Joshua 22
Benson Commentary
Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh,
Joshua 22:1. Joshua called the Reubenites and the Gadites, &c. — The war being ended, and ended gloriously, Joshua, as a prudent general, disbands his army, and sends them home to enjoy what they had conquered; and particularly the forces of those separate tribes, which had received their inheritance on the other side Jordan, from Moses, upon this condition, that their men of war should assist the other tribes in the conquest of Canaan; which they promised to do, Numbers 32:32, and renewed the promise to Joshua at the opening of the campaign, Joshua 1:16. And now, as they had performed their agreement, Joshua publicly and solemnly, in Shiloh, gives them their discharge.

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 22:2-3. Ye have kept all that Moses commanded, &c. — Thus he dismisses them with a very honourable character. When Moses was gone, they remembered and observed the charge he had given them; and all the orders which Joshua, as general of the forces, had issued out, they had carefully obeyed. Ye have not left your brethren these many days — He does not say how many, nor can it be collected with certainty from any other place; but it was as long as the war lasted, and therefore must have been the space of seven or eight years, Joshua 11:18; Joshua 14:10. So long they had been absent from home, excepting such individuals as might have occasionally visited their families, the distance not being great, or have been exchanged for others of their brethren.

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. Return ye to your tents — That is, to your settled habitations. Though their affections to their families could not but make them very desirous to return, yet, like good soldiers, they would not move till they had orders from their general. So, though we desire to be at home with Christ ever so much, yet we must stay here till our warfare is accomplished, wait for a due discharge, and not anticipate the time of our removal.

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.
Joshua 22:5. Take diligent heed — Watch over yourselves and all your actions. Commandment and law — Two words expressing the same thing, the law of commandments delivered by Moses. All your heart and soul — With the whole strength of your minds, and wills, and affections.

So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their tents.
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,
Joshua 22:7. Then he blessed them — Not only prayed for them as a friend, but blessed them as a father, in the name of the Lord, recommending them, their families, and affairs to the grace of God. It seems probable, from the manner in which this is stated, that this his blessing was peculiarly and separately given to the half-tribe of Manasseh. He was somewhat more nearly related to them than to the other two, as being an Ephraimite, and perhaps they might be more reluctant to depart than the others, as they were leaving one half of their own tribe behind them, and therefore might have more need than the others of the comfort and encouragement of his blessing.

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.
Joshua 22:8. Divide the spoil with your brethren — That is, with them who stayed beyond Jordan for the defence of their land, and wives, and children, who therefore were to have a share, though not an equal share with these. “Nothing could be more just,” says Dr. Dodd, “than this command; for, notwithstanding those who remained beyond Jordan had not shared in the dangers of the war, like those who had gone through it; yet they had, during that period, watched over the families of the latter, and defended their possessions against the inroads of their surrounding enemies. This seems to have been constantly the custom among the Israelites: those who were detached upon any military expedition, gave the rest of the army a share of the booty they had taken from the enemy; the pagans acted in like manner; God himself enjoined this practice after the war against the Midianites. Those who fought kept half the spoil of the enemy, and gave the other half to the rest of the people. Probably the same proportion was observed on this occasion. David, on his return from pursuing the Amalekites, changed this custom into a law, 1 Samuel 30:24-25.”

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.
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.
Joshua 22:10. When they came — Or, They came (for the word when is not in the Hebrew) to the borders of Jordan — It is thought by many that גלילות, Geliloth, here rendered borders, was the name of a place. The children of Reuben built there an altar — This seems, at first sight, to import, that they built this altar before they went over Jordan, in the land of Canaan; but the Hebrew particle שׁם, sham, relates to time as well as place, and may be translated then as well as there. Examples of which may be found in Proverbs 8:27, compared with Joshua 22:30; Ecclesiastes 3:17; and Isaiah 48:16. And thus it is here to be interpreted, that before they went any farther, while they were yet on the bank of Jordan, they erected this altar on the borders of their own country; for so the next verse teaches us to expound the passage, and will admit of no other sense, where it is said they had built this altar, not in, but over against the land of Canaan. Indeed it is not likely that they would have ventured to erect it in the territory of the other tribes. Nor would it have answered their intention to have built it there, which was to show, by this monument, that Jordan made no such separation between them and their brethren, but that they were one people with those in Canaan, where the altar of God was in Shiloh. See Joshua 22:28. Nor would there have been cause to suspect, as it appears there was from the following verses, that it was designed for sacrifice, if they had not built it among themselves. A great altar to see to — Which made a very conspicuous appearance, being very high, and consequently visible afar off.

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.
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.
Joshua 22:12. The whole congregation of the children of Israel — Not in their own persons, but by their elders, who were used to transact all affairs of this kind in the name of all the people. Gathered themselves together against them — As apostates from God, and the true religion, according to God’s command in such a case. For they too hastily inferred, from the erection of this altar, that their brethren were either going to serve other gods, or to worship the God of Israel in a manner different from that which he had prescribed. For they were expressly commanded that, as there was but one God, so they should offer only upon one altar, and in that one place which the Lord should choose, Deuteronomy 12:5-18.

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,
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?
Joshua 22:16. Thus saith the whole congregation — Who do, and are resolved to cleave unto that God from whom you have revolted. What trespass is this that you have committed? — How heinous a crime! To turn away this day — That is, so soon after God hath obliged you by such wonderful favours, and when he is now conducting you home to reap the fruits of all your pains and hazards. In that you have builded you an altar — For sacrifice, as they supposed. That ye might rebel — With a design to rebel against God, and against his express command enjoining you to worship him at one only altar.

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,
Joshua 22:17. Is the iniquity of Peor — That is, of worshipping Baal-peor; too little for us? — Is it not enough that we provoked God to wrath then, but we must provoke him again now? Probably this is mentioned the rather, because Phinehas, the first commissioner in this treaty, had signalized himself in that matter; and because they were now at, or near, the very place where that iniquity was committed. From which we are not cleansed to this day — For though God had pardoned it, as to the national punishment of it, (Numbers 25:11,) yet they were not yet thoroughly purged from it; partly because the shame and blot of that odious practice were not yet wiped off, and partly because some of that corrupt leaven still remained among them; and though smothered for a time, yet was ready to break forth upon all occasions: see Joshua 24:33. And God also took notice of these idolatrous inclinations in particular persons, and found out ways to punish them.

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.
Joshua 22:18. But ye must turn away this day — Commit more sins of that nature. For whether they intended to worship other gods, or to worship the God of Israel in a manner he did not allow, it was idolatry, in the judgment of Phinehas. Ye rebel to-day, to-morrow he will be wroth — That is, soon and suddenly, as the expression often signifies. With the whole congregation — With you for doing so, and with us for suffering or not punishing it.

Notwithstanding, if the land of your possession be unclean, then pass ye over unto the land of the possession of the LORD, wherein the LORD'S tabernacle dwelleth, and take possession among us: but rebel not against the LORD, nor rebel against us, in building you an altar beside the altar of the LORD our God.
Joshua 22:19. If the land of your possession be unclean — If you apprehend it to be so, and that it is not regarded by God for want of the tabernacle and altar there, but is like heathen lands; if you now repent of your former choice in preferring the worldly commodities of that country before the advantage of God’s presence, and more frequent opportunities of his service; pass ye over, and take possession among us — We will readily resign part of our possessions to you for the prevention of this sin and mischief. Thus Phinehas manifests his piety, disinterestedness, and benevolent intentions: “he even,” as Dr. Dodd observes, “himself seeks out some plausible pretence for the step against which he inveighs. He supposes that the Israelites beyond the river may have thought their land would be defiled, that it would not be a holy land, consecrated to God, and under his protection, unless they beheld there some token of his presence, some sacred edifice, which might publicly signify that the Lord was their God.” Rebel not against the Lord, nor against us — For as all the tribes were united in one body politic, and made one commonwealth, and one church; and each tribe was subject to the laws and commands of the whole society, and of the chief ruler or rulers thereof; so its disobedience to their just commands was properly rebellion against them. The tribes appear here to have been possessed of a wonderful zeal for God and the common good, inasmuch as they were willing and desirous rather to put themselves to straits, and give up some of their own land to their brethren, than see them deviate into schism, and revolt against God.

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.
Joshua 22:20. Achan the son of Zerah — That is, one of Zerah’s posterity. That man perished not alone — But brought destruction on his whole family, and on part of our forces sent against Ai.

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,
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,)
Joshua 22:22. The Lord God of gods — In the Hebrew it is, The God of gods, Jehovah; the God of gods, Jehovah; or, rather, there are three names of God, El, Elohim, and Jehovah, signifying that they owned no other God but him whom their forefathers worshipped, by what name soever he was called, as if he had said, That Jehovah, who is infinitely above all creatures, and the fountain of all other beings, whom we no less than you acknowledge as the God of gods. The multiplying of his titles, and the repetition of these words, show their zeal and earnestness in this matter.

He knoweth — To him we appeal who knoweth all things, and the truth of what we are now saying. Not only our present words, but our future and constant course shall satisfy all Israel of our perseverance in the true religion. If it be in rebellion — If this have been done by us with such design, or in such a manner. Save us not — Thou, O Lord, to whom we have appealed, and without whom we cannot be saved and preserved, save us not from any of our enemies, nor from the sword of our brethren. It is a sudden apostrophe to God, usual in such vehement speeches.

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;
Joshua 22:23-25. Let the Lord himself require it — That is, call us to an account and punish us for it. What have you to do with the Lord — You have no relation to him, nor interest in him, or his worship. The Lord hath made Jordan a border — To shut you out of the land of promise, and consequently from the covenant made between God and our fathers. Ye have no part in the Lord — Nothing to do with him; no right to serve him or expect favour from him. Cease from fearing the Lord — For they that are cut off from public ordinances, usually by degrees lose all religion. It is true the form and profession of godliness may be kept without the life and power of it. But the life and power will not long be kept without the form and profession of 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:
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.
Joshua 22:27. But that it may be a witness — It was an ancient way of preserving the remembrance of things to raise such structures. That we might do the service of the Lord before him — That we and ours may have and retain the privilege of serving and worshipping God, not upon this altar, but in the place of God’s presence, in your tabernacle, and upon your altar.

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.
Joshua 22:28. Behold the pattern of the altar — An exact representation and resemblance of it; but which they could not have imitated, if they had not been acquainted with it, and worshipped God there with their brethren. But it is a witness between us and you — That we both serve one God, and approve and make use of the same altar.

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.
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.
Joshua 22:30-31. It pleased them — They were fully satisfied with this answer. We perceive that the Lord is among us — By his gracious presence and preventing goodness, in keeping you from so great an offence, and all of us from those calamities that would have followed it. Out of the hand of the Lord — That is, from the wrath and dreadful judgments of God. By avoiding that sin which would have involved both you and us in a most bloody war, you have delivered us from the evils we feared. He that prevents an approaching disease or mischief, doth as truly deliver a man from it, as he that cures or removes it after it hath been inflicted.

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.
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.
Joshua 22:33. The children of Israel blessed God — As Phinehas had done, that their brethren had not offended the Divine Majesty as they suspected. And did not intend to go up against them — Laid aside the intention which had been in their minds. To destroy the land — As, by the law of God, they would have been obliged to do, if these two tribes and a half had been guilty of the crime of which they had been suspected, and had persisted in their sin; as afterward they nearly destroyed the tribe of Benjamin for a similar reason.

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.
Joshua 22:34. They called the altar Ed — That is, a witness; a witness of the relation they stood in to God and Israel, and of their concurrence with the other tribes in the common faith, that Jehovah he is God. It was a witness to posterity of their care to transmit their religion pure and entire; and it would be a witness against them, if ever they should turn from following the Lord.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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