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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 22

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 22 The Transjordan Contingents Return Home - The Memorial Altar.

The initial war with the Canaanites being over, Joshua called to him the warriors from the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, who had came over Jordan with him to assist in the warfare, and commended them for their obedience to Moses, to himself, and to God. Then he bade them return home with his blessing on them, giving them careful instructions about keeping to the right ways and to the rightful worship of God.

At this they returned to their country, and when they came to the border they set up a memorial altar by the River Jordan. When the rest of the children of Israel heard of this, it gave them great offence, for they feared that they were going to turn from the pure worship of God at the central sanctuary. So they sent a deputation of princes to them, along with Phinehas, the son of Eliezer, the high priest, to enquire into what was happening, and rebuke them about it. But when they received a satisfactory answer, they returned and reported back to the children of Israel to the satisfaction of all.


Verses 1-3

Chapter 22 The Transjordan Contingents Return Home - The Memorial Altar.

The initial war with the Canaanites being over, Joshua called to him the warriors from the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, who had came over Jordan with him to assist in the warfare, and commended them for their obedience to Moses, to himself, and to God. Then he bade them return home with his blessing on them, giving them careful instructions about keeping to the right ways and to the rightful worship of God.

At this they returned to their country, and when they came to the border they set up a memorial altar by the River Jordan. When the rest of the children of Israel heard of this, it gave them great offence, for they feared that they were going to turn from the pure worship of God at the central sanctuary. So they sent a deputation of princes to them, along with Phinehas, the son of Eliezer, the high priest, to enquire into what was happening, and rebuke them about it. But when they received a satisfactory answer, they returned and reported back to the children of Israel to the satisfaction of all.

Joshua 22:1-3

Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of YHWH commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you. You have not left your brothers these many days to this day but have kept the charge of the commandment of YHWH your God.” ’

Joshua commended the Transjordan contingent. They had been faithful in their duty, fully obeyed their commander and had not sought to desert or to avoid battle. They had been true soldiers of God even though it had involved hardship and separation from their families and loved ones for well over five years. But now the groundwork had been done it was time for them to return home.

“All that Moses commanded you.” See Deuteronomy 3:18-20. It was the commandment of Moses, of Joshua (Joshua 1:12-18) and of God. ‘You have kept’ is strictly ‘you shall keep’. Joshua is thinking of the command he had given them. For ‘keep the charge of’ see Leviticus 8:35; Leviticus 18:30; Deuteronomy 11:1. ‘The commandment’ is a characteristic expression of Moses (Deuteronomy 17:20 compare Deuteronomy 5:29) which Joshua takes up here and Joshua 22:5.


Verse 4

And now YHWH your God has given rest to your brothers, as he said to them. Now therefore turn you, and get you to your tents, to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of YHWH gave you, Beyond Jordan.”

Now YHWH with their help had given rest to their brothers. They were settling in the land and beginning to sow and to plant. ‘Turn you.’ See Deuteronomy 1:7; Deuteronomy 1:40; Deuteronomy 2:3; Deuteronomy 16:7. ‘Get you to your tents.’ A phrase from the past which meant ‘go home’, whether to tents or houses (compare Joshua 22:8; Deuteronomy 16:7; possibly Judges 7:8; 1 Kings 12:16). ‘The land of your possession.’ God had already given them their reward.


Verse 5

Only take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of YHWH commanded you, to love YHWH your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave to him, and to serve him with all your heart, and with all your soul.’

Here Joshua was charging them with the necessity for diligent obedience to the covenant of YHWH (Deuteronomy 4:9). They had ‘to love -- to walk -- to keep -- to cleave -- to serve’. A right response of heart, obedient steps, meditation on His word, holding tightly to Him and doing His will. Compare Deuteronomy 10:12 ‘to fear -- to walk -- to love -- to serve.’ Deuteronomy 11:22 ‘to love -- to walk -- to cleave’. Deuteronomy 13:4 ‘walk -- fear -- keep -- obey -- serve -- cleave’. Deuteronomy 19:9 ‘keep all his commandment to do it, -- to love YHWH your God -- to walk ever in His ways’. Thus Joshua was repeating and enlarging on the words he had heard from Moses.

Covenant love for God was central to the faith of Israel (Deuteronomy 6:5). Their thought and worship must be focused on Him. But their especially distinctive idea was that of walking in His ways, in morality and obedience to His Law. They knew that God cared how they lived towards their fellow man because it was a part of the essential covenant. And it was one way by which they revealed their covenant love for Him, by keeping in their hearts and in their minds His commandments. To ‘cleave to Him’ was a warning against being led astray by the gods of the nations. To ‘serve Him’ summed up the whole covenant, especially in worship. Thus Joshua was urging them to be faithful to the tribal covenant that bound the tribes together and to their responsibilities with regard to worship at the central sanctuary at present at Shiloh. This was especially important in view of their distance from it.


Verse 6

So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away, and they went to their tents.’

To bless was to wish God’s power and favour on them. But the idea here would also seem to include the spoils that they shared as a result of the conquests. Then they retired to their tents to prepare for their journey (compare Judges 7:8 and contrast Joshua 22:4 above). Alternately this is a typical summary statement before more detail is given meaning ‘returned to their dwellings’. Such summary statements helped the listener to prepare for what as coming. Repetition was a recognised factor in ancient literature.


Verse 7-8

Now to the one half tribe of Manasseh Moses had given inheritance in Bashan, but to the other half gave Joshua an inheritance among their brothers in Beyond Jordan westward. And when Joshua sent them away to their tents, he blessed them, and spoke to them, saying, “Return with much wealth to your tents and with a great deal of cattle, with silver, and with gold, and with bronze, and with iron, and with a great deal of clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.’

Joshua 22:7 a is really a parenthesis reminding the listeners of the twofold nature of Manasseh, in view of the strange nature of the split tribe, a reminder required when the account would be read in instalments. Then Joshua 22:6 continues in Joshua 22:7 b, for all the Transjordan tribes would share the spoil. The spoils were defined first in terms of cattle, the most important of all to such people, then in terms of valuable metals, and finally in terms of clothing.

“Return -- to your tents.” Here the phrase unquestionably means ‘return home’.

“Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.” This means that the men returning home should share the spoils with the fellow tribespeople who had remained to settle into the land, the older men and the families. It is unlikely that we are to see it as telling the half tribe of Manasseh to share their spoil with Reuben and Gad, or with the other half of the tribe, for no reason is given as to why the half tribe should be treated as distributors, while we do expect all the Transjordan tribes to receive spoil, and the comment about Manasseh reads like a parenthesis.


Verse 9

And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, to the land of their possession, of which they were possessed according to the commandment of YHWH by the hand of Moses.’

So no doubt with great joy and expectation the three Transjordan contingents returned to their homes in Transjordan. Here ‘the land of Gilead’ indicated loosely the whole area controlled by the three tribes. Gilead was split into two parts by the great trench of the Jabbok, one half had been ruled by Sihon the other by Og. The name Gilead is used in various ways. Sometimes it refers to the section possessed by Reuben known as ‘half Gilead’ (Joshua 12:2; Joshua 12:5; Numbers 32:1; Numbers 32:29), at other times to the northern section (Joshua 17:1; Joshua 17:5; Deuteronomy 2:36; Deuteronomy 3:15-16), and often to the whole area between the Yarmuk, south east of the Sea of Chinneroth (Galilee), and the Arnon (1 Kings 4:19; 2 Kings 10:33), The whole area is often described as ‘all Gilead’ (Deuteronomy 3:10; 2 Kings 10:33).

We do not know exactly when this was, but must presume it was not long after Joshua 11:23. These three tribes would have little need to be directly involved in the activities of the individual tribes, nor in the distribution of the land. Their allotments had been given to them by Moses (Joshua 13:8-31). But their presence would be required while the initial bridgehead was being established.

This ties in with the fact that it was seemingly while the tribes were gathered at Shiloh, which must therefore come after Joshua 14:6 when they were still at their base camp at Gilgal. Thus they witnessed the initial movement of Judah to take the hill country under Joshua’s overall command, and the movement of Ephraim and Manasseh to establish themselves in the hill country of Ephraim. Until that was done there was no bridgehead. So it was probably around the time of Joshua 18:1 when the official establishment of the camp at Shiloh took place, and it was made the central sanctuary. Such a movement from Gilgal to Shiloh would anyway make Transjordan more vulnerable to outside attack. While they were encamped at Gilgal it was a reminder to enemies across the Jordan that any indication of hostile intent could be met by force.

“Of which they were possessed according to the commandment of YHWH by the hand of Moses.” It is again stressed that their settlement Beyond Jordan eastward was at the behest of YHWH (Numbers 32:1), for there was a strong feeling among many that it was ‘outside the land of the possession of YHWH’ (Joshua 22:19).


Verse 10

And when they came to the region about Jordan, that is in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by Jordan, a great altar to look to.’

This building of a memorial altar, in the land of Canaan west of Jordan, was imitated by Gideon later (Judges 6:24). The intention of it was in order that it might be a reminder that the Transjordan tribes were one with those in the land of Canaan and shared in the tribal covenant. It was a gesture of praise to God and of unity with their brother tribes. In a sense this was their possession in Canaan. As they looked at it across the Jordan it would be a reminder that they were one people in the covenant, sharing God’s land.

“The region about Jordan.” Or more literally ‘the circles (geliloth) of Jordan’, thus a specifically recognised district, possibly based on the circular twisting of the river like a serpent at this point. Possibly by building the altar in a place where the Jordan wound round it on three sides they saw it as on joint territory. Compare Genesis 13:10 where the southern part of the Jordan Rift valley is called ‘the circuit (kikkar) of Jordan’.

“A great altar to see to.” The altar was large so that it could be seen at some distance, and is purpose was so that it could be looked at from Transjordan. It was built on the pattern of the altar in the Tabernacle (Joshua 22:28).


Verse 11

And the children of Israel heard it said, “See, the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, have built an altar before (at the frontier of) the land of Canaan in the circles of Jordan on the side that belongs to the children of Israel.’

Word about the building of the great altar quickly spread and reached the authorities. The resulting anger would not be because of where it was built but because of its presumed purpose, although in fact where it was built tended to indicate that it was not for ritual use, otherwise it would have been built on the eastern side.


Verse 12

And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh to be ready to go up to war against them.’

The gathering at Shiloh indicated a summons by the authorities from the central sanctuary for Israel to gather with their arms so that they were ready to act swiftly if it was necessary. The provisions of Deuteronomy 13:12-18, which dealt with the action to be taken when there were suspicions of idolatry, were then correctly carried into force, a thorough investigation to determine the truth of the matter.


Verse 13-14

And the children of Israel, sent to the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, and with him ten princes, one prince of a father’s house for each of the tribes of Israel, and they were every one of them head of their father’s houses among the families (thousands) of Israel.’

The deputation sent into the land of Gilead to confront the supposed rebels was a powerful one. Eleazar’s own son, Phinehas, who had already proved himself in dealing firmly with idolatry at Peor (Numbers 25:7; Psalms 106:28-31), was a very suitable choice, and was there to represent his father. He could be depended on to act firmly. With him was one prince from each of the tribes settling in the land of Canaan. ‘Prince of a father’s house’ may well have been a title depicting a certain status. They were important men. Indeed this is then made clear in the description of what they were, rulers over a sub-clan of their tribe.


Verse 15-16

And they came to the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, to the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them, saying, “Thus says the whole congregation of YHWH, ‘What trespass is this that you have committed against the God of Israel to turn this day from following YHWH, in that you have built yourselves an altar to rebel this day against YHWH?’ ” ’

Note that the congregation of Israel has become ‘the congregation of YHWH’. The approach was in the name of YHWH because the alleged offence was a religious one. We can compare how the phrase was applied to the sin of Peor (Numbers 31:16). Their view was that the building of the altar was in order to rival the central sanctuary, and set up a rival place for worship. It was rebellion against YHWH Himself, the God of Israel. The point was that it was not a place in which YHWH had ‘recorded His name’ (Exodus 20:24), for there such an altar would have been permissible.

“The congregation of YHWH” is among other things the worshipping community at the Tabernacle (Deuteronomy 21:1-3; Deuteronomy 21:8. See also Numbers 16:3; Numbers 20:4; Numbers 27:17).


Verse 17-18

Is the iniquity of Peor too small for us, from which we have not cleansed ourselves to this day, although there came a plague on the congregation of YHWH, that you must turn away this day from following YHWH? And it will be, seeing you rebel today against YHWH, that tomorrow he will be filled with wrath against the whole congregation of Israel.”

Israel ever remembered the sin of worshipping Baal-peor (the lord of Peor), which was probably another name for Chemosh, the national god of Moab, as a result of the seducement of the daughters of Moab (Numbers 25:1-3). It was a stain never completely removed, even though a plague from YHWH had followed (Numbers 25:8-9) which was only stayed by the action of the same Phinehas as is mentioned here (Numbers 25:6-8; Numbers 25:11). Now they were afraid that the action of the Transjordan tribes would bring a similar plague on them all.


Verse 19

However, if the land of your possession seems to you unclean, then pass you over to the land of the possession of YHWH, in which YHWH’s Dwellingplace (Tabernacle) abides, and take possession among us. But do not rebel against YHWH, nor rebel against us, in building yourselves an altar besides the altar of YHWH our God.”

It was probably the fact that the altar had been built on the side of the Jordan belonging to the land of Canaan that gave them the impression that the Transjordan tribes had done this because they thought that their own land was unclean, that is, not totally separated to YHWH, and not hallowed by YHWH’s presence. It was not ‘His land’. If that was their view (and it was probably the view of many of the Israelites who lived in Canaan) then they had only to come across the Jordan and allotment would be given to them so that they could live in the land that belonged to YHWH, where YHWH had His dwellingplace. But let them not rebel by building a false altar.

It was clear that they saw this altar as not one that YHWH had caused to be built by revelation, it was not in a place where YHWH had recorded His name. Thus it was a sacrilegious altar. The main altar of YHWH was that which accompanied the Tabernacle at the central sanctuary. Others could be built where YHWH revealed Himself and commanded it. These came within the definition of ‘the altar of YHWH our God’. But not this one where there was no suggestion of YHWH having spoken.

Note the stress on rebellion. They were rebelling against God because they were disobeying His command about building altars where He had not given a revelation, and they were rebelling against their brothers because they were setting up a rival altar to that of the central sanctuary and thus breaching the covenant unity.


Verse 20

Did not Achan the son of Zerah, commit a trespass in the devoted thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.”

The Israelites now cited a second case, the case of Achan (Joshua 7). There too there had been disobedience to God in relation to a religious matter, and as a result many had suffered and Israel had been defeated. The man had not suffered alone but had brought suffering on many.

An alternative translation more in line with Hebrew usage might be ‘wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel, though he was but one man. Did he not perish in his iniquity?’


Verse 21

Then the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, answered, and spoke to the heads of the sub-tribes (thousands) of Israel, “God, the God YHWH, God, the God YHWH, he knows, and Israel, he will know, if it be in rebellion, or if in trespass against YHWH, (do not save us this day), that we have built ourselves an altar to turn away from following YHWH, or if to offer on it burnt offering or meal offering, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, let YHWH himself require it.” ’

We should probably translate ‘El Elohim YHWH’ as ‘God, the God YHWH’ emphasising His uniqueness or as ‘God of the elohim (angels), YHWH’ stressing His greatness rather than as ‘the God of gods, YHWH’. Either way the stress is on the fact that He knows men’s minds and therefore knows that their own particular thoughts are innocent. The repetition of the name stressed the intensity of their feeling. This was the land of El, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, and here Israel claimed it for YHWH their God as the true El.

On the other hand Israel yet awaits that knowledge in the future. They have yet to learn the truth. But they will know. And what will they know? Whether they have built the altar in rebellion and disobedience to God’s Law in order to offer offerings and sacrifices on it, thus being seen as turning away from following YHWH, or not. Note the acceptance of the idea that to build an altar other than at the revelation of YHWH, in order to offer sacrifices on it, was rebellion and disobedience. Israel could not set up altars at will like the Canaanites did. Only altars in places where God had recorded His name (patently revealed Himself) were acceptable, and especially that at the central sanctuary.

Their words were doubly emphasised by expostulations - ‘do not save us this day!’ and ‘let YHWH Himself require it!’ This reveals their agitation and calls on their listeners to recognise the genuineness of their declaration by their act of calling on YHWH to punish them if they were lying.

Note again the use of eleph for sub-tribes, which could also be translated ‘thousands’. The basic idea behind ‘a thousand’ at this early date is that of a subgroup rather than a specific number. Note also the different offerings mentioned, burnt offerings, meal offerings and sacrifices of peace offerings.


Verse 24-25

And if we have not rather done this out of deep concern and with a purpose, saying, ‘In time to come your children might speak to our children, saying, “What have you to do with YHWH, the God of Israel? For YHWH has made Jordan a border between us and you, you children of Reuben, and you children of Gad. You have no portion in YHWH.” So will your children make our children cease from fearing YHWH.’ ”

The Transjordan tribes clearly saw the altar as a symbol of their right to a presence in the land of promise. Their altar there, as it were, represented them. Thus in the future they would not be able to be told that they had no part in the land or in YHWH, for they now had their part within the border. Previously their rights had been preserved because their contingents were in the land fighting on behalf of YHWH, but now that they were leaving they felt that they must leave behind some presence in the land as a symbol of their right to a place in the covenant.

This brings out how deep an issue their settlement outside the boundaries of the land as promised had become to some in Israel. There are always those who cannot cope with change. It helps to explain why in Joshua we constantly find the emphasis on the fact that their settlement there was under command from YHWH, was their inheritance from Him, and was in accordance with the words of Moses (Joshua 1:14-15; Joshua 12:6; Joshua 13:8; Joshua 13:15; Joshua 13:24; Joshua 13:29; Joshua 13:32; Joshua 18:7). It was also seen as confirmed by the fact that they had Levites, whose inheritance was YHWH, living among them, which is specifically brought out by contrasting the inheritance in Transjordan with the inheritance of the Levites three times to bring out its genuineness (Joshua 13:14; Joshua 13:33; Joshua 14:3).

So the purpose of the altar, rather than being with the intention of breaking the tribal covenant, was in fact in order to ensure its continuation and to guarantee that they would not be excluded from it.

“Out of deep concern.” Consider the same word in Proverbs 12:25; Ezekiel 4:16; Ezekiel 12:18-19.

"In time to come" is literally ‘tomorrow’ (see also Joshua 22:27-28; Joshua 4:6; Joshua 4:21; Exodus 13:14; (Deuteronomy 6:20). ‘A border between us and you.’ Some Israelites would see this as emphasised by the importance YHWH Himself placed on the crossing of the Jordan (Joshua 3 and Joshua 4), forgetting that representatives of the Transjordan tribes had crossed over with them (Joshua 1:14; Joshua 4:12) and had placed the memorial stones (Joshua 4:4).


Verse 26-27

Therefore we said, “Let us now build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, But it shall be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we might do the service of YHWH before him, with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings, that your children may not say to our children in time to come, ‘You have no part in YHWH’.” ’

The purpose of the altar is clearly stated. It was not for use but as a witness that they too were the true people of God with rights of inheritance given by YHWH. Thus would they be able to join in the tribal gathering at the central sanctuary for worship and sacrifice without fear of being turned away. This all brings out how deeply they had had burned within them the centrality of the central sanctuary to the covenant and to their part in YHWH. At this time the true faith of YHWH was held with fervour.

“Let us now build us an altar.” Literally ‘Let us now do (what is necessary to prevent this) in building us an altar’.

“Burnt offerings -- sacrifices -- peace offerings”, compare Joshua 22:23. They were well aware of the different types of sacrifices to be offered to YHWH.


Verse 28

Therefore we said, “It shall be when they say so to us, or to our generations in time to come, that we shall say, ‘See the pattern of the altar of YHWH, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice. But it is a witness between us and you’.” ’

Thus the presence of the altar, and the fact that it was patterned on the altar in the Tabernacle, which they could not have known had they not have been members of the covenant, would be evidence in the future of their part in YHWH and act as a witness of their religious rights. The fact that it was not used for burnt offerings or sacrifice would in fact emphasise that it was a symbol.


Verse 29

God forbid that we should rebel against YHWH, and turn away this day from following YHWH, to build an offering for burnt offering, for meal offering, or for sacrifice, besides the altar of YHWH our God which is before his Dwellingplace (Tabernacle).”

The Transjordan tribes then swore through their representatives to be faithful to the command only to offer sacrifices at the Altar of YHWH ‘before His Dwellingplace’ (the Tabernacle). (This would not, of course, exclude offering sacrifices on altars exclusively set up at YHWH’s command on the basis of Exodus 20:24). Note the threefold repetition of the Name YHWH, putting YHWH at the centre of their thoughts.


Verse 30

And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation, even the heads of the families (thousands) of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh, spoke, it pleased them well.’

Phinehas and the princes considered the words spoken by the Transjordan tribal representatives and were satisfied as to their rightness and their genuineness as is demonstrated by the fact that ‘it pleased them well’. Now they knew for certain the commitment of the Transjordan tribes to the tribal covenant. Because Phinehas was acting as his father’s representative, and in his father’s name, he is called ‘the priest’. It seems probable that at his great age Eleazar was in fact unable to make the journey, and it may indeed be that this also prevented him from functioning at the Tabernacle so that Phinehas had been appointed to act for him there as well. Such deputation of authority is assumed in Exodus 28 where not only Aaron is set apart but also his sons, and was, of course, necessary in case of infirmity or indisposition.


Verse 31

And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, said to the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the children of Manasseh, “This day we know that YHWH is among us, because you have not committed this trespass against YHWH. Now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of YHWH.” ’

The official verdict was given. The Transjordan tribes were not guilty of what they had been accused of. They had done nothing contrary to the Law. The great relief that was felt comes out in the final comment. There would be no punishment on Israel from YHWH as a result of this behaviour. They had been ‘delivered’ from such by the facts. Not the threefold repetition of YHWH which parallels the threefold usage by the Transjordanians, bringing home the importance that they too laid on being pleasing to Him.

“The son of Eleazar the priest.” In giving the official verdict, which was probably recorded in writing, Phinehas’ position was made clear. He was acting as his father’s representative and in his name.

“Among us.” See Leviticus 26:11-12, ‘I will set my Dwellingplace (Tabernacle) among you and not abhor you, and I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you will be my people.’ The sense of God’s presence among them, and of His love and severity against sin, was very real.


Verse 32

And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the princes, returned from the children of Reuben, and from the children of Gad, out of the land of Gilead, to the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel and brought them word again.’

Phinehas and the princes now returned to the waiting children of Israel, who were no doubt on a war footing, with the good news. Phinehas’ official title is repeated as a result of its use in the previous verse.

“From the children of Reuben, and from the children of Gad.” The lack of mention of the half tribe of Manasseh is at first surprising, yet the fact that it happens again twice more is against any idea that it dropped out accidentally. The probable explanation is that the meeting had taken place in Reuben/Gaddite territory, and that the representatives of Manasseh had already returned home. This would explain the use here. Then we can only assume that this then carried on into the next verses because they were still prominent in the mind.

It also suggests that the main feelings had been against these two tribes, with the influence of the western Manassites speaking on behalf of their eastern brothers and excluding them from suspicion. The latter would, however, have wanted a part in the discussions. (It is, however, quite common in Scripture for a part to be taken as representing the whole. Compare how ‘Moab’ represents three tribes or nations (Judges 3:28-30 with Judges 3:13), and how Midian/the Midianites (Judges 8:28; Judges 6:1-2; Judges 7:16) represents three tribes or nations (Joshua 6:3). But it is more unusual here).


Verse 33

And the thing pleased the children of Israel, and the children of Israel blessed God, and did not speak any more of going up against them to war, to destroy the land in which the children of Reuben and the children of Gad dwelt.’

This seems to confirm that the warlike plans had centred on attacking Reuben and Gad, with the western Manassites speaking up on behalf of their brothers and guaranteeing their behaviour and intentions. They gave up their plans for attacking Reuben and Gad.

So they gave thanks and praise to God. ‘They blessed God.’ A rare idea in the Old Testament (but see Psalms 66:20; Psalms 68:26) for usually it is YHWH Who is blessed, or YHWH incorporated with God, and this is also the first use of ‘God’ by itself in this passage. The sudden change to ‘God’ must have some significance. It is clear that the writer felt that the name of YHWH was unsuitable here. It possibly brings out the solemnity of the situation, and the awful dread that they had felt about the seeming situation, a covenant betrayal. The theoretical circumstance that had brought the visit about had not been had not been of YHWH. It had been an idea outside the covenant. Thus the less intimate use of ‘God’.


Verse 34

And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, called the altar [Ed], for ‘it is a witness between us that YHWH is God’.’

The actual name is not in the Massoretic Text. However it is found in some Hebrew manuscripts and in the Peshitta (the Syriac version). We could translate ‘named the altar’ (as LXX) but the explanatory phrase following it anticipates a name having been given. Thus the name Ed, meaning witness, is possibly to be inserted although it was not in the text used for the LXX which has ‘And Joshua gave a name to the altar of the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and said, It is a testimony in the midst of them, that the Lord is their God.’

Whichever is correct it is clear that the altar was given a name that indicated that it was a witness between His people on the east of Jordan, and those on the west, that they recognised YHWH as their only God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 22:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/joshua-22.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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