Joshua 22
Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh,
After the conquest and division of the land, Joshua sent the auxiliaries of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh back to their homes, with a laudatory acknowledgment of the help they had given to their brethren, and a paternal admonition to adhere faithfully to the Lord and His law, and with a parting blessing (Joshua 22:1-6). By the expression "then Joshua called," etc., the occurrence described in this chapter is placed in a general manner after the conquest and subjugation of Canaan, though not of necessity at the close of the distribution of the land. As the summons to these tribes to go with their brethren into Canaan, to assist them in the war, formed the commencement of Joshua's plans for the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 1:12.), their dismission to their home very properly forms the conclusion to the history of the conquest of this land by the Israelites. We might therefore assume, without in any way contradicting the words of the text, that these auxiliaries had been dismissed immediately after the war was ended. Even in that case, the account of their dismission would stand in its proper place, "since it was only right that the history itself, which relates to the conquest and possession of the land, should be fully completed before any other narratives, or any casual occurrences which took place, were introduced to break the thread" (Lightfoot, App. i. p. 42). On the other hand, however, the circumstance that the two tribes and a half were dismissed from Shiloh, where the tribes assembled for the first time during the casting of the lots, favours the conclusion that the dismission did not take place till after the lots had been cast; that is to say, contemporaneously with the advance of the other tribes into their possessions.

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:
Joshua acknowledged that they had done all that they were under any obligation to do towards Moses and himself (Numbers 32:20.; Joshua 1:16-17). "Kept the charge of the commandment," i.e., observed what had to be observed in relation to the commandment of the Lord (see at Leviticus 8:35 and Genesis 26:5).

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.
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.
Joshua 22:4 points back to Joshua 1:15. "Unto your tents," for to your homes, - an antiquated form of expression, as in Deuteronomy 16:7; Judges 7:8, etc.

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.
Remembering, however, the changeableness of the human heart, Joshua appends to the acknowledgment of their fidelity in the performance of their duty the pressing admonition, to continue still to observe the law of Moses faithfully, to walk in the ways of the Lord and serve Him with the whole heart, which was simply a repetition of what Moses had impressed in a fatherly way upon the hearts of the people (see Deuteronomy 4:4, Deuteronomy 4:29; Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:13, etc.).

So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their tents.
Thus Joshua dismissed them with blessings. - In Joshua 22:7, the writer, for the sake of clearness, refers again to the fact that only half of Manasseh had received its inheritance from Moses in Bashan, whereas the other had received its inheritance through Joshua on the west of the Jordan (cf. Joshua 14:3, and Joshua 18:7). To us such repetitions appear superfluous; but they are closely connected with the copious breadth of the early historical style of the Hebrews, which abounded in repetitions. The verb נתן (gave) wants its object, אחזּתו or נחלתו, which may easily be supplied from the context. This interpolation involved a further repetition of the fact, that Joshua also dismissed them (the Manassites of the other side) with a blessing, in order that the words might be appended with which Joshua dismissed the two tribes and a half to their homes, namely, the admonition to share the rich booty which they had accumulated with their brethren at home, in accordance with the instructions which Moses had given them with reference to the war with the Midianites (Numbers 31:25.).

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,
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.
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.
On the way home, when the two tribes and a half had reached the border of Canaan, they built a large conspicuous altar in the district of the Jordan, in the land of Canaan, i.e., on this side of the Jordan: "a great altar to see to," i.e., one which caught the eye on account of its size, since it was to serve for a memorial (Joshua 22:24.). The definition appended to Shiloh, "in the land of Canaan" (Joshua 22:9), serves to bring out the antithesis "into the land of Gilead," by which we are to understand the whole of the country to the east of the Jordan, as in Numbers 32:29; Deuteronomy 34:1; Judges 5:17, etc. נאחז, both in the form and meaning the same as in Numbers 32:30, made possessors, i.e., settled down. היּרדּן גּלילות, the circles of the Jordan, is synonymous with היּרדּן כּכּר in Genesis 13:10, and signifies that portion of the Ghor which was upon the western side of the Jordan.

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.
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.
The Israelites (on this side) heard that the tribes in question had built the altar "opposite to the land of Canaan" (lit. in the face or in front of the land of Canaan), אל־אבר, "at the opposite region of the children of Israel" (two descriptions which may be explained on the supposition that the name of Canaan is used in a restricted sense, the valley of the Jordan being expressly excepted, and Canaan considered as only extending to the valley of the Jordan). When they heard this, the whole congregation (in its heads and representatives) assembled at Shiloh, to go up, i.e., with the intention of going, to make war against them. The congregation supposed that the altar had been built as a place for sacrifice, and therefore regarded it as a wicked violation of the commandment of God with regard to the unity of the sacrificial altar (Leviticus 17:8-9; Deuteronomy 12:4.), which they ought to punish according to the law in Deuteronomy 13:13. This zeal was perfectly justifiable, and even praiseworthy, as the altar, even if not erected as a place for sacrifice, might easily be abused to that purpose, and thus become an occasion of sin to the whole nation. In any case, the two tribes and a half ought not to have erected such a building without the consent of Joshua or of the high priest.

(Note: "We know how sternly the law prohibited the use of two altars: because it was the will of God that His worship should be restricted to one place. When, therefore, from the very appearance it could not fail to occur to the mind of any one that they were establishing a second altar, who would not have condemned them as guilty of sacrilege, for introducing rites and ceremonies at variance with the law of God? And since it might so naturally be regarded as a wicked deed, they ought certainly to have consulted their brethren in so grave and important a matter; and it was especially wrong to pass by the high priest, when the will of God might have been learned from his lips. They were deserving of blame, therefore, because they acted as if they had been alone in the world, and did not consider what offence might easily arise from the novelty of their proceedings." - Calvin.)

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.
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,
The congregation therefore sent Phinehas, the son of the high priest and his presumptive successor in this office, with ten princes, one from each tribe (not the tribe-princes, but a head of the fathers' houses of the families of Israel), to Gilead, to the two tribes and a half, to call them to account for building the altar.

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.
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?
Assuming at the outset that the altar was intended for a second place of sacrifice in opposition to the command of God, the delegates, with Phinehas no doubt as their speaker, began by reproaching them for falling away from the Lord. "What faithlessness is this (מעל: see at Leviticus 5:15) that ye have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from Jehovah, in that ye have builded you an altar, that ye might rebel this day against Jehovah?" מרד (to rebel) is stronger than מעל.

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,
To show the greatness of the sin through apostasy from the Lord, the speaker reminds them of two previous acts of sin on the part of the nation, which had brought severe judgments upon the congregation. "Is there too little for us in the iniquity of Peor (i.e., with Peor, or through the worship of Peor, Numbers 25:3), from which we have not cleansed ourselves till this day, and there came the plague upon the congregation of Jehovah?" את־עון is an accusative: see Ges. 117, 2; Ewald, 277, d. That plague, of which 24,000 Israelites died, was stayed through the zeal of Phinehas for the honour of the Lord (Numbers 25:4-9, Numbers 25:11). The guilt connected with the worship of Peor had thereby been avenged upon the congregation, and the congregation itself had been saved from any further punishment in consequence of the sin. When Phinehas, therefore, affirmed that the congregation had not yet been cleansed from the crime, he did not mean that they were still bearing or suffering from the punishment of that crime, but that they were not yet cleansed from that sin, inasmuch as many of them were still attached to idolatry in their hearts, even if they had hitherto desisted from it outwardly from fear of the infliction of fresh judgment.

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.
"And to-day ye turn away from the Lord again," and are about to bring His wrath upon the whole congregation again through a fresh rebellion.

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.
"And truly," the speaker continued, "if the land of your possession should be unclean," sc., so that you think it necessary to have an altar in the neighbourhood to expiate your sins and wipe away your uncleanness, "pass over into the land of Jehovah's possession, where His dwelling-place stands, and settle in the midst of us ('settle,' as in Genesis 34:10); but do not rebel against Jehovah nor against us, by building an altar beside the (one) altar of Jehovah our God." מרד is construed first of all with בּ, and then with the accusative; the only other place in which the latter occurs is Job. Jos 24:13.

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.
He finally reminded them of the sin of Achan, how that had brought the wrath of God upon the whole congregation (Joshua 7); and, moreover, Achan was not the only man who had perished on account of the sin, but thirty-six men had fallen on account of it at the first attack upon Ai (Joshua 7:5). The allusion to this fact is to be understood as an argument a minori ad majus, as Masius has shown. "If Achan did not perish alone when he committed sacrilege, but God was angry with the whole congregation, what think ye will be the consequence if ye, so great a number, commit so grievous a sin against God?"

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,
In utter amazement at the suspicion expressed by the delegates of the congregation, the two tribes and a half affirm with a solemn oath, that it never entered into their minds to build an altar as a place of sacrifice, to fall away from Jehovah. The combination of the three names of God-El, the strong one; Elohim, the Supreme Being to be feared; and Jehovah, the truly existing One, the covenant God (Joshua 22:22), - serves to strengthen the invocation of God, as in Psalm 50:1; and this is strengthened still further by the repetition of these three names. God knows, and let Israel also know, sc., what they intended, and what they have done. The אם which follows is the usual particle used in an oath. "Verily (it was) not in rebellion, nor in apostasy from Jehovah," sc., that this was done, or that we built the altar. "Mayst Thou not help us to-day," sc., if we did it in rebellion against God. An appeal addressed immediately to God in the heat of the statement, and introduced in the midst of the asseveration, which was meant to remove all doubt as to the truth of their declaration. The words which follow in Joshua 22:23, "that we have built," etc., continue the oath: "If we have done this, to build us an altar, to turn away from the Lord, or to offer thereon burnt-offering, meat-offering, or peace-offering, may Jehovah himself require it (דּרשׁ, as in Deuteronomy 18:19; cf. 1 Samuel 20:16). Another earnest parenthetical adjuration, as the substance of the oath, is continued in Joshua 22:24. "But truly (לא ואם, with an affirmative signification) from anxiety, for a reason (lit. on account of a thing) have we done this, thinking (לאמר, since we thought) in time to come your sons might say to our sons, What have ye to do with Jehovah, the God of Israel?" i.e., He does not concern you; He is our God. "Jehovah has made the Jordan a boundary between us and your sons; ye have no part in Jehovah. Thus your sons might make our sons cease to fear Jehovah," i.e., might make them desist from the worship of Jehovah (for the infinitive form ירא instead of the abbreviated form לרא used in 1 Samuel 18:29, there are analogies in יצק in Ezekiel 24:3, and לישׁון, Ecclesiastes 5:11, whereas יראה is the only form used in the Pentateuch). There was some reason for this anxiety. For, inasmuch as in all the promises and laws Canaan alone (the land on this side of the Jordan, Numbers 34:1-12) is always mentioned as the land which Jehovah would give to His people for their inheritance, it was quite a possible thing that at some future time the false conclusion might be drawn from this, that only the tribes who dwelt in Canaan proper were the true people of Jehovah.

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,)
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;
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?
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.
Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:
"So we thought, we will make ourselves to build an altar (an expression derived from the language of ordinary life, for 'we will build ourselves an altar'), not for burnt-offerings and slain-offerings; but it shall be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we may perform the service of Jehovah before His face (i.e., before the tabernacle in which Jehovah was enthroned), with our burnt-offerings, slain-offerings, and peace-offerings," - in order, as they repeat in Joshua 22:27 from Joshua 22:24, Joshua 22:25, that they might not be denied a part in Jehovah in time to come. For if it should so happen in time to come, that this should be said to them and to their descendants, they would say (or reply), "Behold the copy of the altar of Jehovah, which our fathers made, not for burnt-offerings," etc. (Joshua 22:28, as in Joshua 22:26, Joshua 22:27). For this reason they had built the altar according to the pattern of the altar before the tabernacle, and that not in their own land, but on the western side of the Jordan, where the dwelling-place of Jehovah was standing, as a witness that they worshipped one and the same God with the tribes on this side.

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.
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.
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.
The speakers conclude with an expression of horror at the thought of rebelling against Jehovah. ממּנּוּ לנוּ חלילה, "far be it from us away from Him (ממּנּוּ equals מיהוה, 1 Samuel 24:7; 1 Samuel 26:11; 1 Kings 21:3), to rebel against Jehovah," etc.

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.
This explanation pleased the delegates of the congregation, so that Phinehas bore this testimony to the tribes on the east of the Jordan: "Now (to-day) we perceive that Jehovah is in the midst of us; because (אשׁר, quod, as in Genesis 31:49, etc.) ye have not committed this unfaithfulness towards Jehovah, since (אז, then, if ye had only this intention) ye have saved the children of Israel out of the hand of Jehovah," i.e., preserved them from His judgments.

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.
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.
They then returned to Canaan and informed the congregation. And the thing pleased them, so that they praised the Lord, sc., for having kept their brethren on the other side from rebellion, and they thought no more of going to war against them, or laying waste the land of the tribes on the east of the Jordan.

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.
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.
The Reubenites and Gadites (half Manasseh is omitted in Joshua 22:33, Joshua 22:34, for the sake of brevity) called the altar "witness is it between us that Jehovah is God" (כּי introduces the words). This is at once a name and an explanation, namely in this sense: they gave the altar the name of "witness between us," because it was to be a witness that they also acknowledged and worshipped Jehovah as the true God.

Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch [1857-78].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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