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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 22

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-6

Joshua - Chapter 22

Two and a Half Tribes Dismissed, vs. 1-6

The time had arrived at last for the warriors of the two and a half tribes from east of the Jordan to return to their possessions there. How long they had been away from their families helping to conquer Canaan, and whether or not there were any furlough home during that time, cannot be known from the record. It had been at least five years since the crossing of the Jordan to the time that Judah received its possession, as is evidenced by the words of Caleb to Joshua (Joshua 14:7-11). Caleb gave his age as forty when he went to spy out Canaan. There had been forty years of wandering for Israel in the wilderness, making eighty. Now when he asked for his inheritance Caleb had reached the age of eighty-five, so they had been five years in Canaan. Some scholars assign a period of about seven years for the conquest of Canaan. Perhaps this is about right. Our curiosity is not appeased as to what had gone on with the families left in the eastern cities while their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers went in the vanguard of the Israelite army of conquest in Canaan.

Joshua’s commendation of these men has several good points: 1) they had done everything they promised Moses they would do; 2) they had been subordinate to Joshua in all his commands; 3) they had faithfully stayed by their brothers of the other tribes through the conquest; 4) they had done all that the Lord required of them. Now the Lord had given all the tribes rest from their wars and their enemies, so Joshua gives these men leave to return to their tents and prepare for their return homeward.

Joshua admonished the two and a half tribes to 1) diligently strive to keep the commandments of the law; 2) to walk in the ways of the Lord, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with undivided heart and soul. Joshua dismissed them with his blessing.

Verses 7-10

Returning Home, vs. 7-10

The division of the tribe of Manasseh, with one part receiving possession in Canaan and the other in the lands east of Jordan is mentioned in the beginning. Those in the east are now leaving with the two full tribes of Reuben and Gad.

The substance of Joshua’s blessing of them is given in verse 8. The mention of very much riches, consisting of cattle, silver, gold, brass, iron, and raiment, shows that the Israelite soldiers profited handsomely by the conquest of the Canaanite people.

An immense amount of wealth had been received by them, and Joshua’s blessing on it shows the Lord’s will in it. Joshua also admonished them to divide this rich spoil with their brethren who had not come to war with them. This would include the older men left behind and those who were too young when the campaign began.

Their point of departure was Shiloh, where the tabernacle had been set up. These departing men must have felt that they were about to isolate themselves from most of Israel and the tabernacle, and perhaps it was a matter of discussion as they went on their way.

This is indicated by the fact that they stopped at the Jordan, on the Canaan side of the river, and built a large altar which all who came by would see without fail.

Verses 11-20

Hearsay Disturbance, vs. 11-20

This passage opens with a statement containing two words which have caused untold sorrow and harm to God’s people and His churches, "heard say."

There is much to learn from this incident. First, the tribes of Reuben and Gad and half tribe of Manasseh were guilty of unwise actions. Without explanation they had erected a huge altar, where the Israelites had crossed over Jordan on dry ground, without explanation to the other tribes.

It looked like they were putting up an altar in competition with the memorial the Lord had erected there to commemorate the crossing of Jordan, (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:22).

The second mistake was on the part of the other tribes who hastily jumped to conclusions about the altar without first investigating. In fact, they became very belligerent about it, and gathered their warriors back to Shiloh to go to war against the two and a half tribes.

But cool heads prevailed, seemingly through the young priest, Phinehas, who had once before saved the day by his quick action. This was back at Baal-peor before they crossed the Jordan, when his action stemmed the stroke of God’s judgment for Israel’s fornication with the Midianite prostitutes (Numbers 25:6 ff ).

A delegation of chief men from the western tribes, headed by Phinehas, was sent to deal with the two and a half tribes concerning their questionable altar.

The message began with a question, "What kind of trespass had they committed by building this altar?" Was it to turn them away from serving the Lord that they had done it? Then they pled the judgment of Baal-peor as a negative example of what happens to those who rebel against the law of God.

The scars of that judgment were still numerous in missing family members in their tribes who died for it.

The delegation’s second point was around the example of Achan and Ai. They were apt to involve all the tribes in God’s wrath by their rebellion against Him just as had Achan when he stole the gold, silver, and precious garment from Jericho.

That had resulted in the defeat at Ai, wherein thirty-six men had died because of Achan’s transgression (Joshua 7:1-5).

If the two and half tribes felt cut off from the remainder and felt the land they had been allotted unclean, and so had built the altar in testimony of that, then they were invited to remove themselves across to the west side of Jordan and take a possession among the western tribes.

Verses 21-29

Tribal Defense, vs. 21-29

The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh answered the charges of their brethren with emphatic denial of wrongful intent in the building of their altar.

They called on the Lord God of gods as witness that they had no such intention as they were being indicted for. They were not rebels against the Lord, nor had they intended any transgression of His law.

In fact, the very contrary had been their purpose, to preserve the true worship of the Lord among their descendants. Their thought had been that, the Jordan being a border between themselves and the remaining tribes, and being thus cut off from the tabernacle by it, circumstances might arise to estrange their children. They had feared that the children of the western tribes might deprive their brethren of the eastern tribes from access to the tabernacle. The altar they had built was not intended to offer burnt offerings of sacrifices on, but as a memorial altar that the God of the western tribes was also the God of their tribes.

It would be a witness that the tribes were united in the worship of the Lord God of Israel. If in some future time attempt should be made to accuse their children of not worshipping the true God they could point to the great altar their fathers had erected as witness to the contrary.

Verses 30-34

Reconciliation, vs. 30-34

Trouble was averted because cool heads sought out reason before resorting to war, and because God’s man took the initiative. The delegation was pleased, Phinehas was satisfied as to their innocence of the charges, and when they returned to Canaan the rest of the people were satisfied.

Thus they ceased all preparations to war against their brethren. It goes without having been said that the Lord was satisfied too. Everyone was satisfied that no rebellion or transgression had ever been intended or even suggested. Someone with a rumor had almost caused civil war in Israel when they had but shortly finished their conquest of their enemies. (Proverbs 26:20-22).

The altar came to be called Ed. The Hebrew word is edh, and means "a witness," "for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God." So the lesson of this newest heap of stones erected by the Israelites shows the need for unity and understanding among God’s people, (Philippians 2:2).

Some lessons to be stressed from this chapter include 1) There comes a time for rewarding to God’s faithful warriors; 2) it is dangerous to commit things which might be questionable in the minds of brethren; 3) before reaching a conclusion concerning the acts of brethren one should seek out the facts; 4) cool heads to seek the will of the Lord should be allowed to overrule the hasty hotheads; 5) understanding, carefully arrived at, brings much peace and satisfaction to the soul.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Joshua 22". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/joshua-22.html. 1985.
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