Joshua: Chapter 17 - And Manesseh Makes Five

Bible Study @ Hurst Gospel Hall

Author: John Whitmarsh
Added: 2010-01-17

We have noted that this and other chapters surrounding it contain very little narrative and a lot of names. The boundaries of territories are given and little else. From the notes compiler's point of view the readings have been beneficial for a number of reasons

1. The discipline of following a book through from the first verse of chapter one to its very end even when the passage is considered to be dull and uninteresting.

2. The fact that a number of other less known passages of scripture have been consulted in the study and books like Numbers and Deuteronomy have been investigated.

3. Not only are there principles that were first told in the Pentateuch but there are first mentions in the book of Joshua especially in relation to some of the place names. Many of these towns, and even names of people or peoples, are encountered later on in the Bible (especially in Judges and the two books of Samuel).

Though there is little narrative in this chapter there are still some lessons to be learnt.

17:1 There was also a lot for the tribe of Manasseh; for he was the firstborn of Joseph; to wit, for Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead: because he was a man of war, therefore he had Gilead and Bashan.

17:2 There was also a lot for the rest of the children of Manasseh by their families; for the children of Abiezer, and for the children of Helek, and for the children of Asriel, and for the children of Shechem, and for the children of Hepher, and for the children of Shemida: these were the male children of Manasseh the son of Joseph by their families.

17:3 But Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons, but daughters: and these are the names of his daughters, Mahlah, and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.

17:4 And they came near before Eleazar the priest, and before Joshua the son of Nun, and before the princes, saying, The LORD commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brethren. Therefore according to the commandment of the LORD he gave them an inheritance among the brethren of their father.

17:5 And there fell ten portions to Manasseh, beside the land of Gilead and Bashan, which were on the other side Jordan;

17:6 Because the daughters of Manasseh had an inheritance among his sons: and the rest of Manasseh's sons had the land of Gilead.

17:7 And the coast of Manasseh was from Asher to Michmethah, that lieth before Shechem; and the border went along on the right hand unto the inhabitants of Entappuah.

17:8 Now Manasseh had the land of Tappuah: but Tappuah on the border of Manasseh belonged to the children of Ephraim;

17:9 And the coast descended unto the river Kanah, southward of the river: these cities of Ephraim are among the cities of Manasseh: the coast of Manasseh also was on the north side of the river, and the outgoings of it were at the sea:

17:10 Southward it was Ephraim's, and northward it was Manasseh's, and the sea is his border; and they met together in Asher on the north, and in Issachar on the east.

17:11 And Manasseh had in Issachar and in Asher Bethshean and her towns, and Ibleam and her towns, and the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, and the inhabitants of Endor and her towns, and the inhabitants of Taanach and her towns, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns, even three countries.

17:12 Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land.

17:13 Yet it came to pass, when the children of Israel were waxen strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute; but did not utterly drive them out.

17:14 And the children of Joseph spake unto Joshua, saying, Why hast thou given me but one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as the LORD hath blessed me hitherto?

17:15 And Joshua answered them, If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants, if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee.

17:16 And the children of Joseph said, The hill is not enough for us: and all the Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron, both they who are of Bethshean and her towns, and they who are of the valley of Jezreel.

17:17 And Joshua spake unto the house of Joseph, even to Ephraim and to Manasseh, saying, Thou art a great people, and hast great power: thou shalt not have one lot only:

17:18 But the mountain shall be thine; for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut it down: and the outgoings of it shall be thine: for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong.

1. The chapter deals with the inheritance that was Manasseh's. The use of the word 'also' in verse 1 is very significant in the light of the text in verse 14 'one lot'. This means that the writer mentions Manasseh receiving a lot as well as Ephraim (covered in chapter 16). The meaning of the word 'firstborn' has been covered in chapter 16. Manasseh may have been the first to be born and by rights should have enjoyed the privileges of being the firstborn but Ephraim was treated as such. God takes away the first that He may establish the second.

Machir means 'sold' He was the eldest son, the firstborn, of Manasseh by an Aramite or Syrian concubine and progenitor of a large family (I Chronicles 7). The line of the firstborn went Joseph, Manasseh, and Machir. Machir was a man of war and was, therefore, given Gilead and Bashan (We read of Bashan in Psalm 22).

Gilead ('rocky region') 101 times, Ramothgilead 18 times, Jabeshgilead 12 times, Gileadites 2 times 134 occurrences in scripture. Gilead is a mountainous region bounded on the west by the Jordan, on the north by Bashan, on the east by the Arabian plateau, and on the south by Moab and Ammon; sometimes called 'Mount Gilead' or the 'land of Gilead' or just 'Gilead'. Divided into north and south Gilead. There is another town called Gilead with the prefix 'Jabesh'. Gilead was also the son of Machir and grandson of Manasseh. There are another two people called Gilead one was the father of Jephthah and the other a Gadite.

Bashan ('fruitful') 59 times, Bashanhavothjair once - making a total of 60 times in scripture. It is a district east of the Jordan and in the northern part of the country known for its fertility and which was given to the half-tribe of Manasseh.

2. The word 'lot' is in italics in most Bibles. The rest of the children of Manasseh were allocated territory. The truth of chapters 16 and 17 is that there was one lot for Ephraim and another for Manasseh. This lot for Manasseh was a half lot because half of the tribe were allocated territory on the eastern side of Jordan.

Manasseh had seven sons according to verses one and two:


Abiezer ('My father is help' - a Manassite, called "son" of Gilead, also son of Gilead's sister see I Chr. 7.18), Helek ('portion' - a descendant of Manasseh, and second son of Gilead)

Asriel ('I shall be prince of God' there are two people by this name the first a great-grandson of Manasseh, and son of Gilead and the second, a son of Manasseh)

Shechem ('back' or 'shoulder' again there are two people with this name. The first was a son of Gilead and grandson of Manasseh. The second was a Manassite, son of Shemida

Hepher ('a well' there are three people in scripture with this name. 1. The youngest son of Gilead and head of the family of Hepherites 2. The son of Asher, the father of Tekoa 3. The Mecherathite, one of David's mighty warriors. Hepher was also a place name - a place in ancient Canaan, west of the Jordan, conquered by Joshua site unknown Shemida ('wise'). He was a son of Gilead, grandson of Manasseh, and progenitor of a family in Manasseh

Verse 2 states that the six in this verse were the male children of Manasseh. Numbers 26 indicates that the last five were the sons of Gilead (so these were great grandsons of Manasseh). 'Son' may not only mean a first generation son but a son further down the line.

Numbers 26.28-34 'The sons of Joseph after their families were Manasseh and Ephraim. Of the sons of Manasseh: of Machir, the family of the Machirites: and Machir begat Gilead: of Gilead come the family of the Gileadites. These are the sons of Gilead: of Jeezer, the family of the Jeezerites: of Helek, the family of the Helekites: And of Asriel, the family of the Asrielites: and of Shechem, the family of the Shechemites: And of Shemida, the family of the Shemidaites: and of Hepher, the family of the Hepherites. And Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters: and the names of the daughters of Zelophehad were Mahlah, and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. These are the families of Manasseh, and those that were numbered of them, fifty and two thousand and seven hundred. '

3. Zelophedad was the fifth generation from Joseph. He had five daughters and no sons so that verse 2 has spoken of all sons (great grandsons even) and now verse 3 speaks of a family where all were daughters. The father's name means 'firstborn'. He was a Manassite, son of Hepher and grandson of Gilead. He came out of Egypt with Moses and died in the wilderness leaving only five daughters as heirs; their right to the inheritance was confirmed by divine direction.

The five daughters were:

Mahlah ('disease') Noah ('motion') Noah is a female name as well as the more famous male name Hoglah ('partridge') Milcah ('queen') not to be confused with the daughter of Haran and wife of Nahor, her uncle and Abraham's brother, to whom she bore 8 children Tirzah ('favourable') not to be confused with one of the kingdoms on the west of the Jordan conquered by Joshua and the Israelites by the same name or a Canaanite city, later capital of the northern kingdom of Israel.

We read the first verses of Numbers 27 at this stage to see the divine direction, 'Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father. And Moses brought their cause before the LORD. And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying, The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father's brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter. And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren. And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father's brethren. And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the LORD commanded Moses.' 4. The name Eleazar appears 72 times in scripture. It means 'God has helped'. There are a number of people in scripture possessing this name: 1) the high priest son of Aaron 2) Abinadab's son who cared for the ark 3) the priest who rebuilt and dedicated the restored walls of Jerusalem in time of Ezra 4) one of David's mighty warriors 5) a Levite 6) one of the line of Parosh

The combination of Eleazar, Joshua and the heads of the people has been seen already in chapter 14, 'And these are the countries which the children of Israel inherited in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel, distributed for inheritance to them.' A different word is used for the heads of the tribes in chapter 17 compared to that used in chapter 14. The word used here is the same as that used on a number of occasions in the latter part of Numbers 34. The last verse in that chapter explains that these were the ones who were designated to divide up the inheritance. The order is the same here as in Joshua in that Eleazar the priest is mentioned first of all.

Then it is Joshua the son of Nun (Nun is mentioned 29 times in scripture and means 'fish' or 'posterity' please note that there is one mention of Non) and finally the princes of the tribes.

So the women came before Joshua as they had done before Moses and Joshua gave them their inheritance in accordance with the command that had been given by the Lord.

5. Ten portions fell to Manasseh beside the two parcels of land, Gilead and Bashan, which were on the other side of the Jordan. It should be pointed out that the word for 'portion' is a different word from 'lot' in verse 1.

6. There were as many as ten portions for the tribe of Manasseh because Zelophedad's daughters had an inheritance among the sons.

7. This verse brings us to the borders of the tribe of Manasseh. It bordered on to Asher according to this verse. Asher occurs some 43 times in scripture and means 'happy'. Asher was the son of Jacob by Zilpah who gave his name to the tribe of Israel. Asher was also a city that was east of Shechem in the tribe of Manasseh. It is this city (and not the tribe) that is referred to in this verse. Michmethah means 'hiding place' and only occurs twice in scripture. It is located in northeast Ephraim near the border of Manasseh between Shechem and Taanath-shilo. Entappuah only ever occurs in this verse. It means the 'fountain of the apple-city' and is a border town between Ephraim and Manasseh.

The 'right hand' seems a strange phrase but an explanation was given that people of that time would have looked at any map from the sea looking inland and so to the right means to the south.

8. Tappuah occurs 6 times throughout the Bible and means 'the apple city'. Manasseh had the land around Tappuah but the town itself belonged to Ephraim. Tappuah was also a Judaite of the family of Caleb, son of Hebron. It was also another town in lowland Judah.

9-10. These verses give an explanation of the border and how that it ran along the course of the river Kanah (see 16.8 where similar language is used when Ephraim's border is discussed) and out to the Mediterranean sea. Northwards of this border was the territory belonging to Manasseh (except for the odd town as explained within this chapter) and south of the boundary belonged to Ephraim.

The last clause of verse 10 seems strange in that Asher and Isaachar are mentioned. Immediately we think tribally but the land belonging to the tribes of Asher and Issachar was way up north. We have already explained that the Asher in verse 7 was a town of that name that was east of Shechem. Presumably Issachar was also a town name though this cannot be corroborated. It may well be that this verse refers to the tribes but it is hard to see how. It may well mean that the reference to Asher is to the town and the mention of Issachar is the tribe for it was certainly to the east of both Manasseh and Ephraim. The name Issachar means 'there is recompense' and it occurs 43 times in scripture. Issachar was the ninth son of Jacob and his mother was Leah, Jacob's first wife. Just so that we are careful when we read the name Issachar there was another person by that name who was a Korahite Levite, the seventh son of Obed-edom, and doorkeeper to the temple.

11. Bethshean was in Issachar territory and was also known as Bethshan. It occurs some nine times in scriptures and means the house of ease'. Verse 11 explains that this town belonged to Manasseh. It is just to the west of the River Jordan below the sea of Galilee" Bethshan is famous for one man namely Saul the king for when he lost his final battle against the Philistines he and his three sons who died on the same day were nailed to the wall at Bethshan. It was the men of Jabesh-Gilead who took the bodies and buried the bones in Jabesh.

We know very little of Ibleam for it is only three times in scripture. The name means 'devouring the people'. This city was in the territory of either Asher or Issachar but belonged to Manasseh Dor means 'generation' and is a coastal city in Manasseh, south of Carmel. It appears seven times in scripture.

Endor is only mentioned three times in scripture so that we have little to go on. We know that it somewhere near to where Saul died because of the famous incident with the so-called (because the Bible does not call her such) witch of Endor. The name means 'fountain of Dor' or 'fountain of generations'. Dor was in Issachar territory yet possessed by Manasseh. It is located 4 miles (6.5 km) north of Tabor.

There are two spellings for Taanach (Tanach). In all it appears 7 times in scripture and means 'sandy'. It is an ancient Canaanite city conquered by Joshua and allotted to the half tribe of Manasseh although in the territory of Issachar. It was also given to the Kohathite Levites (see 21.25) and is located on the west of the Jordan and near the waters of Megiddo.

Megiddo (once in the scripture it is called Megiddon) appears twelve times in scriptures and yet is most famous for the place to which it gives its name Armageddon meaning hill of Megiddo. Megiddo itself means 'place of crowds' so that the name Armageddon means the hill of great crowds or the hill of great slaughter. One immediately thinks of Joel 3 in connection with Armageddon 'multitudes, multitudes in the valley of incision.' As to its location it is an ancient city of Canaan assigned to Manasseh and found on the southern rim of the plain of Esdraelon 6 miles (10 km) from Mount Carmel and 11 miles (18 km) from Nazareth.

The word 'countries' at the end of the verse could be translated 'heights'. This may help to explain the verse as there are six places given in the text and not one of these may be considered as a country. Presumably three of the six places were towns on a height and advantageous for defence reasons.

12. But they could not drive out the inhabitants of those 6 cities (see notes on 15.63). This verse refers to the half tribe of Manasseh. The next verse refers to the children of Israel.

13. We have seen this aspect of tribute before in the tenth verse of the previous chapter (see notes on 16.10 and the conclusions to that chapter). God did not want tribute. He wanted triumph. God does not want tribute from us to today but triumph in these lives of ours. He does not want my money so much as my devotion. There was an enemy still in the land after they were meant to have driven them out of the land. That enemy may have paid money but it was still an enemy. How many of us leave things in our life that create wealth (by that is meant over and above that which is necessary to maintain life and to do my duty as far as my family is concerned) and they stay there because their presence is justified by that which is given to the Lord's work. We are prepared to retain life styles and appease our consciences by giving of that gain to support others to do the work. Perhaps it is that God wants us to do the work and not to just supply so that others can do it.

The children of Israel were waxen strong. There came a point when they were in general command in the land but there were pockets of land that brought in revenue in the form of tribute but that was still under the influence of the Canaanite people. Such areas may have been subdued in the situation described in verse 13 but the danger was always there why should we be subject to the children of Israel? Why should we pay tribute? Why shouldn't take things back to what they were before these people invaded our land? It is interesting to note that when the children of Israel were taken out of the land that they now possessed it was the Assyrians (who removed the ten tribes) and the Babylonians (who removed the two tribes) who were responsible. Never did the people who dwelt in the land become strong enough to overwhelm the children of Israel but they were a constant thorn in the side.

14. The children of Joseph had big ideas about themselves. It is supposed that when any land is divided that there is always an individual or a group of people who thinks/ think that he/they have the right to more than they have been allocated. This is often noted at the reading of a will. Some individuals have high expectations. Joseph himself would not have spoken the way the children of Joseph did. Presumably when it says 'the children of Joseph' it means both Manasseh and Ephraim as well. Verse 17 of this chapter indicates that this is the case.

Why was it that they felt that they had been given the one lot and the one portion to inherit? What a strange statement. Manasseh was divided into two with a half tribe on the eastern side of Jordan and a half tribe on the western. There was also Ephraim as well. Ephraim had been given a portion and so had the two half tribes. In effect there were three portions but they claimed that there was only one. They considered themselves to be the important ones. We wonder how the other tribes felt about their statement. Joseph would have turned in his grave to hear his children speak in this way. It was truly shocking for their hearts were filled with pride. 'I am a great people.' God hates this thing called pride.

15. Joshua listened to their words very carefully and then said, 'If thou be a great people' Great people do not talk the way that the children of Joseph spoke. Perhaps it was that the children of Joseph were using the word 'great' in the sense of numerical strength but their combined strength was 85,200 males above the age of 20. Judah was 76,500 strong and Dan, Issachar and Zebulun were all over 60,000 each (see table at the start of chapter 13).

Whatever the case, Joshua challenged them to prove their greatness by going to the land of the Perizzites and of the giants and cutting down an area for themselves if they considered mount Ephraim to be too small a territory. The phrase 'cut down' is explained in verse 18. The land that was in question must have been densely populated with trees and to make it habitable these had to be cut down.

Joshua was taking their statement and asking to prove how great they actually were. It was one thing to lay claim to being an important people. It was altogether another thing to show their greatness. It is as if Joshua was saying that they should not just open their mouths and make great (some would say outrageous) claims but that they should prove their greatness.

Perizzite occurs 23 times in scripture and means 'belonging to a village'.

16. There is no talk of mountains and trees here but rather of valleys and chariots. Joshua has not mentioned anything about valleys and chariots. If they wanted more land they were going have to reclaim unusable land in the mountains and dwell there. There may be Perizzites to overcome. There may also be giants to overcome but a 'great' people should have no difficulty. The children of Joseph had other ideas. They wanted land that was habitable and that did not even have the difficulty of chariots of iron running around in them such as the chariots that belonged to the then present inhabitants of Bethshean and Jezreel.

17-18. But Joshua does not cave in to their demands. The territory had in mind for them remained the same. If they needed more land as they claimed then they would have to reclaim land. It would not be handed to them on a plate. This people were twelve tribes not just one. Imagine the chaos if all tribes had considered their importance worthy of a mention to Joshua. Joshua never told these people that they were not greater than any others but that in order to show their greatness they would have to become tree fellers and also to drive out the Canaanites who were parading up and down the valleys in their iron chariots.


Lay hold on the promises of God as the women did at the beginning of the chapter.

Don't think ourselves to be that important that the blessings that we enjoy should be handed to us on a plate. If we allow our pride to get in the way there will be no blessing at all. There may be the equivalent of woods to cut down and chariots to deal with until we are in the good of all that God has for us as Christians.