence becomes a major cause of Israel’s later faithlessness to God’s covenant, although this does not occur during the period covered by the book of Joshua.