Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh,XXII.
DISMISSAL OF THE TWO AND A HALF TRIBES TO THEIR INHERITANCE ON THE EAST OF JORDAN.
(1-6) Charge to the two and a half tribes by Joshua.
The words of Joshua 22:2-3 recall the promise of Joshua 1:16, and Joshua’s charge in Joshua 22:5 recalls that which he himself had received at first (Joshua 1:7), and finds a further parallel in what he said to Israel before his death (Joshua 23, 24).
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, 8) Joshua blesses the half tribe of Manasseh that dwelt on the west of Jordan.
(7) When Joshua sent them away also unto their tents, then he blessed them.—It is noteworthy that of all the tribes of Israel who followed Joshua, and remained with him, this half tribe alone is mentioned as receiving a special blessing. We cannot fail to observe that both in ancient times, and also among ourselves, the conduct of the two and a half tribes in choosing their inheritance on the east of Jordan has been regarded as laying them open to some blame. Historically, this is incorrect. God delivered the land of Sihon and Og to Israel; some one must inherit it. Again, the true eastern boundary of Palestine is not the Jordan, but the mountain range of Gilead, which parts it from the desert that lies beyond. Really the two and a half tribes were as much in Palestine as the rest, only their position does not take advantage of that wonderful miracle by which Jordan was driven back, and the Israelites were enabled to strike at the heart of their Canaanitish foes. They themselves, however, were compelled to cross the Jordan before they could obtain the nest which they seemed to have won before they crossed it—“that they without us should not be made perfect.” In the spiritual world these two and a half tribes answer to the people who received their inheritance from Moses (i.e., from the law); the others are those who received nothing until they followed Joshua, i.e., the Captain of salvation, Jesus Christ, who gives rest to all. When He came, His own people were divided, like the tribe of Manasseh. Some could not forsake Moses, a sacrifice which they thought He required of them; some gave up all, and followed Him. “Forgetting (Heb., M’nâsheh—i.e., Manasseh) the things that were behind, and reaching forth unto the things before,” they would take nothing but what He gave. These are they who receive special blessing from Him. (See Names on the Gates of Pearl—Manasseh, p. 165, &c.)
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) The borders of Jordan, that are in the land of Canaan.—As far as these words go, the site of the altar might be either east or west of Jordan; but it seems to be more probable that it was on the east bank. And thus the phrase above would be a reminder of the very thing the altar was intended to enforce, viz., the fact that both borders of Jordan are part of the promised land. But Kurn Surtabeth, twenty miles north of Jericho, on the west side of Jordan, has been thought to be the place.
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) Have built an altar.—Rather, have built the altar. As appears by Joshua 22:28, it was a representation of the altar of Jehovah: a copy of the one altar which He had given to Israel for sacrifice. The design was to set up on the east of Jordan a likeness of that altar which was established on the west, that the tribes on the other side of Jordan might appeal to it as a proof that they also were the people of Jehovah.
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) To go up to war against them.—There is no more striking proof of Israel’s obedience to the law and veneration for it in the days of Joshua than this. A single altar to Jehovah, besides the one in Shiloh. is sufficient cause for war against the builders of it. But see what is the language of the prophet. “According to the number of thy cities were thy gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem have ye set up altars to Bosheth (disgrace), even altars to burn incense to Baal” (Jeremiah 11:13). What stronger proof could we require of the veracity of the narrative in this place, and that it is genuine contemporary history? What writer of the days of Jeremiah, to which date some have referred the Book of Deuteronomy and its requirements, could have conceived such a scene as this, when altars to Jehovah on the high places were hardly regarded as illegal, and altars to Baal were as numerous as the very streets?
Another passage in a different part of the Old Testament corroborates indirectly, but in a striking manner, the tone of this (Nehemiah 8:17): “The congregation. . . . made booths, and sat under the booths” (as required by the law of Moses in the Feast of Tabernacles); “for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so.”
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) Phinehas . . . and (14) ten princes.—According to the constitution established by Moses, a government by priests and judges. Phinehas in particular was well suited to the office of “defender of the faith” (see Numbers 25).
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.—A very natural subject for reference on the part of Phinehas, who had distinguished himself by his zealous opposition to it.
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.—This suggests that they might have built the altar in it to sanctify it. But it would hardly be intelligible unless the altar was, as we supposed, on the eastern side.
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) That man perished not alone.—His whole household was exterminated. (See on Joshua 7:24.)
Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:(26) An altar.—Rather, the altar. It was not an altar (Joshua 22:23), but the altar, i.e., the pattern or copy of the altar of Jehovah, to prove that the two and a half tribes had the same right to approach Him as all the rest.
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) Ye have no part in the Lord.—Something of the kind was insinuated in the abuse of the Gileadites by the men of Ephraim (Judges 12:4), when they said, “Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.” That taunt cost the Ephraimites the lives of 42,000 men. The person who made it the law of Israel to have no part in Jehovah was “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin” by setting up the calves, and thus diverting the stream of national worshippers from Jerusalem, the place chosen by the Lord. It may be further observed that Joshua’s efforts under the direction of Jehovah for the establishment of national unity in Israel are proved by the narrative in this chapter to have taken considerable effect. At whatever cost, it was felt that the unity of national worship must be maintained. Rebellion “against Jehovah” is treated by the heads of Israel (Joshua 22:19) as rebellion “against us.”
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) The altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifices.—The words suggest the reflection that there are many other “altars” so called in the present day, also an occasion of dispute; and it would tend greatly to peace and acquiescence in their existence if we could be assured that, like this altar, they are “not for sacrifice” but for a witness to that common worship of Christ as God which is an essential feature of Christianity.
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) We perceive that the Lord is among us, because ye have not committed this trespass . . .—The best token of the Divine presence among men is the Divine likeness and holiness in men. “if we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie . . . but if we walk in the light, we have fellowship one with another.”
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.(33) Did not intend—i.e., they decided not (Heb. they did not say to go up against them).
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) That the Lord (i.e., Jehovah) is God (of all the twelve tribes alike).