Chapter 22


Eastern Tribes Return to Their Homes

Joshua Sends Home the Eastern Tribes (Joshua 22, 1 – 6). Wood engraving, published in 1886.
    • Joshua called the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh together and told them, “You’ve done everything the Lord’s servant Moses commanded you to do and you have obeyed everything I have commanded you also. During all this time, you haven’t deserted your fellow Israelites even once, but have carried out the charge the Lord your God gave you. The Lord your God has given your brothers rest just as He promised them. Therefore, go back to your homes in your own land that the Lord’s servant Moses gave to you on the other side of the Jordan. But be very careful to obey the commands and the law that the Lord’s servant Moses gave to you: to love the Lord your God, walk in all His ways, keep His commands, hold fast to Him, and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul.” So, Joshua blessed them, sent them away, and they went to their tents.

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Joshua commended the eastern tribes for their faithful obedience and the fulfillment of their promise to help the rest of Israel to inhabit Canaan (see Joshua 1:12-18; Numbers 32:1-32)… Joshua’s words recall God’s words to Joshua at the beginning of the conquest (1:1-9). In order to live in the land, Israel needed to be faithful to God by being very careful to obey all the commands and instructions given to Moses.”

    • Now, Moses had given one half of the tribe of Manasseh land in Bashan. (And Joshua had given the other half of the tribe of Manasseh land on the west side of the Jordan River with their brothers.) When Joshua blessed them and sent them away to their homes, he told them: “Go back to your tents with great wealth and with lots of livestock, silver, gold, bronze, iron, and clothing. Divide up the plunder of your enemies with your brothers.”

Eastern Tribes Build an Altar

    • So, the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the rest of Israel at Shiloh in the land of Canaan. They began their journey home to their own land of Gilead, which they had taken possession of according to the Lord’s command through Moses.

    • When they came to Geliloth, which is near the Jordan River in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh built a large and impressive altar.

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “It is reasonable to presume that Geliloth and the altar were on the west bank of the Jordan.”

      • On the descriptive term used for the altar, ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds, “Very similar Hebrew terminology is used in Exodus 3:3 to describe the burning bush as a ‘great sight.’”

    • The Israelites heard that the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had built an altar at Geliloth- at the edge of the land of Canaan, on the Israelite side of the Jordan River (the west side of the Jordan). So, the entire Israelite community gathered together at Shiloh to go to war against them.

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The tribes referred to here as…(literally the sons of Israel) consisted of the tribes given land west of the Jordan River, in Canaan proper. They already referred to themselves as Israel, excluding the tribes east of the Jordan…The western tribes were ready to go to war because they saw the altar as violating Leviticus 17:8-9 and Deuteronomy 13:12-15.”

Explanation of the Altar

    • The Israelites sent Phinehas (Eleazar the priest’s son) and ten clan leaders (one from each of the ten tribes) to Gilead to talk to the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. When they arrived, they said, “The whole community of the Lord says: ‘What is this treachery that you have committed against the God of Israel by turning away from following the Lord and building yourselves an altar to rebel against the Lord today? Wasn’t the sin at Peor enough? To this day we haven’t cleansed ourselves of it even though a plague came on the entire community of the Lord. If you rebel against the Lord today, He will be angry with the entire community of Israel tomorrow. If your land is unclean, then cross over into the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take possession among us. But don’t rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar for yourselves other than the altar of the Lord our God. Didn’t wrath fall on the entire community of Israel when Zerah’s son, Achan, acted unfaithfully with the things that had been devoted to destruction? He was not the only one who died because of his sin.’”

      • ESV Archaeology Study Bible says, “…the tribes west of the Jordan send a delegation to confront the eastern tribes. That Phinehas the son of Eleazar heads the delegation can only strike fear in the hearts of those familiar with his history of zeal for the purity of Israel’s worship (see Numbers 25:1-9). For those requiring a reminder, the sin at Peor is explicitly mentioned in Joshua 22:17 (cf Numbers 25:3, 18), as is the case of Achan (Joshua 22:20), who did not perish alone for his iniquity (see Joshua ch 7). Given its corporate responsibility, all Israel can suffer for the sins of a few or even just one. The delegation rightly fears that the Lord may become angry with the whole congregation of Israel (Joshua 22:18).”

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds these clarifications, “The ten tribes west of the Jordan inluded Ephraim and the western half of Manasseh but not the tribe of Levi…The delegation crossed the Jordan River to meet the leaders of the eastern tribes in the land of Gilead, probably in southern Gad.”

      • On the statement about the land of the eastern tribes being unclean, the same source notes, “Being defiled [unclean] was not necessarily the result of rebellion or a moral lapse, but it did prevent the persons or groups from participating in regular worship activities, including the offering of sacrifices. If the eastern tribes had defiled the land itself, the Israelites could not offer sacrifices to the Lord within it. This concern provides evidence the eastern tribes had built their altar on the western bank of the Jordan. The land west of the Jordan was considered the Lord’s land. The delegation from the western tribes made a very generous offer, inviting the eastern tribes to share their land. This demonstrated their commitment to national unity in faithfulness to God.”

    • Then the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh answered the clan leaders saying, “The Lord is the God of gods! The Lord is the God of gods! He knows; and may Israel also know. If we built this altar in rebellion against the Lord do not spare us today. If we built it for ourselves to turn away from Him and to offer burnt, grain, or fellowship offerings on it, may the Lord Himself punish us.

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The eastern tribes defended their action. ‘The Lord is God!’ The two-fold repetition of this dramatic affirmation indicated how shocked the eastern tribes were when accused of rebellion.”

      • Guzik says, “They first appeal to God, because He knows for certain their hearts, and they believe that their brothers in the western tribes have misunderstood them…They also recognized the rightness of what the others were doing in coming against them…The eastern tribes do what we should all do when we are misunderstood: put ourselves in the shoes of the other person and try to see what they see. If we saw what they saw, we might respond in the same way.”

    • They continued, “No! We did this for the fear that, in the future, your descendants might say to our descendants, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan River the border between us and the descendants of Reuben and Gad. You have no portion in the Lord.’ So, your descendants might cause our descendants to stop worshiping the Lord. This is why we said, ‘Let’s build an altar. Not for burnt offerings or sacrifices, but to be a witness between us and the generations that come after us that we perform the service of the Lord in His presence with our burnt offerings, sacrifices, and fellowship offerings.’ Then, in the future, your descendants will not say to ours: ‘You have no portion in the Lord.’ We thought, ‘If they say this to us or to our descendants in the future, we could reply’, “Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar that our fathers made- not for burnt offerings or sacrifice- but as a witness between us.” Far be it from us that we would rebel against the Lord or turn away from Him today by building our own altar for burnt or grain offerings, or sacrifices instead of the altar of the Lord our God that stands in front of His tabernacle.”

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible clarifies, “The eastern tribes feared exclusion from Israel at a later time because the Jordan River divided them from the western tribes. The altar near the bank would stand as a memorial (literally witness) through the generations that the eastern tribes were also part of Israel. This altar was a copy, intended to be seen, not used.”

Conflict Resolved

    • When Phinehas the priest and Israel’s clan leaders heard what the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh had to say, they were pleased. Phinehas (the son of the priest, Eleazar) replied to them, “Today we know that the Lord is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against Him. Therefore, you have rescued Israel from the Lord’s hand.”

      • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “In his reply to the eastern tribes, Phinehas used very similar language to the words God had spoken when Phinehas turned God’s anger from Israel at Peor (Numbers 25:11).”

    • Then Phinehas and the leaders left the tribes of Reuben and Gad in Gilead and went back to the Israelites in Canaan and told them what happened. The Israelites were happy to hear this report and they praised God. They no longer spoke about going to war against the Reubenites and Gadites to destroying the land where they lived.

    • So, the Reubenites and Gadites named the altar “Witness,” saying, “It is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”

      • HCSB says, “The incident ended peaceably. The Transjordan tribes named the altar in accordance with its purpose: it was to be a witness for future generations to the sovereignty of the Lord and the unity of all the tribes of Israel.”

      • Guzik adds this practical application for modern day Christians, “We should respond to misunderstanding in the same manner, according to these same principles. Respond with a concern for God’s holiness. Respond with the courage to confront in love. Respond with an attempt to reconcile before you fight. Determine that you are willing to sacrifice to help them; don’t confront unless you are willing to help. Determine that you will see the situation from the perspective of the other person. Determine that you will believe the best of one another.”