Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh,Ch. Joshua 22:1-8. Joshua’s Farewell Address to the two Tribes and a Half
1. Then Joshua] The author of the section from chapters 13–21. having given his account, marked with truth and accuracy, of the division of the land, the appointment of the Cities of Refuge and the Levitical cities, describes in the three following chapters, which close the book, (a) the release of the two tribes and a half to their homes beyond the Jordan; (b) their return, and erection of an altar on the Jordan; (c) the embassy from Israel on account of this altar; (d) the apology of the eastern tribes and return of the embassy; (e) Joshua’s last discourses to the people; (f) his death; and (g) the death of Eleazar.
called the Reubenites] This took place not immediately after the close of the war, but after the completion of the division of the land and the appointment of the Levitical cities, in which the Trans-Jordanic tribes had as much interest as the other tribes.
And said unto them, Ye have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you:2. all that Moses] See (a) Numbers 32:20-22; (b) Deuteronomy 3:18-20; (c) Joshua 1:12-17.
Ye have not left your brethren these many days unto this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God.3. the charge of the commandment] They had kept their obligations to Moses, to Joshua, and to Jehovah.
And now the LORD your God hath given rest unto your brethren, as he promised them: therefore now return ye, and get you unto your tents, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side Jordan.4. hath given rest] Comp. ch. Joshua 21:44, Joshua 23:1.
which Moses] See ch. Joshua 13:8.
But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.5. But take diligent heed] “Se onli that зe kepen attentifly.” Wyclif. In their natural isolation in their eastern homes from their brethren of the west, it was above all things necessary that they should remember Him from whom their success and prosperity had proceeded. Comp. the counsels of Moses, Deuteronomy 6:6; Deuteronomy 6:17; Deuteronomy 11:22.
So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their tents.6. So Joshua blessed them] Comp. (a) the blessing of the workers of the Tabernacle (Exodus 39:43), and (b) the blessing of Caleb by Joshua (Joshua 14:13).
Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given possession in Bashan: but unto the other half thereof gave Joshua among their brethren on this side Jordan westward. And when Joshua sent them away also unto their tents, then he blessed them,7. Now to the one half] The repetition here of what has been already described more fully (Joshua 17:5, &c.), may seem to us superfluous. But “it agrees with the fulness, abundant in repetitions, of the ancient Hebrew style of narrative.” Keil. “A modern author will refer his readers to what he has stated elsewhere. The Jewish historian scarcely ever quotes or reminds, but repeats so much as may be necessary to make his account of the transaction in hand fully intelligible by itself.” The Speaker’s Commentary, in loc.
And he spake unto them, saying, Return with much riches unto your tents, and with very much cattle, with silver, and with gold, and with brass, and with iron, and with very much raiment: divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.8. with your brethren] i.e. with the members of the tribes who had remained on the east side of the Jordan, to whom, according to Numbers 31:27, one half belonged.
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 unto the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, whereof they were possessed, according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses.9, 10. Return of the Tribes. Erection of an Altar on the Jordan
9. out of Shiloh] where the division of the land had been carried out. See Joshua 18:1.
which is in the land of Canaan] Only the country west of the Jordan is regarded as the Land of Canaan. That on the east of the river is simply called here Gilead (comp. Numbers 32:1; Numbers 32:28-29), although it embraced Gilead and Bashan, the kingdoms of Sihon and Og.
And when they came unto the borders of Jordan, that are 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 see to.10. unto the borders of Jordan] More literally, the circles of the Jordan. Comp. Joshua 13:2, “the borders (or circles) of the Philistines;” Joel 3:4, “all the coasts (or circles) or Palestine;” Matthew 3:5; “the region round about Jordan.” The region indicated is a portion of what is now called the Ghor of the Jordan, the low tract or plain along the river, through which it flows. Wyclif renders it, “whanne thei weren comen to the mynde hyllis of Jordan.”
that are in the land of Canaan] That is on the west side of “the Ghor.” They desired to anticipate any assertion that the Jordan constituted in itself a barrier between them and their western brethren and the Sanctuary of God at Shiloh.
a great altar to see to] i. e. an altar great to behold; so high and wide that it would be seen from a great distance. “An auter of mychilnes with out mesure,” Wyclif. The site of this interesting memorial has been lately 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 abn’Ayd = “the going up to Ed.” It projects like a white bastion towards the river, some twenty miles north of Jericho, and close to the line of march from Shiloh to Gilead, 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.
Mentioned only once in the Bible, this altar, erected by the two and a half tribes on their return from Western Palestine as a “witness” that they too were co-heirs with their brethren on the other side of the river, had dropped entirely out of all hope of recovery. The place has now been found by Lieut. Conder, its name still existing, on the high peak known as Kurn Surtabeh, in the valley of the Jordan. Independently of the special interest attaching to the spot, this recovery illustrates remarkably the vitality of the old Biblical names. (Quarterly Statement, 1874, p. 241.)
to see to] = to behold. “Faire to see to, goodlie to behold.” Ad aspectum præclarus. Baret, Alvearie, s. v: “If such rank corne be once cut down with the syth … certain it is that the grain in the ear will be longer to see to, howbeit void and without any floure within it.” Holland’s Pliny, xviii. 17; Bible Word-Book, p. 425;
“Care and utmost shifts,
How to secure the lady from surprisal,
Brought to my mind a certain shepherd lad
Of small regard to see to.” Milton’s Comus, 618.
And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of Canaan, in the borders of Jordan, at the passage of the children of Israel.11–20. Embassy from Israel to the Two and a Half Tribes
11. heard] News of the step taken by the trans-Jordanic tribes so suddenly and without any consultation, reached the ears of their brethren, and gave rise to “great searchings of heart.”
in the borders] i.e. the circles of Jordan, as in Joshua 22:10.
at the passage of the children of Israel] More literally, by the side of the sons of Israel. Comp. Exodus 25:37; Exodus 32:15.
And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them.12. gathered themselves together] The act of their trans-Jordanic brethren, done without any authority of the High Priest, appeared at first sight to be a direct infringement of the express commands against another altar and other worship (Leviticus 17:8-9; Deuteronomy 12:5-7; Deuteronomy 13:12-18). It was open to the suspicion that they meant, if not to adopt another worship, at least to set up another and an independent establishment for worship, which, besides the obvious tendency to idolatry, could not fail in the event to destroy the connection by which the tribes were linked together. “The obligation of all the Israelites to resort three times in the year for worship to the sole altar of the people, was admirably suited to retain them as one people by continually keeping before their minds their common origin and common obligations; but if a separate establishment were allowed to exist there could be no difficulty in divining that they would cease to put themselves to the trouble of visiting the parent establishment in Canaan, and would, in no long time, come to regard themselves, with a country so congenial to their pastoral character and a geographical separation so complete, as a distinct people.”
And the children of Israel sent unto 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,13. And the children of Israel sent] The holy jealousy which inspired them did not induce them to proceed hastily, or without proper enquiry. They resolved to send a deputation to ascertain the meaning of what had been done.
Phinehas] In Hebrew Pinchas, in the Apocryphal Books Phinees, was the son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron (Exodus 6:25). While yet a youth he had been memorable for his zeal and energy at the critical moment of the sin of Peor at Shittim, and appeased the Divine wrath and put a stop to the plague which was destroying the nation (Numbers 25:7). For this he received the special approbation of Jehovah, and the promise that the priesthood should remain in his family for ever (Numbers 25:10-13). This seems to have raised him to a very high position in the nation, and he figures rather than his father as the leading member of the hierarchy;—(a) In the conflict with Midian (Numbers 31:6), (b) in this dispute with the Reubenites, (c) in the war with the Benjamites (Jdg 20:28) he is the chief oracle and adviser. The memory of the zealous priest was very dear to the Jews. He is specially commemorated in one of the Psalms (Psalm 106:30-31), and the priests who returned from the captivity are enrolled in the official lists as the sons of Phinehas (Ezra 8:2; 1Es 5:5). In his Egyptian name he bore the last trace of the sojourn of the nation in “the land of Ham.” His tomb, a place of great resort to Jews and Samaritans, is shewn at Awertah, 4 miles south-east of Nablus.
And with him ten princes, of each chief house a prince throughout all the tribes of Israel; and each one was an head of the house of their fathers among the thousands of Israel.14. ten princes] Representing the nine and a half tribes west of the Jordan.
head of the house] Each of them was prince of a fathers’ house among the thousands of Israel. Comp. Jdg 6:15; 1 Samuel 10:19; 1 Samuel 10:21. “They were thus persons of great weight of character and approved discretion, entitled by their position to demand an explanation, and less likely than younger men to have their judgments warped or compromised by the hasty impulses of passion.”
And they came unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, unto the land of Gilead, and they spake with them, saying,
Thus saith the whole congregation of the LORD, What trespass is this that ye have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the LORD, in that ye have builded you an altar, that ye might rebel this day against the LORD?16. that ye might rebel] See Numbers 14:9; Leviticus 17:8-9; Deuteronomy 12:13-14.
Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us, from which we are not cleansed until this day, although there was a plague in the congregation of the LORD,17. the iniquity of Peor] i. e. of Baal Peor. In four passages Peor occurs as a contraction for Baal Peor, (a) Numbers 25:18, twice; (b) Numbers 31:16; and (c) in this place. He makes allusion to the apostasy in the staying of which he himself had borne so memorable a part, and many have suspected that there were still some amongst them who were hankering after the licentious orgies of Baal worship. We shall find Joshua himself alluding to the same propensity (Joshua 24:14-23).
although there was a plague] Of which upwards of 24,000 of the people died.
But that ye must turn away this day from following the LORD? and it will be, seeing ye rebel to day against the LORD, that to morrow he will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel.
Notwithstanding, if the land of your possession be unclean, then pass ye over unto the land of the possession of the LORD, wherein the LORD'S tabernacle dwelleth, and take possession among us: but rebel not against the LORD, nor rebel against us, in building you an altar beside the altar of the LORD our God.19. if the land of your possession be unclean] i. e. without an altar to the Lord, and in the midst of many heathen dwelling amongst them.
the land of the possession of the Lord] the land of your possession. Observe the antithesis.
Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.20. Did not Achan] Phinehas finally reminds the tribe of the recent crime of Achan (Joshua 7:1 ff.) which had involved in its consequences not only the man himself, but his children, and the entire people (Joshua 7:1-5).
Then the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh answered, and said unto the heads of the thousands of Israel,21–31. Defence of the Two Tribes and a Half
21. Then the children of Reuben] The two tribes and a half proceed to defend themselves and to shew that their object was in all respects the very reverse of that imputed to them.
The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the LORD, (save us not this day,)22. The Lord God of gods] Rather, The Lord, the God of gods; or, the three names may be taken separately, cf. Psalm 50:1. They commence in the most solemn manner by invoking God Himself to witness as to the innocence of their intentions. The form in which they do this is the most emphatic that language can express. There are three principal names of God in Hebrew,—El, Elohim, Jehovah. Here all the three are used together and repeated twice to mark the earnestness of their protestation. “El, Elohim, Jehovah—El, Elohim, Jehovah.” “The moost strong Lord God of Israel,” Wyclif. He knoweth. The verse is “invested with a mournful interest, for it is that on which Welsh, the minister of the army of the Covenanters, preached before the battle of Bothwell Bridge.” Stanley’s Lectures, i. 221.
if it be] The particle rendered “if” is here used as the formula of an oath. The apodosis follows at the close of Joshua 22:23, “let the Lord Himself require it.”
save us not this day] “If bi inwit of trespassynge this auter we han maad vp, keep he vs not, but punyshe now,” Wyclif. This is an imprecation addressed immediately to God. “A parenthetic clause in which the excited feeling passionately invoking evil upon itself passes into the appeal to the Most High.” Comp. Deuteronomy 10:17; Job 10:7; Job 23:10. The words are almost equivalent to our form “So help me God.”
That we have built us an altar to turn from following the LORD, or if to offer thereon burnt offering or meat offering, or if to offer peace offerings thereon, let the LORD himself require it;23. require it] Comp. Deuteronomy 18:19, “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him;” 1 Samuel 20:16, “So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the Lord even require it at the hand of David’s enemies.”
And if we have not rather done it for fear of this thing, saying, In time to come your children might speak unto our children, saying, What have ye to do with the LORD God of Israel?24. and if we have not] More literally, and if not rather from anxiety, for a reason we have done this thing. The word rendered “fear” is translated “care” in Ezekiel 4:16; “carefulness” Ezekiel 12:18-19.
For the LORD hath made Jordan a border between us and you, ye children of Reuben and children of Gad; ye have no part in the LORD: so shall your children make our children cease from fearing the LORD.25. ye children of Reuben and children of Gad] The half tribe is omitted here, and again in Joshua 22:33-34. Perhaps for the sake of brevity.
Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:26. Let us now prepare to build] “Exstruamus nobis altare,” Vulgate. “Make we out to vs an auter,” Wyclif.
But that it may be a witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the LORD 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, Ye have no part in the LORD.27. be a witness] Instead of meaning a separation, they had set up their altar as a monument to future ages of the connection between the tribes divided by the river, so that if, at any time to come, their descendants should attempt to cast off the connection and assert their own independence, or if the Israelites should hereafter attempt to disown their union, and declare that the people beyond the river “had no part in the Lord,” this monument might be pointed to in evidence of the fact. Observe the calmness maintained by the accused tribes. There is no syllable of reproach or recrimination in their vindication of themselves.
Therefore said we, that it shall be, when they should so say to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say again, Behold the pattern of the altar of the LORD, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between us and you.28. Behold the pattern] Some have imagined that the altar set up had an actual resemblance to the altar of burnt-offering at the Tabernacle. But this could hardly be. There may have been some general resemblance in their structure, which was of earth heaped up and huge stones.
it is a witness between us and you] Comp. Joshua 4:6-7; and Genesis 31:48.
God forbid that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn this day from following the LORD, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the LORD our God that is before his tabernacle.29. God forbid] Literally, Far be it from us. LXX. μὴ γένοιτο. Wyclif translates it, “God shilde fro vs this hidous gilt.” The speakers express in the strongest manner their abhorrence of the idea of forsaking Jehovah.
And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation and heads of the thousands of Israel which were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the children of Manasseh spake, it pleased them.30. it pleased them] Or, it was good in their eyes. Comp. Genesis 34:18, “And their words pleased Hamor, and Shechem Hamor’s son;” Genesis 41:37, “And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh;” Genesis 45:16, “And it pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants” (where see Margin); and see 2 Samuel 3:36; 1 Kings 3:10.
And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the children of Manasseh, This day we perceive that the LORD is among us, because ye have not committed this trespass against the LORD: now ye have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the LORD.31. is among us] Phinehas recognises the presence of God in the congregation, because His Providence had restrained their brethren from even the semblance of idolatry.
out of the hand of the Lord] As otherwise a punishment like that in Numbers 25:9 might have again fallen on the whole people.
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, unto the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought them word again.
And the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel blessed God, and did not intend to go up against them in battle, to destroy the land wherein the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.32–34. Return of the Embassy
33. blessed God] Compare 1 Chronicles 29:20, “And David said to all the congregation, Now bless the Lord your God. And all the congregation blessed the Lord God of their fathers;” Nehemiah 8:6, “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God;” Daniel 2:19, “Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven;” Luke 2:28, “Then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said.”
did not intend] i. e. did not carry out their intention of going up to war against them, as they first thought of doing when “they gathered themselves together at Shiloh;” see above Joshua 22:12.
And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the LORD is God.34. called the altar Ed] The word Ed is not found after altar in the Hebrew, nor is it represented in the LXX. or Vulgate, nor are the words in the next clause, “shall be,” in the original. The words indicate the title which was placed upon the altar, “a witness between us that the Lord is God.” Wyclif renders the verse, “And the sones of Ruben and the sones of Gad clepen the auter, that thei hadden maad, Oure Witnessynge, that the Lord he be God.”