Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh,
Verse 1. - The Reubenites and the Gadites. According to the Hebrew idiom, these are in the original in the singular, as in Genesis 12:6. Thus a tribe, as has been before remarked, or even a family (Joshua 6:25), is spoken of frequently as a single individual (cf. Joshua 17:14, 15, 17, 18). It seems probable that this chapter occurs in strict chronological order, and that the soldiers of the two tribes and a half remained under the national banner at Shiloh until the work of survey and appointment was completed. But this cannot be affirmed with certainty. The word אָז with which the chapter commences, is not the usual word for chronological sequence, though it does not preclude it (see note on Joshua 8:30). And the time during which these soldiers must in this case have remained separated from their wives and families was a very long one. Some have even supposed that it lasted fourteen years (see ver. 3). On the other hand, the words "gathered together to Shiloh," in ver. 12, implies that the tribes west of Jordan had left Shiloh. Nor did there seem to be the least need for their services after the battle of Merom. We must be content to leave the matter in uncertainty, with the remark that if the armed men of the two tribes and a half did remain during this long period away from their homes, our sense of their ready obedience must be greatly enhanced, as also of the personal influence of the leader at whose instance they did so. The half tribe of Manaseh. Some cities read ֶשבֶט here for מַטֶּה, and as the tribe is spoken of in a political and not in a genealogical point of view, the reading, as far as internal considerations go, would seem preferable. The two words, however, are not always used with complete strictness, but are sometimes regarded as synonymous (see note on Joshua 13:29).
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:
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.
Verse 3. - Many days (see note on ver. 1). The expression in the original implies more, a great many days, the usual expression for a period of considerable length. Thus the military service of these tribes must under any circumstances have been a prolonged and arduous one, and they well deserved the encomiums which Joshua here lavishes upon them. It is a remarkable and almost inexplicable fact, that while the sojourn in the wilderness is represented as one long catalogue of murmurings, not one single complaint (unless we may call the gentle expostulation of the tribe of Joseph, in ch. 17, a complaint) disturbs the peace of the tribes while Joshua led them. This remarkable consistency of the narrative throughout, so great a contrast to what precedes and what follows, and felt to be so by the writer (Joshua 24:31), is of itself no small pledge of the trustworthiness of the whole. A collector at random from various narratives, themselves to a considerable extent fictitious, could hardly have managed to cull portions which would form an harmonious whole. A writer who was inventing his details would hardly have thought of making his history so great a contrast to the rest of the history of Israel, save with the idea of exalting the character of his hero. But there is no attempt to set Joshua above Moses, or any other Jewish leader. In fact, it is an argument for the early composition of the hook that there is no reference, not even an allusion, to any later events in the history of Israel. Why there was this marked difference between Israel under Joshua, and Israel at any other time, is a question somewhat difficult to determine. Yet we may believe that it was the evidence of visible success. While the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, they felt keenly, as men accustomed to a civilised and settled life, the inconveniences of a nomad existence. By their mingled impatience and cowardice they had forfeited their claim to God's protection. Even the observance of their feasts, and still further the rite of initiation into the covenant itself, were in abeyance (see notes on Joshua 5:2-8). So uncertain, humanly speaking, was their future, that it was as difficult a task, and one the successful accomplishment of which was above unassisted human powers, for Moses to keep them together in the wilderness, as it was for Joshua to lead them to victory in the promised land. And it is one of the commonest of Christian experiences, both in the history of individuals and of the Christian Church, that times of prosperity are times of content and outward satisfaction. It is the times of adversity that try men's faith and patience. As long as the Israelitish Church was subduing kingdoms, winning splendid victories, experiencing the encouragement derivable from God's sensible presence and intervention, there was no discontent, discouragement, or wavering. But the trials of the long wandering, as well as those incident to the quiet, unostentatious discharge of duty, were fatal to their faith and patience. Can theirs be said to be a singular history? Kept the charge. The words in the original have reference to the punctual discharge of a duty entrusted to a person to fulfil. It may be rendered, "kept the observance of the commandment." This commandment, as we have before seen, was given in Numbers 32. (see also Joshua 1:12-18).
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.
Verse 4. - Given rest. LXX. κατέπαυσε, the word used in Hebrews 4:8.
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.
Verse 5. - But take diligent heed. This passage is a quotation from the Book of Deuteronomy (Joshua 6:5; Joshua 10:12; Joshua 11:13, 22; 30:6, 16, 20, etc.) The expressions, as Keil well remarks, are "crowded together, so that obedience to God's commands may be the more deeply impressed on their hearts." It is worthy of remark, that while beginning with the love of God, Joshua does not end there. The best proof of love is our conduct towards the person loved. If love be genuine, it is the practical principle which produces diligent service, punctual obedience, faithful attachment, the devotion of the heart and soul. Commandment and law. The first of these words, derived from a root signifying to set up, has rather the force of what we call a positive precept, referring to single acts. The word translated law, derived from the root to cast, hence to stretch out the hand, to point out, refers rather to moral precepts. The Greek νόμος and our law are used in the same sense. Cleave unto Him. The Hebrew is stronger, cleave into Him, as though regarding not so much isolated actions as principles of life. Our life was to be "rooted and grounded," to use an apostolic phrase, in His. But the full significance of these words could not be understood till One had come who enabled us by faith to "eat His flesh and drink His blood," and so be united to Him as the branch to its root.
So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their tents.
Verse 6. - To their tents. It would seem that, during the whole of these "many days," the conquered cities had remained tenantless, waiting for the return of the warriors from their long expedition. "Those that were first in the assignment of the land were last in the enjoyment of it; so 'the last shall be first and the first last,' that there may be something of equality" (Matthew Henry). The first part of the quotation is due to Bishop Hall, who also says, "If heaven be never so sweet to us, yet may wee not runne from this earthen warfare till our great Captaine shall please to discharge us."
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,
Verse 7. - Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh. We have here, as Keil remarks, a specimen of our author's habit of repetition. Four times do we read (Joshua 13:14, 33; Joshua 14:3; Joshua 18:7) that the Levites were to have no share in the division of the land. Four times (in Joshua 13:8; Joshua 14:3; Joshua 18:7, and here) does he repeat that the tribe of Manasseh was divided into two, and had its inheritance on either side Jordan. The same kind of repetition occurs in the narrative of the passing of the Jordan. It has been before remarked to be a characteristic of the style of the Old Testament generally, but nowhere is it found to a greater degree than in the Book of Joshua. Yet this, to which critics of the analytical school have objected as a sign of spuriousness, is in fact one of those peculiarities of style which mark the individuality of the writer. It is to inspired history what the Gospel and Epistles of St. John are to inspired theology. The form belongs to the author; the matter, at least as regards its general purport, belongs to God. A Hebrew writer, we are reminded in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' does not quote or refer to what has been already stated. If it is necessary to make his narrative clear, he repeats it.
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.
Verse 8. - Riches. The word here used is an uncommon one, and occurs only here and in the later Hebrew. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren. This was the just reward for their toils. And here, as elsewhere, we may observe the strict and scrupulous integrity of Joshua. The division of the spoil by other leaders has often been the cause of heart burnings and even of mutiny. Here each man has his due, and no room is left for reproach or dissatisfaction.
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. - Out of Shiloh. See note on ver. 1. In the land of Canaan. To distinguish it from Gilead, the land of their possession, on the other side of Jordan. Whereof they were possessed. Another instance of that repetition which was according to the genius of the Hebrew language.
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. - The borders of Jordan. Literally, the circles (cf. notes on Joshua 13:2; 18:17; 20:7; 21:32). Conder suggests downs, and it is most probable that the word refers to curved outlines, such as we frequently see in the hollows of our own chalk downs, or in any place where the strata do not yield easily to the action of water, and yet have been moulded by such action. That are in the land of Canaan. Again the intention is to lay stress upon the fact that the historian is still speaking of the country west of Canaan. A great altar to see to. Literally, an altar great to sight, i.e., large and visible from a great distance. Bishop Horsley, however, would render a great altar in appearance, supposing that what is meant is that it only looked like an altar, and was not intended to be used as one. One of the most valuable results of the Palestine exploration movement has been the discovery of the site of this altar, which seems probable, in spite of Lieutenant Conder's abandonment of the theory in his 'Tent Work in Palestine,' 2:53. The reasons for the identification are as follows. The altar must be near one of the fords of Jordan. It must be on this side of Jordan (see note on vers. 24, 25). It must be in a conspicuous position, as we have just seen. Now Kurn Sartabeh or Surtubeh (see note on Joshua 3:16), visible from a great distance on all sides, from Ebal, from near Gennesaret, thirty miles off, from the Dead Sea, from the eastern high lands, and from the Judaean watershed (see Quarterly Paper of the Palestine Exploration Fund, Oct. 1874), fulfils all these conditions. Dr. Hutchinson replies (Quarterly Paper, Jan. 1876) that the altar is stated by Josephus to have been on the east side of Jordan, and that it was improbable that the two and a half tribes would have erected the altar on the cis-Jordanic territory, or so near to Shiloh, because Ephraim would have resented this. Moreover, the words, "a great altar to be seen," would imply that it was to be visible from a long distance, so that the two tribes and a half might see it from their side of Jordan. It must be confessed that the evidence for the identification is but slight, but so also are the arguments against it. For
(1) Josephus is not infallible, and the Hebrew text seems to assert the very opposite of what he says. And
(2) the other tribes did resent the erection of the altar. Lieutenant Conder now admits that it is possible that the words stating that the tribes crossed "by the passage of the children of Israel "(ver. 11, but see note there) leads to the idea that the ford by Jericho is meant, and not the Damieh ford by Kurn Sartabeh. See, however, the translation given below. The fact that the Arabs call the place the ascent of the father of Ayd, which has a close resemblance to the Hebrew word Ed, "witness," does not appear conclusive, though it lends some degree of probability to the theory. On the other hand, it might be contended that if the Reubenites and Gadites had not erected the altar on their own territory, it would not have excited the wrath of the remaining tribes. But as the best authorities are content to leave the matter uncertain, it must be left uncertain here.
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.
Verse 11. - Half tribe of Manasseh. Throughout this part of the narrative, when the body politic, rather than the descent of the tribe, is to be indicated, we have, not מַטֶּה, but שֶׁבֶט. See above, Joshua 13:29. An altar. The original has the altar. Over against אֶל־מוּל. It is difficult to fix the meaning of this expression. מוּל seems to have meant the front of anything, and therefore אֶל־מוּל would naturally mean towards the front of, or in front cf. Thus we have had the expression in Joshua 8:33 (where see note), where it seems to mean, in the direction of, and in Joshua 9:1, where it seems to have the same meaning. With verbs of motion it signifies towards, as in Exodus 34:3, and 1 Samuel 17:30. Here it clearly cannot be pressed to mean across Jordan. See note below. The borders of Jordan. As above, ver. 10, the circles of Jordan. At the passage of the children of Israel. The word translated "the passage of," literally," unto over," has originally the sense of "across." Here, however, it means "towards the region opposite to the sons of Israel," i.e., in the direction of the country on the other side Jordan. The country across Jordan was usually designated as בְּעֵבֶר or מֵעֵבֶר Jordan. אֶל־עֵבֶר, the phrase used here, we find in Exodus 28:26, apparently in the sense of across (so Exodus 39:19). In Deuteronomy 30:13 it is used of moving in the direction of a place, "across" or "over the sea." In Ezekiel 1:9, 12, with the addition of פָנָיו, the phrase means "straight forward." In 1 Samuel 14:40 לְעֵבֶר אֶהַד means "on one side." In 1 Kings 7. לְעֵבֶר means "over." Thus the altar was not necessarily on the other side Jordan.
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.
Verse 12. - Gathered themselves together at Shiloh. The commentators refer here to Leviticus 17:8, 9, and Deuteronomy 12:4-14. See also Leviticus 17:4. The punishment for the sin is to be found in Deuteronomy 13:12-16. We have before remarked (note on ver. 3) upon the singular obedience of the Israelites during the life of Joshua. The present incident is another exemplification of the fact. It is not Joshua who summons the children of Israel, it is they who voluntarily gather themselves together. The solemn provisions of the law have been infringed, they hasten at once, if necessary, to put the law in execution. The vivid sense of the triumphs they had enjoyed under Joshua, and the safety in which they now were enabled to dwell, filled their hearts with a strong, if short-lived, feeling of gratitude to Him who had done so great things for them, and of indignation against his foes. We may here observe two points which demonstrate the consistency of the narrative, and are evidences for its genuineness.
(1) The children of Israel were not remarkable for their obedience to the law, or to heaven-sent leaders. Both their previous and subsequent history forbid us to predicate for them the quality of obedience. Whence, then, comes this new born and ephemeral "zeal for the Lord," which displays itself in such a remarkable manner on the present occasion? Whence, but from the long catalogue of splendid victories and wonderful Divine interpositions recorded in this book, and from the sense of security arising out of them? Whence, but from the great fear of the children of Israel that had fallen upon the inhabitants of Canaan, so that, to use the striking expression of our historian in Joshua 10:21, "none moved his tongue against any of the children of Israel."
(2) The offence and its penalty are recorded in the book of t. he law, and especially in the Book of Deuteronomy. Unless, therefore, we are to conclude that all this history, in spite of its natural and life-like character, was entirely the invention of later ages, we can scarcely avoid the conclusion that Deuteronomy, as well as the other books of the Pentateuch, was in existence when these events occurred. For if not, where was the offence of the two tribes and a half? How was its gravity to be determined? What induced the rest of Israel, including apparently the other half of the tribe of Manasseh, to prepare for war with their brethren? The only rational explanation of the history is that the tribes beyond Jordan had contravened the provisions of the law of Moses, contained in the Book of Deuteronomy, and that the rest of Israel were preparing to inflict the punishment decreed in that law against such contravention. And these provisions and that punishment we find in the five books of that law as it is at present handed down to us. Our only alternatives, then, would seem to be, to reject the history, or to accept the law in tote. And if we take the former, we have to explain how it is that the law and the subsequent history, though entirely fabulous, came to be arranged into so harmonious and consistent a whole. To go up to war against them. Calvin blames the Israelites a little unjustly here. They did not act rashly, as he asserts. Though they prepared to visit the offence with instant chastisement, they gave their brethren an opportunity of explanation. And when that explanation was given, it proved so entirely satisfactory that all hostile intentions were laid aside. "Not onely wisdom, but charitie moved them to this message. For grant they had been guilty, must they perish unwarned? Peaceable meanes must first be used to recall them, ere violence be sent to persecute them" (Bp. Hall). It is to be feared that Christians have not always so restrained their impetuosity when the cry that the faith was in danger has been raised, and that the zeal, so well tempered by discretion, of the Israelitish congregation at this time, is an example of both qualities which puts many Christians to shame. Even Masius cautions us here that we should not "temere moveamur suspicionibus." But he derives hence an argument, and cites St. Augustine in favour of it, for the doctrine that heretics may be proceeded against by the civil sword. Knobel's remark upon this verse is a perfect gem of the "destructive criticism." The account of all Israel gathering together to war against the two tribes and a half "is unsuitable to the circumspect and mild Elohist." Are all writers of history, except those who have no battles or sieges to describe, rash and savage by nature? And even the "circumspect and mild Elohist," or a member of the Peace Society itself, might venture to describe a gathering which, though at first it assumed a warlike form, ended in mutual explanations and a perfect understanding. Of a very different stamp is Bp. Hall's apostrophe, "O noble and religious zeale of Israel! Who would think these men the sonnes of them that danced around the molten calf?"
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,
Verse 13. - Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest. Their messenger was well chosen. He was the representative of the high priest, whose duty it was to call attention to all infringements of the law. He had proved his own fiery zeal for the purity of Israelitish faith and life by his conduct at a critical moment of his countrymen's history, when Balaam's miserable intrigues had brought the Israelites to the brink of destruction (Numbers 25:7). Such an envoy, if the trans-Jordanic tribes had indeed disobeyed God's command, was well qualified to bring them to a sense of their sin. Once again we find him in his proper position, at the head of the children of Israel (Judges 20:28), and that was when they were once more assembled to avenge the atrocious crime of the men of Gibeah.
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.
Verse 14. - And with him ten princes. Phinehas represented the tribe of Levi, the high priest being too great to permit of his forming part of such a deputation. The actual head of each tribe accompanied him; that is, the head of the family, as we should call it, in each tribe. This seems preferable to Keil's idea, that some tribes were represented by a prince, and some by heads of families, which seems inadmissible from the fact that the Hebrew states that each tribe was represented in the same manner, אֶחַד נְשִׂיא אֶחַד נְשִׂיא. What is doubtless intended here is to emphasize the weight and importance of the deputation sent with Phinehas, a weight and importance befitting an embassy which might have to announce the determination to exterminate the two and a half tribes as completely as Jericho had been exterminated. The mention of ten princes shows that the cis-Jordanic half tribe of Manasseh was represented. Tribes. The word here, after "father's house," is the genealogical מַטֶּה not the political שֶׁבֶט. The thousands. Or families (as in Judges 6:15; 1 Samuel 10:19). See however Introduction, p. 29.
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?
Verse 16. - Trespass. The Hebrew word signifies to act deceitfully or faithlessly. It was an act of ingratitude towards the God who had established them in the good land in which they now found themselves. Such ingratitude and desertion of God was equivalent to rebellion, the term used immediately afterwards. The embassy clearly assumed that the fault had been committed, and that it would be necessary to proceed to extremities. Yet, deeply moved as they were, they did not refuse to listen to reason, and rejoiced that it was not necessary to inflict the fearful vengeance which otherwise would have been their duty. How great a contrast is this to the readiness, nay, even the eagerness, which many owning the Christian name have displayed to destroy the body, and the soul also, if that were possible, of their brethren in Christ, who have been overtaken, or have been supposed to be overtaken, in a similar fault!
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,
Verse 17. - Is the iniquity of Peer too little for us? How natural the illustration in the mouth of the speaker! It was Phinehas who had avenged the iniquity of Peer, and arrested the judgment for that offence as it was about to fall. How natural that the occurrence should be, as it were, branded upon his memory with a hot iron, and that the mention of it should spring at once to his lips when he saw his brethren, as he thought, upon the verge of a similar offence! Peor is, of course, a contraction for Baal-Peor (Numbers 25:3). This god derives his name probably from Mount Peer, or "the cloven mountain" (Numbers 23:28). From which we are not cleansed until this day. Here we have the expression of the feeling which was never removed until Christ came. It was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats could take away sin. No ceremonial lustrations could "cleanse us from its guilt and power." No destruction of the prime mover of the offence, though it may avert the wrath of God, can remove the moral reproach which lies upon the sinner. Not even the destruction of twenty-four thousand persons (Numbers 25:9) can purify Israel from the taint of pollution. In the eyes of a sincere servant like Phinehas, the stigma rests upon Israel still, nor could anything avail to take it away. Truly, the law was, indeed, "our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ." What Keil says of Calvin's explanation, that "the remembrance was not yet quite buried, nor the anger of God extinct," is unsatisfactory. His own explanation, that "the heart of Israel still delighted in their sin," is even more so, since we have no evidence whatever that this was the case at the time of which we are speaking. We have here again to remark that the history in Numbers is here presupposed, and an allusion to an incident in Numbers is here placed in the mouth of one of the chief actors in it. How natural, if the history be a veracious one! How marvellously ingenious, if it he not! The circumstance is mentioned again in Hosea, in the time of Jotham or Hezekiah, and again in Psalm 106, which would appear to have been written during the captivity. Thus we have a chain of testimony concerning it which makes it difficult to assign a time for the invention of the story, if it be invented, since all references to it in Scripture are perfectly consistent with each other, and display none of the signs of gradual growth which we invariably find in the case of legends. A plague. The original is noticeable, the plague; a natural mode of speech for one who well remembered it.
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.
Verse 18. - But that ye must turn. The original has the imperfect, of an action not completed, "and ye are turning." There is no need to give the adversative sense to! The ye also is emphatic. "Ye are turning against the Lord today, tomorrow ye will involve the whole congregation in calamity." That tomorrow he will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel. This passage also is quite consistent with the circumstances and with the position of the speaker. Not merely anger but fear is visible throughout - fear of His wrath who had manifested His power so signally of late. There was no longer any temptation to rebel against Him. The Israelites were no longer suffering the daily pressure of comparative privation and distress, such as it was impossible to avoid in the wilderness. While, on the contrary, there was every reason to remember His power Who had driven the heathen out before them and planted them in, Who had not failed to punish them when they deserved it, and Who, by the fate of their enemies, had made it clear that His hands were not waxen short. Thus the heads of the tribes, and Phinehas especially, were alarmed lest Israel should forfeit the prosperity they at present enjoyed, and exchange it for those terrible woes that God had shown He could inflict when His people rebelled against Him.
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.
Verse 19. - If the land of your possession be unclean. Rather, be defiled, either by the idolatrous nations around, or by being cut off from the worship of the true God at Shiloh. The only satisfactory explanation of this somewhat difficult passage which has yet been given is that of Masius, who explains it of a possible belief on the part of the two and a half tribes, that they were cut off by Jordan into another land, a land which had no title to the promises and privileges of Israel, no share in the worship of the one true God at Shiloh. If they entertained such an idea, then, however unfounded their conviction, it were better far to abandon the land, how suited to their circumstances soever it might be, and come across the Jordan, and dwell in the midst of their brethren, and under the protection of the tabernacle of the Lord. Beside. That is, separate from, suggesting the idea of an exclusion of those who committed such an act from the worship of the Lord.
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.
Verse 20. - Did not Achan the son of Zerah. Here again the reference to the past history of Israel is suited to the speaker and the circumstances, and this appeal, therefore, strengthens our conviction that in the history of Achan we have fact and not fiction. The case of Achan is even more in point than that of Peer. In his case the Israelites had a clear proof that "one man's sin," unless completely and absolutely put away, brought God's dis. pleasure on "all the congregation" (Numbers 16:22). The repulse at Ai, fresh as it must have been in the memory of all, was sufficient evidence of this. How much more then would His displeasure fall upon Israel, if they condoned this act (as it seemed) of gross and open rebellion against the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt, and had put them in possession of the land He had promised them? Commit a trespass (see note on ver. 16). In the accursed thing (see note on Joshua 7:1). And that man perished not alone in his iniquity. Literally, and he, one man, did not expire in his iniquity. The Vulgate has, "and he was one man, and would that he had perished alone in his iniquity." The sense is the same as in our version. Achan did not perish alone, for not only did he involve his family in his ruin, but the loss of life at the first assault of Ai lay also at his door (see Joshua 7:5).
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,
Verse 21. - The thousands. See above, ver. 14.
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,)
Verse 22. - The Lord God of gods. The double repetition of this adjuration is suited to the greatness of the occasion. No words can suffice to express the horror and detestation of the two and a half tribes at the sin of which they have been supposed guilty. Nor does our version at all approach the majesty of the original form of oath. The Vulgate and Luther approach nearer to it when they render the one, "fortissimus Deus Dominus," and the other, "der starke Gott, der Herr." But no translation can do justice to the vigour of the original. The three names of God, El, Elohim, and Jehovah, are each twice repeated in their order. El representing the earliest Hebrew idea of God, strength (as that of the Aryans was splendour) comes first. Then Elohim, with its pluralis excellentiae, suited to a nation whose theological holizon was expanding, and suggesting the manifold ways in which El the mighty one displayed His greatness, as the source of all power, mental, moral, and physical, in heaven and in earth. Then came the name by which He had revealed Himself to Moses, Jehovah, the Self-existent One, the author of all being, He whose supreme prerogative it was to have existed from all eternity, and from whose will all things were derived. It was impossible for any Israelite to have devised a more awful formula by which to clear themselves from the charge of rebellion against God. The same striking phrase is adopted by Asaph in the fiftieth Psalm, when he desires to give especial emphasis to the words of God which follow. Some of the Babbis interpret Elohim here of angels, and explain, "the God of angels." Dr. Perowne, on Psalm 50:1, prefers the LXX. θεὸς θεῶν. Lange, on this passage, translates feebly, "God, God Jehovah," but he abandons this in his commentary on Psalm 1. for the interpretation given above. Ewald prefers the LXX. rendering. Vaihinger suggests, "the mighty God Jehovah." But the majority of recent commentators prefer the rendering given above, and it is supported by Jewish authorities of credit (cf. Jeremiah 32:14; Nehemiah 9:32). He knoweth. These words are in the strictest Hebrew form of the present tense. It is not merely implied that "God knows" as a general fact, but He is called to witness in the most emphatic manner. "He is at this moment aware that we are speaking the truth." Save us not this day. These words are not parenthetical, as in our version, but in their eagerness to clear themselves (another fact of vivid narration not to be lost sight of, as indicating that the information came originally from an eyewitness) they change the construction. "El Elohim Jehovah, El Elohim Jehovah, He is witness, and Israel shall know - if in rebellion, and if in transgression against the Lord, mayest Thou not save us this day - to build an altar to us, to turn from after the Lord." The whole sentence betokens the strong agitation of those who uttered it - "ex vehementissima animi perturbatione effundunt illi potiusquam pronuneiant" (Masius) - and to whatever period we may attribute the composition of the Book of Joshua, there can be little doubt that he had access to authentic documents, written by eyewitnesses of the scenes that are described. Rosenmuller discusses another interpretation, which regards these words as an address to Phinehas; but while admitting that it is a possible one, rejects it as less suitable to the context. Besides, it may be remarked that "save us" can only be addressed to God. To man, "spare us" would have been said.
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;
Verse 23. - Let the Lord himself require it. Or, the Lord, He shall exact, i.e., the penalty.
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?
Verse 24. - From fear of this thing. This translation cannot be correct. Had the Hebrew original intended to convey this meaning, we should have had מִדְּאָגַת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה The literal rendering is, "from anxiety, from a word." The word here translated "anxiety" (LXX. εὐλάβεια) is applied to the sea, and is translated "sorrow" in Jeremiah 49:23. It is translated "heaviness" in Proverbs 12:25. In Ezekiel 4:16; Ezekiel 12:18, 19, it is translated "care," "carefulness," and is applied to eating food. It obviously refers to agitation or anxiety of mind, and the proper translation here is, "we did it out of anxiety, for a cause." So Masius and Rosenmuller, who render the word דְאָגָה here by sollicitudo. Verse 24, 25. - What have you to do with the Lord God of Israel? For the Lord hath made Jordan a border. Literally, What to you and to Jehovah the God of Israel, since He hath given a border between us and between you, sons of Reuben and sons of Gad, even the Jordan. Thus the reason for the erection of the altar was the very converse of what it had been supposed to be. So far from considering themselves as shut out from the communion of Israel by the natural boundary formed by Jordan, the two and a half tribes were resolved that no one else should ever think so. If the descendants of the remainder of the Israelites should ever venture to assert anything of the kind, there was the altar, erected in a conspicuous position on the west side of Jordan, left as a perpetual memorial of the great struggle in which Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh had taken part, and which had resulted in the final occupation of the land of Canaan. Keil and Delitzsch remark that there was some reason for this anxiety. The promises made to Abraham and his posterity related only to the land of Canaan. For their own advantage these tribes had chosen to remain in the trans-Jordanic territory conquered by Moses. It was quite possible that in future ages they might be regarded as outside the blessings and privileges of the Mosaic covenant. For the present, at least, they value those blessings and privileges, and desired to have some permanent memorial of the fact that they had a right to share them. From fearing. It may be worth while to notice, as a sign of later, or at least of different authorship, that the Pentateuch employs a different (the feminine) form of the infinitive for the form found here.
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:
Verse 26. - Let us now prepare to build us an altar. Literally, let us make now to build to us an altar. Burnt offering, nor for sacrifice. In the "burnt offering" the whole victim was consumed. In the "sacrifice" part only was offered on the altar. The rest was eaten by the priest or the person who offered it.
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.
Verse 27. - But that it may be a witness. Rather, for this altar is a witness before Him. Literally, before His face; in the tabernacle, that is, where His special presence was enshrined.
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.
Verse 28. - Behold the pattern. Rather, Look at this facsimile. The Hebrew is even stronger than our version. The existence of an exact reproduction of the altar in Shiloh, erected on Canaanitish ground by the two and a half tribes before their departure across Jordan, was an incontestible proof of their original connection with Israel. And the fact that they had erected it, not on their own territory, but on that of their brethren, was, though they do not use the argument, proof positive that it was not intended to be used in contravention of the precepts of the law. The nature of the facsimile is explained by Exodus 20:24, where the precise form of altar seems to have been presented as a contrast to the stone altars employed by the heathen.
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.
Verse 29. - God forbid. Literally, profane or accursed to us be it from Him. So Keil, Gesenius, and Knobel. That we should rebel against the Lord. The embassy had the effect not only of eliciting an explanation, but of showing how earnest, at that time at least, the tribes of Israel were in the service of God. And we may learn here, as Robertson remarks of St. Paul's frank and explicit vindications of himself, the value of explanations. Many a misunderstanding would be averted, many a feeling of rankling displeasure, culminating in an inexcusable explosion of anger, might be avoided, nay, many an unjust suspicion against a fellow Christian's honesty and sincerity of purpose might be dispelled, if men would but follow the example of the ten tribes on this occasion, or lay to heart the words of our Lord in St. Matthew 18:15, "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother."
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.
Verse 30. - It pleased them. The genuine. ness of their zeal for God's service is shown by their readiness to be appeased by a plain explanation. Had they been actuated by jealousy or party spirit, they would have admitted no defence, or have endeavoured out of the clearest exculpation to find some new topic for complaint. So religious party spirit has been wont to inflame men's minds in later times, so that they desired rather victory over a supposed antagonist than the discovery that no offence at all bad been committed. True religious zeal is slow to anger, and easy to be appeased, when it appears that no harm has been intended. It might have been contended in this case, if controversy rather than truth had been the object, that the action had a dangerous tendency; that though the altar was not intended for sacrifice, it might be used for that purpose; that it was unwise to put a temptation in the way of future ages to substitute worship there for worship in the tabernacle. Such arguments are not unknown even to Christian zealots. Israel was satisfied that no harm was intended. It was not thought necessary to point out possibilities which were not likely to be realised.
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.
Verse 31. - Now ye have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord. The word here rendered "now" is rather then. But the Hebrew word, like our own, is used as implying not only consecution of time, but consequence of action (see Psalm 40:8; Psalm 69:5; Jeremiah 22:15). Thus the meaning here is, "We see, then, that instead of bringing upon us heavy chastisement, as we had feared, ye have acted in a way which secures us from the punishment of which we were afraid."
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.
Verse 33. - Did not intend. Literally, did not speak. That is, no one, after the explanation, was found to support the proposal which had previously been found to be necessary.
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.
Verse 34. - Ed. This word is not in the original. It is found in some late MSS. and in the Syriac and Arabic versions, but not in the LXX. or Chaldee. Even in the MSS. which have it, the word is found sometimes before and sometimes after the Hebrew word signifying "altar." This may either be because, once omitted, it was conjecturally supplied, but it is more probable that it was never there at all. The passage may be rendered, "And the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad gave a name to the altar, 'for it is a witness between us.'" But it seems more likely that the word "Ed," though not expressed, is in. tended to be understood. The LXX. and Vulgate give incorrect renderings of the passage. The Lord is God. Rather, as in 1 Kings 18:39, Jehovah is the God; that is, the one true God. Some MSS. have interpolated הוּא here from the above cited passage. Such altars, or mounds, of witness seem not to have been unusual among the Eastern nations (see Genesis 31:47-52).