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Friday, May 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 22

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-9


Joshua 22:1 to Joshua 24:33

Following a sweeping summary at the end of chapter 21 (vss. 43-45)—obviously somewhat overstated in view of the clear evidence that at Joshua’s death much land was yet unconquered and fierce battles with the inhabitants of the land still lay ahead—the text of the book turns from border and city lists to narratives concerning the post-Conquest acts of Joshua.

The Dismissal of the Transjordan Tribes (22:1-9)

According to 13:1, Joshua undertook the division of the land when he was "old and advanced in years." Chapter 22 seems to reflect a much earlier period, immediately after the smashing initial campaigns of Joshua and his troops. It is hardly likely that the Transjordan tribes would have remained west of the Jordan until Joshua was old—especially since their wives and children were in their allotted lands east of the Jordan (1:14).

The situation described here is then this: the warriors of the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh have completed their service of assisting their brethren in the conquest of the land west of the Jordan. They are now ready to return and work out their destiny in the lands allotted to them by Moses.

In a parting address to these warriors at Shiloh (vs. 9), where the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant are now located, Joshua first commends them for their fidelity to the service required of them by Moses (vss. 2-3) and then exhorts them to obey all the laws of Moses and to cleave with all their heart and soul to the exclusive worship of the Lord (vs. 5). Following a blessing by Joshua, they start out for their new homes.

Verses 10-34

The Altar of Witness at the Jordan (22:10-34)

The story of the erecting of the altar at the Jordan by the re-turning tribes is full of human interest and pathos. It appears that the altar was patterned in love and adoration after the altar of the Lord at Shiloh (vs. 28), though it may have been somewhat larger (vs. 10). Its purpose was entirely misunderstood. It was meant to be a memorial altar, to remind posterity of the unity of the tribes on both sides of the Jordan in the bonds of brotherhood and worship of the common Lord. But its purpose was taken to be exactly the opposite: to set up a rival worship at a new center and thus to divide the tribes and nullify the Covenant they had so recently entered into together. The report aroused the western tribes to a white heat of resentment, to the point where they actually were ready to wage war against the brethren who so loyally had helped them in the western campaigns.

Fortunately, a delegation was sent to find out the true motives: ten chiefs representing the nine and one-half tribes and the priest Phinehas, the latter probably representing the Levites. Phinehas is known in Old Testament narratives as zealous for the Lord and actively hostile to pagan practices. He is said to have thrust a spear through the bodies of an Israelite and a Midianite woman and thus to have stayed a plague sent by the Lord on Israel be-cause of unlawful intercourse (literal and figurative) with the Midianites (Numbers 25:6-18). But even this zealot for pure religion was satisfied, after investigation, that the motive in the erection of the altar was good and legitimate (vss. 30-34).

The story is told to drive home several points: the absolute importance of the worship of one God at one sanctuary—the dominant motif of the Books of Deuteronomy and Joshua; the utter folly of idolatry ("Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor [Numbers 25] from which even yet we have not cleansed our-selves . . . ?"—vs. 17); and the importance of seeing both sides of the Jordan, not merely the western, as the Lord’s land.

The story illustrates the foibles of human nature. How easily people misinterpret the motives of others! How quickly they turn from warm comradeship in a common enterprise to suspicion and bitter hostility! It counsels us to be slow to judge and quick to investigate.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Joshua 22". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/joshua-22.html.
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