Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Manasseh, as the "first-born," was to receive not only the territory on the east of Jordan won by the valor of the Machirites, but also a portion with the other tribes on the west of Jordan, the holy land of promise strictly so called. Thus, though Ephraim took precedence of Manasseh, according to the prediction of Joseph Gen 48:20, yet Manasseh received "the double portion" which was the special privilege of the first-born Deu 21:17.
For the rest ... - i. e. for those who were not settled on the east of Jordan.
Ten portions - i. e. five for the five families descended from the male children of Gilead, and five others for the five daughters of Zelophehad, who represented the sixth family, the Hepherites.
Asher - Not the tribe so called, but a place somewhere toward the eastern end of the boundary line here drawn: perhaps "Teyasir," on the road from Sichem to Beth-shean.
These cities ... - The text is possibly corrupt. The intention seems to be to state that the cities lying south of the river, though within the limits of Manasseh, were in fact made over to Ephraim, and were among the "separate cities" Jos 16:9. On the contrary, the north bank of the river, both land and towns, belonged to Manasseh exclusively.
Southward - i. e. of the river Kanah.
Render, "they (i. e. the two kindred tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the northern border being treated here as common to the two) reached unto Asher." (See the map.) The northern border is only indicated in general terms, perhaps because the Israelites were not yet completely masters of this part of the country, and so had not precisely determined it.
Perhaps Beth-shean (in Issachar) and the other five towns (in Asher) were given to the Manassites in compensation for towns in the Manassite territory allotted to the Ephraimites. (See Jos 17:9. Compare Jos 21:9.) To the wall of Beth-shean, or Bethshah ("Beisan," about 5 miles west of the Jordan), the bodies of Saul and his sons were fastened by the Philistines after the battle on Mount Gilboa. After the exile it received the Greek name of Scythopolis, perhaps because it was principally tenanted by a rude and pagan population, styled in contempt Scythians. It was a border city of Galilee, and the chief town of the Decapolis. In Christian times it was the see of a bishop, who is enumerated as present at Nicaea and other Councils of the Church.
Ibleam (Bileam, Ch1 6:70), perhaps "Jelameh," was a Levitical town (Jos 21:25 note). Near this place Ahaziah was mortally wounded by Jehu (Kg2 9:27), and fled to Megiddo, which was no doubt not far distant.
Three countries - Rather "the three hills." The district belonging to the last-mentioned three towns had a common name, derived no doubt from its natural features, and was called "the three hills." Compare Decapolis, Tripolis, etc.
Seeing I am a great people - The assertion can hardly have been warranted by facts, for at the census Num. 26 the two tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim together were not greatly more numerous than the single tribe of Judah; and now that half the Manassites were provided for on the eastern side of Jordan, the remaining children of Joseph could hardly be stronger than the Danites or the Issacharites. The children of Joseph seem therefore to exhibit here that arrogant and jealous spirit which elsewhere characterises their conduct (Jdg 8:1; Jdg 12:1; Sa2 19:41; Ch2 28:7 etc.). A glance at the map shows that their complaint was in itself unreasonable. Their territory, which measured about 55 miles by 70 miles, was at least as large in proportion to their numbers as that of any other tribe, and moreover comprehended some of the most fertile of the whole promised land.
Joshua was himself of the tribe of Ephraim, but far from supporting the demands of his kinsmen he reproves them, and calls upon them to make good their great words by corresponding deeds of valor. He bids them clear the country of its woods and thus make room for settling their people. The "wood country" means probably the range which runs along the northern border of Manasseh, and which connects the mountains of Gilboa with Carmel. Mount Ephraim, (a name perhaps used by anticipation) called "the hill" Jos 17:16, and "the mountain of Israel" Jos 11:16, is the eastern portion of the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh extending toward the Jordan. This was a hilly, though by no means barren, district.
The possession by the Canaanites of chariots strengthened and tipped with iron, such as were used by the Egyptians Exo 14:7, is named here by the children of Joseph as a reason why they could not possess themselves of the plains. "The valley of Jezreel" is the broad low valley which sweeps from "Zerin" between the mountains of Gilboa and the range of little Hermon eastward down to the Jordan. It was most likely in this valley that the host of the Midianites was encamped, when attacked by Gideon Jdg 7:1, Jdg 7:8. The great plain of Jezreel, called the plain of Esdraelon (Esdrelom, Judith 1:8), extends from Carmel on the west to the hills of Gilboa, little Hermon, and Tabor on the east, a distance of full sixteen miles; and its breadth between the rocky mass of southern Palestine and the bolder mountains of Galilee on the north, is about twelve miles. Its position as well as its open area make it the natural battlefield of Palestine.
Thou shalt not have one lot only - i. e. by dispossessing the Canaanites, thou shalt double the portion of land at thy disposal. The "but" with which the King James Version begins Jos 17:18 should be "for."