But Joshua said to the tribes of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh—“You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours.”
Joshua 17:17-18 (NIV)
The land of Iowa that has always been my home in this life journey is among the most abundant farmland in the world. Even though I grew up in Iowa’s largest city and there were no farmers in my immediate family, farming is a part of life when you grow up here. Saturday mornings were all about watching cartoons as a kid, but I had to endure the U.S. Farm Report before the cartoons started.
As an adult, I’ve been friends with many people who did grow up on farms and in multi-generation farm families. Listening to their stories, I began to appreciate some of the larger issues that farm families have to deal with. Perhaps the largest issue for any farm family is the land.
Along my life journey, I have heard so many stories of families torn apart by disputes over the family farm and land. I’ve heard more than one person tell me that their family dutifully went to church every Sunday, but the land of the family farm was the idol, the god, that the entire family system worshipped. I’ve watched grown men weep as they talk about the relational carnage and emotional scars they carry because of the way the inheritance of the family farm was handled. Others have told me about close relatives who have harbored lingering hatred towards them over family land disputes.
The Teacher of Ecclesiastes wisely said that there’s nothing new under the sun. So, I shouldn’t be surprised that as the Promised Land is divided among the twelve Hebrew tribes that there would have been conflicts that arose over the division of the land. In today’s chapter, the tribes of Joseph grumble and complain that they haven’t been given enough land.
As I sat and pondered their complaint in the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder at the brashness of the complaint. Among the twelve tribes of Israel, Joseph had two of them (his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacob’s grandsons, whom he adopted as sons). In essence, the two tribes of Joseph already had twice the inheritance as any of Jacob’s other sons. What’s more, they were given preferential treatment. After Judah, they were the first to receive their allotment. Other tribes have yet to be allotted any land yet, and the Joseph tribes are already complaining that they don’t have enough. Beyond that, they complained that the land allotted to them had fortified Canaanite cities that had chariots that were technologically advanced in their day and they didn’t want to have to deal with driving them out. So, I translate their request as “give us more land that will be easier for us to settle.”
Joseph was the favorite. It leads me to wonder if the family pattern was that his descendants retained the attitude and sense of entitlement that often accompanies favored children.
This makes Joshua’s reply to Joseph’s tribes even more fascinating. In essence, he tells them that they’re stuck with the land allotted, and they can have all the land they want beyond their allotment, but they have to conquer it and claim it for themselves.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that I and my family have never had to deal with internal inheritance and land disputes. At the same time, I have to confess that as I point my finger at Joseph’s tribes this morning there are three of my fingers pointing back at me. There are many ways that selfishness and entitlement reveal themselves in life. There are many other things in life that become just as much of an idol as farmland.
Jesus taught a lot about being content with one’s circumstances on this Earth. It’s a subject I rarely hear talked about or discussed in a culture of entitlement and an economy fueled by discontentment. But, as a disciple of Jesus, I can’t ignore the lesson.
And so, I enter another day of labor choosing on this day to be grateful, diligent, and content.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.