Joshua: Chapter 22 - Rebellion or was it Rebellion?

Bible Study @ Hurst Gospel Hall

Author: John Whitmarsh
Added: 2010-01-22

Up until the end of chapter 21 we have seen the nation largely united (Achan apart) in their desire to see the enemy subdued and the land conquered. The tribes that saw that the land on the eastern side of the river Jordan was good for cattle and desired it as their place to live had been instructed that their men folk were to join the army and to fight the battles with the men from the nine and a half tribes. This they had done faithfully over a period that could have been as much as seven years but was probably a bit less. Caleb had been one of the spies who had been sent into the land in the second year after the children of Israel came out of Egypt (Numbers 1-10.11 appear to cover a period of twenty days in the second month of the second year after coming up out of Egypt the incident with the spies is recorded in Numbers 13 and 14). Caleb declared in Joshua chapter 14 that he was 85 years of age. If there were about 38 years wandering in the wilderness that would have made Caleb 78 when he came into the land with the rest of the people. 85 minus 78 makes 7 years or thereabouts.

The start of this chapter lays out the commendations and blessings mingled with some warning that there were for these tribes. They had done what had been asked of them and they had done it well. They had not sinned in this respect for had they not done so, as the famous verse in Numbers 32 reminds us, their sin would have found them out. They were sent back to the families that they had not seen for such a long time with kind words ringing in their ears and a seven fold blessing as verse 8 indicates. Everything is rosy up until the end of verse 9.

Verse 10 is, however, an altogether different story. An altar was raised very close to the river Jordan. It seems that the warriors from the two and a half tribes had purposed in their hearts, during the short journey from Shiloh to the river, to set up this altar. This was a snap decision without any consultation. Whether the stones were piled on top of each other on the Canaan (west) side of the Jordan or on the eastern side was the subject of much debate in the Bible reading. Some translations use the word Geliloth to describe the name of the place which is believed to be in the Jericho area. More on this matter in the detailed notes for the chapter. Wherever they placed the set of stones is perhaps immaterial but the act of doing so was insensitive to say the very least and even be construed as provocative. What were they thinking when they performed this act? Why place the stones so close to the Jordan? Why place these stones close to a much smaller memorial that had been raised in chapter 4? Whatever the motive (and it may well be that the motive was as pure as later declared) a move from Shiloh to Gilgal and then to Gilead with a stop near to Gilgal to raise stones seems very strange. To get to Gilead from Shiloh they needed to be heading in a north easterly direction but they went south east first of all. Why? Was it easier to cross the Jordan there? The people at Shiloh must have seen them depart and thought that they would make their way back to Gilead but saw them go via Gilgal. Why didn't they explain what they were going to do? Why not ask first of all whether they were going to cause offence by raising the stones? They had acted with neither the consent of their God nor with the blessing of the people that they were leaving on the one side of the river nor with the approval of the people on the other to whom they were returning. No consultation why did these men act independently?

Then the news came back that they had raised a huge and imposing altar of stones. Why did this structure have to be huge? No doubt it was so that it could be seen from afar. Trouble was brewing. The men who had successfully fought alongside each other against a common enemy were just about to engage in another battle only this time with each other and altogether unseemly. Perhaps there was over reaction due to a wrong perception of the situation but that perception of the situation had been formed in the minds of the antagonists who considered that they were defending some principle.

By now the two and half tribes' men were back in Gilead and a delegation was sent to them to try to find out the reasons for raising the stones. Strong words were uttered in that the very first sentence mentions rebellion against the Lord. The perception that the people on the Canaan side of the Jordan had of this altar was that it was an alternative altar to the altar of the Lord. It may not have been rebellion as far as the two and a half tribes' men of war were concerned but the impression that was given was one of the most outrageous rebellions that meant that men should want to take up arms against their former partners.

The explanation given was that the stones were intended for a witness. No doubt that was why they were raised to a great height so that many could see them and so that they could be a witness to many. But the people in Gilead surely could not see the stones from there unless the structure was as high as some modern skyscraper buildings. How many ever saw the stones? Was a pilgrimage made there each year to see the stones in the shape of an altar? The whole thing seems to be ridiculous and based solely on the whim of men returning from a campaign without recourse to any others.

22:1 Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh,

It is made perfectly clear that this chapter concerns the two and a half tribes who dwelt on the eastern side of the Jordan. Verse 1 does not make it clear, however, that Joshua was speaking from within the land of Canaan to the men who had made up part of that force of about 40,000 men of war (see 4.13). We have to wait until we are further into the narrative to discover that he is speaking to the warriors from these tribes. These were assembled by Joshua in verse 1.

The teaching relating to the two and a half tribes was raised in chapter 1. The notes are repeated here. 'What are the spiritual lessons? The two and a half tribes were content to stay on the east side of Jordan. The blessings were to be found on the west side of Jordan. Surely they were content with second best? The land flowed with milk and honey but that was beyond the river. There may be giants in the land but with God on their side these would be overcome. To rest in Gilead was to miss out on blessing. Sadly, there many Christians who do not come into the full blessing that God wants each Christian to enjoy. They remain baby Christians with one foot in the world and allowing the flesh to dictate when the Spirit wants to be in the ascendancy.'

The following is adapted from the work of H. Rossier 1852-1942

'It was their circumstances which led them to choose the east side of Jordan. They had much cattle and that was uppermost in their mind. It was not what lay beyond Jordan but they had acquired much cattle and what was best for them. They had not seen nor considered what lay beyond the river. The place they chose was a place for cattle - adapted to their circumstances. (Numbers 32.1)

It is the same with many Christians. The main point in the Christian life of some believers is the circumstances of this life, the everyday needs, abundance or want (Numbers 32.16). Their Christianity is worldly in the sense that, although they have no wish to go back to Egypt, they want a life of faith for earthly circumstances only. They do not want to enter into that which speaks of the blessing of heavenly places. Moses was at first indignant with the two and a half tribes but he afterwards bore with them, seeing that although their faith was weak, still it was faith, and that these earthly links did not separate them from their brethren.

This Christianity trusts the Lord Jesus for His providential care, and in the details, great or small, of daily life. The Lord Jesus is known as the Shepherd but the Shepherd is not just able to care for the things of time and sense. There is a spiritual dimension to His Shepherd care. He leads us through this world but it is not in material things that He gives us rest. The green pastures and the still waters are not the fields, nor the sheepfolds, nor the cities of Gilead, but the rich pastures of the land of Canaan. The picture is clear. These did not set their hearts 'on things which are above' (of the enjoyment of which things Canaan speaks).

There is nothing wrong in confiding in Him for everything but let us know something of the joy of entrance into the blessings of the place where a glorified Christ is to be found, of being attached outside this world, drawn away from this scene, to be introduced, dead and risen with Him, into a heavenly Canaan. There, the motive for our walk will no longer be 'much cattle'. It will not be a question of arranging our life more or less faithfully according to what we possess but, having left all behind, self, and the affairs of this life, in the bottom of the river of death, we have now to fight to take possession of all our privileges in Christ, realising them by faith, and enjoying them in the power of the Spirit.

22:2 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:

The war was over. The land had been allocated. The nine and a half tribes were settled into their territories. The two and a half tribes had done all that had been asked of them by Moses (Numbers 32 and Deuteronomy 3.16-20). They had done what they had been commanded to do by Joshua. As far as we read there had been no disputes. They had put their backs into the business of claiming the land though they were going to return to the other side. They could not be faulted in this respect.

22:3 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.

They had not crossed back over the river to see their families in all that time that they were fighting with the men of war from the nine and half tribes. They had not left their brethren. It was surely easy to cross back over the Jordan (flooding apart) for a short while. But they had not done so. Now with all accomplished it was time for them to return. They had done what they was expected of them and Joshua was sending them away with his blessing. Again they could not be faulted in this respect.

22:4 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.

The rest that they so desired in the land and which necessitated these battles with the previous occupants of the land was secured. As mentioned in the last section of chapter 22 rest must not be equated with full possession for there were areas where the Canaanites still dwelt in the land. But there was peace in that the land had rest from war. The people on the Canaan side of the river were going to enjoy a period of rest and the warriors from the two and half tribes were to go to their tents (it is interesting that there is no mention of cities, towns or villages as in the section from chapters 13 to 19) and to the land of their possession. Does the mention of tents mean that these were going to be living as they had in the wilderness? The people in the land of Canaan had gained established towns. Was this the case as far as those on the eastern side were concerned?

22:5 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.

A timely reminder of the need to be obedient to the Lord was given. Notice that the first time commandment is mentioned it is in the singular and the second time it is in the plural. There was a great need to have a great heed to do the commandment and the law. It wasn't just that they were to know it or to read it but to do it. They were:

To love the Lord their God

To walk in all His ways

To keep His commandments

To cleave (to stick fast) unto Him

To serve Him with all their heart and with all their soul

By doing such things they would be taking diligent heed to the commandment of the Lord. By doing such things we will take diligent heed to the things that He asks of us.

Why was it necessary to give these men such a reminder? They were returning to their own tribes, to a people who had not committed themselves to the crossing of Jordan. Such were in an ambiguous position. They wanted the God of the land but did not want the land.

22:6 So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their tents.

There may have been a salutary reminder of those things which God required of them but it must be stressed that they also went away from Joshua and the people with Joshua's (and by implication the people's) blessing. These men went back to their tents. The simple phrase 'unto their tents' at the end of this verse is repeated in verses 7 and 8.

22:7 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,

There was a split tribe. One half of the tribe of Manasseh was in the land and the other was on the eastern side of the river (Bashan was on the eastern side of the river). Notice that it was Moses who gave the possession to that part of the tribe that was on the east bank and Joshua to that part in the west.

22:8 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.

Those who returned to their tents received a seven fold blessing - much riches, very much cattle, silver, gold, brass, iron, very much raiment. They went with the blessing of those with whom they had served. Joshua was happy with their contribution to the conquest. He was happy for them to share in the spoils and to share these spoils with those on the other side of the river.

22:9 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.

Verse 9 states that they headed out of Shiloh to go to the country of Gilead. To go as the crow flies from Shiloh to Gilead would be to travel in a north easterly direction (maybe slightly more north). Ostensibly they were going home to the land of their possession.

22:10 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.

Verse 10 just says 'the borders of Jordan' without being specific. The impression gained from reading the AV text is that the altar was reared up on the western side of the Jordan. Other translations do not use the term 'borders'. The NIV translation of this verse is, 'When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan.' This, likewise, leads the reader to think that the Canaan side is the location for these stones.

Where is Geliloth? Geliloth (see 18.17) is probably the same as Gilgal. Though the word may signify border or limits, some think that it is probably not the proper name of a place in 18.17 and translate this verse, 'And went forth towards the borders which are over against the ascent to Adummim.' Others render Geliloth circuits or roundings, or the hills about Jordan, tumuli Jordanis. Here the NIV has rendered the word translated 'borders' in the AV as Geliloth. If Geliloth is Gilgal then why were they going from Shiloh to Gilead via Gilgal? Perhaps it was necessary to cross the Jordan at the same place that all the Israelites had crossed some seven years earlier. Perhaps this was the reason for the detour for detour there was.

And then an altar was built. In fairness it should be pointed out that Joshua 8.30-31 says, 'the Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in mount Ebal. As Moses the servant of the Lord commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man had lifted up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings.' This is a very significant verse when it comes to the explanation given by the men from the two and a half tribes towards the end of the chapter. Sacrifice was made on this altar but, again in fairness, only in accordance with the words of Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 27. This altar was to be plastered and bear the law.

There was discussion as to whether the altar in Joshua 22 was erected on the western or the eastern side of Jordan. Verse 11 says 'over against the land of Canaan' implying that the altar was on the eastern side of the river. Verse 10, however, suggests that the altar was on the western side. The important thing in verse 10 is that this altar was an imposing structure. It was in the region of the crossing. There was another pile of stones close by that signified that a group of people had come from east to west across the river and now there was a massive altar that could be easily seen in the same vicinity.

Why such an altar? The opportunity being granted to return to their homes means that they would have to cross the Jordan. The river separated their tribes from the others. They have been united with their brothers in arms but now they were about to cross the river. There was going to be no further communion between them and the brothers in arms. They saw the river as the division between them and their brothers. It should have been the edge of the territory but it was the dividing line. They no doubt felt that there would come a time when they would be treated as strangers by those on the western side. They had seen all the good things that were taking place in the land (things which their own tribes had not gone in for) and they would not enjoy those on the eastern side. Standing by the river they saw it as a division between the tribes. As explained it is their own wisdom that causes them to raise this testimony. It was, no doubt, an expression and declaration, in the loudest and most public of terms, of faith and unity but it bore the semblance of an assembling point and it was this that caused the distress. It was intended to serve as a reminder that the two partitions of the tribes were spite of the river, united however, the opposite reaction took place. There was disharmony and disunity as the next verses reveal.

22:11 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.

If this altar was built by the men from the two and a half tribes on their return journey, (and there is no reason to doubt that this was the case) then the whole of the two and a half tribes cannot be blamed for this altar. The passage of the children of Israel surely refers to the area where the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan.

22:12 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.

Proverbs 18.13 says, 'He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. There was a haste that was not seemly here. No sooner had they laid down their arms as there was peace in the land than they were getting together to destroy their own. Passions were running high but surely there must have been another way. Whatever the altar was meant to represent the effect had been to bring about this unseemly behaviour. To go to war was wrong but the symbolism of the massive altar had brought about this response. The raising of the altar was an inflammatory act that brought out the worst in the whole of the children of Israel on the western side. Everything here was emotional and nothing spiritual.

22:13 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,

22:14 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.

A delegation was sent to the two and half tribes before they slaughtered each other. What a testimony this would have been and all because the two and half tribes did not want to enter the land. That was the root cause of this problem. The men of war have had a taste of the land but have now returned. They do not want to sever links with the land beyond the river.

Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, along with ten princes (rulers), each one representing the nine and half tribes (they couldn't send half a man!!!) went to Gilead. Presumably they went to see not only the men of war but representatives of all the members of the two and half tribes. It was this same Phinehas who had stood for the Lord in Numbers 25 for we read there, 'And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.' At least Phinehas did not take a javelin in his hand on this expedition!!

22:15 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,

22:16 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?

The language was very strong. The language was the language that had been spoken by the others at Shiloh. They were incensed and this had to be conveyed to the men from the two and half tribes. God's honour was at stake in their opinion. Rebellion was being perpetrated first and foremost against the Lord. This was not the language of someone coming to soft soap the two and half tribes. Peace must be maintained but it was not going to be peace at any price. The altar may have been raised for the two and half tribes' benefit so that they could see it and perhaps on the eastern side of the river but the implication is that it was so large that the tribes on the western side of the river could see the altar. That aside the question asked was not about the affront to the people on the western side of the river but the affront as far as the Lord was concerned. This was another altar.

22:17 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,

The iniquity and debacle at Peor was cited. How well Phinehas recalled the events. How his zeal had spared more people from an untimely death. 'And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.' The whole incident is recorded in Numbers 25 but the three previous chapters should also be read to get the context. Numbers 25.3 says, 'And Israel joined himself to Baal-peor: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.' They had bowed down to the gods of the Moabites. This was not mere association with idolatry but blatant bowing down to it. Why cite that incident in connection with this? Why express similar zeal as he showed that day in Peor? They could remember that Peor had only just happened and many had died as a result of that transgression and iniquity. Twenty four thousand lost their lives. They still had not recovered from what had happened there. Families had been destroyed. It was going to take generations for the effects of the plague to be forgotten. Would the same thing happen again because of this altar? Phinehas was, in principle, equating the one incident with the other.

22:18 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.

In effect Phinehas and his men say that it may be the two and half tribes who rebel against the Lord on that day (at that time) but what will the consequences be for the whole of God's people? We must raise this matter with you for it not only affects you but it affects us all.

22:19 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.

They continued in this vein if the land that they have chosen was unclean then why not forget about staying on the eastern side of the river but join the other tribes on the western side? Is there an indication in this statement that this is what was in the heart of the men of war from the two and a half tribes as they crossed the river?

Whatever the case the men representing the tribes from the western side of the river did not want rebellion against the Lord (first and foremost) and rebellion against themselves and those they represented. Lack of respect for the things of the Lord is tantamount to lack of respect for my brothers. Rebellion against the Lord is also rebellion against my brothers.

22:20 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.

But then another sin was cited. It is the major sin of this whole book. It was perpetrated as long ago as chapter 7 but this trespass was mentioned in Phinehas' address to the men. When Achan sinned it was not only Achan who suffered. It was not Achan alone who perished in his iniquity. Achan was greedy. Achan wanted the things of the world. The first sin that has been brought to the attention of the two and a half tribes was not Achan's but that which took place at Peor. There the matter was idolatry. In Achan's case it was taking the devoted thing. It was robbing God in effect. Their actions were being equated with idolatry on the one hand and a desire to rob God of His portion on the other. These were serious allegations. Emotions ran very high.

22:21 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,

22:22 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,)

22:23 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;

22:24 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?

22:25 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.

22:26 Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:

22:27 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.

22:28 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.

22:29 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 representatives of the two and half tribes made their defense. Is the title 'the Lord God of gods' used and repeated in verse 22 a correct title to use? He was the Lord God of Israel of which they were part. They claimed that this was not rebellion (see verse 29 as well). They stated that the altar was not built for the purpose of sacrifice burnt offering, meat offering and peace offerings are all mentioned. Their major concern was separation from the other tribes. They were concerned that the children from the nine and a half tribes would ask what the children from Gad and Reuben had to do with the Lord (verse 24). And then they suggested that the same children would blame God for making a division between them and the two and a half tribes. Of course this was nonsense. Had the Lord made a border between the tribes on the one side of the river and the tribes on the other? That border had always been there and God had promised all the tribes the land that flowed with milk and honey and that did not include the land of the Moabite and the Amorite. It was never God's intention that the tribes should have been on the eastern side of the Jordan. That He permitted it to happen is another matter but it was not His original plan. The blame for the expected mention of this division was laid not at their own children's door but at the door of the children of their accusers. The blame for the division (the river) itself or at least for its mention was imagined to be with the children from the western side in then future days. Things may have been alright with this generation but what would happen in years to come. That was their concern (see the mention 'our generations in time to come' in verse 27). They were still prepared to sacrifice to the Lord but not at the altar. The altar was to be a witness (verse 27). All this was designed so that future generations would live in harmony and not say that those over the river had no part with the Lord. The whole thing seems to have been carefully thought out. Starting with an impromptu raising of stones on a return journey a whole set of principles had been established ahead of the visit by Phinehas. It all sounded plausible but verse 28 speaks of the pattern of the Lord's altar. Of which Lord's altar was this the pattern? Presumably they meant that this was alikeness of the Lord's altar. The Lord's altar had been carried around the wilderness these past 38 years or so. It was either a brazen altar or a gold covered wooden altar. The raising of stones by way of an altar was going back to early days when families set up centres of worship. Once again they stress that the altar that was raised served as a witness between the two parties. It was for this reason that it was raised at the crossing. Not only could some of the members of the tribes on the eastern side see the altar but some on the western side could also see the edifice.

22:30 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.

22:31 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.

22:32 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.

22:33 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.

22:34 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.

Phinehas may be considered to be a blatant bully and verbally violent accuser or else he may be viewed as someone who has used great skill and zeal in handling the situation. The danger still remained after all the words were spoken but Phinehas took the words that were said as expression of the heart's attitude. The words were pleasing. The civil war was averted. The evil was stayed. The implication of verse 31 is that had they gone to war with each other then God would have stepped in with disastrous consequences. They returned with the report of the meeting and the conciliatory words spoken. The children of Israel were pleased. We do not read of God's pleasure in the whole sorry affair.

The altar remained. We know nothing else about this altar other than that recorded in this chapter. It remained in place as far as we know. It was never used for sacrifice as far as we know. It stood and served as a witness and was called such although Ed is in italics in the AV of the scriptures indicating that it is not in the text. This may well be debatable.


This is a sorry and somewhat bizarre episode in the history of the children of Israel. Whichever way we look at scripture there is bound to be polarization. Either we accept that the men of war from the two tribes acted hastily and without consent and this provoked trouble. Or else we consider the evident hastiness of the men from the nine and a half tribes to be the source of the trouble. Either we consider this incident as the seed of all that went wrong throughout the times of the kings or we believe that the men from the two and half tribes acted honourably. Either we consider the altar to be an unnecessary monstrosity or as a sensible edifice to the witness of the unity between the two parties.

This latter view was expressed during the Bible reading and the text appears to bear this out. The reasoning is summarized in this way. 'The conduct and answer of these Reubenites and the associates are worthy of admiration and imitation. Though conscious of their innocence, they permitted Phinehas to finish his speech, though composed of little else than accusations, without any interruption; and taking in good part the suspicions, reproofs, and even harshness of their brothers, with the utmost meekness and solemnity they explain their intention, give all the satisfaction in their power, and with great propriety and reverence, appeal to that God against whom they were supposed to have rebelled.'

As there were two opposing views of the erection of an altar in the chapter so there were two views as to the interpretation of events. Isolating this chapter from the rest of the book of Joshua or even the rest of the Bible suggests that the actions of the men from the two and a half tribes constituted godly behaviour. The fact that Phinehas did not run them through with a javelin as he had done to the miscreants in Numbers 25 suggests that evil practice at the altar was averted.

The other view (and as expressed in the main in the body of notes) drew upon verses from other areas of God's word to show that, though evil was avoided, the principles of later evil practice were sown in the events of Joshua 22. In the notes on chapter 1 it was pointed out that of all the tribes to be taken into captivity the two and a half tribes were the first. This may well have been because of their geographical location but I Chronicles 5.26 was read again, 'And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tiglath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river of Gozan, unto this day.' This event occurred some ten years before the remainder of the ten tribes (Judah and Benjamin were left in the land) were taken captive. Pul and Tiglath-pilneser is one and the same person elsewhere known as Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria, who reigned from 745-727BC. He was instrumental in removing the two and a half tribes into captivity before the remainder of the ten tribes were taken captive by the hand of either Shalmaneser V or Sargon II the next kings to reign over the Assyrians. It was felt that the phrase 'the God of Israel stirring up the spirit of Pul' was significant and that this early capture could be traced back to the events of this chapter.

Everything in Joshua 22.9 to the end of the chapter was feeling motivated. It was pure emotion. And so it was that raw emotion, albeit with the best of intentions and that was to unite a people that were physically separated by a river, almost resulted in disaster for the children of God. We must consult God and His word before we introduce anything that may be construed as an addition to worship. We dare not go on emotions alone. Worship is a spiritual exercise and, although emotions are stirred, should not be purely emotional.

It was acknowledged during the reading that we had all heard precious little about this chapter and that the reading and discussing of it had been tremendously beneficial. It was stated that we would never forget the altar of Ed again!!