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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 22

 

 

Verses 1-8

Joshua 21:43 to Joshua 22:8. Yahweh's Promise of Conquest Completely Fulfilled, so that the E. Jordan Tribes are Set Free to Return Home.—We have here the introduction to the last section of our book. The land has now, according to the Deuteronomist, been conquered and divided amongst the 9½ tribes; consequently the 2½ tribes, having fulfilled their duty, are dismissed with thanks to their own possessions on the other side of the Jordan.


Verses 9-34

Joshua 22:9-34. The Altar of Witness Erected by the E. Jordan Tribes.—This narrative is clearly not historical, and the question arises, Why should it have been composed? The answer is that it is a Midrash (p. 314, 2 Chronicles 13:22*) of the same nature as those in Numbers 15:32, the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath, and Numbers 31:25, the law for the division of the spoil. In this connexion we may quote the admirable words of Mr. Ball: "We have to bear in mind a fact familiar enough to students of Talmudic and Midrashic literature, the inveterate tendency to convey their doctrine not in the form of abstract discourse, but in a mode appealing directly to the imagination. . . . The Rabbi embodies his lesson in a story, whether parable, or allegory, or seeming historical narrative; and the last thing he or his disciples would think of is to ask whether the selected persons, events, and circumstances which so vividly suggest the doctrine are in themselves real or fictitious. The doctrine is everything; the mode of presentation has no independent value." (Speaker's Comm. on the Apocrypha, vol. ii. p. 307.)

There is only one legitimate altar, according to the Deuteronomist, but this regulation was supposed to come into force only after the building of the Temple by Solomon. This view is not accepted by the Priestly writers: according to them, the command to sacrifice at the central sanctuary was valid from the very beginning. It was to emphasize this that the story was written. Not even for tribes so far away from Jerusalem as Reuben and Gad, was another altar to be allowed. The story has been skilfully composed, and the time skilfully chosen for the purpose. The doctrine of the single sanctuary is emphasized in an unmistakable manner, and yet no blame attaches to those who erected the second altar. It has, however, been suggested that the narrative may have reference to some ancient altar whose existence had to be explained and made consistent with the law of the single sanctuary. In support of this it should be noticed that Joshua does not appear in the narrative, or Eleazar either, so that it could not have originally been written in connexion with the return of the 2 tribes. This is confirmed by the fact that the words "the half tribe of Manasseh" are a later insertion where they occur; in Joshua 22:25; Joshua 22:32; Joshua 22:34, they do not appear; the narrative originally concerned the tribes of Reuben and Gad only.

Joshua 22:29. The E. side of Jordan might seem a different land from W. Palestine, and therefore cut off from the sanctifying influence of the Tabernacle. If that was really the case, the law of the single sanctuary must remain inviolate, and E. Jordan be regarded as unclean. Since the 2½ tribes could not remain in an unclean land they would have to cross the Jordan and settle in the West.—A. S. P.]

Joshua 23. Address by Joshua.—We have in this chapter a Deuteronomic homily or exhortation such as we find in Deuteronomy 28. In both places the writer points out the evil consequence of disobedience to, and the beneficial results of compliance with, the commandments of Yahweh. These discourses are an amplification of the well-known words of Isaiah, "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land, but if ye refuse and rebel ye shall be devoured with the sword, for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." If this chapter is compared with the next, the reader will see at once the difference between the exhortations of the Deuteronomic school and those of the earlier "prophetic" writers. The Deuteronomist generalises, the earlier writer refers to historical facts.

Joshua 24. Joshua Addresses the People, Makes a Covenant, and Erects a Stone of Witness. Death of Joshua.—This chapter is unanimously assigned to the Elohist (E). The appeal of Joshua is to the history of the nation, beginning with Abraham. In Joshua 22:9 the words "and fought against Israel" should be omitted. Balak did not join battle with Israel. In Joshua 24:11 "the Amorite, etc." should be omitted. The hornets here in Joshua 22:12 and in Exodus 23:28 and Deuteronomy 7:20 are a well-known perplexity. Could it have been a picturesque way of referring to the fact that before 1200 the Canaanites had been in subjection to the Egyptians and Hittites, and therefore unprepared to oppose an invader? In Joshua 22:12 for the "two" kings of the Amorites we may read with the LXX, "twelve." It is quite possible, however, that in the original no number at all was given. In Joshua 22:14 and Joshua 22:23 the exhortation to put away false gods is, no doubt, a reference to the idols which we know were worshipped by the Israelites even in Isaiah's time. The writer, as a member of the prophetic school, opposed them, and puts his own teaching into Joshua's speech. As to the book of the law mentioned in Joshua 22:26, it is difficult to say what is meant. Some scholars have thought that a "book of the law" was in existence of which we know nothing; but it has been pointed out (Oxf. Hex.) that if there had been such a book of the law there would have been no necessity to erect a stone as a witness: the book would be a much better one. The words are therefore probably an insertion. On Joshua 22:32 cf. Genesis 33:19*.

The LXX has three or four additional verses which are not represented in the Heb. or in our version. As one of them says that the Ark was carried about among the Israelites, later editors would not care to preserve a notice which militated against their ideal view of the early history of the nation.

On looking back over the Book of Joshua, the student will probably experience a feeling of disappointment. According to critical investigation the book appears to be a medley of contradictory narratives, most of which are unhistorical. It has to be admitted that the Hebrew writers knew nothing of history in the modern sense of the term: myth, legend, tradition were all accepted without question. But on the other hand they believed, and that rightly, that the destiny of their nation was one of great importance in the history of the world; and the Book of Joshua was written and edited in the belief that events contributory to the realisation of that destiny are to be seen in the conquest and occupation of Palestine. The traditional and legendary accounts of these events were narrated in all good faith by the aid of the only materials then available. Such considerations as these will always render the investigation of the obscure history of early Israel a subject of abiding interest to modern students of religion. In the great epic of Israel's history the Book of Joshua has its place.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Joshua 22:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/joshua-22.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, August 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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