Chapter 22

1 The two tribes and half with a blessing are sent home. 10 They build the altar of testimony in their journey. 11 The Israelites are offended thereat. 21 They give them good satisfaction.

1. Then. Heb. Хaz, indicating that the development began at a certain time, growing out of a situation just described; that is, immediately after the donation of the cities to Levi, as recorded in ch. 21. The construction seems to imply that it was not at the end of the war when the 2 1/2 tribes were sent home, as some have thought, but rather after the distribution of the land to the 12 tribes, and of the cities to the Levites.

2. Ye have kept all. The words of vs. 2 and 3 recall the promise of ch. 1:16, and Joshua’s charge in v. 5 recalls that which he himself had at first received (ch. 1:7), and finds a further parallel in what he said to Israel before his death as recorded in chs. 23 and 24.

3. These many days. See on ch. 11:18. About six or seven years were occupied in subduing the land. Thus these tribes had been absent from their homes and families for a long period of time while fulfilling their obligation to their brethren (ch. 1:12–16). They had given of their best to be a blessing to their brethren.

It is noteworthy that during all the long years of conquest, with the exception of the request of the tribe of Joseph (ch. 17), no sound of complaint is recorded. This is in contrast to the constant murmuring during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. While the Israelites were in the midst of conquest and success and in activity, they were content. So today, when the church is active and carrying forward a progressive program with all of its members participating, there is usually remarkable freedom from criticisms, complaints, and murmurings.

4. Your tents. Perhaps by this time the people were already living in the houses they had inherited or had built (Num. 32:17), but the writer calls them tents because this was the word they were accustomed to use in the wilderness for their dwelling places. It continued in their vocabulary even to a much later date.

5. But take diligent heed. Literally, “only watch you exceedingly.” The statements in this verse are very similar in content to the statements found in Deut. 6:5; 10:12; 11:13, 22; 30:6, 16, 20; etc., indicating that these words were already recorded, so that Joshua had access to them. He had become so familiar with them that when he spoke he was using almost the same words as his predecessor, Moses. Joshua dismissed the two and a half tribes with words of spiritual counsel and warning. In strict obedience to all the commandments of God lay their only safety.

Cleave unto him. The Hebrew word here translated “cleave” is rendered “stuck” in Ps. 119:31. It carries with it the idea of firmness, that is, “to stick firmly.”

7. Tribe of Manasseh. We are not to understand from this verse that Joshua addressed himself again separately to the half tribe of Manasseh. The statement is rather a repetition, which is a marked characteristic of the OT writers in general, and in particular of Joshua. A modern writer would refer back to what he has already written elsewhere, but the Jewish historian repeats in each instance as much as is necessary to make his account intelligible by itself. As an example of such repetition by our author, four times he repeats that the Levites were not to share in the distribution of the land (chs. 13:14, 33; 14:3; 18:7), and four times he repeats that the tribe of Manasseh was divided into two parts on either side of the Jordan (chs. 13:7, 8; 14:3; 18:7; and here).

8. Divide the spoil. These who had stayed in eastern Palestine to guard the stuff and rebuild the cities and care for the flocks and families were to share in the spoil taken. This was as God had earlier ordained (Num. 31:27), and as David later instructed the people (1 Sam. 30:24).

9. Out of Shiloh. This verse indicates very clearly that the two and a half tribes were not sent to their homes until after the headquarters of Israel had been moved to Shiloh, which move was after some of the tribes had received their inheritance. If they were not to remain until after the distribution of the land, they would likely have been dismissed from Gilgal. The fact that they were not dismissed from there is strong evidence that they stayed until the distribution was finished.

10. Borders of Jordan. Literally, “circuits of Jordan,” or, “districts of Jordan.” Some have taken the expression to refer to the fertile districts east of the upper Jordan, possibly the fertile meadow areas within the windings of the Jordan River. The river flows about 200 mi. (320 km.) in its windings back and forth in the 65 mi. (104 km.) between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. However, this identification does not seem to fit the specifications of the narrative. The LXX and the Syriac have the proper name “Gilgal” instead of “borders.” This would be the most natural place for the tribes to cross the Jordan. The road past Gilgal led to the border of both Reuben and Gad. Had the tribes journeyed north by the upper Jordan, they would have gone approximately 100 mi. out of their way. Another possible crossing place would have been at Adamah, but this was also an indirect way for Gad and Reuben to return, as well as an unknown way. Thus it is only logical to believe that the tribes returned by way of Gilgal (see PP 518). Having arrived in the “borders” of the Jordan, they built an altar on the height near the stones that Joshua had erected, although, perhaps, on the other side of the river (see on v. 11).

Land of Canaan. Suggesting that the place may have been on the west side of the Jordan, although this is by no means certain.

To see to. Better, “for appearance.” The expression indicates a large altar high enough to be seen at a great distance. This word may also convey the meaning that the altar was built for appearance only and not for any other use, such as for sacrifices. Yet it was patterned after the altar of burnt offering at the tabernacle (v. 28), which would make it an effective memorial of the fact that the eastern tribes were a part of the Israel of God.

11. An altar. Literally, “the altar.” According to v. 28, it was modeled after the altar of Jehovah, a copy of the one altar that God had given to Israel on which to offer their sacrifices; hence the article in the Hebrew, indicating the one altar.

Over against. Literally, “to the forefront.” The Heb. mul means “front,” and is so translated in most places. From the standpoint of directions, “front” may mean east as “right” means south, and “left,” north. If such is the usage of the word here, then the phrase would refer to the entrance to the land of Canaan from the east, or to the eastern shore itself.

In the borders. This is the same expression as in v. 10, and again the LXX and the Syriac read, “Gilgal.”

At the passage. Heb. Хel Фeber, literally, “unto over.” ФEber also means “ford,” or “passage,” which seems to confirm what was suggested (see on v. 10) as the most probable place of crossing. The word, however, also has the sense of “across,” so again, it cannot be definitely determined on which side of the Jordan the altar was built. It was probably to the east of the river (see PP 519).

12. To war against them. Here is striking proof of Israel’s strict obedience to the law and their veneration for it in the days of Joshua. A single deviation from it (Lev. 17:8, 9; Deut. 12:5–7; 13:12–15) was sufficient to arouse the loyalty of the nine and a half tribes and cause them to go to war even against their brethren. When they heard of the erection of an altar in addition to the one at Shiloh, they were ready to take immediate action lest the worship of Jehovah be defiled. It was not Joshua who summoned the tribes; they came together voluntarily. But probably he, together with Eleazar, counseled them to defer action until an embassage had been sent to the two and a half tribes to verify the rumor.

13. Phinehas. The son of the high priest, and well fitted for this task. He was the one who, in a critical moment, had risen up to resist the evil of Baal-peor (Num. 25:7, 8). All were aware of his earnestness, and, perhaps, no better person could have headed the delegation.

14. Ten princes. All the tribes west of the Jordan were represented, together with Phinehas from the tribe of Levi. Everyone who accompanied him was the chief of his father’s house, and probably the actual head of the tribe. A deputation of this kind would probably represent the highest court in the land. To Israel the supposed transgression committed by the two and a half tribes was considered a serious breach of divine law, and the personnel constituting the delegation indicated with what gravity they regarded the act.

16. What trespass. This expression means, literally, “what treachery.” The matter concerned not only the two and a half tribes but all Israel. Past experiences had shown that transgressions of groups or individuals might be visited upon the people as a whole. To these occasions Phinehas and his companions called attention, fearful that if those who had erected the altar should go unpunished, God might punish all Israel as partners in the guilt. The accusation of the nine and a half tribes was based only on a rumor which ought first to have been investigated. It is easy to put a false construction upon the acts of others. The western tribes were at fault, but so were the eastern tribes, who should have informed their brethren of the plan to erect this memorial. Perhaps they did not anticipate that a false rumor would originate. It is always wise to avoid the possibility, but on the other hand, it is never safe to pass judgment based merely on appearance.

17. Iniquity of Peor. See Num. 25:1–9; Deut. 4:3. The original of the word here translated “iniquity” is Фawon, which often conveys the idea of the “guilt” of wrongdoing. It is thought to come from the word Фawah, meaning “to bow down,” “to be perverse.” The English word “wrong,” that is, that which is wrought out of course, gives a similar idea of evil, and is found as the translation of Фawah in Esther 1:16. Hence Фawon is that which is out of line with right and propriety, which involves both guilt and punishment.

Not cleansed. Literally, “not cleansed from us.” Just what circumstance the author referred to by this statement cannot be definitely known, but the shame, the disgrace, the infamy of the iniquity of Peor must have still remained, and perhaps some tokens of the divine displeasure still continued to linger among the congregation. Twenty-four thousand are reported to have died on that occasion, and it is possible some of the children of those unholy unions were in the camp. No doubt many of the relatives still felt keenly the loss of those 24,000, and broken homes and fatherless children were evidence of the disaster. It may also imply that some measure of that corrupt leaven still remained among them, that the infection was not wholly cured, and that though suppressed for the present, it was still secretly working and was likely to break out again with fresh violence, as is intimated in the words of ch. 24:14, 23. Sin leaves its marks both upon the individual who sins and upon those who are influenced by his sin.

19. Unclean. That is, ceremonially unclean, because the tabernacle was not in the land of these tribes. An opinion was generally prevalent among the ancients that those countries in which there was no place set apart for the worship of God were unhallowed and unclean. If the two and a half tribes entertained such an idea, then it were better by far to abandon the land and dwell with the other tribes in the possession of the Lord. This indicated a very generous and unselfish spirit, a willingness to make sacrifices in order to preserve purity, and consequently peace. In other words, Phinehas and his companions were both willing and anxious to make first things first. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). It shows that the western tribes did not contemplate war as an absolute necessity, even if their brethren had sinned, but only if they should prove obdurate.

But rebel not. God had given instructions and commandments for the guidance of His people, and any departure from those commandments, particularly in regard to the erection of altars to false gods, would be nothing short of rebellion against the God of heaven. God is the same today as yesterday (Heb. 13:8), inasmuch as the principles of right never change. Though the punishment for departure from God’s laws may be deferred, every transgression will ultimately receive its just recompense of reward.

20. Perished not alone. Achan’s case was a demonstration of how one man’s sin brought God’s displeasure on the whole congregation. He and his whole family perished because of his sin, and so did all the men who fell slain by the army of the city of Ai. How much more would God’s displeasure have rested on the congregation in this instance if they condoned this sin of rebellion in worship by having a second altar. The people were acting rightly to be concerned about the matter, but they were acting rather hastily in condemning the act before they had the details of the story.

21. Answered. One cannot help appreciating the mildness of the answer in view of the accusation made against them. In fact, there is much to admire in both sides. When the accusers found themselves mistaken, they did not shift their ground and condemn their brethren for imprudence, although they might rightfully have done this; also when the accused had evinced their innocence, they did not upbraid their accusers with hasty, rash, and unjust surmises. Surely here was a case where a “soft answer turneth away wrath” (Prov. 15:1). How many troubles of life could be avoided if all needed the lessons of this experience.

22. The Lord God of gods. The three designations, ХEl, ХElohim, and Yahweh, are repeated twice in the foregoing order. The phrase could also be translated, “God of gods, Jehovah,” but in either case it was a strong adjuration suited to the greatness of the occasion. The two and a half tribes were shocked at the sin of which they had just been accused, and the multiplying of the titles of the Deity and the repetition of the phrase showed their zeal and earnestness in this matter.

23. Require it. The sentence may be translated, “Let Jehovah Himself look into it.” Calling on God’s triple name (see on v. 22) twice, the tribes were willing to leave the case in God’s hands and to accept His demands of them even if it meant their lives. This positive testimony gave assurance to the members of the delegation as to the sincerity of the motives that prompted the building of the altar.

24. Fear of this thing. The word for “fear” is rather “anxious care,” and literally the passage would read, “if not from anxious care from a word [thing].” The two and a half tribes proceeded to relate what was the cause of this fear or anxiety. In the process of time their posterity, being situated so far from the tabernacle, might be looked upon and treated as strangers to the commonwealth of Israel. As these tribes were on their way home the idea of this memorial probably suggested itself to their mind. Had they thought of the plan before, they probably would have informed Joshua. They were concerned lest their children should be looked upon by the other tribes as having no interest in the altar of God. True, for the time being, the eastern tribes were considered as brethren and were as welcome at the tabernacle as any other tribe, but what if their children after them should be disowned? Because of the distance, they could not make so frequent visits to the tabernacle as the others, and gradually they might be rejected as not members at all. This would lead to carelessness on the part of their children, and soon they would sink into a state of comparative irreligion. To forestall such a tendency and to be a constant witness of the fact that they were a part of Israel, the tribes decided to erect this large altar near the Jordan, so that it could be seen from both sides.

28. The pattern. The altar was an exact representation of the altar at Shiloh and would be a witness that its builders acknowledged and served the same God as those who worshiped at the original altar. Probably the size was much larger, however, to render it conspicuous, but the construction and proportionate measurements were the same.

30. It pleased them. Literally, “it was good in their eyes.” They had gone on this mission for the glory of God and not for their own glory. Now that the guilt had been cleared, even though they themselves had been proved wrong, they were pleased. God is the true bond of brotherhood. If we are true brethren, our brother’s shame and pain will be ours also, and the re-established innocence of those suspected of guilt will work in us hearty and sincere gratitude. Had the men from the tribes west of Jordan been actuated by selfish motives, they would have been too proud to rejoice over the exposure of their false accusation, and would have endeavored to find some other ground for complaint. Sometimes Christian brethren are so proud of their own opinions that they desire victory over a supposed antagonist rather than the vindication of right. Those who live near to the Lord are ready and willing to admit their error and are more anxious for truth than to convince others that they are right.

31. Now ye have delivered. The Hebrew word Хaz here translated “now” lays stress on the fact that the action has really taken place. It is generally translated “then,” but here it could very well be translated “consequently.” It implies consequence of action, and the whole sentence could read, “Consequently, instead of bringing us heavy chastisement, which we had feared, you have acted in such a way as to deliver us from the punishment of which we were afraid.”

33. Did not intend. Literally, “said not.” In 2 Sam. 21:16 there is a similar use of the word “said,” in the sentence, “And Ishbi-benob … thought to have slain David.” The Hebrew reads, “said to have slain,” that is, purposed or intended. So here. The people renounced the intention of “going up.” The statements of their delegates convinced them that there was no necessity for it, and accordingly they abandoned the idea entirely.

34. Ed. The Hebrew word for “witness.” However, this word is not found in the original, at least in the common copies, though some of the late MSS are said to contain it, but it occurs in the Arabic and Syriac versions. The LXX reads, “And Joshua gave a name to the altar of the children of Ruben and the children of Gad and of the half tribe of Manasse, and said, ЅIt is a testimony in the midst of them that the Lord is their God.’” The translators of the KJV have properly supplied the word in italics since it is the word that the sense evidently requires.

Some important lessons may be learned from the incidents of this chapter: first, even the best intentions are often misunderstood and afford cause for suspicion, and therefore, as much as possible, every appearance of evil should be avoided; second, it is far better to be jealous over our brethren with a godly jealousy than to be indifferent to their salvation, even when we are mistaken in our fears; third, even when we are falsely accused, it is well to listen to the accusation calmly and then with the spirit of humility make a careful defense. Those who are in the right can always afford to be calm and considerate.

Ellen G. White comments

1–34PP 517–520

8     PP 518

34   PP 519