Joshua 18:1-20; 22:1-9: The Land Divided
Now that the land was conquered, the tabernacle must be set up. Who remembers the tabernacle, the sacred tent which the children of Israel made in the wilderness? Do you remember how it was built, its rooms and court, how its walls and roof were made? What shut in the court? What was the tabernacle for? What was kept in its inmost chamber? What in its outer chamber? What in the open court? It was the Lord's house and the place of worship. The tabernacle had stood in the middle of the camp, and its place now should be near the middle of the land at Shiloh. Shiloh means "rest" or "peace." It was a quiet place, a little off the main line of travel. Our little picture shows a farmer plowing in a field near Shiloh. The people would now come to the tabernacle at Shiloh with their offerings to worship the Lord.
The first meeting of the people at Shiloh was for those tribes which did not already know their homes to learn where their homes should be. They drew lots, using perhaps small tablets of wood or stone. The Lord guided the lots and in this way showed what part of the country each tribe should have. There were twelve tribes. Do you remember the names of any of them? Tell me the name of a tribe and I will show you on the map where it found its home. Does someone ask for the tribe of Levi? The members of this tribe were priests. They were needed everywhere, so they were given no part of the country for their own but were given certain towns in all the tribes. Now let me ask you a few things. Two tribes and a half had asked to make their homes east of Jordan and had been told that they might do so if they would first help their brethren of the other tribes to fight their battles. They had done this and now they might have the homes they wanted east of Jordan. Which tribes were these? Have you a map that shows you Bethlehem? What tribe was it in? "Bethlehem in the land of Judah." That helps you to remember where the tribe of Judah lived. Now you know the homes of several tribes. When all the tribes had learned their places, they went from Shiloh to their homes, some to the south and some to the north and some to the east of Jordan.
Two things are asked of us in this lesson. First, to remember about the tabernacle which was made in the wilderness; for now the land was at rest and the tabernacle was set up at Shiloh. Can you find Shiloh (meaning "rest" or "peace"), near the middle of the land, a little southeast of Shechem? Who can draw us a plan of the tabernacle, showing the most holy chamber, the holy chamber and the court? Can someone else tell us how the tabernacle was made, its walls and roof, and the fence about the court? Can someone else take the chalk and put the furniture into our picture, into each chamber and the court? The tabernacle was the center of worship for the people, in a small way what the temple at Jerusalem was at a later time. We read of Samuel's father, that he "went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh," and we shall always remember the little Samuel helping Eli at the tabernacle in Shiloh.
We learn today of a gathering of the tribes in Shiloh, that seven tribes who had not yet found their homes might learn where their homes should be. Lots were drawn before the Lord "at the door of the tabernacle." (Joshua 19:51) Perhaps tablets of wood or stone were used, such as could be thrown into the lap of one's robe. (Prov. 16:33) It is worth while for us to learn the positions of the tribes; they are so often referred to in the story. It is not hard to do; there are only twelve of them, and some of these you know already; for example, the two tribes and a half given homes east of Jordan.
Suppose I draw a rude map of the land on the blackboard, putting in a few landmarks like the Jordan River, with the sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, Mount Carmel, Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, with Shechem at the center of the map, Jerusalem opposite the head of the Dead Sea - that may be enough. Now from a map that shows the tribes I rudely draw their boundaries, talking a little about them to note where they fall. Judah in the south, including Bethlehem; Benjamin, including Jerusalem (Did you know that Jerusalem was in Benjamin?); Shiloh was in Ephraim, and Shechem in Manasseh. Note that Issachar falls in the beautiful plain of Esdraelon, north of Mount Carmel; and Zebulun where Nazareth was in the hills of Galilee just north of the plain. Put the initial letter of each tribe within its boundary, and now let the children name them as we skip about over the map. What is the use of having these letters? Rub them out carefully, leaving the boundaries, and we find that as I point we can name the tribes just as well. Do we really need these boundaries? We rub them out and try it without, them.
It grows quite exciting, and the names of the tribes come quickly as I point to Bethlehem, to the hills of Galilee above Esdraelon, to Shechem, to Shiloh, with now and then a jump beyond Jordan, and to Jerusalem. Who says it is hard to learn the tribes and their places in the land? Try it in another way. Take a map of the Holy Land, with crosses marking the central point of each tribe. Notice the crosses and tell the tribe in which each cross is. But wait, where is the tribe of Levi? Have we left it out? Where were the Levites to live? And another question: If Levi had no allotment, how is it that there are still twelve tribes having allotments in the land? In fact, I count thirteen crosses on the map. Who can account for that?
When all the people had learned their allotments, they went from Shiloh to their homes. Which tribes went across the Jordan? Something happened in connection with the going of these tribes to their homes, which almost made serious trouble. It was a misunderstanding and was brought out happily. Sometime at home read the whole of Joshua 22 and get the story.
The tabernacle is at Shiloh; the land is at peace.
Keep the thought that we have had about the meaning of Canaan and what the conquest of the land is for us under our Joshua, our Savior Jesus. When conflicts are over, every faculty and every power of life finds its place and use and blessing. This is like the finding of their places by the tribes. Also there is a picture here of the leading of each of us by the Lord to our place and use in heaven, a place known only to the Lord. Remember that the names of the tribes are written on the gates of the holy city. (Rev. 21:12; E. 431)
Canaan represents a spiritual life and heaven. We have had a few thoughts about the meaning of certain parts of the land. The central hills and Jerusalem represent the most interior and holy states, and the low-lying plains by the sea and by the Jordan represent more external worldly states. The country beyond Jordan represents natural interests and pleasures, physical rest and recreation, which are good and blessed as they are made helpful to the heavenly life. (E. 700; A. 1585, 4539)
We find help in study of the tribes when we remember that Jacob's sons in the order of their birth represent successive developments of heavenly life, from childlike states through states of mature life to those which are more spiritual. The first sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; and these represent childlike states. Glancing at the map, we see these tribes together in the southern part of the land. Here was Bethlehem, where the Lord was born.
After the first group of sons come others which represent maturer states of rational development, of conflict, of victory, of joyful usefulness. These are Dan, Naphtali and Gad; Asher, Issachar and Zebulun. And we find this group of tribes together in the north. (Dan seems more in place after it moved to a home in the far north, Judges 18.) Here was Galilee, where the Lord lived as a youth and man and did most of His life's work.
Two other sons remain: Joseph and Benjamin. And they represent the last developed and most heavenly states. The homes of these tribes (Joseph represented by Manasseh and Ephraim) bring us back to the border of Judah, as spiritual life brings us again near to the states of childhood. Here is Jerusalem, the crown of all, where the Lord's work was finished.
The study here suggested is carried out with more detail, and with many references to Swedenborg, in The Language of Parable, the chapter on Palestine.