The Eastern Tribes Return Home
22 At that time Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded you. You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the LORD your God. And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised them. Therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan. Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.
Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given a possession in Bashan, but to the other half Joshua had given a possession beside their brothers in the land west of the Jordan. And when Joshua sent them away to their homes and blessed them, he said to them, “Go back to your tents with much wealth and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, and iron, and with much clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.” So the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home, parting from the people of Israel at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, their own land of which they had possessed themselves by command of the LORD through Moses.
The Eastern Tribes’ Altar of Witness
And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size. And the people of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel.” And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.
Then the people of Israel sent to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel. And they came to the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them, “Thus says the whole congregation of the LORD, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the LORD by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the LORD? Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the LORD, that you too must turn away this day from following the LORD? And if you too rebel against the LORD today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the LORD’s land where the LORD’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the LORD or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the LORD our God. Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.’”
Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the LORD, do not spare us today for building an altar to turn away from following the LORD. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the LORD himself take vengeance. No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? For the LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the LORD.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the LORD. Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the LORD in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the LORD.”’ And we thought, ‘If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, “Behold, the copy of the altar of the LORD, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.”’ Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD and turn away this day from following the LORD by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle!”
When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes. And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh, “Today we know that the LORD is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the LORD. Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the LORD.”
Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the chiefs, returned from the people of Reuben and the people of Gad in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the people of Israel, and brought back word to them. And the report was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled. The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the LORD is God.”
Joshua 22 Commentary
by Hank Workman
We all have those times when we jump to conclusions. We hear something not very favorable about people and we make up our mind based on our own interaction with them or our own thoughts. This is and can be deadly in relationships. The mark of maturity is to not base such conclusions based on our own preconceived ideas but to investigate and act only after we’ve learned the truth.
When Joshua and the people crossed the Jordan and began taking the land, the tribes of Reubenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh were given their portion but also told they had to fight with their brothers until the entire land was taken. Now that the land was conquered and all the tribes were being settled, Joshua gathered these groups, thanking them for their service and sent them back to their families.
Then the rumors began to come in. These tribes had returned to their new settlement and constructed an altar. The rumor mill gave birth to great fear among the other tribes that these tribes had gone rogue and were worshiping a false god. An all-out war was planned until the priest Phinehas led a group to learn the truth before they acted. What they found was these 3 tribes had built a memorial to God and not an altar that would show their future generations of how God had led them. The war was diverted because they chose to investigate rather than act.
There is power to this action: Investigate before you conclude or act.
I know a person who is a skilled jumper to conclusions. He has destroyed relationship after relationship in his life because of it. Sadly, he is clueless to the effect of what it’s done. He has no genuine friends; he’s viewed as an immature trouble maker and because of his pride, never admits his mistake. What could change in his life if this jumping was put aside and repentance followed? Tragically, I’m not sure I’ll ever witness such a turnaround. He’d have to admit in humility of his mistakes.
Are you a jumper to conclusions rather than an investigator of truth? Are you one who is quick to act rather than wait in wisdom to do so? When we jump to conclusions not only do we destroy others we harm our own witness.
Joshua 22 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
The one thing that sticks out as a positive note is how seriously the western tribes took the possibility of falling back into sin. This had been something that plagued Israel for years, and something that would continue to plague them in their future.
God had commanded Israel not to offer burnt offerings or sacrifices at any location except the tabernacle (Lev 17:8-9) and not to worship other gods (Deu 13:12-15). The punishment for violating both laws was death, and this is why Israel gathered … to go to war against their brethren.Nelson’s New Illustrated Commentary
One of the main reasons this altar would have raised so much suspicion among the other tribes is because their main altar was formed in Shiloh to serve everyone in unity. In their minds, the only reason why these tribes near the river would form a new altar is if it was not dedicated to the Lord. So, to their credit, the western tribes were upset, not only that this could have been a false altar, but also because it would damage the unification that was taking place through the Shiloh altar.
Fortunately, those who were challenging this altar construction investigated the situation before jumping to conclusions. This was a wise move. How many today assume a position after only hearing a few details or reading a headline? Phinehas and 10 leaders went personally and recognized that God was among them. In fact, this altar was constructed as a preventative measure (a sign) for future generations who may be tempted to turn away from God. It was truly a rare and pleasant surprise!
The Transjordan tribes respond passionately that they are innocent of any rebellion or breach of faith. The section shows them innocent of anything malicious; they never intended to use this altar for sacrifices to God Himself, let along to other gods. Rather, they intended it only as a memorial or witness for their children, and their concern is the same as that of the tribes west of the Jordan: that the unity of Israel be maintained.Nelson’s New Illustrated Commentary