Joshua Chapter 22: The 2 1/2 Tribes go Home, The Altar called Ed

Dec 15th, 2009 | By | Category: Joshua, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Joshua Chapter 22: The 2 1/2 Tribes go Home, The Altar called Ed

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

Josh. 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:

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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.

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

The land had been divided, so Joshua told the 2 1/2 tribes (Reuben, Gad, and one half of Manasseh) they could return to their allotted land east of Jordan. Joshua said they had properly obeyed in fighting Israel’s battles. Then he blessed them and exhorted them to heed the word of the Lord.

Josh. 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,

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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.

War booty was to be divided among the two one-half portions of Manasseh: “Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.” In other words, “Split the goods between you.” When Moses spoke of the division of the land, he was east of the Jordan River. Hence when he said “this side Jordan,” he meant east of Jordan. Now that the Israelites had crossed Jordan, Joshua meant west of Jordan when he said “this side Jordan.” The perspective changed once  the Israelites crossed the Jordan River.

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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.

When Joshua was dismissing the 2 1/2 tribes to go to their allotted land east of Jordan, he blessed them and admonished them to faithfulness, but what happened? When Reuben, Gad, and one half of Manasseh got to the border at the Jordan River, they built “a great altar.” It was erected at a very prominent spot (“at the passage of the children of Israel”) and thus was easily apparent.

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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,

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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,

Josh. 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?

Josh. 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,

Josh. 22:18 But that ye must turn away this day from following the LORD? and it will be, seeing ye rebel today against the LORD, that tomorrow he will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel.

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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.

The 9 1/2 tribes were angry when they heard about the altar built by the 2 1/2 tribes, and they prepared an assembly for war. However, as was proper, they felt that at least they should bring the charge to the 2 1/2 tribes before acting. Therefore, the 9 1/2 tribes sent Phinehas, the son of the high priest Eleazar, and the princes (or heads) of the 9 1/2 tribes (called “ten” because of the half tribe of Manasseh)—a high delegation. They said to the 2 1/2 tribes, “What have you done? Do you not know what will happen as a result? The altar is dishonoring to God, and punishment will come on all of us. Remember the iniquity of Peor (fornication) and of Achan?” This was a self-righteous attitude, but the 9 1/2 tribes were zealous to keep the people pure. So that they would not have to go to war, they tried to reason with the 2 1/2 tribes. “If you feel you need an altar to cleanse the land, you are trying to do something in a dreadfully wrong way, for your altar is challenging the altar in Shiloh with the Tabernacle, which you just left.” (Joshua had spoken to the Israelites in the religious center of the nation at that time, which was Shiloh.) The 9 1/2 tribes continued, “If we let you use this altar, the wrath of God will come on all of us. If you feel the land has to be cleansed, come back to us, and we will give you of our property. We will assimilate you lest you do this blasphemous thing.” It was wrong to construct a rival altar.

However, the 9 1/2 tribes misinterpreted what the 2 1/2 tribes had in mind. They thought the 2 1/2 tribes planned to use the “great altar” to sacrifice burnt, meal, and peace offerings.

Josh. 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,

Josh. 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,)

Josh. 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;

Josh. 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?

Josh. 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.

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

Josh. 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.

The 2 1/2 tribes replied, “We did not build the altar to make offerings. We are not challenging the sanctity of the Tabernacle altar in Shiloh, for this is an altar of witness.” Their explanation was interesting because the Great Pyramid, which is called an altar, is not for burnt offerings (Isa. 19:19). Thus an altar can be just a pillar monument, a witness. The 2 1/2 tribes continued, “We placed the altar in a prominent position so that it would be seen easily and our children and succeeding generations would be constantly reminded that we are brethren of the 9 ½ tribes. We have the same God. And we want you to remember too.” Thus the structure was to be a memorial altar that God’s promises were made to all 12 tribes. This wise strategy served a twofold purpose: to remind (1) the 2 1/2 tribes and (2) the 9 1/2 tribes that they all worshipped the same God.

Q: With Reuben, Gad, and one half of Manasseh representing spiritual classes, wouldn’t this altar incident show antitypically that those whom God considers faithful are often misunderstood by the world, by those who will be of the earthly class?

A: Yes. The majority 9 1/2 tribes did not think much of the motives of the minority 2 1/2 tribes. This has been true all down the age.

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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.

Josh. 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.

“Ed” means “witness.” The explanation of the 2 1/2 tribes averted the suspicion and united all 12 tribes even more wholeheartedly. Phinehas was pleased to come back with the good news.

Otherwise, there would have been civil war, brother fighting brother (Manasseh against Manasseh, as well as 9 1/2 tribes fighting 2 1/2 tribes). Note: This incident shows the necessity of searching out a matter before acting. And a matter should be searched out right away, with no procrastination.

(1987–1988 Study)

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