Open your Bible to the 22nd chapter of the book of Joshua. Joshua 22.
Here we are. Our last lesson in this book. We’ve seen Joshua and Israel enter the land and conquer it. They then took possession of it. There are a small remnant of Canaanites left, but that shouldn’t be a problem. As long as Israel keeps following the Lord they’ll be able to drive them out.
In the first chapter of this book we saw Joshua addressing the 2 ½ tribes who already had their possession to the east of the Jordan River – Reuben, Gad, and ½ of Manasseh. Joshua reminded them how Moses commanded them to come over the Jordan with their brothers and help their brothers receive their land. And now finally, their brothers have already received their land. So what happens to these 2 ½ tribes now that their task is done? Let’s start reading chapter 22.
[KJV Joshua 22:1 ¶ Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, 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: 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.]
Let me stop for a moment. Joshua’s telling the truth here. I want us to note what he says about these 2 ½ tribes. They obeyed the commands of Moses and Joshua and even the Lord himself by not forsaking their brethren to the west of the Jordan. All 12 tribes of Israel were fighting as a united front against the Canaanites. And Joshua commends the 2 ½ tribes for taking part in this. Joshua will mention later that some of these folks have idols among them. But a least here Joshua is being very complimentary to them. They did right in this area. And so Joshua commends them. Let’s keep reading. Verse 4…
[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.]
But Joshua can’t let these folks go without a warning to do right, so verse 5…
[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.]
So, the 2 ½ tribes obeyed in regard to helping their brothers. Joshua challenges them to continue in their obedience, especially in regard to their relationship with the Lord. Joshua charges them to love the Lord and do his will with all their being.
When Joshua finished addressing them, he blessed them and sent them away to their possession. That’s basically what verse 6 says. Then verse 7 seems to offer an explanation for someone who just dropped into this chapter – as to why it seems like Joshua is sending Manasseh home, when they have a possession in Canaan. The secret is that he’s not sending the whole tribe back to the east side of the Jordan River. He’s only sending one half. We’ll continue with verse 7…
[7 ¶ Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given possession in Bashan [east of the Jordan]: 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, 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. 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.]
So, let’s catch the geography here. The 2 ½ tribes are departing from Shiloh, which is west of the Jordan River in Canaan. They’re going to Gilead which is here used as a general name for that large area where Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had their possession east of the Jordan.
And I wonder if we’re given the last statement in verse 9 because of what we’re going to run across here. It’s OK that these 2 ½ tribes lived across the Jordan to the east. Their possessing that land was according to the word of the Lord. So, it’s not a problem that they didn’t take up residence in Canaan.
Now, let’s see what happens when the 2 ½ tribes reach their destination. Verse 10…
[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.]
An altar? What do you do with an altar? You offer sacrifices on it. But I thought the Lord’s altar was in Shiloh at that time or wherever the Tabernacle was. If you know about Israel’s God you know he wasn’t wanting to be worshiped at every site around Canaan. He wanted to be worshiped in one central spot. So, this situation is a little concerning. What were the 2 ½ tribes doing?
Add to the confusion the fact of where they built their altar. Back in Gilead to the east of the Jordan in their possession? No! Where does it say they built it? In Canaan. On the side of the 9 ½ tribes of the sons of Israel. Why would they do that? Were they trying to make the 9 ½ tribes commit idolatry? Plus, they made it really big, so it would be really noticeable. All the more enticing to people who were naturally tempted with idolatry.
So this seems like a problem. Let’s see how the 9 ½ tribes respond. Verse 11…
[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. 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. 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, 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. 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, 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? 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, 18 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. 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. 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.]
So the children of Israel send over some pretty important folks to address the situation. They did not want another Peor on their hands – where Israel committed adultery and idolatry and Phinehas had to stop the plague on the people by driving a spear through two of the offenders. They didn’t want another Achan situation. They tell the 2 ½ tribes that if they sin they surely won’t suffer alone. Israel seems to have learned its lesson. Why hadn’t the 2 ½ tribes learned these same lessons? Or had they? Let’s read verse 21…
[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, 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,) 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;]
So the 2 ½ tribes are vehemently denying that they’ve built this altar for sacrifices or any form of idolatry. Well, why did they build it, then? Verse 24…
[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? 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. 26 Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice: 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. 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. 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.]
Wow, we wouldn’t have expected that answer. You all were thinking that the 2 ½ tribes were making an altar to be idolatrous! Well, maybe you weren’t. But that’s how the story would have led us to think about it. But that wasn’t the case at all.
So, here’s the picture we gather so far. The 9 ½ tribes even get the hint that the 2 ½ tribes are thinking about disobeying the Lord and they are ready to fight to see God’s will be done. The 2 ½ tribes are so concerned that their children be faithful to the Lord and follow him for generations to come that they build an altar to be a witness to the future generations that the Lord is the God of all Israel.
Someone somewhere in Israel apparently owns idols by the time Joshua gives his farewell speeches in the next two chapters, because he says so. However, in this chapter I see nothing of that. I see two groups both striving to stick to a pure worship of the Lord, and ready to take swift action to correct any anomalies.
Verses 30 through 34 tell us of the reaction of the 9 ½ tribes to the reasoning of the 2 ½ tribes. Everyone was pleased and no one talked anymore about going up to destroy the 2 ½ tribes. The end of that story.
When I started studying and reading this 22nd chapter I was very suspicious of the 2 ½ tribes. But I really think this section is meant to show us the extent of the obedience that all of Israel was attempting to act out while Joshua was still around. Because, as we’ll find out next week, there’s coming a time when obedience in Israel is the exception rather than the rule.