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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 22

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

Introduction

Joshua 22:0

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASBNKJVNRSVTEVNJB
The Tribes Beyond the Jordan ReturnEastern Tribes Return to Their LandThe Trans-Jordan TribesJoshua Sends the Eastern Tribes HomeThe Trans-Jordan Tribes Are Sent Home
Joshua 22:1-9Joshua 22:1-9Joshua 22:1-6Joshua 22:1-8aJoshua 22:1-5
Joshua 22:6
Joshua 22:7-9Joshua 22:7-8
Joshua 22:8b
Joshua 22:9-10
They Built an Altar Which OffendsAn Altar by the JordanThe Altar by the JordanAn Altar is Built Beside the Jordan
Joshua 22:10-12Joshua 22:10-12Joshua 22:10-12Joshua 22:10-12
Joshua 22:11
Joshua 22:12
Reproaches Addressed to the Eastern Tribes
Joshua 22:13-20Joshua 22:13-20Joshua 22:13-20Joshua 22:13-20Joshua 22:13-15
Joshua 22:16
Joshua 22:17-18
Joshua 22:19-20
Justifying the AltarThe Trans-Jordan Tribes Justify Their Actions
Joshua 22:21-25Joshua 22:21-29Joshua 22:21-29Joshua 22:21-29Joshua 22:21
Joshua 22:22-25
Joshua 22:26-29Joshua 22:26-29
Peace Restored
Joshua 22:30-34Joshua 22:30-34Joshua 22:30-31Joshua 22:30-31Joshua 22:30-31
Joshua 22:32-34Joshua 22:32-33Joshua 22:32-34
Joshua 22:34

READING CYCLE THREE (from “A Guide to Good Bible Reading”)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. Joshua 22:1-8 is Joshua's farewell address to the trans-Jordan tribes.

B. Joshua 22:9-34 is the account of a serious misunderstanding between these eastern tribes and their brothers on the western bank in the Promised Land. It shows that problems and misconceptions can be solved in non-violent ways. Israel had seemingly misunderstood the motive behind the altar and the eastern tribes failed to clearly communicate its purpose. Honest dialog can bring peace!

Verses 1-6

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 22:1-6 1Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 2and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have listened to my voice in all that I commanded you. 3You have not forsaken your brothers these many days to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God. 4And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as He spoke to them; therefore turn now and go to your tents, to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan. 5Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” 6So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.

Joshua 22:1 “and Joshua summoned” Based on Joshua 22:3, some commentators have wondered about how long these three tribes stayed and helped their brothers. It is possible that they were home and Joshua summoned them, but it is more likely that Joshua 22:3 states they had stayed the whole time, possibly even as long as fourteen years.

“Reuben” This is the oldest son of Jacob, who was rejected as family leader because he lay with one of Jacob's concubines (cf. Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:4).

Joshua 22:2 “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have listened to my voice in all that I have commanded you” Joshua addresses the eastern tribes and affirms them for (1) obeying Moses (cf. Numbers 32:28-32; Deuteronomy 3:18-20) and (2) listening to him (cf. Joshua 1:12-18). It is significant that in Joshua 22:3 they are told that they kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord, which implies that God's words through Moses and Joshua are God's words (cf. Joshua 22:3).

Joshua 22:4 “now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers” This “rest” (BDB 628, Hiphil PERFECT, cf. Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 3:20; Joshua 1:13, Joshua 1:15) refers to a time of peace and the absence of internal conflict.

“go to your tents” Since the Israelites took over the homes of the people they conquered, this must be an idiom for “go to your homes.”

The verse has two commands from Joshua.

1. “turn,” meaning “return” (BDB 815, KB 937, Qal IMPERATIVE, cf. Joshua 22:8)

2. “go,” literally “walk” (BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE)

Joshua 22:5 “only be very careful to observe the commandments” Verse Joshua 22:5 (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal IMPERATIVE, “keep”) clearly states that the covenant requirements were still in force and required obedience and faith. This verse is a series of quotes from themes in the book of Deuteronomy. It has three pairs of emphases: (1) observe and love; (2) walk and keep; and (3) hold fast and serve. They are a series of Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCTS. This emphasizes not only lifestyle obedience, but also complete loyalty. Some of the places these themes can be seen in Deut. are: Deuteronomy 5:32; Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:1, Deuteronomy 11:13, Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 19:9; Deuteronomy 30:6, Deuteronomy 30:16, Deuteronomy 30:20. Notice that love for God is expressed through obedience to His covenant.

“hold fast to Him” Notice the emphasis here is not only on rules, which is the focus of the law of Moses, but also on the motive of serving God--because you love Him. This is also the focus of the prophets.

“with all your heart and with all your soul” This is an emphasis on our entire person loving and serving God (Deuteronomy 4:29; Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Deuteronomy 10:12). This is the essence of a covenant relationship!

1. heart see Special Topic: Heart

2. soul (Hebrew, nephesh, see Genesis 35:18; Genesis 35:18.

Joshua 22:6 “Joshua blessed them” This seems to be very similar to the blessing of Jacob, Moses, and the patriarchal blessings in general. These were seen almost as an independent power performing good on behalf of the people to whom they were spoken. This reflects the Hebrew concept of the power of the spoken word (cf. Genesis 1:0; Isaiah 55:11; John 1:1). See Special Topic: Blessing.

“and they went to their tents” This has been interpreted in two ways. It is either just a romantic way of referring to the wilderness wandering period and they were really going back to their houses, or they still lived in tents and did not divide their inheritance until all the men of war had returned.

Verses 7-9

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 22:7-9 7 Now to the one half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had given a possession in Bashan, but to the other half Joshua gave a possession among their brothers westward beyond the Jordan. So when Joshua sent them away to their tents, he blessed them, 8and said to them, “Return to your tents with great riches and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, iron, and with very many clothes; divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.” 9The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home and departed from the sons of Israel at Shiloh which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, to the land of their possession which they had possessed, according to the command of the LORD through Moses.

Joshua 22:7 “but to the other half Joshua gave a possession among their brothers westward beyond Jordan” See Joshua 17:1-13.

Joshua 22:8 This shows three of the four ancient sources of wealth: (1) livestock; (2) weights of precious metals; and (3) clothing. The one source that is not specifically mentioned here is foodstuffs, but it is implied in the term “wealth” (BDB 647). The eastern tribes received part of the spoils of the defeated cities in Canaan.

“divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers” We know that not all of the men of war crossed the Jordan with the rest of the tribes. Possibly during these months or years the men of war exchanged positions; that is, those who were home would go to war and those at war would go home. So the final division of the spoils (“divide,” BDB 323, KB 322, Qal IMPERATIVE) of the Canaanites was not done until all the men of war returned home.

Joshua 22:9 “the sons of Israel at Shiloh” Gilgal was the first special site in the Promised Land, but later the tabernacle was moved to Shiloh.

Verses 10-12

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 22:10-12 10 When they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance. 11And the sons of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, on the side belonging to the sons of Israel.” 12When the sons of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war.

Joshua 22:10 “the region of the Jordan” The term translated “region” (BDB 165, cf. Joshua 13:2) could refer to Galilee, Gilgal (LXX), or the city of Geliloth.

“built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance” We learn from Joshua 22:28-29 that it was a large replica of (1) the altar of sacrifice which was in the tabernacle or (2) the altar on Mt. Ebal (cf. Joshua 8:30-35). Apparently it was not for the purpose of sacrifice, but for a memorial like so many others (stone heaps) in Joshua.

Joshua 22:12 “to go up against them in war” There was such an over-reaction! How could these brothers so quickly be willing to kill each other over something like this? There are several theories:

1. it was strictly for religious purposes; it was a violation of Deuteronomy 12:5-11, which says there was only one site where the Israelites could sacrifice and that was to be connected with the Tabernacle (cf. Joshua 22:16)

2. it was somehow related to a territorial jealously because of v. Joshua 22:11

3. it was related to a sense of corporate guilt (cf. Joshua 22:17-20); if the trans-Jordanian tribes had somehow offended God or become idolatrous, all of Israel would have suffered for their sin

4. the other tribes were afraid that Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had become involved in the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites (cf. Joshua 22:19)

Verses 13-20

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 22:13-20 13Then the sons of Israel sent to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, 14and with him ten chiefs, one chief for each father's household from each of the tribes of Israel; and each one of them was the head of his father's household among the thousands of Israel. 15They came to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, to the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them saying, 16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the LORD, 'What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the LORD this day, by building yourselves an altar, to rebel against the LORD this day? 17Is not the iniquity of Peor enough for us, from which we have not cleansed ourselves to this day, although a plague came on the congregation of the LORD, 18that you must turn away this day from following the LORD? If you rebel against the LORD today, He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow. 19If, however, the land of your possession is unclean, then cross into the land of the possession of the LORD, where the LORD'S tabernacle stands, and take possession among us. Only do not rebel against the LORD, or rebel against us by building an altar for yourselves, besides the altar of the LORD our God. 20Did not Achan the son of Zerah act unfaithfully in the things under the ban, and wrath fall on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.'“

Joshua 22:13 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest” The person in charge of the delegation which was to visit the eastern tribes was none other than the son of the High Priest. This was a very distinguished delegation. We hear about Phinehas earlier in Numbers 25:7, Joshua 22:1 and 31:6, where his zeal for the Lord is clearly seen. Later, this same priest will deal with another problem of impurity in Judges 20:28.

Joshua 22:14 “chiefs” One of the major leaders (BDB 672, cf. Joshua 22:30, Joshua 22:32; Joshua 9:15, Joshua 9:18, Joshua 9:19, Joshua 9:21; Joshua 17:4; Exodus 16:22) of each tribe accompanied Phinehas. This was a very illustrious group which was sent to the eastern tribes.

“head of his father's household among the thousands of Israel” One reason why we are not sure about the number of people who came out of Egypt is because the Hebrew word for “thousands” can be used literally, or it can mean a family unit (cf. Judges 6:15; 1 Samuel 23:23; Zechariah 9:7), or military unit (cf. Exodus 18:21, Exodus 18:25; Deuteronomy 1:15). See Special Topic at Joshua 3:17.

Joshua 22:16 The eastern tribes' actions are described in three ways.

1. “an unfaithful act,” BDB 591, KB 612, Qal PERFECT. This term is often used in connection with an act specifically toward YHWH, cf. Joshua 2:20; Joshua 7:1; Joshua 22:16, Joshua 22:20, Joshua 22:31; Leviticus 6:2; Leviticus 26:40; Numbers 5:6, Numbers 5:12, Numbers 5:27. This term can have a sexual connotation.

2. “turning away from following the LORD,” BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT, which implies they had purposefully violated the Mosaic covenant (i.e., by building an altar to rebel against the Lord). There is a play on the VERB in this chapter.

a. “return to your tents,” Joshua 22:8, Joshua 22:9

b. “turn away,” Joshua 22:16, Joshua 22:18, Joshua 22:23, Joshua 22:29, Joshua 22:32

3. “to rebel against the LORD,” BDB 597, KB 632, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT, cf. Joshua 22:18, Joshua 22:19(twice), 29; Numbers 14:9

Joshua 22:17 “Is not the iniquity of Peor enough for us” This is a reference to the Israelites worshiping the Canaanite fertility gods. This occurred on the plains of Moab and is recorded in Numbers 25:1-13. It was apparently instigated by Baalam's advice to Balak, which is also recorded in Num. 22-24. Israel was severely punished for this by God and the implication here is that they still carried the scars of that punishment.

Joshua 22:18 “that He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow” Notice the sense of corporeality is not only seen in the closing verse of chapter 17, but is reaffirmed in the account of Achan's sin (cf. Joshua 7:0), mentioned in Joshua 22:20. It seems that this delegation mentioned one account of sin which had occurred on the eastern side of the Jordan, i.e., the Baal of Peor, and another account which happened on the western side of the Jordan, i.e., Achan and the defeat at Ai (cf. Joshua 7:0). When one person (or a few) sins, all are negatively affected!

Joshua 22:19 “If, however, the land of your possession is unclean” There are two ways to understand this phrase:

1. the eastern lands were considered outside the Promised Land

2. the sin of Peor permanently polluted the whole area.

Phinehas and the delegation confronted the eastern tribes to take decisive action.

1. “cross into the land,” BDB 716, KB 778, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. “take possession among us,” BDB 28, KB 31, Niphal IMPERATIVE

3. “only do not rebel against the LORD,” BDB 597, KB 632, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

4. “or rebel against us,” same VERB as above

The rebellion is characterized as “building (BDB 124, KB 139, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) the altar.” There was to be only one Hebrew altar of sacrifice, which was to be located at the tabernacle (cf. Deuteronomy 12:11).

Verses 21-25

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 22:21-25 21Then the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh answered and spoke to the heads of the families of Israel. 22 “The Mighty One, God, the LORD, the Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the LORD do not save us this day! 23If we have built us an altar to turn away from following the LORD, or if to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, may the LORD Himself require it. 24But truly we have done this out of concern, for a reason, saying, 'In time to come your sons may say to our sons, “What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? 25For the LORD has made the Jordan a border between us and you, you sons of Reuben and sons of Gad; you have no portion in the LORD.” So your sons may make our sons stop fearing the LORD.

Joshua 22:22 “the Mighty One, God, the LORD, the Mighty One, God, the LORD!” Here we have three of the most common names for God in the Old Testament: (1) “El,” which is the general name for God and seems to mean “the strong One”; (2) “Elohim,” which is the plural form of “El” and is translated “God” in Genesis 1:0; it can refer to angels (cf. Psalms 8:5) or judges of Israel (cf. Psalms 82:6); and (3) the term “LORD,” which seems to refer to the covenant name for God given in Exodus 3:14, “YHWH.” The fact that these three names (cf. Psalms 50:1) are repeated twice possibly refers to the Hebrew concept that when something is stated three times it becomes a superlative. This may be a way of saying “the highest and only God” (cf. Psalms 50:1). This repetition of God's name is meant to show the solemnity of their oath. See Special Topic: Names for Deity.

Deity is not only characterized by titles, but by His actions.

1. “He knows,” BDB 393, KB 390, Qal PARTICIPLE

2. “may Israel itself know,” BDB 393, KB 390, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

3. “save” (negated conditional sentence), BDB 446, KB 448, Hiphil IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense. The implication here is “save” us from the attack of the rest of the Israeli army.

Joshua 22:23 The eastern tribes answer in a series of CONDITIONAL SENTENCES.

1. “If we have built us an altar to turn away from following the LORD”

a. “build,” BDB 124, KB 139, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

b. “to turn,” BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

2. “If to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it,” “to offer,” BDB 748, KB 828, Hiphil INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

3. “If to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it,” “to offer,” BDB 793, KB 889, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

4. “Then may the LORD Himself require it,” BDB 134, KB 152, Piel IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense, cf. 1 Samuel 20:16; 2 Samuel 4:11. The NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 723, asserts that this usage of the VERB means “investigate” in a legal sense.

Joshua 22:24 “but truly we have done this out of concern, for a reason” This explanation, phrased in such strong terms, is meant to show the visiting delegation that they have totally misunderstood the reason for the altar. The altar was not meant for sacrifice, but to remind the tribes of the western bank that the three eastern tribes were also their brothers and that they should not be cut off from each other.

Joshua 22:25 We see again the emphasis on training sons in religious ways, which is a recurrent theme of Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 6:20-25; Deuteronomy 11:19; and Deuteronomy 32:46).

Verses 26-29

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 22:26-29 26”Therefore we said, 'Let us build an altar, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; 27rather it shall be a witness between us and you and between our generations after us, that we are to perform the service of the LORD before Him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices and with our peace offerings, so that your sons will not say to our sons in time to come, You have no portion in the LORD.”' 28”Therefore we said, 'It shall also come about if they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, then we shall say, “See the copy of the altar of the LORD which our fathers made, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; rather it is a witness between us and you.”' 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD and turn away from following the LORD this day, by building an altar for burnt offering, for grain offering or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the LORD our God which is before His tabernacle.”

Joshua 22:26 “Let us build an altar” This phrase has two VERBALS.

1. “do” or “make,” BDB 793, KB 889, Qal IMPERFECT, but used in a COHORTATIVE sense

2. “build,” BDB 124, KB 139, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

Verses Joshua 22:26-28 are what the eastern tribes were saying to themselves.

Joshua 22:28 “the copy of the altar of the LORD” For a detailed description of the bronze sacrificial altar see Exodus 20:24-26.

Joshua 22:29 “Far be if from us” This is an emphatic exclamation (cf. Joshua 24:16; Genesis 44:7; 1 Samuel 2:30; 1 Samuel 14:45; 1 Samuel 20:2, 1 Samuel 20:9; 1 Samuel 22:15).

Verses 30-31

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 22:30-31 30So when Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the congregation, even the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the sons of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them. 31And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Manasseh, “Today we know that the LORD is in our midst, because you have not committed this unfaithful act against the LORD; now you have delivered the sons of Israel from the hand of the LORD.”

Joshua 22:30 “it pleased them” This VERB (BDB 405, KB 408, Qal imperfect) is used in this sense several times (cf. Joshua 22:33; Leviticus 10:19, Leviticus 10:20; Deuteronomy 1:23; 1 Samuel 18:5; 1 Samuel 24:4; 2 Samuel 3:36; 2 Samuel 18:4; 1 Kings 3:10).

Joshua 22:31 “Today we know that the LORD is in our midst, because you have not committed this unfaithful act against the LORD” Notice that the presence of God was related to the sin or lack of sin on the part of the believing community. In the Old Testament the holiness of God requires holiness in His people.

“you have delivered the sons of Israel from the hand of the LORD” This VERB (BDB 664, KB 717) in the Hiphil means “rescue,” “save,” or “snatch away” (cf. Joshua 2:13; Joshua 9:26; Judges 9:17; 1 Samuel 14:48).

If these tribes would have acted unfaithfully, then YHWH's judgment would have fallen on all Israel (cf. Joshua 22:17, Joshua 22:20). Since the eastern tribes had not rebelled, then all of Israel was “delivered”!

Verses 32-34

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 22:32-34 32Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest and the leaders returned from the sons of Reuben and from the sons of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the sons of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33The word pleased the sons of Israel, and the sons of Israel blessed God; and they did not speak of going up against them in war to destroy the land in which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad were living. 34The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad called the altar Witness; “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the LORD is God.”

Joshua 22:34 “called the altar Witness In the New American Standard Bible, the term “witness” is in italics, which means that it is not in the ancient Masoretic or Hebrew text. This term does not appear in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, or the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Old Testament. It is simply supplied for an English reader to understand what the altar was called (following the Syriac translation). It really refers to the term mentioned in Joshua 22:27.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How was it decided which tribes would inherit land on the eastern side of the Jordan?

2. What is the significance of verse Joshua 22:5?

3. What is the significance of Joshua's blessing?

4. What happened at Peor? What happened on account of Achan?

5. What is the significance of verse Joshua 22:22?

6. Why did the eastern tribes build an altar on their side of the Jordan?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Joshua 22". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/joshua-22.html. 2021.
 
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