The Inheritance of the Tribes and the Story of Othniel and Achsah
We come now to a portion of the Book of Joshua which, while it would richly repay careful and minute examination, we must pass over cursorily because of the nature of these messages. In chapters 15 to 19 we have the account of the division of the land west of the Jordan among the nine and one-half tribes that had not chosen to remain in the country of Bashan and the land of Gilead on the east side of the river, as had the two and one-half tribes, who found there such fine accommodation for pasturing their great herds of cattle. They preferred to settle down in the countries taken from Og, king of Bashan and Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Moses gave them that permission, as we have seen, providing their warriors went into the land to help their brethren against the Canaanites.
The tribe of Judah had the first portion. Their inheritance was in the high country, adjacent to, and south and west of Jerusalem. Judah was the royal tribe and was honored of God in a very special way, but the other tribes also had their portion in different parts of the land, each one having its own particular values, but divided by the casting of lots. In the book of Proverbs we read “The lot is cast into the lap; the who disposing thereof is of the Lord.” He directed Joshua to use this method, doubtless in order to avoid what might have seemed like partiality in giving the tribes their inheritances. That there are great spiritual lessons to be learned from these records there can be no question. Others have gone into this in a way we cannot attempt here, notably, God’s honored servant Mr. F.W. Grant, who in his enlightening notes on these passages in the Numerical Bible series has shown that the Hebrew names of the cities, towns and districts all have remarkable significance, and when translated help us to understand more fully something of the richness and preciousness of our inheritance in the heavenly places in Christ; for we need to remember that “all these things were written for our learning” and are types of what God has given us to enjoy in this present age of grace.
It is pathetic, however, to note that tribe after tribe failed to make a full end of their enemies and so were obliged to permit these Canaanites to dwell among the Israelites. All this was but a compromise and compromise with evil never pays. In days to come, these foes who had been spared when they should have been exterminated, either became a snare to the people of God by leading them off into idolatry, or else wrought great havoc by their warlike behavior, attacking and often destroying cities and farms of the Israelites who had permitted them to remain unmolested among them. God had warned them of this beforehand, telling them that those who were not destroyed would be thorns in their sides and would cause them untold trouble.
Concerning Judah we read in chapter 15:63: “As for the Jebusites and inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out: but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day.” Then in chapter 16:10, we learn that the children of Joseph “drove not out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer: but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites unto this day, and serve under tribute.” Of Manasseh, the children of the elder son of Joseph, we are told that they “could not drive out the inhabitants of their cities, but the Canaanites would dwell in the land. 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.”
In spite of their failure, we find these children of Joseph grumbling because they had only one lot and one portion to inherit; whereas they declared they were “a great people!” Joshua’s answer was fitting indeed: “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.” Still these children of Joseph were not satisfied, but they replied: “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 vally of Jezreel.” To this Joshua answered somewhat ironically perhaps: “Thou art a great people, and hast great power: thou shalt not have one lot only: 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.”
We may well learn from the failures of Israel to beware lest we ourselves fail to judge every evil thing that Satan would use to hinder our enjoyment of the things of Christ. We are called to deal unsparingly with every unholy thought and every sinful tendency, cleansing ourselves from “all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” It is only thus that we can appreciate truly and enjoy in the way God would have us, the great privileges and manifold blessings He has bestowed upon us. Sin unjudged results in weakness and loss of communion, which can only be restored as we face the sin in the presence of God, confessing and forsaking it, and thus obtaining mercy and the assurance that all is forgiven.
But now let us turn back and consider briefly an incident that shines out brightly in the midst of all these long lists of Hebrew names, which to many of us seem almost unintelligible. We have already considered the energy of faith as seen in Caleb, the wholehearted. He comes before us again in the 13th verse of chapter 15, where we read:
“And unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh he gave a part among the children of Judah, according to the commandment of the Lord to Joshua, even the city of Arba the father of Anak, which city is Hebron. And Caleb drove thence the three sons of Anak, Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai, the children of Anak. And he went up thence to the inhabitants of Debir: and the name of Debir before was Kirjath-sepher.” Kirjath-sepher means the city of the book. It was probably so named because an ancient library was located there. Its name was changed later to Debir, which means the oracle of the word, and suggests that Word of God through which He speaks directly to His people. Caleb’s energy set a splendid example to younger men and this comes out clearly in what follows. We are told in verse 16: “And Caleb said, he that smiteth Kirjath-sepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife.” Achsah means “anklet,” and, as other have suggested, speaks of the decorated foot, reminding us of the word in the prophecy of Isaiah, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace.” In Ephesians 6 the soldier of Christ is commanded to have his feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. Surely, no lovlier decoration could be found for any foot than this.
In response to Caleb’s challenge, we are told that Othniel, his nephew, took Kirjath-sepher, and thus the city of the book, or the Word, became his inheritance. In accordance with his promise, Caleb gave him Achsah to be his wife. Thus the cousins were united. Achsah suggested to her husband that he ask of her father a field, a petition which Caleb readily granted, but the young woman realized that a field without water was practically worthless; so she herself approached her father in an attitude of supplication. In response to his inquiry, “What wouldest thou?” she replied, “Give me a blessing, for thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water;” and we are told that Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs. This is all very suggestive. A believer may have rich treasure indeed in the fact that the oracles of God are committed to him, but he can only enjoy to the full this blessed gift of God when the Holy Spirit is given in power to open up the truth to him. In this dispensation of grace the Spirit dwells in every believer. He is likened by our Lord Jesus to a fountain of living water springing up in the heart. It is as we appreciate and value the work of the Holy Spirit that we enjoy the refreshing influences which flow from His acknowledged presence. May the faith of Othniel and of Achsah be duplicated in us, we who through grace have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. May we be so yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit that He will make very real to us the precious things of Christ, and thus give us to enjoy our inheritance to the full.