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THE GOING HOME OF THE EASTERN TRIBES
Joshua 22:1. Then Joshua called] “As the return of the armed men belonging to the two tribes and a half is only described in general terms, by ‘âz,’ as occurring somewhere about the same time as the events related before, it would not be at all at variance with the text to suppose that they were dismissed immediately after the conclusion of the wars. But such an assumption is disproved by Joshua 22:9, where they are said to have been dismissed from Shiloh, to which the Israelites only proceeded during the distribution of the land (chap. Joshua 18:1), by Joshua 22:12, and also by the fact that their presence was necessary when the Levitical cities were selected, for this concerned them as much as the other tribes.” [Keil.]
Joshua 22:4. Get you unto your tents] It is not necessary to suppose that the cities of Eastern Palestine needed rebuilding before the two and a half tribes could exchange their tents for houses. The people had been so long used to dwelling in tents, that very many years elapsed before this phrase was entirely discarded (1 Kings 8:66; 1 Kings 12:16, etc.). The families of these 40,000 men, we are specially told in Numbers 32:10, were to retire to the fenced cities.
Joshua 22:5. The commandment and the law]=“The mitsvah and the torah.” Probably the former referred to special commandments given through Moses, Joshua, and other individual teachers; the latter, to the written law. given for their ordinary religious guidance.
Joshua 22:8. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren] Those who had remained in Eastern Palestine were to share in these riches. This was as God had already ordained (Numbers 31:27), and as David again instructed the people in after years (1 Samuel 30:24).
Joshua 22:9. The land of Canaan … the country of Gilead] Canaan is here put for Canaan proper, in opposition to Gilead, which stands for Gilead and Bashan, inclusively.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 22:1-9
THE FAITHFUL PAST AND THE IMPORTUNATE FUTURE
The war being substantially over, Joshua proceeded to dismiss the two and a half tribes to their homes. The exact time of this dismissal is not recorded, but it was evidently after the setting up of the tabernacle at Shiloh (cf. Joshua 22:9, chap. Joshua 18:1). Although the Canaanites were subdued, so that they could not stand before the children of Israel, yet they were not conquered entirely. The two and a half tribes had promised Moses that they would not return to their homes on the east of Jordan until their brethren had received “every man his inheritance.” If this promise had not been completely fulfilled, that was not the fault of the eastern tribes, but of their brethren, who were “slack to go to possess the land.” Thus, considering that they had honourably discharged their engagement through Moses, Joshua freely dismissed these forty thousand men to their own inheritance.
This passage brings under our notice the following points of interest:—
I. Arduous service faithfully rendered. These men had striven year after year, keeping “all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded them.”
1. Faithful service given, irrespective of either sphere or time. The sphere was the field of battle. The labour was the toil of war. It was amid perils and carnage and blood that these men continued true. They knew not when they might be free to meet again their fathers and mothers, their wives and children. Campaign followed campaign, and still the grim strife went on. None knew when it would be finished. All of them must often have been weary. Notwithstanding things like these, no one is said to have deserted. Each waited till he was discharged. Men often excuse themselves from the service of the Lord, who might find a rebuke in the conduct of these faithful soldiers. “There be many servants nowadays that break away every man from his Master.” The taunt of Nabal, undeserved by David, is often merited by others. Men get disappointed with their sphere. It is not what they expected. They forget that they too stand pledged to a battle-field. Men get wearied with the long term of their service. They think it is high time that their place in the ranks should be filled by others. For such it is written, “Be thou faithful unto death.”
2. Faithful service maintained in view of that which was fair and right. The western tribes had helped to win the inheritance of the eastern tribes (cf. Numbers 21:21-35). Thus this service which the eastern tribes had been rendering to their brethren of the west was the discharge of a debt. The debt was fairly due; it was just and right that it should be paid. How much do we owe to others? How much of the estate which we enjoy to-day has been won for us by men who have gone before us, and by men who are about us now? (a) Think of our inheritance of property and position. Much of that which most men possess has come from others. The position in which men are able to earn their livelihood is generally owing very much to the labour and endurance of predecessors. No man has any right to spend all his money on himself. Much is owing to men. (b) Think of our inheritance as citizens. Our liberties are born of the labours, and imprisonments, and bereavements, and death of many who have gone before. Others are toiling now, that we may inherit and enjoy our privileges as citizens. Some Christian people look on political activity as almost sinful. The true state of the case is exactly the opposite; it is sinful not to render such political service as we can. It is a debt we owe. God has given us no more right to be selfish and idle here than elsewhere. (c) Think of our inheritance in social life. Our family mercies, and our privileges in our own circle of friends are, in many instances, so much that has been won for us and preserved to us by our fellows. Something is owing to men here. (d) Think of our inheritance in the world of literature and science and art. “Other men have laboured,” etc. Our joy in this great realm represents so much toil and brain, so much weariness and pain and disease in the lives of our brethren. Something is owing from us to those who are ignorant. Where we can pay a little of this great debt back, there our service is due. (e) Think, above all, of our inheritance in the realm of religion. Every conscientious man should sometimes have visions of the suffering servants of Christ who have preceded him in the conflicts of this glorious kingdom. What a panorama of smitten and wounded men might well pass before us all! Bunyan in his prison; Milton deprived of office and comforts; Knox confronting his sovereign; Luther journeying wearily, but with tremendous energy, to Worms; the generations of ardent workers and patient sufferers; the imprisoned fugitives of the catacombs; the gory forms, torn of beasts, or smitten with swords, bleeding for us in the amphitheatre; the noble army of martyrs, fighting for our inheritance; and then, back of all this, the cross of Jesus. “O Lord God, truly I am Thy servant!” “We are not our own; we are bought with a price.” The two and a half tribes fought to pay a debt; our debt is far greater than theirs.
3. Faithful service continued in view of a promise which had been given. These men had pledged themselves to this conflict (Numbers 32:16-19; Numbers 32:25-27). That pledge they had faithfully kept. “Ye have not left your brethren these many days unto this day.” Time should make no difference to promises. Unexpected toil should make no difference. Neither many years nor sore conflicts should ever wear our promises threadbare.
4. Faithful service rendered not for personal gain, but for the welfare of brethren The inheritance of the two and a half tribes was won already, at the time of crossing the Jordan. Every march they made was for the inheritance of others. Every blow they struck was for a brother. Every victory they helped to win was a victory to add to the possessions of some one else. There is no more honourable service in the whole record of the seven years’ war in Canaan, than this which speaks of the steady faithfulness of these eastern tribes. Our conflicts for our own inheritance are necessary; it is our strife for the inheritance of our brethren which is noble.
5. Faithful service given in view of what was expected by God. It was not simply that they had promised Moses, or that duty to their brethren imposed upon them this arduous task. God also required of these men that they should be found faithful. Not to help their brethren would be sinful. “If ye will not do so, behold ye have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Thus did these forty thousand helpers of the brethren go on with their patient task. Not only did men deserve this service; God expected it. Gratitude to Him would allow of nothing less. How much do we owe to God? What is God expecting from us? How far, in the past, have we fallen short of that which God required at our hands?
II. Faithful service gratefully acknowledged. When men serve their fellows, they not seldom are left to reflect on the unthankfulness of their fellows; when men serve God, they are never left to feel that they have served in vain. The true servant of God manifests the spirit of God.
1. Joshua acknowledges the services of these men in words of sincere commendation. He praised them for having obeyed Moses, obeyed himself, for having been steadfast to their brethren, and for having kept faithfully the commandments of the Lord (Joshua 22:2-3).
2. Joshua acknowledges their services by generous gifts (Joshua 22:8). The two and a half tribes seem to have had allotted to them a fair share of the spoil. It was so abundant that even these forty thousand warriors might share it with their brethren. They who serve the Lord’s true servants will not be suffered to serve in vain; much more will they who serve the Lord Himself be abundantly repaid. Even the cup of cold water, given in the name of Christ, shall “in no wise lose its reward.” “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love.”
III. Indebtedness to the future arising out of the faithful past.
1. The past gave new obligations to watchfulness. “Take diligent heed” (Joshua 22:5). They who had been so careful not to fail were to feel more constrained to watchfulness than ever.
2. The past gave new obligations to obedience. “Take heed to do the commandment,” etc. No child of God is allowed to take relaxation in sin. He who has been faithful for long must never say, “I will now rest awhile.” A good past must never be a motive to an indifferent present. Instead of this, it is ever written, in some way or other, “Hold fast that which thou hast.”
3. The past gave new obligations to love God. “Love the Lord your God.” Love never remits any of her claims. If we have loved God, His love can suffer no diminution in ours. True love has an infinity of room for increase, but no mind for decrease. God desires that we love Him more; He is never willing that we should love Him to-day any less than we loved Him yesterday.
4. The past gave new obligations to be generous to men (Joshua 22:9). “Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.” The men who had given generous service were to go on and crown the edifice of an exalted character by bestowing generous gifts.
The man who has a good past stands committed to goodness through all eternity. Every good day of life makes the obligations of to-morrow so much more onerous. Character is so much moral stock, and he who recklessly throws away a fortune is poor indeed. Spiritual life is so much spiritual property, and he who rushes from such riches to bankruptcy must know an agony of loss, of which a poorer man could have no conception. The gipsy might burn his ragged tent, and walk on, thinking himself not much the poorer; the owner of a mansion, with many perishable treasures within, could not leave the ruins of his similarly destroyed abode saving with a heavy heart. The thief of many years commits one more theft, and seems to add but little to his pain; but woe to the man convicted of stealing, who has behind him a long and honest life. It goes hard with obedient Moses when he once turns rebel, and the ardent and loving Peter cannot deny Christ with as little cost in tears and anguish as can Caiaphas or Herod. God proposes to forget our sins. He never proposes to forget our faithfulness and love, and we never can forget them either. We may get cold for a season, forgetting the claims of bygone prayers and ardent worship, of former earnest service and fervent love. No man can do that with impunity. He who has been true will presently discover that his falseness is so much terrible sorrow. He too will find himself saying:
“Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?”
He who begins to serve his brethren is beginning that which, while strength and opportunities continue, he can never leave off. The man who begins to serve God is beginning that which in eternity itself he can never lay aside. This is no bondage, saving the bondage of love. The path of the just “shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” He who fights the battles of the Lord can know nothing of retreats. He may change the field; he must go on with the conflict. Canaan or Gilead, it matters not which; the very faithfulness that has been calls urgently, “Be diligent.” The noble past ever cries importunately for a still nobler future.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 22:2.—OBEDIENCE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR TRIUMPH. Our conflicts with the enemies of our life are God’s opportunities, in which He would see us triumph over ourselves.
GOD’S LIBERAL CONSTRUCTION OF OUR OBEDIENCE. He who says of our sin, “He that offendeth in one point is guilty of all,” says no less of even our feeble and broken services, when they are rendered from loving and true hearts, “Ye have kept all that was commanded you.”
OBEDIENCE AS A DUTY.—“Brethren, what eber de good God tell me in dis blessed book to do, dat I’m gwine to do. If I see in it dat I must jump troo a stone wall, I’m gwine to jump at it. Goin’ troo it belongs to God, jumpin’ at it belongs to me.”—[Negro Preacher.]
OBEDIENCE IN ALL THINGS.—“To obey God in some things of religion, and not in others, shews an unsound heart. Childlike obedience moves towards every command of God, as the needle points in that direction from which the loadstone draws.”—[Watson.]
“A soul sincerely obedient will not pick and choose what commands to obey, and what to reject, as hypocrites do. An obedient soul is like a crystal glass with a light in the midst, which shines forth through every part thereof. A man sincerely obedient lays such a charge upon his whole man as Mary the mother of Christ did upon all the servants at the feast in Cana: ‘Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.’ ”—[Brooks.]
THE BENEFITS OF OBEDIENCE.—“In evil times it fares best with them who are most careful about duty, and least about safety.—[Hammond.]
Joshua 22:3.—FIDELITY AND ITS RESULTS.
I. Fidelity to brethren provoking the gratitude of brethren.
II. Fidelity to God eliciting the commendation of God’s servant.
III. Fidelity to men and God the only true fidelity to self.
Joshua 22:4.—ENTERING INTO REST.
I. Rest according to the purpose and promise of God. “The Lord your God hath given rest unto your brethren, as He promised them.” This is ever the secret of all true rest. Rest begins in God. Rest is wrought out by God. Rest is completed and given by God. Our efforts are but the channels through which His purposes and promises run into the ocean of accomplishment. The fighting of all the thousands of Israel had still left the land to be obviously and most manifestly a Divine gift. The seven years’ toil of men could hardly so much as begin to obscure the centuries of the mercy of Jehovah. Many promises, steady persistence, and mighty miracles on the part of God, had left no room for a single Israelite to be tempted to say, “We won the land by our gigantic efforts and brilliant strategy and persevering toil.” Probably there was not an Israelite who did not see that this “rest” had in it far more of God’s giving than of man’s getting. It is not less so in that higher rest towards which God’s children are pressing now. The Lord may do His part of the work more hiddenly than of old; His working is none the less actual. The centuries of His preparing mercy can never be shorn of their glory by the few years of our feeble and broken struggles. The secret of true rest is ever in God’s gift.
II. Rest through the service of our fellow-men. “Now therefore return ye.” That is to say, though the rest was God’s gift, He had bestowed it through men.
1. The gift of God comes through human efforts. These forty thousand men had been some of His instruments. Now that the rest was won, they might go home. God left room for these eastern tribes to feel that they had helped to bring about this good issue. God gave occasion for the western tribes to feel that, in part, they were indebted for rest to their brethren. As a father, leaning over the shoulder of his little child, leaves the child some ground to suppose that it is carrying the heavy burden, which is really borne by the strength of the parent; so, in bearing the burdens of life, God leaves us room to suppose that we are doing much ourselves, and that we can do much to help each other. However much we may seem to be lifting, and however many of our fellows may grasp the burden to help us, God’s hand ever reaches over from behind us, and bears the bulk of the load. The child of God who is spiritually sagacious, will sometimes, at least, glance upward, and detecting the heavenly Father’s hand, feel glad to sing, “Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee.”
2. The efforts of others are made a necessary help to our own. Who can look on the dividing of the Jordan, the overthrow of Jericho, or the miracle at Beth-horon, and not feel how readily God could have dispensed with any services which could be rendered by these eastern soldiers? Yet God would have them to help also. It is God’s way: He loves to make us feel that we can aid our brother: He loves to make our brethren feel that they cannot do without our assistance.
“Needful auxiliars are our friends, to give
To social man true knowledge of himself.
Full on ourselves, descending in a line,
Pleasure’s bright beam is feeble in delight:
Delight intense is taken by rebound;
Reverberated pleasures fire the breast.”
Thus does God work out our rest by His personal love and might, command our own patient and energetic efforts ere we can enter in, and make us no less dependent on the service of our brethren for a really glad inheritance.
III. Rest won for others, and thereby obtained and established for ourselves. “Therefore now return ye, and get you unto your tents, and unto the land of your possession.” And these men of the eastern tribes would go home all the more gladly because of the help which they had been able to give to their brethren.
1. Their inheritance would be richer. They would have the joy of a good conscience superadded to the possession of a rich estate.
2. Their inheritance would be more secure. If the western land had not been as fully conquered as it was, the eastern possessions could not have been so safe. In helping to drive out Canaanites from the land west of the Jordan, they had been freeing the eastern territory from powerful foes.
3. Their inheritance would be more complete. The tabernacle was in the western land. The only place of worship was there. Without a well-conquered west, no full religious service could be enjoyed by the east. The eastern contingent had been making provision for the richest portion of their estate. They, too, wanted a “part in Jehovah” (cf. Joshua 22:24-25; Joshua 22:27). Thus the rest which these men had helped to win for others was so much more rest added to themselves. By serving others, they had secured an estate in safety, an estate in a good conscience, and an estate in the worship of Jehovah. God ever makes us thus dependent on others. To help others is a necessity to ourselves. No man can afford to live without helping some one else. Even of the realm of thought and mental activity, Emerson wrote: “We have social strengths. Our affection towards others creates a sort of vantage or purchase which nothing will supply. I can do that by another, which I cannot do alone. I can say to you what I cannot first say to myself. Other men are lenses through which we read our own minds.” It is ever “more blessed to give than to receive.” He who imparts possesses. He who helps others much continually enriches his own inheritance. Nowhere is this so true as in spiritual service. To lead many into the rest of Christ, is to be very rich in the peace which passeth all understanding.
LIVING FOR OTHERS
Life is nowhere so beautiful as where it is unselfish. The fairest thing in the world is that which is all and altogether for others,—the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In one sense it is true that “No man liveth unto himself;” in another aspect, men are often profoundly selfish. These men, who formed what has been called “the auxiliary force” in this war, spent seven years of their lives for their brethren. They were in the army on behalf of their brethren, and instead of their brethren. They may represent to us several phases of vicarious life.
I. Vicarious conflicts. They were fighting in the place of their brethren left on the east of Jordan. They were fighting on behalf of all Israel. Life has many vicarious conflicts. Every soldier who fights for his country, fights in the stead of others. Every true soldier of Jesus is fighting the Lord’s battles against sin on behalf of all mankind.
II. Vicarious service. All the work of these men was not on the battle-field. Incidentally, during those seven years. they would have helped their brethren in many other ways. In addition to outward services, they were cheering their brethren by their assistance, and setting an example of self-denial to all. And these were the men whose service stands commended as among the noblest offered during the war. He who lives for others now, will find his name no less honourably commended by Jesus Christ. To him, also, it shall presently be said: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
III. Vicarious suffering. These forty thousand men were suffering self-denial. They were kept from their wives and families. They had to suffer the weariness of arduous marchings and countermarchings. They had to undergo all the privations common to an army actively engaged. They had to risk the dangers of battle, and probably to suffer the pain of wounds, and of disease brought on by exposure. Partly by their sufferings Israel entered into rest. He who suffers for others enters into the peace of Him “who loved us and gave Himself for us.” The Saviour gives us His own glory most fully, when we most completely follow His own example (cf. John 17:22). Not as an arbitrary arrangement, but as the outcome of a spiritual law, he who humbly and patiently bears a heavy cross presently possesses a glorious crown.
WAR EXCHANGED FOR PEACE.—There can be nothing more sad than to thoughtfully contemplate an army newly mobilised for war. It is terrible to think of strong men, trained to this grim business, coming together with the deliberate intention of killing as many as they can of other strong men. It is proportionately beautiful to think of an army being disbanded;—thousands of men, marching every one to his home, to keep, and to cultivate, and to enjoy God’s good gift of peace. Among the finest fancies of Nathaniel Hawthorne, none is more beautiful than that rich conception of peace which he has embodied in half a line: “Cannon transformed into church bells.” One is led to think of the very metal, so lately bellowing thunder and pouring death, as taking an almost sentient share in the holy gladness of peace.
Joshua 22:5.—REASONABLE SERVICE.
This verse may have special reference to what is known as the “Second Law,” beginning in Deuteronomy 5:0. It succinctly repeats some of the very phrases of Moses.
God had long fought for the Israelites, and had now given them peace. Joshua pleads with them, very much as Paul pleads with us: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” God’s gift of rest was to be answered by their tribute of obedience.
I. The duty to be done. “Do the commandment and the law.” “Walk in His ways.”
II. The concern to be manifested. “Take diligent heed to do,” etc.
1. Anxious watchfulness.
2. Holy activity.
III. The spirit and power of performance. “Love the Lord your God.” Love would help them to discern the law. Love would quicken their activity in doing the law. Love would make them delight in the law.
IV. The disposition to be cultivated.
1. Dependence and constancy. “Cleave unto Him.” Keeping very near to Him, you will less wish to depart from Him. The force of attraction diminishes with the distance of separation.
2. Humility and fidelity. “Serve Him.” Do not object to serve. Serve Him only.
V. The honour to be rendered.
1. Service with undivided affection. “Serve Him with all your heart.” Love was to render an allegiance wanting nothing in delight and joy.
2. Service with all the strength of the life. “And with all your soul.” (The word used is nephesh, “the breath,” “that by which the body lives;” also, “the mind.” Compare Gr. ψυχή as opposed to πνεῦμα.) Life was to render an allegiance wanting nothing in mind, nothing in will, and nothing in energy.
MORE LIBERTY, AND FRESH OBLIGATIONS TO SERVICE.—“Joshua thus releases and frees them from temporary service, that he may bind them for ever to the authority of the one true God. He therefore permits them to return home, but on the condition that wherever they may be they are to be the soldiers of Jehovah; and he at the same time prescribes the mode, namely, the observance of His law.”—[Calvin.]
Joshua 22:6.—BLESSING A MULTITUDE.
I. In this life men are often blessed in the mass, and seemingly are all blessed alike. Some of these soldiers merited every good word that was spoken. Probably some deserved no blessing at all. There may have been those in the host who were idle, and careless, and cowardly; who, although they were formally present, sought not to serve men nor to glorify God. It is not possible that equal merit should have prevailed throughout the multitude. Yet all these men were blessed with the same words. The indifferent were blessed in the same words as the earnest; the brave, in the same words as the cowardly. Blessing must needs be unevenly administered in this life. Men cannot judge each other accurately, nor administer favours impartially. Even God blesses men in this same manner. Were everybody to be blessed according to a set scale of merit, goodness would become artificial.
1. God blesses all men, omitting none. Over all the vast multitude of the sons of men does He pour the mercies of the day, the mercies of the seasons, and the mercies of revolving years.
Lights it the great alone? You silver beams,
Sleep they less sweetly on the cottage thatch
Than on the dome of kings? Is mother earth
A step-dame to her numerous sons, who earn
Her unshared gifts with unremitting toil;
A mother only to those puling babes
Who, nursed in ease and luxury, make men
The playthings of their babyhood, and mar,
In self-important childishness, that peace
Which men alone appreciate?
Spirit of Nature! No.”
Such, too, is the teaching of the holy Saviour, who tells us of the Father: “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”
2. In blessing the multitude, God chooses to bless the wicked man too much rather than the faithful man too little. The words of Joshua 22:2-3, may have been far above the meed of many individual men of these forty thousand. Joshua, however, does not stint the praise of the deserving, lest he should say too much of the undeserving. He blesses the bad bountifully, rather than the good sparingly. God blesses bad men, and good also, far beyond their merits. God never suffers His words of love, or His works of goodness, to fall below our deserts. He ever deals with us in excess of all that we could expect.
II. The blessings of life, which seem uneven in their distribution, regulate themselves in the act of appropriation. He who had served with sloth and cowardice would not be able to take into his heart the gladness of Joshua’s words. Only he who had been faithful would much care for these words of praise; only he would be well able to appropriate them. Here, again, it is only the pure in heart who are blessed; only they see God. The sun may rise on the evil and the good, but the good find most gladness in its light. The stars mean more to the godly man than to the “undevout astronomer.” The fruitful fields of the wicked never yield so much as even the thinly cropped acres of the righteous. The poverty of God’s true servants has more wealth than the riches of the ungodly. A spiritual mind will find more joy in sickness than a sinful man can ever know in health. “Things are not what they seem.” God’s blessings, scatter them how He will, have a way of righting themselves. It is only by the pious man that they can ever be really gathered.
Joshua 22:7.—THE DIVERGENT WAYS OF LIFE.
I. Life’s separations.
1. As a matter of history. Here was one half of the children of Manasseh going east of the Jordan, and one half staying west. Part of the people were henceforth to be in one country, and part in another. Life is full of similar examples. (a) Separated tribes. (b) Separated families. (c) Separated brethren and companions.
2. As a matter of necessity. Numerous families must be forced asunder. The penalty of multiplication is division. Sooner or later, to be many is to be scattered. This is well. Men need that old views and habits should be crossed. New necessities make new minds. New companions form new men. New countries beget new races. The world that makes all her various children needs them all. In their variety they can better help each other.
II. Life’s separations arising imperceptibly. Where did this division in the family of Manasseh begin? What determined it? On what day was it first noted down, that the one family was henceforth to be known in the nation as consisting of these two halves? What was the first diverting cause? Was it a difference of tastes, as between shepherd life and military life? or what was it which began to turn half the family life in one direction and half in another? Between what members of the family was the line of separation drawn? and what determined the precise bearings through the family in which that line was eventually laid down? All these things are more or less hidden. The things which divide families spring up secretly, and work secretly. Peculiar tastes, particular temptations, distinctive habits, strong prejudices; these, and many other things, are causes of separation. The persecution of the Puritans accounts largely for the America of to-day. The persecution of the French Huguenots has been an immense factor in determining the industrial occupation of Englishmen, and the commercial value of their manufactures. The roving habits of the earlier races that settled in Britain, and the ambition of a Norman duke, laid the foundations of our national life and history.
III. Life’s separations in their importance. If small causes are influential in determining the separation of families, the separation itself is often of more consequence still. Thus these eastern Manassites prospered and multiplied exceedingly, and, having turned to idolatry, were, with Reuben and Gad, the first to suffer the penalty of captivity (1 Chronicles 5:18-26). How responsible is life everywhere! The small thing may be pregnant with mighty issues. He resolves wisely who cries, “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel.” “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”
IV. Life’s separations in relation to life’s blessings. Only the western half of the family dwelt in the Land of Promise. Yet is it written of the eastern half: “When Joshua sent them away also to their tents, then he blessed them.” The blessing was not limited by the river. God’s blessing is not a mere matter of geography. The members of the family that go, and those that stay, may alike live beneath His smile. There is no place where the Scriptures may not be the power of God unto salvation. There is no country where “the same Lord is not rich unto all that call upon Him.” There is no land yet discovered where believing men may not adoringly say, “The precious blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”
Joshua 22:8.—THE DISTRIBUTION OF LIFE’S GAINS.
I. The firstfruits of the war commanded to be offered to the Lord. This was made imperative at the fall of Jericho (chap. Joshua 6:17-19). God says, “My soul desired the first ripe fruit” (cf. Micah 7:1; Exodus 22:29; Deuteronomy 18:4, etc.). This requisition of the Lord is not to enrich Him, but us. He would increase the wealth of our reverence and love and joy in Himself.
II. The chief spoils of the war permitted to be kept by the people. Since the fall of Jericho, and the devoting of its spoil, the Israelites had been allowed to retain that which they took. Even the share of these eastern soldiers enabled them to return with much riches, with very much cattle, with silver, and with gold, and with brass, and with iron, and with very much raiment.” God has joy in all the possessions that we can hold rightly. He does but demand a little in order to teach us how to retain the abundance which He loves to leave in our possession.
III. The spoils kept by men to be used in cultivating a spirit well pleasing to God. “Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.”
1. A spirit of self-sacrifice.
2. A spirit of generosity.
3. A spirit of pleasure in the joy of others. Life’s gains should be made up of spiritual gettings, spiritual possessions, and spiritual disbursements. The man who so lives can enjoy his capital, not only when he has it, but before it is realized, and after it is paid away.
THE ETHICS OF WAR-SPOIL.—“As it was formerly seen that the greater part of the two tribes were left in their territories beyond Jordan, when the others passed over to carry on the war, it was fair that, as they had lived in ease with their families, or been only occupied with domestic concerns, they should be contented with their own livelihood and the produce of their own labour. And they certainly could not, without dishonesty, have demanded that any part of the booty and spoil should be distributed among them, when they had taken no share in all the toil and the danger. Joshua, however, does not insist on the strictly legal view, but exhorts the soldiers to deal liberally with their countrymen by sharing the prey with them. Here some one may unseasonably raise the question, Whether or not the booty was common? For Joshua does not decide absolutely that it is their duty to do as he enjoins; he admonishes them that, after they have been enriched by the Divine blessing, it would betray a want of proper feeling not to be liberal and kind towards their brethren, especially as it was not their fault that they did not take part in the same expedition. Moreover, when he bids them divide, he does not demand an equal partition, such as that which is usual among partners and equals, but only to bestow something that may suffice to remove all cause of envy and hatred.”—[Calvin.]
Joshua 22:10. The borders of Jordan] Lit. =“the circles of the Jordan.” So, in chap. Joshua 13:2, we have “the circles of the Philistines.” The immediate neighbourhood of the Jordan, the Ghor, is meant, possibly with some reference to the windings of the river. That are in the land of Canaan] After the immediately preceding definition of Canaan as being limited to the land on the western side of the river (Joshua 22:9), it does not seem likely that in this verse “Canaan” can be meant to include any part of the land on the eastern side. The phrase “over against,” in Joshua 22:11, must not be pressed too severely. Gesenius renders ’el-mûl by “in the face or front of.” Even if the words “over against the land of Canaan” be allowed to stand, the speakers on the western side of the river, mentally putting themselves in the position of the eastern tribes, of whom they were complaining, might naturally say of an altar built on the western bank, “They have built an altar over against the land of Canaan.” Dr. Clarke says: “It could not be a place for the purpose of public worship to their own people, if built on the opposite side of Jordan.” To this it is enough to reply that the eastern tribes did not build it for public worship. It was exactly that which they utterly disclaimed. As to the contention of Dr. Bliss, that “the altar could not bear witness for them,” if built on the western side of the river, that was the very side on which they wished it to bear witness. The fact that the elders of the tribes took this erection to be an altar for sacrifice, seems to indicate that the deputation, in their indignation, did not stay to visit the altar, but, acting on the report which had reached them, crossed the Jordan at some point more to the north than “at the passage of the children of Israel.” The phrase, “in the land of Canaan,” when compared with the very same words as they occur in Joshua 22:9, must be held to contain the absolute statement that the altar was built on the western side of the river. Since writing this note, the following remarks have been met with in Mr. Groser’s excellent work on this book: “The site of this most interesting memorial has been recently discovered by the officers of the survey of Palestine. It is an almost inaccessible mountain, except from the north, where the ascent is called Tal’at abu’ Ayd, ‘the going up to Ed.’ It projects like a white bastion towards the river, and on its summit are the remains of a huge monument of masonry, bearing traces of fire on its upper surface. It is mentioned in the Jewish Talmud under the name of Surtabeh, and is said to have been a beacon station. The view from the height is magnificent.” To this, in answer to a private inquiry, Mr. Groser adds: “The site is certainly on the western side of the Jordan, as you conclude.”
Joshua 22:12. The whole congregation] The excitement and indignation against an act which seemed in direct opposition to the law were general. Moses had strictly forbidden sacrifice, under pain of death, saving at the door of the tabernacle (Leviticus 17:3-9; Deuteronomy 12:2-14). Yet, while the eastern tribes were wrong not to have communicated with Joshua and the high priest about an act so liable to be misunderstood, the western tribes also erred through hastiness. Had their hasty assumption been right, the contemplated war would have been not only just, but necessary (cf. Deuteronomy 13:0).
Joshua 22:16. What trespass is this that ye have committed?] The deep nature of the indignation is seen in these grave charges, continued through five verses. Not even the journey had sufficed to give place to calm thought. Let the eastern tribes have been ever so wrong, justice required that they should be examined before being condemned. Instead of examination, here are direct assertions of guilt, which are presently changed into pleasure at the thing which had been done (Joshua 22:30; Joshua 22:33).
Joshua 22:17. From which we are not cleansed until this day] Perhaps Phinehas and the elders concluded that this very act gave witness to the spirit of disobedience not yet put away, or it may be that the thought of the lingering taint had reference to the former impurity itself, which some still secretly cherished (chap. Joshua 24:20-23).
Joshua 22:19. Pass ye over, etc.] A noble generosity and a sincere love are seen mingling throughout with this hasty indignation.
Joshua 22:22. The Lord God of gods, etc.] The terrible accusation naturally awakens a similar earnestness in denial, shewing itself in “the broken speech of suddenly accused innocence.” The abrupt energy of wounded love is seen throughout the entire defence. Save us not this day] A parenthetical adjuration addressed to Jehovah. In the strong consciousness of innocence, the speaker suddenly breaks away from the explanation just commenced, and appeals to God Himself.
Joshua 22:24. And if we have not rather done it for fear, etc.] “And if we have not done it rather from anxiety, for a reason, for we said, To-morrow,” etc. [Keil.] What is meant is, that they had acted from a laudable anxiety, and for a good purpose. In spirit, it is like the appeal of David, who, also, when suffering from an unjust reproach, said, “Is there not a cause?” Cf. 1 Samuel 17:29, where the same word, dâv’âr—“a thing,” “a cause,” is also used.
Joshua 22:25. For the Lord hath made Jordan a border, etc.] “The anxiety was not unfounded, in so far as in the promises only Canaan was spoken of, therefore only the land west of the Jordan, according to the clear signification of Joshua 22:10. Comp. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:8, and in particular, Numbers 34:1-12.” [Fay.]
Joshua 22:27. That we might do the service of the Lord before Him] “Before His face.” [Keil.] The reference is, of course, to the Lord’s presence at Shiloh.
Joshua 22:28. Behold the pattern of the altar of the Lord] They had built their altar in the likeness of the altar at the tabernacle, in order that the significance of their memorial might be well understood. At the place of “the passage of the children of Israel” (Joshua 22:11), where all the people had passed over, they erected, on the west side of the river, a copy of the altar of the Lord. Its likeness to the altar, and its position in Canaan, and by the ancient ford, would seem to say, “All Israelites not in Canaan must cross into Canaan to offer any sacrifice to Jehovah.” It was a significant fingerpost, eloquent in its very dumbness, declaring the one way of acceptable worship.
Joshua 22:30. It pleased them] Marg. = “it was good in their eyes.” The thing about which they had been so prematurely violent only needed explanation. The two and a half tribes certainly ought to have given the explanation before they began to build; the remaining tribes as certainly ought to have asked it before mustering the army for war. However, the wrath of man was full of praise to God. Most noble traits are manifested, both by the hasty accusers and by the too thoughtless offenders.
Joshua 22:34. Called the altar Ed] “Luther gave the sense correctly: ‘And the children of Reuben and Gad named the altar, that it may be a witness between us,’ etc. Hence the words Kî ’çd hû bçnothçnu contain both the name and the explanation.” [Keil.] It is not said whether or not this name was given to the altar before the deputation of princes made their remonstrance.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 22:9-34
The remainder of this chapter forms a narrative too closely connected to be altogether broken up in order to meet an arbitrary arrangement, and too long for continuous treatment in a single discourse. The four main themes will therefore be taken first, as indicated below, and the verses afterwards.
I. THE BUILDING OF THE ALTAR.—Joshua 22:9-10
PUTTING GOD FIRST
As has already been intimated, the two and a half tribes erred in not communicating with Eleazar and Joshua before erecting this altar. Had they done this, some difficulties would have been avoided, and some pain would have been prevented; but much that is beautiful would thereby have been lost to men and to this history. God gives us a good inheritance even in our mistakes, so long as a holy mind underlies those mistakes. Caution may help to make life untroubled; holy zeal and godly patience ever make it rich. Where cold and watchful propriety makes a smooth road, love, in more erratic and impulsive ways, presently prepares for herself green pastures. Did our mistakes invariably take their rise in love for God and His truth, and were they met in a right spirit, they would, at least sometimes, furnish matter for joy as well as for pain.
On their way back to their homes, these forty thousand men stayed to build this altar. It was a highly religious act. Many considerations might urge them to defer the work. Some other time might be equally suitable for the purposes which they had in view. Pressing reasons might suggest that they should send a body of representative men to build the altar at some future period. But these people resolved on doing the work then and there. Let us see how the case probably presented itself to their minds. Consider:
I. The religious meaning of this act, and the decision which it proclaimed. What did the two and a half tribes intend to indicate by this altar? What feelings of their own did they wish the altar to express? What influence did they desire the altar to exert upon others?
1. They meant the altar to bear witness that, in going out of Israel, they did not give up Israel’s God. Their future home was to be out of Canaan proper. Some of the Divine promises pertained to the land itself (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:14; Genesis 13:17; Genesis 15:7). It is true that the grant had been afterwards given in a more extended form, embracing this eastern land also (Genesis 15:18-21), yet it was natural to regard the western territory, above all other, as “the place which the Lord had promised.” Dwelling already in the eastern possession, Moses reckoned that, failing in being permitted to cross the Jordan before his death, he had fallen short of coming into the actual inheritance (Deuteronomy 4:22; Deuteronomy 34:4); and this, notwithstanding that God had shewed him “all the land of Gilead unto Dan” (Deuteronomy 34:1), as being part of the land promised. Thus, it was to avow their determination to keep up their interest in the land where God dwelt between the cherubim, that the eastern tribes set up this altar. They could not give up their part in Jehovah. Building the altar was another way of saying: “We too would continue to sacrifice to the Lord, but we must cross this Jordan ere our sacrifices can be accepted.” There are times when young men are called to find homes amid new surroundings. Children of Christian parents are called to settle in life where God is not much known, and where little of worship is offered to His name. Such may find a useful lesson in this altar. Such should say of their fathers’ God: “This God is our God for ever and ever.”
2. The two and a half tribes meant this altar to serve as a religious security for their children (Joshua 22:24-25). They were taking care of their children’s religious privileges. Many would call it inhuman not to provide for their children’s future in this life. The same people, in many cases, freely confess that the life to come is far more important; and yet for their children’s spiritual future they make no provision whatever.
3. The building of this altar was, practically, putting God first. It was the voice of a whole people saying: “Before we do anything else, we will provide for drawing near unto the Lord.” The altar was a national anticipation of Psalms 42:0. To us it should be a reiteration of the Saviour’s word: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness,” etc.
II. The attractions that lay in the direction of the earthly and temporal.
1. A desire for rest must have been prompting them to hasten to their homes. Home is sweet to the labourer, to the merchant, to the statesman. It is the place where the weary worker retires for rest. It is associated with grateful memories of rest that has been; and the memories inspire hopes. If home be sweet to the man engaged in the ordinary industries of life, sweeter still must it be to the returning soldier. Yet these men had higher thoughts than those of mere rest. Their long campaign might have left them weary; their weariness did not prevent them from staying to erect this altar in the interests of their spiritual welfare. The work seems to have been one of considerable extent. It was “a great altar to see to.” The Vulgate says, “They built hard by Jordan an altar of vast size.” If the conjecture of Lieut. Conder is correct, the remains of this great work are still to be seen. The men might be weary, yet the work was not left for some future time, nor was it hurried over. The claims of the worship of God were pleading within them more urgently than the claims of rest. How often, in our day, worship is made to give place to weariness.
2. The interest awakened by their new possessions must have acted as an enticement towards home. There was an estate waiting for them each, and they had not yet even surveyed it. Yet they waited to build this stupendous altar. Chalmers spoke of “the expulsive power of a new affection.” Many have found that interest in a new estate has preponderated over interest in religion. When they have bought a piece of ground, they forthwith say, “I must needs go and see it.” The newly purchased oxen have to be “proved.” With such, affection for earthly things expels regard for spiritual things. With these returning soldiers, the love of God was expelling the love of things. Every stone that they laid was a spiritual prediction of the coming song: “How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!”
3. Social feelings were bidding them hasten homewards. The love of wife and children not greeted for years, of parents long unseen, of brothers and sisters whose faces must have grown almost strange, was yearning within them for satisfaction. Still, they stayed to build this immense altar. The very love of their children’s spiritual welfare bade them stay. The time might come when some might say to these children of theirs, “What have ye to do with the Lord God of Israel?” (Joshua 22:24.) Thus, longing for their children all the while, they tarried on the way to care for their children’s religious welfare. Nothing should come between us and God: that is what the altar says to us. Nothing should put the worship of God into any second place. Longings for rest, or for business prosperity; longings for home, or for loved ones there, should all give place to our longings after God (cf. Psalms 42:0).
III. The attractions that lay in the direction of the spiritual. These men put religious interests before their secular interests. To them, spiritual life was higher and more precious than even social life. What led them to act as they did? What were the forces at work within them to determine them to this conduct?
1. They were moved with gratitude for God’s past help. Jehovah had been so good! Peradventure they thought on their way home of His many marvellous works. By Him had they gotten all those victories. What has God done for us?
2. They felt a deep enthusiasm towards God. The gods of their enemies had not been as their God, the enemies themselves being judges. The altar was the outcome of enthusiasm (ʼεν Θεός). They were dwelling, as it were, in God, by reason of very delight. God had wrought for them right gloriously. The Red Sea; the wilderness; Jordan; Jericho, etc. How could they suffer any possibility of losing their “part in Jehovah”? That fertile land on the east of the Jordan, so very suitable for their flocks, would be dearly bought indeed if they should lose their hold on God! That being so, weariness must be forgotten for a season; the new estate must remain untended a little longer; wife must wait, and children must wait, and their own longing hearts must wait. At all costs, they must keep up their “part in Jehovah.” What is God to us?
3. They had, it may be, great hopes about the worship of God. They did not know much about it yet. Many of their services in the lonely solitudes of the wilderness had been beautiful. They had served to whet their desire for more. Since crossing the Jordan these forty thousand men had learned to know God better. All Israel had come to know God better. The worship of the future should be more adequate to His great deservings. So these men prepare already to join in it,—prepare both for themselves and for their children. What are our anticipations of God’s house?
4. These men felt a genuine desire to put their present and their future well under the care of God. God had helped them so gloriously in war; what could they do better than have Him for their helper in a time of peace? Would it not be well to have a peace-part in Him, as well as a war-part? Jehovah of Israel must be glorious elsewhere than on battle-fields! Could they not, in some way, put the new homes and estates in trust to Him? Was it not possible in some manner to consecrate all the new things and the new prospects to the Lord? So they halted there by the river’s banks, and “they built there an altar by Jordan, a great altar to see to.” What consecration have we made of our present belongings unto God? What preparation have we made for our future part in Him?
IV. The peculiar expression here given to spiritual feeling. The spiritual had triumphed over the earthly; how could the prominent feeling be best expressed? They built an altar. They did not erect a memorial of their own past prowess. They did not even build a memorial merely in thankfulness to God. They did that, and more. They copied the altar at Shiloh, which represented to them the presence and face of God. They set up that altar within the land of Canaan itself: God could only be approached there. They set it up by “the passage of the children of Israel,” and at a convenient ford for crossing towards Shiloh. It was another way of saying, “God can only be approached through sacrifice, and sacrifice can only be offered at His appointed altar” (Deuteronomy 12:5-14). It is always beautiful to see true love formulating her symbols. How shall love express herself? That depends on the dispensation, on the time, on the surroundings, of him who loves. But love that is true never makes mistakes. It always expresses itself appropriately and significantly. The expression of true love, let it take what form it may, is always beautiful. Cain’s sacrifice spoke heterodoxy; not so Abel’s. Abraham, after the pattern shewed to him, told his love by lifting the sacrificial knife over his son. Hannah gave her son to the Lord in a life-long service. David told his memory of former deliverances, by using, to meet Goliath, the old sling of his shepherd days. The woman who was a sinner told her love by tears which Jesus said were for the washing of His feet, and by ointment in which Christ saw a beautiful contrast to the cold thoughtlessness of Simon. Mary of Bethany also brought ointment; the Saviour said, “She hath come beforehand to anoint my body to the burying.” Mary of Magdala came with her tears to her Lord’s grave, and angels were visibly present, as if to acknowledge the fitness of her gift. So the two and a half tribes impulsively erected their altar; and when they had found out its meaning, the children of Israel, with the zealous Phinehas included, were all well pleased (Joshua 22:30; Joshua 22:33). It is our coldness that is awkward and inappropriate. He who loves much generally serves in a way glorifying to his Lord, and instructive to his fellow-men.
II. THE MISJUDGMENT OF THE ALTAR.—Joshua 22:11-20
ZEAL WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE
Most commentators on this passage assume that the two and a half tribes were very much to blame, and though some allow that the western tribes were a little too hasty, a general praise is awarded them for what is freely called their “holy wrath.” This appears to be an unfair verdict. Doubtless the Reubenites and their brethren would have done well to have communicated with Eleazar before doing an act so open to misconstruction. Yet their error was merely one of oversight. The very fact that they did not think to consult the high priest, suggests that it did not even occur to them that they were doing a wrong thing. As to the work itself, all Israel came presently to be pleased with the thing done, even the zealot Phinehas being no exception. Had the eastern tribes been proved guilty of erecting an altar for sacrifice, it might have been proper to have spoken of the zeal of their western brethren as displaying “holy wrath;” as the record stands, the wrath appears to have had in it somewhat more of sin than holiness. It was wrong to assume guilt on a mere report, and then rapidly muster for war; it was wrong also for the deputation of princes to make grave charges of terrible sin, when they ought to have made enquiries first, and, if necessary, have proceeded to give reproof afterwards. The eastern tribes erred in a negative form, omitting to do something of which, in the innocence of their hearts, they seem not even to have thought; the western tribes committed a positive sin, judging their brethren with no proof of their guilt, and thus judging them in a matter which was thought to require a wholesale infliction of the penalty of death (cf. Joshua 22:12; Leviticus 17:8-9; Deuteronomy 12:13-14). It is insufficient to say that the wrath of the nine and a half tribes would have been “holy,” had their brethren been really guilty; that is merely saying that the wrath would have been right had certain things happened which never took place.
We see here illustrations of the following things:—
I. Good men very easily betrayed into hasty and wrong judgments. “Israel heard say, Behold the children of Reuben,” etc. It was a report, and the report said, They have built an altar.
1. Here is judgment based merely upon appearances, and thus wrong judgment. Rumour generally deals with things from without. It often freely attributes motives; it seldom takes pains to understand them. Appearances were much against the eastern tribes. They had built an altar. For what could an altar be erected, if not for sacrifice? To what other use could an altar possibly be put? It was very easy to assume that the ordinary use of an altar was the use intended in this instance. Yet this assumption was wrong. The outward seemings of human acts are not a safe guide for judgment.
“What we oft do best
By sick interpreters, once weak ones, is
Not ours, or not allowed; what worst, as oft,
Hitting a grosser quality, is cried up
For our best act.”—Shakespeare.
Through judging by the outward, men have often been extolled where base, and condemned where best. The outward appearance is not only insufficient for righteous judgment, but may be altogether opposed to righteous judgment. The Saviour Himself was continually misjudged by men who had their eyes fastened on things outward. It was when He had once put the Sabbath to the lofty use of healing a man who had been impotent for many years, that the Jews went about to kill Him, and Christ answered them: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” On this, the late F. D. Maurice remarks of the Saviour: “He was giving a lesson to all ages and to all teachers respecting the duty and the method of piercing through the outward shell of an institution into the principle which is embodied in it—respecting the danger of omitting to do this through any affected reverence for the institution itself.” The act of the Saviour seemed contrary to the law of the Sabbath; so the act of these trans-Jordanic tribes appeared to be contrary to the unity of worship; yet, in either case, the judgment which condemned these acts was faulty.
2. Here is wrong judgment, when once formed, actually promoted by supposed zeal for God. Having started falsely, the very jealousy which these men had for truth impelled them farther astray. The force of zeal is a good force when it is made to act in a right direction. But zeal is not the most clear-sighted of the Christian graces. There is but a step between human zeal and human passion, and men have often crossed the narrow boundary unknown to themselves. History has too often shown anger against men hiding itself under the plea of love to God. Men who give way to “holy wrath” have much need to accompany it with humble prayer. Had Eleazar asked counsel of God, the Israelites would not have been so readily betrayed into a passion against their brethren. We read here of no such prayer and humiliation as that recorded in chap. Joshua 7:6-9. Thus, this “holy wrath” presently turns out to be founded in delusion. The men who so readily determined that their brethren had sinned, came soon to discover that the error was nearer home. They who knew others so easily, had to find out that they were ignorant of themselves. Greville wrote: “He that sees ever so accurately, ever so finely into the motives of other people’s acting, may possibly be entirely ignorant as to his own. It is with the mental as with the corporeal eye, the object may be placed too near the sight to be seen truly, as well as too far off; nay, too near to be seen at all.”
II. Wrong judgments speedily leading to false accusations (Joshua 22:15-20).
1. Here are mistaken judgments passing out of the minds and hearts that formed them into words and acts. “They came.” “They spake.” Men seldom keep long to themselves the opinions in which they condemn others As in this instance, there are some cases in which it would be wrong to do so Had the eastern tribes really been guilty of building a second altar for sacrifice it would have been wrong for their brethren not to have confronted them with their sin. Even when remonstrance is not deemed necessary, men who conclude some evil against a fellow seldom keep their conclusion to themselves. The judgments that are formed in a man’s heart cannot be kept there. Men’s opinions of some evil in their brethren are expressed in many ways—now by looks, now by a significant silence, now by words, and at other times by deeds. No man should recklessly allow, even to his own heart, that his brother is guilty. Such conclusions are difficult to keep, and he worst keeps them who most readily entertains them.
2. Here are opinions hastily adopted, and just as badly communicated. We see in Phinehas and the ten princes the following mistakes:—(a) Accusation instead of enquiry. They call this building of the altar “a trespass,” “a turning away from following the Lord,” and “a rebellion.” (b) Painful comparisons instead of an opportunity for explanation. It was not enough for Phinehas to begin his address with such hard words; in his vehemence, he gives no room for any answer till he has compared these brave men, so lately sent away with words of high praise from Joshua, to the vilest of the sinners known in the history of the people. They are put side by side with the transgressors of Peor, among whom Phinehas himself had so boldly vindicated the honour of his God. They are named, also, with Achan, who had so selfishly and grievously transgressed. (c) A contemplation of the judgments of God as likely to be provoked by the sins of others, and no thought of them in connection with their own sins (Joshua 22:18; Joshua 22:20). Good men are very ready to fear that the sins of some one else are likely to provoke the displeasure of the Lord. The best of men are too apt to forget to ask themselves how God may be regarding their own lives.
3. Here are the bad judgments of good men having about them some conspicuous redeeming features (Joshua 22:19). The proposition that the eastern tribes should pass over and inherit among their brethren west of Jordan very beautifully softens the otherwise harsh character of these proceedings. It shews that the western tribes did not contemplate war as an absolute necessity, even if their brethren had sinned, but only if they should prove obdurate. It shews in light at once clear and beautiful, that the moving spirit of this remonstrance was to be found in love to God, and in jealousy for His commandment. It shews that the western tribes were unselfish, and, indeed, very generous—ready both to undertake the wearisome task of a fresh division of the land, and to suffer, for the sake of their brethren and God’s truth, that their own inheritances should be very materially diminished. No man’s godliness is seen everywhere. Our very love to God has its defects. All true godliness will shew itself somewhere. Let a Christian man commit an error ever so great, yet, if he be really a Christian, his love to God and holiness will find places in which it is constrained to assert itself, the error notwithstanding.
III. The mistakes of zeal threatening to become far more disastrous than the mistakes of love. The error of the eastern tribes had in it nothing of that energy of mischief which was so prominent in the zeal of the Israelites of the west. The love of the one people was impulsive in its ardour towards God, and thus too thoughtless for the feelings of men, but it did not intend harm to any one; the zeal of the other people began by proposing a war. It is ever thus. The wrongs to men arising from ardent love to God have never been comparable to the injury wrought by zeal for God’s truth. Love usually wrongs herself quite as much as she harms men generally; while zeal for purity of doctrine systematically and continuously directs her energy against others. Peter cried, “That be far from Thee, Lord,” and brought down upon himself his Lord’s sore rebuke. James and John vehemently asked, “Wilt Thou not that we call down fire from heaven?” proposing to vindicate the Saviour’s honour in the ashes of a village, and in the dying groans of burning men and women and little children. The love of men to God has often found them making serious mistakes, and inadvertently causing much suffering; the zeal of zealots has baptized the path of the Church with blood through all generations.
III. THE VINDICATION OF THE ALTAR.—Joshua 22:21-29
THE SELF-DEFENCE OF THE INNOCENT
It has been said that “a man’s character is like his shadow, which sometimes follows, and sometimes precedes him, and which is occasionally longer, occasionally shorter than he is.” Thus, too, is it with the character of these Israelites. A short time before, Joshua had spoken to them words of commendation; perhaps of higher commendation, in some instances, than was deserved. Here the estimation of character errs on the other side. These men are accused where they are not guilty. Let us see how they bear the accusation thus brought against them.
I. Innocent men shewing extreme sensitiveness under a charge of great sin. They speak as men deeply wounded. The language is broken, abrupt, and fervent (cf. Crit. Notes). Is it natural for innocent men to shew such sensitiveness under false charges? Undoubtedly it is. Some people assume that the natural bearing of innocence is calmness. They are ready to conclude that a man is most likely guilty if he is very sensitive, and probably innocent if he is undisturbed. Much must depend on the temperament of the person accused. Coolness may be only the measure of hypocrisy, and sensitiveness may be only the natural expression of horror at the thought of guilt. Shakespeare wrote:
“The purest treasure mortal times afford
Is spotless reputation; that away,
Men are but gilded loam or painted clay.”
When so much is at stake, it is not wonderful if those who fear to lose should make that concern very manifest. Is it right for innocent men to shew such sensitiveness under false charges? Undoubtedly, it is not only natural, but right also. Not long since, a prominent German politician, replying to the slanders of the press directed against public characters, and answering those who told him that ministers ought not to mind the calumnies spoken against them, was warmly cheered as he exclaimed in the German Parliament: “God keep us from a breed of statesmen with hearts of lead and hides of leather. Let us have men whose blood moves to their cheeks when lies are flung in their faces; for it is no ideal of mine to become acclimatised to liars.” Whatever may be thought of the strength of the language thus used, no one can deny the correctness of the sentiment which the language contains. Patience should have “her perfect work” everywhere; but patience was never intended to find its consummation in a dull phlegmatic mood, which should be equally insensible to praise or blame. A Christian man is especially called to be patient, even under false accusations, but he also has especial reasons for deep and sensitive concern. The honour of his Lord is affected by his disgrace. A Christian man charged with grievous sin is charged with bringing shame upon a name far higher than his own. These falsely accused Israelites seem to have keenly felt the unjust words of their brethren in this light. He whose life is a striving against sin, cannot but feel acutely when he is unjustly accused of having forfeited his good name, wronged his brethren, and dishonoured his God.
II. Innocent men energetically defending themselves from this false charge. It has been said that reputation is often “got without merit, and lost without deserving.” Few men, however their reputation may have been won, consent to part with it without some effort in its defence. There may be times when it may be well to remember that “no man is ever written down but by himself.” A few of our fellows may be privileged to take the lofty stand of an aged man, who, when asked to answer some attack upon his character, replied: “For many years my character has taken care of itself, and I am not going to begin to defend it now.” Most men, however, will at times be driven to feel that such defence of their reputation is both legitimate and necessary. It was thus with these Israelites. The leaders of these forty thousand men felt that their repudiation of this charge was due to themselves, due to all the host with them, and due to their brethren whom they had just rejoined in their new inheritance.
1. Their defence contained several abrupt appeals to God. There was an appeal to God’s knowledge. The mighty God, the God, Jehovah; the mighty God, the God, Jehovah, He knoweth.” They made their appeal to Him who was the “strong God,” and could punish them; to Him who was the God, and whose majesty placed Him high above all the pretended gods of the surrounding nations; and, not least, to Him who was Jehovah of Israel, and knew all things. There were, also, appeals to God’s judgment: “Save us not this day;” “Let the Lord Himself require it.” No one should lightly invoke God. It should be remembered that the charge here was a very solemn one, and that it amounted to an accusation of having renounced God. It was under these circumstances that these men boldly said, in effect: If we have departed from Jehovah, let not Jehovah save us.
2. Their defence supplied a sufficient reason for the thing which they had done (Joshua 22:24-28). They had built the altar for reasons very opposite to those laid to their charge; it was not to depart from God, but to enable them to cleave to God. They had built it, not only to keep a part in God secure for themselves, but to secure a heritage for their children. Thus they not only deny the attributed motive, but supply the real one.
3. Their defence shews them cherishing no bitterness, and refraining from all recrimination. It is well that they say not too little; it is better still that they refrain from saying too much. They might justly have rebuked their accusers for undue haste, and for unkind and harsh charges of terrible sin. But not a single word of the kind falls from their lips. Their words, it is true, are the words of men deeply wounded, but there is nothing which betrays anger or bitterness towards their unjust brethren. Apart from the patient silence of the Saviour Himself, perhaps there is no instance in the entire Scriptures which more beautifully shews how wounded innocence may defend itself without transgression. Acute feeling and warmth of expression are not necessarily sinful. It is when warmth passes into indignation against others, leading us to cherish bitter thoughts towards them, that we sin against that love of God which requires that we never forget to love our brethren.
IV. THE GENERAL ACCEPTANCE OF THE ALTAR.—Joshua 22:30-34
FEAR GIVING PLACE TO JOY
We have already had occasion to remark upon the honourable spirit displayed, in one thing, by the deputation from the ten tribes. If their brethren felt their inheritance to be “unclean,” they cheerfully offered to make room for them on the other side of Jordan. Hardly less praiseworthy is the readiness in which they cheerfully accepted the explanation offered by the eastern tribes. It would have been grateful to have found them actually acknowledging their undue haste; on the other hand, no words of reproach are recorded as having been uttered against the two and a half tribes for their undoubted fault of not communicating with Eleazar before building the altar. The princes, moreover, do not wait till they have referred this new explanation to the authorities at Shiloh. They accept on the spot the motive for building the altar: “it pleased them” (Joshua 22:10). Later on, all the people join in this verdict: “the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel blessed God” (Joshua 22:33).
Thus the guiltless, sooner or later, are ever vindicated. A patient explanation, without bitterness, would go far to reconcile half the enmities of life in the very hour of provocation. If not then, the innocent only require time for their righteousness to be brought forth as the light. False accusations, to mailed innocence, are like tragedy daggers; they may be driven home with a force which, apparently, cannot be resisted, but, sheathing themselves backwards in their own handles, they leave those who are attacked unharmed.
The pleasure which was so readily expressed by the ten tribes and their representatives forcibly illustrates the following points of interest:—
I. Joy in the exculpation of accused brethren. The princes and the people were glad to know that their brethren were found guiltless. This pleasure in the innocence of their brethren goes far to redeem their former hastiness from reproach. It shews an entire absence of malice, and of any desire to find an occasion against the eastern tribes. It shews an unmistakable zeal for God, albeit the zeal had manifested itself in an intemperate and reckless manner.
1. God is the true bond of brotherhood, and therefore God is more than our brethren. The distance to which a man gets from God is so much distance from his fellows. To the man who lives in God, all men become brethren; to the man who ignores God, even his nearest kin are but aliens, who are tolerated because of the necessities of life, or because they may minister to his own selfish enjoyment. Brutality is only another name for being far from God; brotherhood is a synonym for nearness to God. This is so even among men who have never heard of God by name; it becomes so, manifestly and appreciably, among those to whom God has been made known. Thus to the ten tribes God was more than their brethren. It was He who had caused the brotherhood. So even the western half of the tribe of Manasseh were prepared to cast off their own family; yea, if necessary under the peculiar conditions of that ancient theocracy, they were prepared to assist in slaying their brethren, rather than suffer them to initiate a movement which might soon lead all Israel to reject Jehovah. God is the fount from which all true brotherhood springs. The fountain may be hidden among the eternal hills, as God, even by name, is hidden from the heathen, but the refreshing waters of brotherly feeling are from Him, notwithstanding. The law in the heart is from Him, whether it has been published and formulated into a system, or not. God is the centre around whom all brotherly feelings revolve, and He is the influence by which they are so moved and so sustained. God, then, is more than our brethren. If we are really called to choose between Him and a brother, the very spirit of brotherhood itself bids us to reject any man for the love of Him by whom all men become brethren indeed.
2. If we are true brethren, our brother’s shame and pain will be ours also. The reaction of feeling described in these verses shews that the ten tribes were moved by grief, and not animated by malice. Had the trans-Jordanic tribes been guilty, and obstinate in their guilt, and had they been exterminated by their brethren, men would have pointed to this as a dark and more than suspicious page in this history. Thousands would never have cared to understand that it was possible for half a nation to be full of sorrow and sympathy while smiting the other half unto death. But this sudden burst of joy is like the outshining of a great light; it discovers, unmistakably, a pre-existing sorrow, which, while held in restraint by zeal for God, was as great as the after gladness. The measure of the joy seen here is the fair measure of the sorrow felt before. It is the true measure of that sorrow; for these spontaneous outbursts of feeling from thousands of men at once are things beyond the reach of hypocrisy. Thus we are taught to sorrow for pain which it may be necessary to inflict. True brotherhood may not be able to spare the cause for tears, yet it ever weeps with those who weep.
3. If we are true brethren, the re-established innocence of those suspected of guilt will work in us a gladness both hearty and unfeigned. Like the shepherd with the one sheep, the woman with the piece of silver, and the father with the prodigal, we shall rejoice over that which was apparently lost, and is again found, even more than over that which had manifestly been kept.
II. Joy in the knowledge that sin has not been committed.
1. Sin should be hated for its own sake. It is a bitterness which nothing can sweeten. Faber well wrote: “It is a great thing gradually to grow into the conviction that there is no real sorrow in the world but sin; that we have no real enemy but sin, in others as well as in ourselves, in prayer as well as in action. This is just the one work we have to do, and is just the one work which is worth doing.” We have most of us need to get more into the spirit of Chrysostom, who when angrily threatened with banishment by the wife of Theodosius II., calmly said to her messenger: “Go and toll the empress I fear nothing but sin.” Did we but know sin as it is, we should hate it with undying hatred.
2. Sin should be hated because it robs men of vast blessings. The Israelites feared that it would rob them even of God. Sin poisons all the soul’s joys, and feeds upon the soul’s very life. Sin is stolen life in corruption. Sin is death. Men shun the disease which leaves them a dead body in the place of a living friend, and they say of the body itself, Let me bury my dead out of my sight; yet men too often welcome the sin which leaves them with a dead soul, and act as though they felt little the poorer for having a soul so lifeless.
3. Sin should be hated because it is displeasing to God. The Israelites were so jealous because of what God might think of this altar, which they concluded had been built for sacrifice. God had so many claims on them. God had loved them so much, and done such great things for them, that they were glad in His pleasure, and sorrowful in His displeasure. The cross stands for more than the wilderness, and our pain in grieving God might well exceed that of these Israelites.
4. He who hates sin must be careful not to hate the sinner. Though utterly mistaken about the meaning of the altar, and using words of sharp reproof to the men whom they took to be so guilty, the princes manifest throughout a warm concern for their brethren’s welfare. Actual sin must be often sternly reproved, and, it may be, severely punished in the person of the transgressor, but nothing can ever justify us in hating men. There is not a single man whom we have any authority to hate. Every one of our fellows is a being made in God’s image. There is no one who, by God’s grace, may not yet become an angel of light. Even with Judas the Saviour pleaded tenderly to the last.
III. Joy in freedom from sin as supplying an indication of the Lord’s presence “This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, because ye have not committed this trespass against the Lord.” In the absence of sin they found an argument for the presence of God.
1. When sin is freely indulged in, men may safely assume that God is not with them. Both the Father and the Son abide only with those who keep the Divine words (John 14:23). Sooner or later, every Saul who persists in disobedience has to say, “The Lord is departed from me, and answereth me no more.”
2. The very fact that sin is absent, tells of a present God. The yearning heart that walks in the light, and longs for more light, need not ask for mighty signs of the Lord’s presence; He is never far withdrawn from such. The sun even in the time of summer may be hidden behind the clouds, but the mildness of the atmosphere and the fruitfulness of the earth alike agree in betraying the season. So the ardour of warm love, the simplicity of unquestioning faith, the gladness of holy joy, the spirit of urgent prayer, and all forms of hunger and thirst after righteousness, tell of the nearness of God. God may not be seen in marvellous and exciting signs, but these quieter things are no less signs, and signs which may be equally trusted. When spiritual life is full and fruitful, we may ever be sure that it has not been severed from its connection with Him who is the great source of that life.
IV. Joy in averted judgment. The ten tribes were glad together that God was not angry with their brethren. They were also glad that they were not called to execute against a part of the nation the solemn commandment of Jehovah (Leviticus 17:8; Leviticus 17:4; Deuteronomy 13:6-18). This is nothing less than joy in the deliverance of men who had seemed in great peril. It is akin to the joy of salvation, of the expression of which the Scriptures are so full. Angels rejoice when judgment is averted by a sinner’s conversion. Here the joy of the ten tribes was full, because what had appeared to be a necessary judgment was found not to have been deserved. There are no songs so exalted in their gladness as those which express delight in men delivered from death. The new song before the throne is also a song of salvation. Joy in its relation to men can be set to no higher theme than the deliverance of men from sin and suffering and death.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 22:9.—THE DELAYED INHERITANCE.
I. An inheritance completely won, but nevertheless long delayed. The land of Gilead and Bashan had been conquered for several years (cf. Numbers 21:21-35). No enemies remained to prevent possession.
II. An inheritance promised by God, but to be possessed through the faithful obedience of men. “According to the word of the Lord.” Though the Lord had promised this land, the two and a half tribes had promised faithful service (Numbers 32:16-33). The service rendered had nothing to do with actually winning their own inheritance. That was won already.
III. An inheritance patiently waited for, through years of faithful service, and thus more fully enjoyed at last. They returned to possess it, enjoying the praise of Joshua, and glad in the consciousness that they had ardently striven to do the will of the Lord.
Joshua 22:10.—THINGS TO BE DONE FOR GOD.
I. Things to be done for God are things to be done first. Nothing should take precedence of that which we owe to the Lord. There can be no duty even to wife or children of sufficient importance to come between us and Him to whom we owe both our life and theirs.
II. Things to be done for God are things to be done unanimously. “The children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh,” each joined in the work. The accord was unbroken. No single dissentient voice rises to break in upon the perfect harmony of the history. Nothing is more incongruous than strife in the expression of praise and thankfulness to God; and yet, on the question of how it shall be rendered, have arisen the bitterest and bloodiest strifes of men.
III. Things to be done for God are things to be done with all our hearts. They built “a great altar to see to.” A small and insignificant work would not serve to express their ardent feeling. The only contention which we can imagine in this work is one against limiting too closely the area on which the altar should be built; or the children of the tribes might enter into a holy rivalry in the rapidity of their toil, and contend, if at all, which of them should lay the last stone. The whole work seems to have been an ardent labour of grateful love.
IV. Things to be done for God are things to be done with prudence. Ardour is not enough. Fervour should be combined with wisdom. What we intend by our works is important; how others may interpret them is of great consequence also.
Joshua 22:9-10.—CLEAVING UNTO THE LORD.
Moses had repeatedly charged the children of Israel to cleave unto the Lord their God (Deuteronomy 4:4; Deuteronomy 10:20; Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 13:4; Deuteronomy 30:20). The two and a half tribes are here seen faithfully obeying this commandment. We see in these verses:—
I. Men leaving much, but still possessing God.
1. Leaving their brethren.
2. Leaving the place where they had helped to win many victories.
3. Leaving a land where they had been blessed with much of Jehovah’s gracious aid.
4. Leaving the place of God’s more manifest abode (Shiloh). With all this left behind, they still retained their possession in the Lord Himself. Whatever we are called to forsake, we need not leave Him.
II. Men possessing God, and esteeming their inheritance in Him above all else that they had.
1. Above home comforts.
2. Above their dearest relatives.
3. Above their earthly estate.
4. Above the estate which had been given them by God Himself. Some extol God merely with the praise of the lips. That is true worship, in which men extol Him in the deeds of their daily lives. Many worship far more devoutly in the market and the shop than others do in the temple.
III. Men possessing God for themselves, and anxious to secure for their children the same exalted inheritance. The altar was not merely a memorial of the past, but still more a witness for the future. It was partly an expression of the spiritual life of the men that built it; it was still more for their children (Joshua 22:24-27). He who delights much in the Lord will desire that others, and especially his own children, may be sharers in his joy.
Joshua 22:11-12.—THE MISUNDERSTOOD AND MISREPORTED DEEDS OF MEN.
I. A good work misapprehended and presently misreported.
1. The work was misunderstood. Some one saw the two and a half tribes erecting this pile. Probably he heard the word “altar” repeatedly used. The “altar” was ever so unlike the altar at Shiloh, it is true: that was made of brass, this of earth and stones; that was comparatively small, while this was very large indeed. But then the builders themselves called it “an altar,” and forthwith the observer concluded it was for the purpose of offering sacrifices. Many good deeds of good men have fared no better at the hands of their fellows. Thousands of noble acts have been and still are being misinterpreted. The world is full of monuments which have never been understood, and the very inscriptions on which have been perpetually misread. The motives of the human mind are often written in symbols as puzzling as the old cuneiform records, but the pedantry of the ignorant pronounces the vision to be quite “plain upon the tables,” and forthwith the so-called readers “run” to make their report. The fine art galleries, in which are hung up the more highly wrought deeds of life’s noblest thinkers and workers, are continually frequented by very pronounced judges who, in this department, hardly know a group in a church from a landscape in Babylon itself. They “see men as trees walking.” Even when the Lord Himself is anointed, and is well-pleased with the spiritual beauty of the deed, some indignant murmurer is pretty certain to be standing by, who, as though there could be no room for a second opinion, will unhesitatingly look upon the expended ointment, and call it “this waste.” Men are continually finding spiritual palaces in what are only moral ruins, and regarding as mere débris humble and holy deeds, in which devouter eyes discern a temple to the Lord. While men are so misapprehended by their fellows, let none be discouraged. It is written of Him who shall judge them finally, “He knew what was in man.” Christ reads the work in the light of the worker.
2. This misunderstood work was promptly calumniated. Before the two and a half tribes had well done building their altar, “the children of Israel heard say” what the altar meant. Evil tidings spread apace. Those who bear them are like Ahimaaz and Cushi, who both ran their very fastest. It is still worse to have to remember that the “good man” sometimes distances the bad, not merely as a courier of misfortune, but as one who carelessly, or otherwise, perverts the truth. “Calumny is like the Greek fire used in ancient warfare, which burnt unquenched beneath the water, or like the weeds which when you have extirpated them in one place are sprouting forth vigorously in another spot, at the distance of many hundred yards; or, to use the metaphor of St. James, it is like the wheel which catches fire as it goes, and burns with a fiercer conflagration as its own speed increases; ‘it sets on fire the whole course of nature’ (literally, the wheel of nature). You may tame the wild beast, the conflagration of the American forest will cease when all the timber and the dry underwood is consumed; but you cannot arrest the progress of that cruel word which you uttered carelessly yesterday or this morning,—which you will utter perhaps before you have passed from this church one hundred yards: that will go on slaying, poisoning, burning beyond your own control, now and for ever.” [F. W. Robertson.] It should be remembered that not only the altars which men build, but also the idle words which men speak, are presently to be matters for an irreversible judgment.
II. Judgment founded on appearances and on rumour, instead of after enquiry. (Cf. p. 315.) “Ephemeron, that insect of a day, related to its youthful kindred in its expiring voice how it had seen the coeval sun arise in early youth, climbing up the east, but now that that sun was surely sinking in the western sky, an awful catastrophe or a final night might be safely predicted. The ephemeron expired; but the next day the sun arose in the east as brilliantly as ever; before sundown, however, there were other expiring ephemera predicting, as before, his final extinction.” Thus, like the fabled insect of a day, do men judge from appearances, while they see but a small part of the things on which they so confidently pronounce.
III. War threatened hastily, and without sufficient occasion. The accusation was incorrect, and had ultimately to be abandoned.
1. A war threatened in the name of religion. The object of preventing idolatry was good; the measures set on foot for the purpose were very terrible. Whatever might be said to justify the ten tribes, the Saviour has unhesitatingly pronounced against any attempt to uphold His kingdom by the sword.
2. A war threatened for want of a right word. The two and a half tribes had themselves called their memorial “an altar” (Joshua 22:26, mizbçach); afterwards, though still regarding it as an altar, they termed it “a witness” (çd). Had the later name been given to it at the first, no misunderstanding might have arisen, and no war might have been threatened. Not a few of the conflicts of life spring from first impressions; and these, in their turn, from names. Small things lead to great issues.
3. A war averted by patient words of explanation. The manner in which grave charges are met is of even more consequence than the charges themselves.
Joshua 22:16-19.—NARROW-MINDED JUDGMENT AND LARGE-HEARTED LOVE.
I. The onesidedness of human judgment. The view taken both by the ten tribes and their delegates was partial and narrow.
1. The act was judged apart from its motive. The judges looked wholly at the altar, and not at all at the heart.
2. The many were led by the opinion of the few. The leaders seem to have made up their minds, and they were blindly followed by the nation. “Thus saith the whole congregation.” The power of one man to influence a multitude.
3. Past sin was remembered in one aspect, only to rush into an opposite extreme in another direction. “Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us?” At Peor there was too great laxity. For a time, no man reproved his brother, and no man sought to stay manifest and abounding iniquity. Here half a nation hastens to accuse the other half for a sin which had not been committed.
II. The vehemence of religious zeal. Men never call names so firmly and unhesitatingly as when they upbraid their fellows for a departure from the truth. These brave soldiers, who for seven years had been proving their faithfulness to Joshua, to Israel, and to God, are in one short half-hour termed trespassers, and rebels, and provokers of Divine wrath. Many commentators commend the ten tribes for their wisdom and prudence in sending this deputation before entering on a religious war. As if this war of words and these terrible accusations of sin were free from guilt. The ten tribes could hardly do less than enquire before drawing the sword. They had been solemnly commanded to do that (Deuteronomy 13:14). Instead of doing the bidding of Moses to “enquire, and make search, and ask diligently,” Phinehas and his followers accuse most harshly.
III. The comprehensiveness and beauty of love. The narrow mind may go with a large heart. They who charged their brethren so recklessly, were willing to deny themselves to provide their brethren a home (Joshua 22:19). With their minds these men could only view the conduct of their brethren from one side. With their hearts the outlook was far broader. We see here:
1. The beauty of love to God.
2. The beauty of love for truth.
3. The beauty of love towards those who were sincerely thought to be offending brethren. He who loves much will often find his heart giving good help where his understanding fails.
“Precipitate bloodthirstiness is not consistent with true religion; for how can He who Himself would not break the bruised reed, allow us either to bruise that which is whole, or break that which is bruised, or burn up the broken?” (Isaiah 43:3.)
“In cases which are ambiguous and uncertain, it is better to let the judgment stand suspended than to act contrary to love” (1 Corinthians 13:7.—[Hedinger.]
“It is a foolish and dangerous thing for people to think their former sins little—too little for them, as those do who add sin to sin, and so ‘treasure up wrath against the day of wrath.’ Let therefore the time past suffice.”—[Matt. Henry.]
Joshua 22:20.—ONE SINNER AND MANY SUFFERERS.
I. Sin punished in the person of the offender. “That man perished.”
1. Sin works death in the sinner. Every wound or disease in the body is so much weakening of the physical life. Every sin is so much taken away from spiritual life. Few things impair spiritual life more completely than covetousness, the sin of which Achan was guilty. Scripture gives us not a few instances of its fatal power. “ ‘Take heed, and beware of covetousness.’ Manifestly this was ‘the error of Balaam.’ He looked at Balak’s bribe till it fascinated him. The ‘love of money’ besieged and corrupted his affections. Mammon threw his golden toils around him. And how baleful and disastrous was the working of the spell, the story reveals. What a thing of discord and contradictions his heart became! how false and inconsistent was the part he played! and how unspeakably awful were the final issues of his avarice! Standing therefore over Balaam’s blighted character; standing over the corses of the four-and-twenty thousand that were smitten with the plague at Baal-peor; and standing, finally, over the dead body of the prophet, as its oozing blood reddens the battle-field of Midian, we read this lesson, vivid as an electric flash, ‘Take heed, and beware of covetousness.’ ” [T. Akroyd.] Gehazi, Judas, Achan, and others, teach us no less terribly how all the higher feelings of the heart fade away and perish under this love of gain.
2. Sin brings death to the sinner. God often takes away the life that is wedded to wickedness, in order to quicken in a final penitence that higher life which sin has well-nigh extinguished.
II. Sin punished, and the innocent involved with the guilty. “That man perished not alone in his iniquity.” The Lord was wroth with all the congregation, and thirty-six of the people were slain before Ai, because of Achan’s sin. The argument of Phinehas deals with facts of history, and is not to be read as a mere expression of his own personal opinion.
1. Scripture shews us many other cases in which the innocent are involved with the guilty. A notable instance is that in which seventy thousand men were slain on the occasion of David’s sin in numbering the people. David himself was oppressed by the thought, and cried out: “Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done?” Almost every case of sin of which the Scriptures give any record shews, however, that the suffering wrought by sin reaches out far beyond the sinner. Joseph’s brethren well-nigh break the heart of Jacob. The sons of Eli and Samuel bring judgment upon all the land. Saul sins, and the kingdom suffers throughout. The sin of Eden involves the world.
2. Like things continually happen in daily life now. The murderer gives way to passion, and not only is the victim made to suffer, but the families of both victim and murderer also. The sin of carelessness in a miner, a chemist, an engineer, or a railway signalman may place an entire neighbourhood in mourning. In this life, the drunkard and the thief often bring more woe to their families than even to themselves. The ambition of rulers has strewn miles of battle-ground with the dead of their own and other nations. This is no mere question of theology, confined to the Bible, on which sceptics, with a mercy improvised for the occasion, may come and pour forth their scorn. All history, all life, and the very recognition of anything which we can term law, join to tell us that “No man liveth unto himself.” Peradventure this is the one appropriate inscription which could stand over the tomb of every conspicuous sinner: “That man perished not alone in his iniquity.”
“Each creature holds an insular point in space:
Yet what man stirs a finger, breathes a sound,
But all the multitudinous beings round,
In all the countless worlds, with time and place
For their conditions, down to the central base,
Thrill, haply, in vibration and rebound,
Life answering life across the vast profound,
In full antiphony.”—E. B. Browning.
This is not a question of theology; it is simply a question of men standing very close together. God has bound us to each other in so many sensitive and close interests, that the offence of one man is ever the wound of many of his fellows.
III. Sin committed, and the innocent contaminated and punished also. Achan’s sons and daughters were probably stoned and burned with him. As Keil has pointed out, concerning chap. Joshua 7:25-26 : “It does not necessarily follow from the use of the singular suffixes that only Achan was stoned, and not his children; on the contrary, the singular is used interchangeably with the plural because Achan was the person most prominent in the punishment, and therefore he is repeatedly mentioned alone.” It is at least possible that the children of Achan may have been aware of their father’s sin, and that they thus became accessories after the fact. Sin not only brings punishment to the innocent, it often tempts them, and presently makes them as guilty as the original offender.
“’Tis not their own crimes only, men commit:
They harrow them into another’s breast,
And he, too, reaps the growth with bitter pain.”
It is of no avail for the guilty to say: “Others should not be influenced.” Tempting, as well as sinning, is the work of the devil.
1. The sins we have committed are still at work. Nothing is lost in the world of nature. Nothing is lost in the world of morals. Sin will work on after he who committed it is dead. It needs eternity to spend itself.
2. Every man’s past life calls for deep humiliation. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Our sins may have had to do with the criminal who was executed yesterday, and with the culprit who has been convicted today. Some of the dead around us all may be of our own killing. He who will think that out fairly for himself can have few reasons for pride and conceit. Before men, and before God, the bearing of us each might well be very humble.
3. The claims of life are not so urgent in the direction of regrets about the past, as in that of earnest service for the future. The guilt of the past should be present enough to make us humble, but he will use it unwisely who finds in it only a call to shame and tears. It should move us to holy work, “if by any means we may save some.” If the past is working death, the future should be spent as a holy counteractive, leading men by the grace of God to eternal life.
Joshua 22:22-23.—RIGHTEOUSNESS WAITING FOR THE LIGHT.
I. The devout heart rejoicing in the consciousness that it is known of God. “The Lord God of gods, He knoweth.” The guilty shrink from God. When Adam has sinned, he hides. “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light” (John 3:20). He who knows that he is innocent, waits for the light with joy” (Psalms 37:6).
II. The devout heart confident that it will presently be judged aright by men. “And Israel he shall know.” “From over the gateway of a continental city some plaster had broken away, revealing an inscription cut in the solid stone. In the days when popery was prevalent, the inscription had been covered over; many years afterwards, the plaster falling down, men drew near and read in the words which it had hidden, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.’ Time is on the side of truth.” [C. Standford.] Time is no less on the side of truth in relation to character. When the plaster of prejudice or of unwise haste has fallen away, the fellow of the innocent “he also shall know.”
III. The devout heart boldly and reverently appealing to God for its vindication. “Save us not this day.” “Let the Lord Himself require it.” Thus Job waited for the vindication of God (Job 19:25-26). Seneca said, “Some men, like pictures, are fitter for a corner than a full light.” A wiser than Seneca said of others, “He that doeth truth cometh to the light.”
Joshua 22:24-27.—PARENTAL FORECAST.
I. Parents anticipating their children’s future temptations.
II. Parents endeavouring to provide for their children’s part in God.
III. Parents unconsciously making their own piety a monument and a witness against their children’s sin.
Joshua 22:27-29.—MONUMENTAL. RECORDS.
I. The work of a man’s life is a monument reared aloft in the world. The variety of this world’s monuments: as seen in our city squares; as seen in our records of history; as seen in human lives now surrounding us. Some are building with gold, silver, precious stones; some with wood, hay, stubble. The monument which transcends all others in its loftiness, purity, and beauty, is the life of Christ.
II. The monument of every man’s life is a witness.
1. It is a witness of his personal relation to God. These men did not erect their pile to the praise and glory of their own brave work in the war. In this light, so far as the altar witnessed of its builders, it told of their admiration of God and gratitude to God.
2. It it a witness of his relation to his family. The life will tell of wise care or sinful carelessness for the spiritual welfare of the household.
3. It is a witness of his relation to his fellow-citizens. He has worked with the nobler of them for the common good, or he has stood apart with the idle and the worthless.
III. The monument of a good man’s life speaks eloquently.
1. This monument embodied old yearnings. It was so much consolidated passion. It was religious love, and fervour, and sympathy, and longing, perpetuated in stone.
2. This monument represented long and severe toil. It was the outcome of work there upon the spot. It was built, as it were, upon the pedestal of all the previous toil in the seven years’ war. It was also expressive of the determination of the builders to take future journeys to Shiloh for the worship of the Lord.
3. This monument would go on speaking after the builders were dead. Such also is the life-work of every true man. He being dead, it yet speaketh.
IV. These monuments which men thus build may, for a time, be misinterpreted. The interpretation of the “witness” is not wholly with the builders. It depends no less on the men who behold the monument. They may “hear say” a great deal that the builders never so much as thought of. They may utterly fail to interpret the love and yearning and holy gratitude which the monument embodies. The eyes that read may be too dim to see the things that are written. The minds and hearts that criticise may be too dull and cold to interpret the eloquent tones which nobler hearts would hear distinctly and appreciate warmly. If Pharisees be the interpreters, then, though it be the life of the Son of God Himself on which they look, they will merely say, “He is a Samaritan, and hath a devil.” The monument of a life is what that life is before God; the monument of a life to any individual beholder is only what the beholder can make of it. A dull reader never finds more than a dull monument. Phinehas will detect the passion and fervour of the monument, but, in his rash haste and false zeal, he will be in danger, for a time, of calling it idolatrous. Many interpret only by the interpretation of others. Looking at the lives of their fellows, men are very like young people in a picture gallery; they see what the leading critics have seen, and reiterate, with due technical precision, what the leading critics have said. Thousands have got no farther than this in their interpretation of the lives of men like Henry Martyn, John Howard, David Livingstone, and others. Tens of thousands have got no farther than this in reading the life of Jesus Christ. They see what their chosen critics see, and say what their critics say. The monumental records of this life are to be misunderstood only for a time. All wrong readings will be corrected presently.
“The first care of true Israelites must be the safety of religion.
“He never knew God aright that can abide any competition with his Maker.”—[Bp. Hall.]
“They that are cut off from public ordinances are likely to lose all religion, and will, by degrees, cease from fearing the Lord.
“Though the form and profession of godliness is kept up by many without the life and power of it, yet the life and power of it will not be long kept up without the form and profession. You take away grace, if you take away the means of grace.”—[Matt. Henry.]
Joshua 22:30.—THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF A WRONG JUDGMENT OF BRETHREN.
I. Men getting rid of a strong prejudice. The tenacity of prejudices. Compare the warmth of the former charges with the statement, “It pleased them.”
II. Men promptly conceding that they had been mistaken. Phinehas at once owned that the sin had not been committed. The explanation of the two and a half tribes was freely accepted. Phinehas does not seem even to have blamed them for their fault of not conferring with the elders at Shiloh. The conduct of the deputation was generous, manly, and full of true piety.
III. Men well pleased with the work of their brethren. So far from retaining any of their former prejudice, they were pleased with the godly ingenuity of the memorial. They quickly mastered the high lesson of looking also “on the things of others.”
Joshua 22:31.—THE LORD’S PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE.
I. The Lord’s withdrawal the fore runner of His chastisement. “Now ye have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.”
II. The Lord’s presence perceived in the fact that His people have been kept from sin. “Because ye have not committed this trespass.”
III. The Lord’s presence recognised with gladness and thanksgiving. It is not a little significant that this should have been the form of their first expression after the discovery of their mistake.
Joshua 22:33.—ANXIETY GIVING PLACE TO JOY.
I. The joy of a whole nation. The people who had gathered at Shiloh, anxiously fearing that they might have to make war on their brethren, suddenly find their anxiety turned into gladness. The heart of the people must have been “as the heart of one man.”
II. The joy of a whole nation in averted judgment. The people might have feared God’s judgments on themselves. It seemed almost certain that judgment must fall on their brethren. The songs of this day must have been far more grateful to the ears of heaven than any pæan of national victory.
III. The joy of a whole nation in the Lord. “The children of Israel blessed God.” “He who keepeth Israel” had not slumbered. The mercy was regarded as one of heaven’s own sending.
IV. The joy of a whole nation, the outcome of a nation’s faith. As in the words of the penitent thief—“Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom”—there was marvellous faith shown in Christ, so there must have been great faith underlying this national emotion. The people must have believed very fully
(1) in the sin of disobeying God’s commands,
(2) in God’s punishment of sin,
(3) in the presence of God to behold sin,
(4) in God’s discernment of men’s hearts, as well as of their acts,
(5) and, probably, like Phinehas and his brethren, in the Divine keeping of the hearts of men.
Joshua 22:34.—THE ALTAR OF WITNESS.
“From the incidents above related we may gather:
1. “That the best meant things may afford cause of suspicion.
2. “It can do our brethren no injury to be jealous over them with a godly jealousy, even when we may be mistaken in our fears.
3. “Nothing will so soon kindle the zeal of a faithful and devoted spirit as the symptoms of apostacy from God in others, because to such nothing is so dear as His glory.
4. “Rising corruptions and dangerous errors should, in the spirit of meekness, be resisted as soon as broached, lest the evil leaven, being permitted to spread, should leaven the whole mass.
5. “The testimony of a good conscience is the most effectual support against the heaviest accusation.”—[Bush.]
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 22". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30