Saturday, October 2, 2010

Joshua 22

Reuben Gad, and half-Manasseh sent home (vs. 1-9)--It will be recalled that these three tribes asked for, and received, their inheritance of land on the eastern side of the Jordan River (Num. 32). There was one proviso to that, viz., that they would help the other tribes conquer and get settled in the land of Canaan, west of the Jordan. That had now been accomplished, and Joshua sends them back to their own land. He commends them for their obedience to the Lord (v. 3), and encourages them to "take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (v. 5). These tribes had become very wealthy (v. 8), and were surely happy to be returning to their families and new homes. The land east of the Jordan was called Bashan (v. 7) and Gilead (v. 9).

The altar built by Reuben, Gad, and half-Manasseh (vs. 10-20)--Before they crossed over the Jordan to their own territories, the three tribes built an altar beside the river--"a great altar to look upon" (v. 10). This was of supreme concern to the tribes remaining west of the water; they concluded that the three eastern tribes were in rebellion against the Lord by building an altar which was intended (so the western tribes believed) as a sacrificial altar. So the western tribes "gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up against them to war" (v. 12). Phinehas, the son of the High Priest Eleazar, and the heads of the eastern tribes were sent to meet with Reuben, Gad, and half-Manasseh (vs. 13-14). These leaders explained their concern, accusing the three eastern tribes of rebellion against the Lord by building the altar (v. 16). Phinehas and the other western leaders reminded the three tribes of two great sins of Israel, the transgression at Peor (Num. 25:-19), where the children of Israel committed idolatry and harlotry with the women of Moab. The Lord struck them with a plague in which 24,000 died. The plague was stopped by the quick action of Phinehas himself, who had been "zealous with My zeal among them" (Num. 25:11). The other sin mentioned was that of Achan (Joshua 7), who knowingly, and sinfully, disobeyed the order not to take of the spoils of the city of Jericho when it was sacked (Joshua 6). The fear of the tribes west of the Jordan was that the Lord "will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel" (v. 18). All of Israel suffered because of the sin of a few at Peor, and one at Jericho. Thus, the western leaders had great concern for their own safety as well. It's very nice to see this kind of zeal for the Lord, though obviously there was some self-interest involved. There was nothing wrong with that. And, as noted, these western tribes were prepared to go to war to prevent that altar from standing.

The altar explained (vs. 21-29)--But Reuben, Gad, and half-Manasseh had a satisfactory explanation. There was no intent, with the altar, to rebel against the Lord. Their fear was that, in future generations, their brethren west of the Jordan, because of the division of land based upon that river, would conclude that "'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" (v. 25). So this altar was being built, not for burnt offerings, "but that it may be a witness between you and us and our generations after us" (v. 27), and the eastern tribes would not be hindered in their worship and sacrifices to the Lord. They emphasized that this was in no way an attempt on their part at rebellion: "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" (v. 29).

The explanation accepted (vs. 30-34)--Phinehas and the other leaders of the western tribes were "pleased" with this explanation (v. 20) and replied, "’This day we perceive that the LORD is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the LORD’" (v. 31). (A note here: The NKJV has "LORD" in all caps; this is "Jehovah" in the ASV.) So with this agreeable explanation, the altar was allowed to stand and even given a name, Ea (v. 34, KJV, ASV, which means, "witness," and is so translated in the NKJV), and the western leaders went back home and allowed the eastern tribes to do the same (v. 32).

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