Joshua 22


Joshua assembles, commends, blesses, and then dismisses the two

tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, 1-8.

They return and build an altar by the side of Jordan, 9, 10.

The rest of the Israelites hearing of this, and suspecting that

they had built the altar for idolatrous purposes, or to make a

schism in the national worship, prepare to go to war with them,

11, 12;

but first send a deputation to know the truth, 13, 14.

They arrive and expostulate with their brethren, 15-20.

The Reubenites, Gadites, and half tribe of Manasseh, make a

noble defence, and show that their altar was built as a

monument only to prevent idolatry, 21-29.

The deputation are satisfied, and return to the ten tribes and

make their report, 30-32.

The people rejoice and praise God, 33;

and the Reubenites and Gadites call the altar they had raised

Ed, that it might be considered a witness between them and

their brethren on the other side Jordan, 34.


Verse 1. Then Joshua called the Reubenites, &c.] We have already

seen that 40,000 men of the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half

tribe of Manasseh, had passed over Jordan armed, with their

brethren, according to their stipulation with Moses. The war being

now concluded, Joshua assembles these warriors, and with

commendations for their services and fidelity, he dismisses them,

having first given them the most pious and suitable advices. They

had now been about seven years absent from their respective

families; and though there was only the river Jordan between the

camp at Gilgal and their own inheritance, yet it does not appear

that they had during that time ever revisited their own home,

which they might have done any time in the year, the harvest

excepted, as at all other times that river was easily fordable.

Verse 5. But take diligent heed, &c.] Let us examine the force

of this excellent advice; they must ever consider that their

prosperity and continued possession of the land depended on their

fidelity and obedience to God; to this they must take diligent


Do the commandment] They must pay the strictest regard to every

moral precept.

And the law] They must observe all the rites and ceremonies of

their holy religion.

Love the Lord your God] Without an affectionate filial

attachment to their Maker, duty would be irksome, grievous, and


Walk in all his ways] They must not only believe and love, but

obey: walk not in your own ways, but walk in those which GOD has

pointed out.

Keep his commandments] They must love him with all their heart,

soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbour as themselves.

Cleave unto him] They must be cemented to him, in a union that

should never be dissolved.

Serve him] They must consider him as their Master, having an

absolute right to appoint them when, where, how, and in what

measure they should do his work.

With all your heart] Having all their affections and passions

sanctified and united to him.

And with all your soul.] Giving up their whole life to him, and

employing their understanding, judgment, and will, in the

contemplation and adoration of his perfections; that their love

and obedience might increase in proportion to the cultivation and

improvement of their understanding.

Verse 7. Then he blessed them] Spoke respectfully of their

fidelity and exertions, wished them every spiritual and temporal

good, prayed to God to protect and save them, and probably gave

some gifts to those leaders among them that had most distinguished

themselves in this seven years' war. In all the above senses the

word bless is frequently taken in Scripture.

Verse 8. Return with much riches] It appears they had their full

proportion of the spoils that were taken from the Canaanites, and

that these spoils consisted in cattle, silver, gold, brass, iron,

and raiment.

Divide the spoil-with your brethren.] It was right that those

who stayed at home to defend the families of those who had been in

the wars, and to cultivate the ground, should have a proper

proportion of the spoils taken from the enemy, for had they not

acted as they did the others could not have safely left their


Verse 10. The borders of Jordan, that are in-Canaan] This verse

can never mean that they built the altar on the west side of

Jordan, for this was not in their territories; nor could it be a

place for the purpose of public worship to their own people, if

built on the opposite side of Jordan; besides, the next verse says

it was built over against the land of Canaan. It appears that when

they came to the river they formed the purpose of building the

altar; and when they had crossed it they executed their purpose.

A great altar to see to.] A vast mass of earth, stones, &c.,

elevated to a great height, to serve as a memorial of the

transactions that had already taken place. Probably it was

intended also to serve as a kind of watchtower, being of a

stupendous height, altare infinitae magnitudinis, an altar of an

immense size, as the Vulgate terms it.

Verse 12. To go up to war against them.] Supposing that they had

built this altar in opposition to that which Moses, by the command

of God, had erected, and were consequently become rebels against

God and the Israelitish constitution, and should be treated as

such. Their great concern for the glory of God led them to take

this step, which at first view might appear precipitate; but, that

they might do nothing rashly, they first sent Phinehas and ten

princes, one out of each tribe, to require an explanation of their

motives in erecting this altar.

Verse 17. Is the iniquity of Peor too little] See this history,

Nu 25:3, &c., and the notes there. Phinehas takes it for

granted that this altar was built in opposition to the altar of

God erected by Moses, and that they intended to have a separate

service, priesthood, &c., which would be rebellion against God,

and bring down his curse on them and their posterity; and, in

order to show that God is jealous of his glory, he refers to the

business of Baal Peor, which took place in that very country they

were now about to possess, the destructive consequences of which

he, through his zeal for the glory of God, was the means of


Verse 19. If the land of your possessions be unclean] The

generous mind of Phinehas led him to form this excuse for them. If

ye suppose that this land is impure, as not having been originally

included in the covenant, and ye think that ye cannot expect the

blessing of God unless ye have an altar, sacrifices, &c., then

pass ye over unto the land of the possession of the Lord,

wherein the Lord's tabernacle dwelleth, the only legitimate place

where sacrifices and offerings can be made. We will divide this

land with you, and rather straiten ourselves than that you should

conceive yourselves to be under any necessity of erecting a new

altar besides the altar of the Lord our God.

Verse 20. Did not Achan the son of Zerah] Your sin will not be

merely against yourselves; your transgressions will bring down the

wrath of God upon all the people; this was the case in the

transgression of Achan; he alone sinned, and yet God on that

account turned his face against the whole congregation, so that

they fell before their enemies. We cannot therefore be unconcerned

spectators of your transgression, we may all be implicated in its

criminality; let this and the dishonour which we apprehend is done

to our God plead our excuse, and vindicate the necessity of the

present warlike appearance which we make before you. See the

history of Achan referred to here, (Jos 7:11-26,) and the notes


Verse 21. Then the children of Reuben-answered] Though conscious

of their own innocency they permitted Phinehas to finish his

discourse, though composed of little else than accusations; there

was a decency in this, and such a full proof of good breeding, as

does them the highest credit. There are many public assemblies in

the present day which lay claim to the highest refinement, who

might take a very useful lesson from these Reubenites and their


Verse 22. The Lord God of gods] The original words are

exceedingly emphatic, and cannot be easily translated.

El Elohim Yehovah, are the three principal names by which the

supreme God was known among the Hebrews, and may be thus

translated, the strong God, Elohim, Jehovah, which is nearly the

version of Luther, der starcte Gott der Herr, "The strong God the

LORD." And the Reubenites, by using these in their very solemn

appeal, expressed at once their strong unshaken faith in the God

of Israel; and by this they fully showed the deputation from the

ten tribes, that their religious creed had not been changed; and,

in the succeeding part of their defense they show that their

practice corresponded with their creed. The repetition of these

solemn names by the Reubenites, &c., shows their deep concern for

the honour of God, and their anxiety to wipe off the reproach

which they consider cast on them by the supposition that they had

been capable of defection from the pure worship of God, or of

disaffection to their brethren.

Save us not this day] This was putting the affair to the most

solemn issue; and nothing but the utmost consciousness of their

own integrity could have induced them to make such an appeal, and

call for such a decision. "Let God the Judge cause us to perish

this day, if in principle or practice we have knowingly departed

from him."

Verse 24. For fear of this thing] The motive that actuated us

was directly the reverse of that of which we have been suspected.

Verse 26. An altar, not for burnt-offering, nor for sacrifice]

Because this would have been in flat opposition to the law,

Le 17:8, 9; De 12:4-6, 10, 11, 13, 14, which most positively

forbade any sacrifice or offering to be made in any other place

than that one which the Lord should choose. Therefore the altar

built by the Reubenites, &c., was for no religious purpose, but

merely to serve as a testimony that they were one people with

those on the west of Jordan, having the same religious and civil

constitution, and bound by the same interests to keep that

constitution inviolate.

Verse 29. God forbid that we should rebel] These words not only

express their strong abhorrence of this crime, but also show that

without God they could do no good thing, and that they depended

upon him for that strength by which alone they could abstain from


Verse 31. We perceive that the Lord is among us] Or, according

to the Targum of Jonathan. "This day we know that the majesty of

Jehovah dwelleth among us, because ye have not committed this

prevarication against the WORD of the Lord, and thus ye have

delivered the children of Israel from the hand of the WORD of the

Lord." They rejoice to find them innocent, and that there is no

ground of quarrel between the children of the same family. And

from this they draw a very favourable conclusion, that as God was

among them as the sole object of their religious worship, so he

would abide with them as their protector and their portion; and as

they were his friends, they take it for granted that he will

deliver them from the hands of their enemies.

Verse 33. And did not intend to go up against them in battle]

That is, they now relinquished the intention of going against them

in battle, as this explanation proved there was no cause for the


Verse 34. Called the altar Ed] The word ED, which signifies

witness or testimony, is not found in the common editions of the

Hebrew Bible, and is supplied in Italics by our translators, at

least in our modern copies; for in the first edition of this

translation it stands in the text without any note of this kind;

and it is found in several of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS., and

also in the Syriac and Arabic. Several also of the early printed

editions of the Hebrew Bible have the word , either in the text

or in the margin, and it must be allowed to be necessary to

complete the sense. It is very probable that an inscription was

put on this altar, which pointed out the purposes for which it was


FROM the contents of this chapter we learn that the Israelites

were dreadfully alarmed at the prospect of a schism in their own

body, both as it related to ecclesiastical and civil matters. A

few observations on this subject may not be useless.

Schism in religion is a dangerous thing, and should be carefully

avoided by all who fear God. But this word should be well

understood. σχισμα, in theology, is generally allowed to signify a

rent in, or departure from, the doctrine and practice of the

apostles, especially among those who had been previously united in

that doctrine and practice. A departure from human institutions in

religion is no schism, for this reason that the WORD OF GOD alone

is the sufficient rule of the faith and practice of Christians;

and as to human institutions, forms, modes, &c., those of one

party may be as good as those of another.

When the majority of a nation agrees in some particular forms

and modes in their religious service; no conscientious man will

lightly depart from these; nor depart at all, unless he find

that they are not only not authorized by the word of God, but

repugnant to it. It is an object greatly to be desired, that a

whole people, living under the same laws may, as much as possible,

glorify God, not only with one heart, but also with one mouth.

But there may be a dissent from established forms without

schism; for if that dissent make no rent in the doctrines or

practice of Christianity, as laid down in the New Testament, it

is an abuse of terms to call it a schism; besides, there may be a

dissent among religious people relative to certain points both in

creed and practice, which, not affecting the essentials of

Christianity, nor having any direct tendency to alienate the

affections of Christians from each other, cannot be called a

schism; but when professing Christians separate from each other,

to set up one needless or non-essential form, &c., in the place of

others which they call needless or non-essential, they are highly

culpable. This not only produces no good, but tends to much evil;

for both parties, in order to make the points of their difference

of sufficient consequence to justify their dissension, magnify

these non-essential matters beyond all reason, and sometimes

beyond conscience itself: and thus mint and cummin are tithed,

while the weightier matters of the law-judgment and the love of

God-are utterly neglected. If Christians either cannot or will not

think alike on all points, surely they can agree to disagree, and

let each go to heaven his own way. "But should we take this

advice, would it not lead to a total indifference about religion?"

Not at all; for in the things which concern the essentials of

Christianity, both in doctrine and practice, we should ever feel

zealously affected, and earnestly contend for the faith once

delivered to the saints.

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