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The Eastern Tribes Return to Their Territory


Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 2and said to them, “You have observed all that Moses the servant of the L ord commanded you, and have obeyed me in all that I have commanded you; 3you have not forsaken your kindred these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the L ord your God. 4And now the L ord your God has given rest to your kindred, as he promised them; therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the L ord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5Take good care to observe the commandment and instruction that Moses the servant of the L ord commanded you, to love the L ord your God, to walk in all his ways, to keep his commandments, and to hold fast to him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” 6So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.

7 Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given a possession in Bashan; but to the other half Joshua had given a possession beside their fellow Israelites in the land west of the Jordan. And when Joshua sent them away to their tents and blessed them, 8he said to them, “Go back to your tents with much wealth, and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, and iron, and with a great quantity of clothing; divide the spoil of your enemies with your kindred.” 9So the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home, parting from the Israelites at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, their own land of which they had taken possession by command of the L ord through Moses.

A Memorial Altar East of the Jordan

10 When they came to the region near the Jordan that lies in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of great size. 11The Israelites heard that the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh had built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region near the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the Israelites. 12And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh, to make war against them.

13 Then the Israelites sent the priest Phinehas son of Eleazar to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, 14and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel. 15They came to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them, 16“Thus says the whole congregation of the L ord, ‘What is this treachery that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away today from following the L ord, by building yourselves an altar today in rebellion against the L ord? 17Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which a plague came upon the congregation of the L ord, 18that you must turn away today from following the L ord! If you rebel against the L ord today, he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow. 19But now, if your land is unclean, cross over into the L ord’s land where the L ord’s tabernacle now stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us; only do not rebel against the L ord, or rebel against us by building yourselves an altar other than the altar of the L ord our God. 20Did not Achan son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity!’ ”

21 Then the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, 22“The L ord, God of gods! The L ord, God of gods! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith toward the L ord, do not spare us today 23for building an altar to turn away from following the L ord; or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or offerings of well-being on it, may the L ord himself take vengeance. 24No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the L ord, the God of Israel? 25For the L ord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the L ord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the L ord. 26Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the L ord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and offerings of well-being; so that your children may never say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the L ord.” ’ 28And we thought, If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we could say, ‘Look at this copy of the altar of the L ord, which our ancestors made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.’ 29Far be it from us that we should rebel against the L ord, and turn away this day from following the L ord by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the L ord our God that stands before his tabernacle!”

30 When the priest Phinehas and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the Reubenites and the Gadites and the Manassites spoke, they were satisfied. 31The priest Phinehas son of Eleazar said to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the Manassites, “Today we know that the L ord is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the L ord; now you have saved the Israelites from the hand of the L ord.”

32 Then the priest Phinehas son of Eleazar and the chiefs returned from the Reubenites and the Gadites in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the Israelites, and brought back word to them. 33The report pleased the Israelites; and the Israelites blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them, to destroy the land where the Reubenites and the Gadites were settled. 34The Reubenites and the Gadites called the altar Witness; “For,” said they, “it is a witness between us that the L ord is God.”

1. Then Joshua called the Reubenites, etc Here is related the discharge of the two tribes and half-tribe, who had followed the rest of the people, not that they might acquire anything for themselves, but that, as they had already obtained dwellings and lands without lot, they might carry on war in common with their brethren, until they also should have a quiet inheritance. Now, as they had been faithful companions and helpers to their brethren, Joshua declares that they were entitled to their discharge, and thus sends them back to their homes released and free. It is asked, however, how he can consider them to have performed their due measure of military service, while the enemy were still in possession of part of the land, of which the sole possession was to be the proper termination of the war? 178178     Latin, “Cujus sola possessio justum debuit bello imponere finem.” French, “De laquelle il faloit qu’ils fussent paisibles possesseurs avant qu’ils peussent avoir licence de se desparter, et avant que finir la guerre;” “Of which it was necessary that they should be peaceful possessors before they could have license to depart, and before finishing the war.” — Ed. But if we bear in mind what I lately said, the knot will be loosed. Had the Israelites followed the invitation of God, and seconded his agency, nay, when he was stretching out his hand to them, had they not basely drawn back, 179179     French, “Ou pour mieux dire, s’ils n’eussent vilainement tourne le dos arriere, quand il leur tendoit la main;” “Or, to speak more properly, if they had not villanously turned their back when he stretched out his hand to them.” — Ed. the remaining part of the war would have been finished with no danger and little trouble. From their own sloth, therefore, they refused what God was ready to bestow. And thus it happened that the agreement by which the two tribes and half-tribe had bound themselves, ceased to be binding. For the only obligation they had undertaken was to accompany the ten tribes, and contend for their inheritance as strenuously as if their condition had been exactly the same. Now, when they have perseveringly performed their part as faithful allies, and the ten tribes contented with their present fortune, not only do not demand, but rather tacitly repudiate their assistance, a free return to their homes is justly allowed them. They, indeed, deserve praise for their patient endurance, in not allowing weariness of the service to make them request their discharge, but in waiting quietly till Joshua of his own accord sends for them. 180180     Jewish writers, founding on plausible data, calculate that the auxiliary tribes who crossed the Jordan to assist their brethren, had been absent from their homes for a period of fourteen years. — Ed.

5. But take diligent heed, etc He thus releases and frees them from temporary service, that he may bind them for ever to the authority of the one true God. He therefore permits them to return home, but on the condition that wherever they may be they are to be the soldiers of God; and he at the same time prescribes the mode, namely, the observance of his Law. But since such is the vanity and inconstancy of the human mind, that religion easily fades away from the heart, while carelessness and contempt creep in, he requires of them zeal and diligence in executing the Law. He calls it the Law of Moses, that they may not be carried to and fro by airy speculations, but remain fixed in the doctrine which they had learned from the faithful servant of God. He touches also on the end and sum of the Law, love to God, and adherence to him, because outward worship would otherwise be of little value. He confirms the same thing by other words, by which sincerity is denoted, namely, serving the Lord with their whole heart and soul.

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