An Altar by the Jordan
Joshua 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 did not perish alone in his iniquity.’ ”
If the eastern tribes did intend to rebel against Israel and have defiled their inheritance by their intention, they must repent and forsake their inheritance for the good of all Israel.
Achan is elicited as an example of the sin of one affecting all. Israel could not chance that again.
Joshua 22:21 Then the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh answered and said to the heads of the divisions of Israel: :22 “The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, He knows, and let Israel itself know—if it is in rebellion, or if in treachery against the Lord, do not save us this day. :23 If we have built ourselves an altar to turn from following the Lord, or if to offer on it burnt offerings or grain offerings, or if to offer peace offerings on it, let the Lord Himself require an account.
The repetition of the phrase is a favorite Hebrew form of emphasis. But more, employing the three names of God together, El, Elohim, and Jehovah (or Yahweh), each twice repeated, expresses the great horror with which the two and one-half tribes learned of the assumptions made by their brethren.
If their intent was to rebel against Israel, they should not be saved from God’s wrath. No, there was another explanation for building the altar.
Joshua 22:24 But in fact we have done it for fear, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your descendants may speak to our descendants, saying, “What have you to do with the Lord God of Israel? :25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a border between you and us, you children of Reuben and children of Gad. You have no part in the Lord.” So your descendants would make our descendants cease fearing the Lord.’
Joshua 22:26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now prepare to build ourselves an altar, not for burnt offering nor for sacrifice, :27 but that it may be a witness between you and us and our generations after us, that we may perform the service of the Lord before Him with our burnt offerings, with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your descendants may not say to our descendants in time to come, “You have no part in the Lord.” ’
Joshua 22:28 Therefore we said that it will be, when they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say, ‘Here is the replica of the altar of the Lord which our fathers made, though not for burnt offerings nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between you and us.’
Joshua 22:29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn from following the Lord this day, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for grain offerings, or for sacrifices, besides the altar of the Lord our God which is before His tabernacle.”
The altar was a facsimile (Heb tabnit “pattern” in vs. 28) of the one at Shiloh and was built to be a witness between the eastern and western tribes of their bond in Yahweh, physically and spiritually.
It was built on the western side of Jordan so “their” altar would be a part of Israel’s land, much like a man puts a ring on his wife’s hand instead of his own to show the bond between them.
God forbid that we should rebel against the Lord. The two and one-half tribes find this assumption just as appalling as many assumptions the Apostle Paul encountered when he repeated this favorite expression of abhorrence, “God forbid”
Joshua 22:30 Now when Phinehas the priest and the rulers of the congregation, the heads of the divisions of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them.
Joshua 22:31 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh, “This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord. Now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.”
Joshua 22:32 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the rulers, returned from the children of Reuben and the children of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought back word to them. :33 So the thing pleased the children of Israel, and the children of Israel blessed God; they spoke no more of going against them in battle, to destroy the land where the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.
Joshua 22:34 The children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar, Witness, “For it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”
Phinehas’ zealous piety was real; he did not delight in fighting among the brethren. He knew that brotherly love “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). This is an attitude many Christian brethren would do well to foster.
Phinehas and the princes were satisfied with the explanation and with the eastern tribes’ purity of motive, and returned to Canaan thanking God that they had not entered a bloody conflict which would have certainly meant the extermination of the two and one-half tribes.
The fact that the account ends happily does not excuse the eastern tribes from erecting a presumptuous altar. Building altars was a violation of God’s design for centralized worship in Israel, as is evidenced by the action of Jeroboam after the secession of the ten northern tribes later in Israel’s history (see 1 Kgs 12:25–33).
God’s plan was for every Israelite male to appear before the Lord three times a year at the tabernacle (Ex 23:17). Whether the eastern tribes intended to violate this plan or not, the erection of a needless altar without divine command authority should not have been undertaken. It would have been much better for them to “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thess 5:22). What can we learn from this?
Joshua’s Farewell Address
Joshua 23:1 Now it came to pass, a long time after the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua was old, advanced in age. :2 And Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers, and said to them: “I am old, advanced in age.
Joshua 24:29 indicates that the great warrior of Israel died at age one hundred and ten years. He could not have been much less than that on this occasion. Because of his advanced age, Joshua felt a need to call Israel to a convocation and say farewell to his beloved people. All Israel was present through their representatives, the elders, heads, judges, and officers (see 24:1). The stage was now set for Joshua’s final address.
Joshua 23:3 You have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has fought for you. :4 See, I have divided to you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from the Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, as far as the Great Sea westward.
Joshua never failed to reflect the glory for Israel’s great victories toward the Lord God.
He takes frequent opportunity to remind Israel that it was Jehovah who drove the enemy out of the land.
Not only must they remember who the agent of their deliverance was, but the extent of that deliverance. The inheritance divided among the tribes extended from Jordan … unto the Great Sea. From east to west, the Promised Land was now the inheritance of Israel. They must not forget to be grateful.
Hinson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 121). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr., MacDonald, Farstad, Believers Bible; Hinson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2195). Nashville: Thomas Nelson