CORPORATE UNITY CAN EASILY BE THREATENED BY MISUNDERSTANDINGS DESPITE SIGNIFICANT MISSION SUCCESSES
David Howard: After all that had transpired and all that the nation had gone through together, the time had now come for the tribes to return to their inheritances and begin their settled lives in the land. The tribes whose inheritances were east of the Jordan had been faithful in their commitment to God and to their word, in that they had helped their brothers take their lands, even while their own lands had been, in effect, waiting for them. The episode here echoes and fulfills Joshua’s earlier exhortation to these tribes to be faithful to God and to their fellow Israelites. It also echoes these tribes’ response to Joshua’s exhortation (1:16–18).
Robert Hubbard: The chapter sounds a new, important theme—the absolute demand that geographical distance never shake exclusive devotion to Yahweh alone (vv. 22, 34). The chapter also consummates the outsider theme heard earlier in the stories of Rahab, the Gibeonites, and Caleb. In the end, the tribal conflict that the chapter narrates ends amicably, with the tribes rejoicing that all have been spared Yahweh’s wrath (v. 31). The problematic action proves to be not apostasy but a witness to loyalty to Yahweh and to his worship at the tabernacle.
Helene Dallaire: Joshua is pleased with the accomplishments of the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh, who obeyed Moses’ instructions faithfully by aiding their brothers in carrying out Yahweh’s assignment and remaining with them until Joshua releases them to return home. The mission is only fully accomplished when the eastern tribes return to Transjordan. They leave Shiloh with a warning to remain faithful to Yahweh, a special blessing from their leader, and great riches to be shared with their people in Transjordan.
Davis: The unifying factor in ancient Israel was not her culture, architecture, economy, or even military objectives. The long-range unifying factor was her worship of Jehovah. When the central sanctuary was abandoned as the true place of worship, the tribes then developed independent sanctuaries, thus alienating themselves from other tribes and weakening their military potential. The effects of this trend are fully seen in the period of Judges.
Gordon Matties: Here is a classic case for conflict resolution studies, although it may illustrate how not to practice such efforts. The actions of one party have consequences that affect a second party. The second party infers the intentions of the first party and prepares immediately for out-and-out war. As it turns out, the intentions are honorable (or so they seem), and the second party must revise its presupposed assumptions about the first party.
I. (:1-9) CONTEXT OF COMMENDATION FOR MISSION SUCCESSES –
AS JOSHUA DISMISSES THE TRANSJORDAN TRIBES
A. (:1-6) Transjordan Tribes Summoned, Commended, Charged, Blessed and Dismissed
- (:1-2a) Summoned
“Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 2 and said to them,”
- (:2b-3) Commended
“You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have listened to my voice in all that I commanded you. 3 You have not forsaken your brothers these many days to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God.”
Trent Butler: The command of Josh 1:13–15 and the pledge of 1:16–18 have been realized. No reasons can be given to condemn those tribes dwelling outside the Promised Land. They have been faithful to the two great commanders of Israel, Moses and Joshua. The reference to commands of both Moses and Joshua “puts Joshua on a footing almost equal to Moses. . . . Joshua 22:1–6 depicts Joshua as a fully endowed successor to Moses.” The repeated note of obedience “underscores the positive portrayal of the Transjordanian tribes as obedient.”
- (:4-5) Charged
a. (:4) Setting for the Charge
“And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as He spoke to them; therefore turn now and go to your tents, to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan.”
Trent Butler: The result of faithfulness is rest, the precise reward promised in Josh 1:15 (cf. 21:43–44). The reward, however, is for the kindred, since the East Jordan tribes already have their rest (1:13). The easterners now simply receive the command to return and enjoy that rest. This has particular significance in light of the following narrative in which the brothers bring accusation of unfaithfulness against the East Jordan tribes. The accusing West Jordan tribes can enjoy their “rest” only because of the faithfulness of their East Jordan kindred. It appears at this point that rest has been achieved, and so the end of the story has come. But the story continues, for Israel must test its unity and look toward its future identity.
b. (:5) Substance of the Charge
“Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
David Howard: Joshua’s words in v. 5 are passionate, and they capture the heart of the chapter’s message about faithfulness and loyalty. The words echo similar exhortations in Deuteronomy (Deut 4:29; 6:5–6; 10:12, 13; 11:13) and in Joshua (1:7- 8) that the Israelites should be faithful to God. What God had urged Joshua himself to do in chap. 1, Joshua now urged the people to do. This exhortation is the essence of the “first and greatest commandment,” to love God passionately, with every fiber of one’s being (Deut 6:5; Matt 22:37- 38). The verbs in v. 5 give a comprehensive picture of what a proper relationship to God was to include: to love God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast (or cling) to him, and to serve him. These were to be done not as a matter of external conformity but “with all your heart and all your soul.”
Trent Butler: Return to rest does not mean return to forget or neglect obligation. God demands faithfulness in peace and prosperity as well as in war and danger. The command echoes that given to Joshua in 1:7. It is a summary of the charge of Deuteronomy (cf. Deut 10:12–13, 20; 11:1; 6:4–15; 13:4–5 [3–4]; 30:15–20). It is the definition of the people of God.
David Guzik: We should not miss the order here. First, we should take care to hear God. Then we give Him our love. Next comes a walk of obedience. To mix this order up is to drift into heresy (loving without hearing) or legalism (obeying before loving).
- (:6) Blessed and Dismissed
“So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.”
B. (:7-8) Dismissal of Eastern Manasseh Half-tribe
- (:7a) Historical Explanation of Division
a. Moses Granted Land East of the Jordan
“Now to the one half-tribe of Manasseh
Moses had given a possession in Bashan,”
b. Joshua Granted Land West of the Jordan
“but to the other half Joshua gave a possession
among their brothers westward beyond the Jordan.”
David Howard: The farewell blessing is interrupted in v. 7 by the author’s parenthetical explanation of the unique situation of the tribe of Manasseh, which had two land portions, one on each side of the Jordan (cf. 13:29–31; 17:1–13). Both Moses and Joshua are acknowledged as distributors of the land here. The insertion undoubtedly was for the purpose of stressing the unity of this tribe, which symbolized within its own tribal context the larger unity that was to characterize the entire nation. This unity was strained by the events narrated in the following verses, but ultimately the unity was preserved, and the Transjordan tribes’ loyalty to their brethren and their God was established beyond any doubt.
- (:7b-8) Blessing and Dismissal
a. (:7b) Blessing
“So when Joshua sent them away to their tents, he blessed them,”
b. (:8) Dismissal with Spoils of War
“and said to them, ‘Return to your tents with great riches and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, iron, and with very many clothes; divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.’”
Robert Hubbard: In sum, Joshua offers a grateful military commander’s final, “job-welldone” farewell speech to some of his loyal, departing troops. They have finished a unique, tough assignment of shared hardships with their western brothers. But his charge warns them not to let distance from the Israelite heartland create distance between them and God. And so an era ends, as the two-and-a half tribes break camp at Shiloh and head east for a happy reunion with their families, who have awaited their safe return for so long. Before long, however, events will transpire that will lead some Israelite quarters to call into question the picture of them here as obedient and loyal.
C. (:9) Departure of Transjordan Tribes
“And the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home and departed from the sons of Israel at Shiloh which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, to the land of their possession which they had possessed, according to the command of the LORD through Moses.”
Gordon Matties: That the conflict emerges in the next episode illustrates the fragility, not of the Transjordan tribes’ covenant loyalty, but of the bonds formed within the community called “Israel” as a whole. If the conflict had not emerged, we would assume that the Transjordan tribes would naturally be part of the congregation gathered to hear Joshua’s farewell address and to participate in the covenant renewal event (chs. 23-24). But the events to follow turn our expectations around and highlight the fragility of the communal bond. Not only is covenant with the Lord called into question, but the very constitution and identity of “Israel” are also threatened.
II. (:10-34) CRISIS OF MISUNDERSTANDING REQUIRING RESOLUTION TO PROTECT ISRAEL’S UNITY
A. (:10-12) The Crisis Threatening Israel’s Unity
- (:10) Point of Contention = Large Altar Built on West Bank of the Jordan
“And when they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance.”
David Howard: Its imposing size, visible from afar, explains the significance of this altar west of the Jordan. In the first place, its erection west of the Jordan by the tribes living east of the Jordan emphasized something the Transjordan tribes wanted to affirm: the nation’s unity and their own loyalty to the God who gave Canaan to his people. However, for a people living east of the Jordan, its position across the river could potentially have caused it to have been forgotten. Thus, its imposing size would have allowed it to be seen from vantage points across the river and thus remembered.
Trent Butler: The complication (vv 10b–12) comes as the easterners head to their God-given possessions but are described as going away from the sanctuary at Shiloh, away from the sons of Israel, away from the land of Canaan, that is, away from the land of promise. They decide to build an altar but give no reason for doing so. The sons of Israel come back to Shiloh, where they had just parted from the easterners, and declare war on the easterners.
- (:11-12) Potential for Rash Civil War
a. (:11) Improperly Judging Motives
“And the sons of Israel heard it said, ‘Behold, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, on the side belonging to the sons of Israel.’”
b. (:12) Initiative to Go to War
“And when the sons of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh, to go up against them in war.”
David Howard: The basis for the Cisjordan tribes’ reaction is found in the law against offering a burnt offering or sacrifice at any location other than the tabernacle (Lev 17:8– 9) and in the more general law in Deut 13:12–15 against worshiping other gods. In both instances, the Israelites were authorized to kill the offenders, and this was why they now prepared to go to war against their fellow Israelites. . .
The author, by carefully labeling the tribes in this chapter, preserves a distinction between the tribes until the altar’s true nature and intent has been made clear: the Cisjordan tribes were “true” Israelites, living in the land promised to Abraham, whereas the Transjordan tribes, living outside the land, were not yet to be included with “all Israel” until the nature of their commitment to the Lord was clarified. After the clarification, however (i.e., after v. 29), all twelve tribes are treated as part of the one nation, Israel. Thus, the issues of the unity of the nation and the tribes’ loyalties are reflected even in the way in which the narrator labels the tribes.
Robert Hubbard: The report about the unsettling discovery conveys shocked urgency, as if the altar were scandalous and posed a serious threat to west-bank well-being. Apparently, no one bothers to ask why the returning troops have placed the altar there on the west bank—an inconvenient spot for Transjordanian access!—rather than (more conveniently) on their side of the river. Instead, the news sparks a rush of the “whole community of Israel” to an emergency pow-wow at Shiloh (v. 12). The same words (“the whole assembly … gathered”) open the earlier scene where the last tribal allotments are made (Josh. 18:1), but here Israel meets to prepare for war against the two-and-a-half tribes.
B. (:13-20) The Accusation of Apostasy
- (:13-15) Investigative Delegation Led by Phinehas
“Then the sons of Israel sent to the sons of Reuben and to the sons 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 chiefs, one chief for each father’s household from each of the tribes of Israel; and each one of them was the head of his father’s household among the thousands of Israel. 15 And they came to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, to the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them saying,”
Robert Hubbard: The Bible knows Phinehas above all as a heroic “defender of the faith,” especially of the proper way to worship Yahweh. He is best known for his decisive, violent action at Baal Peor that ended a devastating plague in Israel’s camp and won him special praise from Yahweh (Num. 25; cf. Ex. 6:25; Num. 31:6; Judg. 20:27–28). If the situation demands a ruling on altars or bold, daring initiative, Phinehas is certainly the right man for the job.
But the rest of the delegates are no slouches, either. They clearly comprise the highest level of leadership in Israel, the Israelite equivalent of a presidential cabinet.
Kenneth Gangel: Consider the three characteristics of this appeal by the Phinehas delegation:
- It was personal. Instead of marching on the tribes, the Israelites chose a delegation headed by a priest. They delivered a sincere message before they picked a fight. That’s a good approach.
- It was passionate. The Israelites made the trip because they were concerned about faithfulness to God. They guarded God’s reputation and holiness and his command about the central altar. By appealing to Peor and Achan, they recalled the time when Moabite worship brought a plague on the whole nation and twenty-four thousand Israelites died. They also remembered the time when the first battle for Ai was hopelessly lost. This delegation pled, begged, and tried to turn the eastern tribes from what they considered to be sin. Their motive was pure, even if their reasoning was faulty.
- It was purposeful. The option of land grants west of the Jordan River shows a desire to restore these tribes and bring them back to a place where they could keep their commitment to God. Though wrongheaded, this whole process was right hearted.
- (:16) Imputing Motives of Unfaithfulness
“Thus says the whole congregation of the LORD, ‘What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the LORD this day, by building yourselves an altar, to rebel against the LORD this day?’”
- (:17-18) Fear of Corporate Judgment —
Based on the Historical Example of Sin at Peor
“Is not the iniquity of Peor enough for us, from which we have not cleansed ourselves to this day, although a plague came on the congregation of the LORD, 18 that you must turn away this day from following the LORD? And it will come about if you rebel against the LORD today, that He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow.”
David Howard: The sin at Peor had occurred many years earlier in the wilderness. It had involved the Israelites’ prostituting themselves by bowing to the Moabite gods—specifically, the Baal of Peor—seduced by the women of Moab to do so. A plague had broken out in the Israelite camp as an expression of the Lord’s displeasure, and twenty-four thousand people had died before Phinehas had intervened and caused the Lord’s anger to abate (Num 25:6–9). . .
The implication is that Israel had never truly rid itself of this sin, that it always flirted with—if not participated in—idolatry and the allure of pagan religious systems. Achan’s case was proof positive of this, and the Cisjordan tribes feared that this altar represented another such case.
Trent Butler: The prosecution predicts the results of the crime—divine anger on the entire community (cf. Josh 9:20; Deut 29:27 ). “wrath, anger,” in verbal form is used for divine anger in a majority of the cases, particularly in Deuteronomistic and Priestly circles. Human sin and rebellion rouse the divine wrath. The responsibility of the community for its members and the sense of unity within the community mean that the sin by a part brings punishment on the whole. At this point, the prosecution appears to testify that east and west are both part of the Yahweh community.
- (:19) Consider Other Options
“If, however, the land of your possession is unclean, then cross into the land of the possession of the LORD, where the LORD’s tabernacle stands, and take possession among us. Only do not rebel against the LORD, or rebel against us by building an altar for yourselves, besides the altar of the LORD our God.”
David Howard: From their perspective, it was better that the Transjordan tribes abandon their possession and pursue true worship than to keep their land and engage in apostasy.
- (:20) Fear of Corporate Judgment –
Based on the Historical Example of Sin of Achan
“Did not Achan the son of Zerah act unfaithfully in the things under the ban, and wrath fall on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.”
Robert Hubbard: If the scandal at Peor marks the classic case of apostasy, Achan denotes the classic case of “treachery.” He secretly kept for himself goods captured at Jericho (ḥerem) that, in fact, belonged to Yahweh. But the delegation’s concern is not with the act of altar-building itself but with its consequences. Their climactic (perhaps even melodramatic!) cry that “[Achan] was not the only one who died for his sin” (v. 20) powerfully drives home their message. The dignitaries remind their audience that, while Achan acted alone, divine wrath struck the entire community. That pattern, they argue, now seems likely to recur: The altar-building by a few tribes now threatens to bring down God’s wrath on all twelve tribes of Israel, not just on the Transjordanians. With that, the message of the west-bank tribes ends.
C. (:21-29) The Defense of Loyalty to the God of Israel
- (:21-25) Theological Defense
a. (:21) High Level Response
“Then the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh answered, and spoke to the heads of the families of Israel.”
David Howard: The Transjordan tribes responded passionately that they were innocent of any rebellion or breach of faith. The entire paragraph shows them to have been innocent of anything malicious: they never intended to use this altar for sacrifices to God himself, let alone to other gods. Rather, they intended it only as a memorial or witness for their children (vv. 26–27). Their concern was the same as that of the tribes west of the Jordan: that the unity of Israel be maintained and that their loyalty be to the Lord alone (vv. 25, 27). This echoes their response, along with that of the other tribes, in 1:16–18.
b. (:22-23) Appeal to God’s Comprehensive Knowledge
1) (:22) God Knows Our Motives
“The Mighty One, God, the LORD, the Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the LORD do not Thou save us this day!”
Robert Hubbard: The opening rhetorical flourish, a string of orthodox names for Israel’s God (“Mighty One, God, the LORD …”) aims immediately to dispel the visitors’ doubts about their orthodoxy (v. 22). There is, they claim, another side to this story. They strongly affirm that Israel’s God understands the real situation (“He knows!”) and voice the passionate wish that Israel (and especially the present delegation!) might, too. To prove their innocence, they make their visitors a bold offer phrased as a kind of self-curse. If the accusations of “rebellion” (mered) and “disobedience” (maʿal) against Yahweh be true, they ask Phinehas not to hold back proper punishment. If their altar announces rejection of Yahweh (and, by implication, his altar in Canaan) and pledges loyalty to another god through sacrifices, they ask Yahweh himself to “call us to account” (v. 23). Thus, they deny the accusations; they claim to have nothing to hide. They share the visitors’ conviction that Israel performs sacrifices to Yahweh only at Shiloh.
2) (:23) God Knows Our Intentions
“If we have built us an altar to turn away from following the LORD, or if to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, may the LORD Himself require it.”
c. (:24) Defending the Purpose of the Altar
“But truly we have done this out of concern, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your sons may say to our sons, What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel?’”
Robert Hubbard: But now comes a surprising revelation. The Cisjordanians assume that an altar serves only one purpose, as a place for sacrificing. But the Transjordanians reveal something new—that fear, not rebellion, drove them to act as they did. They fear that future descendants of the present accusers will deny their own descendants to have access to Yahweh (v. 24a). They worry that descendants of the delegation will invoke the Jordan as a God-given boundary—an ancient Rio Grande—to bar east-bank descendants from the community worship (vv. 24, 28). They also quote a possible objection that future Cisjordanians might raise to exclude their descendants (vv. 24b–25a).
d. (:25) Addressing the Fear of Being Rejected Due to Physical Separation Caused by the Jordan River
“For the LORD has made the Jordan a border between us and you, you sons of Reuben and sons of Gad; you have no portion in the LORD. So your sons may make our sons stop fearing the LORD.”
David Howard: Turning the argument away from asserting their innocence, the Transjordan tribes now gave the reason for what they did: it was rooted in their fear of being cut off from their fellow Israelites sometime in the future. The Jordan River formed a natural boundary between them and their brethren, and they feared that their descendants might be rejected by their brothers’ descendants. Worse than that, however, they feared that the Cisjordanian’s descendants might cause the Transjordanian’s descendants to cease their worship of God (v. 25). They would do this by referring to the obvious boundary between them—the Jordan River—and then claiming, by extension, that only those living west of the Jordan, in “the LORD’s land,” had a legitimate portion in the Lord (cf. v. 19). In this way, their descendants might be completely cut off from the blessings promised to all Israel.
- (:26-29) Pragmatic Defense
a. (:26-28) Needed for a Physical Reminder of Loyalty
“Therefore we said, ‘Let us build an altar, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; 27 rather it shall be a witness between us and you and between our generations after us, that we are to perform the service of the LORD before Him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices and with our peace offerings, that your sons may not say to our sons in time to come, You have no portion in the LORD. Therefore we said, ‘It shall also come about if they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, then we shall say, See the copy of the altar of the LORD which our fathers made, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; rather it is a witness between us and you.’”
Jerome Creach: The eastern tribes respond to Phinehas that the altar was not for sacrifice; rather it was a “copy” of an altar (v. 28). The word rendered “copy” might better be translated “pattern” or “model.” Second Kings 16:10 uses the same word to refer to the model of an altar king Ahaz sent to the priest Uriah to be used as a construction guide. The model altar in Joshua 22 was to serve future generations as a reminder that those dwelling east of the Jordan were not ritually impure and had the right to come to the central sanctuary to make sacrifices. The response of the eastern tribes reflects the varied purposes of altars in ancient Israel: they were not only mounds for making sacrifices, but also signs of God’s presence and identifying marks of a community devoted to God. Therefore, altars could be places of asylum (1 Kgs. 2:28) and could provide testimony of a certain identity. The latter purpose of the altar is reflected in Joshua 22. Sacrifice would be reserved for the central sanctuary, but the altar was a testimony of inclusion in the community that worshiped at the central site. The eastern tribes express concern that future generations on their land might say they have no “portion” in Israel (vv. 25, 27); the term “portion” (Hebrew ḥeleq) is often synonymous with “inheritance” (naḥalah; Josh. 15:13; 19:9; Ezek. 45:7). This shows again that the root problem was whether or not ownership of the land east of the Jordan was a sign of membership in the covenant community.
b. (:29) Never Intended for Offering Sacrifices in Spirit of Rebellion
“Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD and turn away from following the LORD this day, by building an altar for burnt offering, for grain offering or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the LORD our God which is before His tabernacle.”
D. (:30-34) The Resolution of the Crisis – Preserving Unity
- (:30-31) Investigative Delegation Satisfied
a. (:30) Pleased with the Common Understanding
“So when Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the congregation, even the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the sons of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them.”
Trent Butler: The commission is satisfied with the defense testimony. “It was good in the eyes of” is a formula accepting proposals or testimonies (Gen 41:37; Lev 10:20; Deut 1:23; 1 Sam 18:5; 2 Sam 3:36; 18:4; 1 Kgs 3:10; Esth 1:21; 2:4; cf. Gen 45:16; Lev 10:19; Esth 2:9). Phinehas “emerges as a thread weaving its way through the story of Israel. . . . Each time he appears there is a question of cultic purity and national survival.”
b. (:31) Praise for the Lord Preserving the Unity of his People
“And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Manasseh, ‘Today we know that the LORD is in our midst, because you have not committed this unfaithful act against the LORD; now you have delivered the sons of Israel from the hand of the LORD.’”
Robert Hubbard: It is important, however, to underscore the implications of the decision his delegation made. It both acquits the Transjordanian tribes of the charge of violating the Instruction of Moses (e.g., Josh. 22:29) and asserts their right “to be considered full-fledged members of the community of Israel.” At least for the time being.
- (:32-34) Corporate Israel Satisfied
a. (:32) Presentation of Report Back to the People
“Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest and the leaders returned from the sons of Reuben and from the sons of Gad, from the land of Gilead, to the land of Canaan, to the sons of Israel, and brought back word to them.”
Trent Butler: The commission did not have the final word. They had to make their report to the children of Israel as a whole. The report was accepted with thanksgiving to God. Notice that when humans bless God, it simply means to give thanks for his blessings (Gen 24:27, 48). A situation that threatened war and total destruction resulted in worship and a new relationship of trust.
b. (:33) Pleased with the Common Understanding
“And the word pleased the sons of Israel, and the sons of Israel blessed God; and they did not speak of going up against them in war, to destroy the land in which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad were living.”
Van Parunak: 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.
c. (:34) Purpose of the Altar Ratified
“And the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad called the altar Witness; ‘For,’ they said, ‘it is a witness between us that the LORD is God.’”
David Howard: The climax of the chapter reveals the full meaning of the altar: it was to testify to God himself. Previously, the account had revealed that it was to be a witness (vv. 27, 28), but the earlier verses do not reveal the precise nature or function of the “witness.” Now we see that it was to affirm that Yahweh was God. It was a symbol of Israel’s national unity, and this symbol was to testify to Israel’s God. In a similar vein, Jesus told his disciples that people would know they were his disciples by seeing their love for each other, that is, their love would point people to Christ (John 13:35).
Robert Hubbard: Silently, that imposing structure reminds every Israelite who passes, whether traveling east or west, that “the LORD is God” over all Israelites, wherever located. Set on the west bank but built by east-bank hands, it symbolizes the bond that unites settlers along both banks as one people—their devotion to Yahweh as their only God. That is a bond that even the mighty Jordan cannot sever.