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v. 1. Then, namely, at some time after the conquest of Canaan, probably after the division of the land was completed, Joshua called the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh, the soldiers out of these tribes, who had served in the army of Israel during these years of conquest, Joshua 1:12-Ezra :,
v. 2. and said unto them, Ye have kept all that Moses, the servant of the Lord, commanded you, Numbers 32:20; Deuteronomy 3:18, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you, to which they had agreed before the people passed over Jordan.
v. 3. Ye have not left your brethren these many days unto this day, having been thoroughly loyal to the obligations of relationship, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord, your God. All this the praise of Joshua duly acknowledges, as an encouragement to further efforts in unselfish assistance.
v. 4. And now the Lord, your God, hath given rest unto your brethren, as He promised them; therefore, now, return ye, and get you unto your tents, a standing expression for returning home, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses, the servant of the Lord, gave you on the other side Jordan, Numbers 32:33; Deuteronomy 29:8.
v. 5. But take diligent heed, watch with the greatest carefulness, to do the commandment and the Law, both that of the general Moral Law and that of the special precepts given to Israel, which Moses, the servant of the Lord, charged you, to love the Lord, your God, and to walk in all His ways, and to keep His commandments, and to cleave unto Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. This parting admonition of Joshua shows his understanding of the human heart with its changeableness, deceitfulness, and wickedness. Cf Deuteronomy 4:2-Joel :; Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 8:6.
v. 6. So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away, dismissed them honorably; and they went unto their tents, they started for their homes on the east side of Jordan.
v. 7. Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh, to the children of Machir, Moses had given possession in Bashan; but unto the other half thereof gave Joshua among their brethren on this side Jordan westward. This is here repeated in order to make the situation perfectly clear, according to the ancient style of Hebrew narrative. And when Joshua sent them away also unto their tents, then he blessed them,
v. 8. and he spake unto them, saying, Return with much riches, their share of the booty of the wars, unto your tents, and with very much cattle, with silver, and with gold, and with brass, and with iron, and with very much raiment, for the cities of the Canaanites which they had captured, beginning with Ai, had contained great treasures, all of which fell into the hands of the invaders. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren, namely, the sixty to seventy thousand who had remained to garrison the cities east of Jordan and to protect the homes and the herds of the two and one half tribes while the conquest of Canaan proper was going on.
v. 9. And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go unto the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, whereof they were possessed, according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses, Numbers 32:20-Song of Solomon :. That is the important thing, not only to come to the Lord, but to continue in His Word, to love Him with all one's heart, and with all one's soul, and with all one's mind, and to show this love in one's entire life.
The Building of the Altar and the Investigation Following
v. 10. And when they came unto the borders of Jordan that are in the land of Canaan, the regions of Jordan, the valley proper of Jordan, in this case probably the eastern side, as the context seems to indicate, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by Jordan, on the very boundary line of their possession, a great altar to see to, great-looking, great in appearance, great as compared with other altars.
v. 11. And the children of Israel, the ten western tribes, heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of Canaan, in the borders, circles, regions, of Jordan, at the passage of the children of Israel, in the land opposite the sons of Israel.
v. 12. And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel, all the able-bodied men, gathered themselves together at Shiloh to go up to war against them, for they took the erection of this altar as an evidence of apostasy, as a transgression of God's precept concerning the unity of the altar of burnt offering, Leviticus 17:8-1 Samuel :; Deuteronomy 12:4-2 Chronicles :, and therefore prepared to carry out His command of extermination upon the apostate tribes, Deuteronomy 13.
v. 13. And the children of Israel sent unto the children of Reuben and to the children of Gad and to the half tribe of Manasseh, as the ordinance of Jehovah provided, Deuteronomy 13:14, into the land of Gilead, the general designation of the land east of Jordan, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the priest, who had once before distinguished himself by his zeal for the Lord,
v. 14. and with him ten princes, heads of father-houses, of each chief house a prince throughout all the tribes of Israel, that rank at least the men selected had to hold; and each one was an head of the house of their fathers among the thousands of Israel.
v. 15. And they came unto the children of Reuben and to the children of Gad and to the half tribe of Manasseh, unto the land of Gilead, and they spake with them, saying, Phinehas probably acting as the spokesman:
v. 16. Thus saith the whole congregation of the Lord, What trespass is this that ye have committed against the God of Israel, in open rebellion against Jehovah, to turn away this day from following the Lord, by an act of faithlessness and disloyalty, in that ye have builded you an altar, that ye might rebel this day against the Lord? Even though the language may be considered strong, the zeal which prompted it was, at any rate, praiseworthy, since the altar, although not built for a place of sacrifice, yet might easily be perverted to that use, and lead the whole people into the sin of idolatry. At all events, the two and one half tribes ought not to have undertaken the building of this altar without first consulting with Joshua or with the high priest.
v. 17. Is the iniquity of Peor, when the Midianite women seduced the men of Israel to adultery and idolatry, too little for us, from which we are not cleansed until this day, for it seems that many Israelites in their hearts were still idolaters, lacking only the courage to show their preference openly, although there was a plague in the congregation of the Lord, consuming a total of 24,000 people,
v. 18. but that ye must turn away this day from following the Lord? And it will be, seeing ye rebel today against the Lord, that tomorrow He will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel, for Jehovah would hold all the tribes responsible for the defection of those east of Jordan.
v. 19. Notwithstanding, and indeed, if the land of your possession be unclean, making it necessary for them to have an altar for the expiation of sins in their immediate neighborhood, then pass ye over unto the land of the possession of the Lord, Canaan proper, west of Jordan, wherein the Lord's Tabernacle dwelleth, and take possession among us; but rebel not against the Lord, nor rebel against us, in building you an altar beside the altar of the Lord, our God, who had commanded that the altar of the Tabernacle should be the only one erected for His worship and would seriously punish the erection of any altar to another god.
v. 20. Did not Achan, the son of Zerah, commit a trespass in the accursed thing, in taking of spoil devoted to Jehovah, Joshua 7:1-Deuteronomy :, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? And that man perished not alone in his iniquity, since not only his children were involved, but also, through the unfortunate attack on Ai, the entire congregation. Thus did the ten tribes voice their zeal for Jehovah through their delegates.
The Explanation made and Accepted
v. 21. Then the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh answered, in defending themselves against the reproach and charge made against them, and said unto the heads of the thousands of Israel,
v. 22. The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, or, God, God Jehovah, repeated for the sake of impressiveness, in the form of a solemn oath, He knoweth, and Israel, he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the Lord, or, Surely not in rebellion and surely not in disloyalty toward Jehovah was this done. And in order to remove every doubt concerning the truth of their assertion, they include an imprecation upon themselves in case their words should be found false: (Save us not this day,) namely, if it was done in apostasy. The oath is now continued,
v. 23. That we have built us an altar to turn from following the Lord, with idolatrous intention, or if to offer thereon burnt offering or meat-offering, or if to offer peace-offerings thereon, in flagrant disobedience against the Lord's command, let the Lord Himself require it, by visiting the transgressors with His punishment;
v. 24. and if we have not rather done it for fear of this thing, saying, In time to come your children, those of the Israelites west of Jordan, might speak unto our children, saying, What have ye to do with the Lord God of Israel?
v. 25. For the Lord hath made Jordan a border between us and you, ye children of Reuben and children of Gad; ye have no part in the Lord; so shall your children make our children cease from fearing the Lord. So it was their anxiety for their children and for the latter's possible exclusion from the worship of Jehovah, the true God, which had prompted the two and one half tribes to erect the great altar on the bank of the Jordan.
v. 26. Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice,
v. 27. but that it may be a witness between us and you and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the Lord before Him, have the right to appear at the Tabernacle and worship Jehovah, with our burnt offerings and with our sacrifices and with our peace-offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, Ye have no part in the Lord.
v. 28. Therefore said we that it shall be, when they should so say to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say again, Behold the pattern, copy, likeness, of the altar of the Lord which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between us and you.
v. 29. God forbid that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn this day from following the Lord, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat-offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the Lord, our God, that is before His Tabernacle. So this copy of Jehovah's altar was simply to serve as a witness of the fact that the tribes on both sides of Jordan worshiped the same God.
v. 30. And when Phinehas, the priest, and the princes of the congregation and heads of the thousands of Israel which were with him heard the words that the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the children of Manasseh spake, it pleased them, the explanation satisfied them in every way.
v. 31. And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the priest, said unto the children of Reuben and to the children of Gad and to the children of Manasseh, This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, the entire nation, because ye have not committed this trespass against the Lord, the disloyalty of which the western tribes suspected them; now ye have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord, for He would surely have visited the iniquity of the offending tribes upon the whole people if they had been guilty.
v. 32. And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the priest, and the princes returned from the children of Reuben and from the children of Gad out of the land of Gilead, east of Jordan, unto the Land of Canaan, the Land of Promise in the narrower sense, to the children of Israel, the ten western tribes, and brought them word again.
v. 33. And the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel blessed God, thanking Him for adjusting the matter in such a satisfactory way, and did not intend, had no further thought, to go up against them in battle, to destroy, devastate, the land wherein the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.
v. 34. And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed; for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God. The entire sentence served as the name of the altar, for it should be regarded as a continual witness, for all times, that the tribes east of Jordan also accepted Jehovah as the one true God. It is well-pleasing to God if Christians are zealous for His honor, but He also expects us to discuss matters which may lead to quarrels in a proper, brotherly manner, lest we harm some one by an unjust suspicion.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Joshua 22". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11