JOSHUA - CHAPTER 22
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of
“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:”
mistakenly I believe, have taken these two and a half tribes to represent carnal
world-bordering Christians, but there is little to support this view.
It must not be forgotten that the eastern border of the land given Israel
wasn’t the Jordan, but the Euphrates, Jos 1:4; nor must it be overlooked that it
was Moses who gave them their portion east of Jordan, Nu 32:33, on the condition that
they first go over Jordan with their brethren to help them take possession of their
inheritance west of the river. That
condition was fully met, for not only did they go over, but they went in the
forefront, Nu 32:17. And now at
the end of the seven-year campaign which left the land subdued before Israel, they
are warmly commended by Joshua, and sent back with his blessing to take possession of
correct interpretation of the type appears to be that these two and a half tribes
represent, not carnal world-borderers, but rather all believers as having died in
Christ (they had crossed over Jordan), but who, as having been also raised with Him
(their re-crossing Jordan speaks of resurrection), now live here in the world,
but without being of it.
lessons connected with them have to do with the practical aspect of the Christian
life: jobs, families, relation to human governments, interaction with men in
connection with the ordinary affairs of life, etc., while the lessons connected with the other nine and a half tribes
have to do more with the spiritual aspect of our lives, and are meant to instruct us
in regard to such things as worship, prayer, service, our conflict with the unseen
forces of evil, etc.
is not to say, of course, that the lessons are limited solely to these matters.
They aren’t, for clearly the history of all the tribes is meant to
instruct us relative to both spheres.
fact that the number of these tribes east of Jordan is half of five, the
number of responsibility, would remind us that all of us have failed to live up to
our responsibilities as redeemed men and women; but if the half reminds us of
failure, the names of these tribes are meant to encourage us. Reuben, meaning see ye, a son, reminds us that in spite of
all our failure, we are still the sons and daughters of God; while Gad an invader,
a troop, fortune assures us that we are God’s “troop” here on earth,
privileged to “invade” Satan’s domain with the Gospel which alone can lead men
out of his bondage into the enjoyment of eternal life.
And the third meaning fortune, so far from suggesting that our lives
are subject to the caprice of mere chance, would assure us that our times are in the
hand, not of a capricious tyrant, but of the God and Father Who assures us that
“All things work together for good to them that love God,” Ro 8:28.
causing to forget remindS us of the need to live in view of the judgment seat
of Christ, like Paul who has written, “This one thing I do, forgetting those
thing which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I
press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,”
being commended for obedience to both Moses and Joshua has also its lesson, for Moses
is a type of Christ dying for us, while Joshua portrays Him as living for us.
As those who have also died in Christ, but who also now live with Him, Ga
2:20, we are responsible to give practical effect to these truths by living as those
who are “crucified with Christ,” being
“dead to the world,” Ga 6:14, to sin, Ro 6:2, to the law, Ro 7:4. As a dead man yields no response to the things of the world,
neither are we to yield any response to the allurements of this world through which
we pass as pilgrims and strangers on our way home to heaven.
commendation, coming as it does at the end of the seven-year conflict which ended in
the subjugation of Canaan by the Israelites, points symbolically to the judgment seat
of Christ, which will come at the end of our earthly conflict with the forces of
darkness. It would be well if we so
lived as to merit the same commendation as was given the two and a half tribes by
“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.”
of special commendation was their having remained faithfully with their brethren
throughout the whole seven-year campaign, during much of which time they not only
endangered their lives, but were separated from their families, and the enjoyment of
their inheritance. Those seven (number
of perfection or completeness) years, however, represent the entire course of earthly
life, and would remind us that the same selfless service of our brethren is to
characterize our lives.
is to be noted also that this service was not an option.
It was “the charge of the commandment of the Lord your God.”
Service to our brethren is not an option for us either.
It too is the Lord’s command, “These things I command you, that ye
love one another,” Jn 15:17, and love involves service or giving, even to the point
of laying down our lives for our brethren, “Hereby perceive we the love of God,
because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the
brethren,” 1 Jn 3:16.
“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
essential lesson is taught in the fact that the enjoyment of their own inheritance
was preceded by that seven-year conflict with the enemy in Canaan.
The enjoyment of all that is ours in Christ will be in direct proportion as we
are successful in that spiritual struggle with the unseen forces of darkness
attempting to impede our progress, and keep us out of that very enjoyment, “For we
wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers,
against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in
high places,” Eph 6:12.
spiritual wrestling is carried on in the realm of the mind, for it is there that our
spiritual battles are lost or won. It is
for this reason that Paul writes, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the
mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto
God, which is your reasonable service (spiritual worship).
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing
of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect,
will of God,” Ro 12:1-2. And again it
is written, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in
the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no
reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant....” Php 2:5-7.
the unconverted man can achieve outward conformity to a high moral standard, but God
looks on the heart. The believer must
have more than mere outward conformity to good: he must have a renewed mind, for
apart from such renewal, outward morality is a mere sham.
The cause of so much failure, of lack of joy and peace in our lives, is that
there is not that inward conformity. The
enemy has been left there undisturbed, with the result that he governs our thinking,
and a man is what he thinks, as it is written, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so
is he,” Pr 23:7.
the tent is the Biblical symbol of pilgrimage, their being sent to their tents serves
to remind us that as the patriarchs were “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,”
Heb 11:13, so are we, see 1 Pe 2:11. And
the reminder that their possession had been given by Moses, type of Christ dying for
us, serves to remind us that our eternal inheritance has been secured for us by the
Lord’s death; while the reference to “the other side Jordan” reminds us that
that eternal inheritance is to be enjoyed here and now, for as noted already, the
eastern side of Jordan portrays our practical living here on earth, whereas the
Canaan side represents that aspect of our lives which is lived on the spiritual
“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.”
imperative of obedience is set before us here, for God’s words to His people long
ago are no less His words to us today. Apart
from obedience there will be no blessing, because for God to bless disobedience would
be to condone sin, and impugn His own character.
word “diligent” is literally vehement, i.e., fervent or intense.
There is to be nothing half-hearted about our obedience.
It to be with every fiber or our being.
commandment” is virtually the same as “the law” except that it focuses more on
the Law Giver, while in “the law” emphasis is more on the content of what God has
commanded. If we lose sight of the Law
Giver, then adherence to the law itself becomes a mere ritual. This is emphasized in the words “to love the Lord your
God.” Love for Him must be the motive
for our obedience, as the Lord Himself declared, “If ye love me, keep my
commandments,” Jo 14:15. See also 1 Jo
2:3,4; 3:22, etc.
God spoke through Aaron, and when He did the emphasis was upon His speaking in grace;
whereas His speaking through Moses tended to emphasize pure law.
When He spoke through both, as sometimes He did, there is the combination of
grace and law. Here it is emphasized
that it was Moses who charged them, reminding us again that obedience will be
rewarded, and disobedience punished at the judgment seat of Christ, the punishment
taking the form of loss of reward. An
inflexible standard will measure the worth of our service.
to walk in all his ways” would teach us that we are not permitted discretion as to
areas of obedience. All that God
commands is to be done.
cleave unto him” conveys the thought of clinging or adhering, of being joined
together, and reminds us that in ourselves we have no ability to yield obedience, or
to do anything; but as He assured Paul, so does He also assure us, “”My grace is
sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” 2 Co 12:9.
to serve him” tells us that this is the purpose for which He has left us here on
earth; and he who professes faith in Christ, but displays no willingness to serve,
leaves open to question the reality of his profession.
And the disobedience of such a man is compounded by virtue of the fact that
every believer has been given at least one spiritual gift which equips him for
service, so that to refuse to serve is not only to disobey, but also to waste gift.
Such a man, in fact, bears a dangerous likeness to the slothful servant
mentioned in Mt 25:24-30, who hid in the earth the one talent his master had
committed to his care; and there is surely solemn warning for all of us in his
lord’s description of him, “Thou wicked and slothful servant,” as there is also
in his sentence, “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall
be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Refusal
to render God service impugns the reality of the profession.
with all your heart.” The heart
here is related, not only to the affections, but also to the intellect and the will. In other words, as noted already, our service is to be impelled by
love, characterized by singleness of purpose, the mind and will being devoted
exclusively to the Lord’s business.
with all your soul,” on the other hand, is related to our enablement, for the word
means, not only one who breathes, but is related also to one who has been breathed
upon. Adam didn’t possess life
until “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living
soul,” Ge 2:7. Significantly, the
risen Lord bequeathed peace to the disciples, and said, “As my Father hath sent me,
even so send I you. And when he had said
this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” Jn
20:21-22. They were commissioned and
breathed the breath of spiritual life into us the moment we trusted in the Lord Jesus
Christ, and at that same instant we also received the Holy Spirit, the One apart from
Whom we can do nothing, so that we too have been commissioned and equipped - the
Lord’s commission being “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every
creature,” Mk 16:15, His enablement being the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
“So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their
discussed already, Moses represents Christ dying for us; and Joshua, Christ living
for us. Joshua’s blessing the two and
a half tribes therefore, becomes the figure of the blessing bestowed upon us by our
risen Lord. Their being sent away to
their inheritance on the eastern side of Jordan is the symbolic foreshadowing of our
own position, for as also noted, that inheritance represents what is ours as redeemed
men still here on earth in our mortal bodies. That
eastern inheritance represents what we can enjoy here in the midst of, but also
independent of, earthly circumstances. It
enables us to rise above those circumstances, and to walk in the assurance that no
matter how adverse they may seem “All things work together for good to them that
love God,” Ro 8:28. The inheritance on
the western side of the river, on the other hand, seems to represent, not as much
what has to do with earthly circumstances, as simply the enjoyment of all that is set
before us in Scripture, and to be enjoyed in our spirits.
the tent is the Biblical symbol of the pilgrim life, their going “unto their
tents” becomes the admonition to us that we too are to walk as strangers and
pilgrims who are passing through this world on our way home to heaven.
“Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given possession in
Bashan: 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,”
noted already, Moses represents Christ dying to secure an inheritance for us, while
Joshua represents Him as living and leading us into the enjoyment of that
inheritance. Its being emphasized
therefore that these Manassites east of Jordan had been given their portion by Moses,
is to remind us that here on earth we are to live as those who are dead to the world,
since by God’s reckoning we have been crucified with Christ.
But just as the eastern, the wilderness side of Jordan represents the world,
so does the western side represent the realm of the spirit, Israel’s portion there
portraying all that we can enjoy in our spirits even while we are here on earth in
these mortal bodies. Associated with our
earthly state is death; but with that which is spiritual, life.
having his inheritance on both sides of Jordan reminds us of the dual character of
what we have in Christ. There is that
which can be enjoyed even amid all the circumstances that make up our lives here on
earth where death reigns, but there is also that which transcends earthly
circumstances, and can be enjoyed in spirit.
should we forget the significance of the meaning of Manasseh’s name forgetting.
God would teach us the folly of looking back, of remembering either past
victories, or defeats. Dwelling on the
one may beget false confidence in ourselves, while occupation with the other is very
likely to bring discouragement that will hold us back in the heavenly race.
We are to live as did Paul who wrote, “This one thing I do, forgetting
those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are
before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ
Jesus,” Php 3:13.
means the shame of them; the fertile; the one in sleep, and as discussed
already, represents the world of men oblivious of God, and indulgent of their lusts.
It is a world of shame, of fertility in evil, and of spiritual sleep. It is a particularly apt figure of the world in which the believer
must live until his earthly course is finished.
reminder that the west is the direction that speaks of approach to God, is
supplied in the fact that the portion given the other half of Manasseh by Joshua in
Canaan was westward. The portion given
by Moses east of Jordan speaks of that exercise of our faith that enables us to cope
with every day living here on earth; but that given by Joshua west of the river
speaks of that exercise of our faith that enables us to enjoy all that we have in
Christ. Enjoyment, rather than mere
endurance, makes for a closer walk with God.
being said that Joshua blessed them and “sent them away also unto their tents,”
continues to remind us that in every circumstance of life, we are to walk as tent
dwellers, that is, as strangers and pilgrims passing through this world on our way
home to heaven.
“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.”
spiritual lesson of this verse is easily interpreted.
Their literal riches are but the figure of our spiritual riches spoken of by
Paul when he exulted, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who
hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” Eph
1:3. The repeated mention of the tent
reminds us that enjoyment of our spiritual riches isn’t something deferred until we
get to heaven: it is available to us here and now, but not apart from a pilgrim
cattle furnished the sacrifices with which they worshipped God, the reference to “very
much cattle” declares the truth that our worship, that is, our giving to God, ought
to be in proportion to His giving to us. And
how much He has given! First, He has
given His only Son to die in our guilty place, so that we might receive His gift of
eternal life; but that was only the beginning of His giving, as Paul has written
again, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall
he not with him also freely give us all things?” Ro 8:32.
He has not only saved us from hell, and fitted us for heaven, through the
death of the Lord Jesus Christ, but He has in addition made us heirs and joint heirs
with Him, Ro 8:17.
the cattle given Israel were the source of the sacrifices that expressed their
worship, so should His giving to us be the impetus for our worship.
Sadly, the paucity of our worship declares all too loudly the ingratitude of
our hearts. There are many believers,
who on the most frivolous pretext, absent themselves from the Lord’s table, while
multitudes of others attend merely as a matter of form, but haven’t even the
spiritual equivalent of the poor man’s turtledove to offer.
In all their busy week there is no time to prepare an offering for the One Who
has given His only Son to redeem their souls.
read in Malachi of God’s indignation against an Israel, who having been given so
much, dared to offer Him only the blind, the lame, and the sick. How much greater must His displeasure be against a Church which
has been more richly blessed, and that yet dares not only to offer the equivalent of
Israel’s sick and maimed animals, and that often refuses, not only to bring Him any
offering, but that also often refuses even to appear before Him, as He has commanded,
on the first day of each week.
is the Biblical emblem of redemption, so that their being commanded to return to
their tents also with silver, translates into the command to us to keep ever before
our eyes the reason for our pilgrim walk: we are a redeemed people, having been
redeemed not “with corruptible things as silver and gold... but with the precious
blood of Christ,” 1 Pe 1:18-19.
and with gold,” the emblem of Divine glory. The
glory awaiting us ought to luster our lives here on earth, so that they will be lived
for God’s glory.
and with brass,” the Biblical emblem of judgment.
We are to judge all things according to the written Word, that judgment
beginning with the analysis of our own lives, and in remembrance of what is written,
“For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be
condemned with the world,” 1 Co 11:31-32.
and with iron,” one of the Scriptural symbols of strength. As they were to take iron with them as they returned to their
tents, so are we to have with us throughout our pilgrim walk, the spiritual
equivalent: strength. That strength is
God’s, and is available in all its might, in proportion as we renounce confidence
in our own, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in
weakness,” 2 Co 12:9, an assurance that caused Paul to exclaim, “... when I am
weak, then am I strong,” verse 10.
and with very much raiment,” the Biblical symbol of righteousness. The very much emphasizes the need of holiness, and reminds
us of the Lord’s command, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy
in all manner of conversation (living); because it is written, Be holy, for I am
holy,” 1 Pe 1:15-16. Spiritual power
is in proportion to the measure of holiness in our daily living.
the command to divide the spoil with their brethren, is also easily translated.
We too are to share with the household of faith all the spiritual riches that
are ours in Christ.
“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.”
already noted, these two and a half tribes who had their possession east of Jordan,
represent us as believers here in the world, responsible to live as those who are
dead to the world, yet even in the midst of earthly circumstances, enjoying all that
is ours as men in Christ, the knowledge that we are His, enabling us to live above
the circumstances that overcome others.
the spiritual lessons connected with the meanings of their names, see comments on
being said that they departed “out of Shiloh” implies their having been in
Shiloh; but inasmuch as Shiloh peace-bringer: bringer of prosperity, is itself
a symbol of Christ, the lesson couldn’t be clearer. Only those who are in Him can return to the world, not to live as
formerly, but to be His witnesses; as salt to retard moral corruption; as light to
dispel spiritual darkness; as stars to guide men to the Savior.
being “in the land of Canaan a trafficker,” reminds us that it is here on
earth, where the evil prince of this world trafficks in the souls of men, that the
Lord Jesus Christ is available as the “Shiloh” into which sinners can enter to
receive pardon and eternal life.
going to Gilead heap of witness: rolling for ever, points to another aspect of
the believer’s life here on earth. This
world, where the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, is the “heap of witness” where
God’s love for guilty sinners was displayed 2000 years ago at Calvary.
That witness will never cease. As
long as God exists (and He is eternal), the remembrance of Calvary will Gilead-like,
be “rolling for ever.”
assurance that their possession in Gilead had been given them “according to the
word of the Lord by the hand of Moses,” reminds us that our inheritance has also
been given us according to God’s unchangeable Word, and by the hand of the true
“Moses,” the Lord Jesus Christ. Its
having been given “by the hand of Moses” (the representative of the law), reminds
us that all that is ours in Christ is on a basis of perfect justice.
God hasn’t simply turned a blind eye to sin.
His broken law required the life of the transgressor, and the Lord Jesus
Christ gave that life at Calvary.
“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.”
some insist that the altar was built on the eastern, i.e., the wilderness side of
Jordan, the evidence seems to point to its having been erected on the western or
Canaan side; and as the sequel makes clear, their intentions were good, but the fact
remains that it was an act of self-will. It
is not recorded that God had given any command for the erection of any altar there.
Shiloh was the place where He had chosen to place His name, and where His
people were to assemble before him three times each year, Ex 23:17
is no record of any evil directly attributable to that altar, but the very fact of
their having built it without command from God, made them guilty of the same
presumption as brought death to Nadab and Abihu, when they, also without command from
God, took fire other than that from the brazen altar, for the purpose of burning
incense, and were immediately slain by fire from God, the very element of their
disobedience becoming the agent of their own destruction, Le 10:1-2.
someone may object, Why is there no record of Divine disapproval? The answer is clear. Having
given dramatic evidence of His displeasure against the sin of presumption, by slaying
Nadab and Abihu, God would not repeat the lesson, but would leave for the day of
judgment His recompense of such disobedience. The
same principle is found in the NT. When
Ananias and Sapphira, two priests of the Church age, presumed to lie to the Holy
Spirit, God struck them dead, but didn’t repeat that dramatic punishment when other
professed believers sinned. As with the
two sons of Aaron, having declared His will once, He would leave for the judgment
seat of Christ, His recompense of future infractions, it being clear that some would
transgress even if the same dramatic warning was repeated.
building of that “great altar to see to” is nothing less than the symbolic
foreshadowing of the many sins of presumption of which, not only Israel, but the
Church, would be guilty. There was never
a time when the sin of presumption was more rampant than today. Everywhere the silence of God is construed as permission for every
imaginable activity, the reasoning of ignorance being that if it isn’t specifically
forbidden, then it is permitted. Nothing
could be further from the truth. What is desperately needed today is that reverential fear of God
that will refrain from every scheme, every activity, for which there is not a clear
“Thus saith the Lord.” A survey of
the professing church, however, reveals that the very opposite prevails.
Libertinism, governed by the principle that what isn’t specifically
forbidden, may be done, has all but banished Scriptural order in favor of
“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
“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
still lived, and the indifference to evil that marked the later generations of
Israel, hadn’t yet set in. There
remained in the hearts of many a zeal for God. Those
days are figurative of the early Apostolic age, when there burned also in the hearts
of many a zeal for the things of God.
just experienced the rigors of a seven-year conflict with the nations of Canaan, they
must have been weary of war, and might well have been pardoned for ignoring what had
every appearance of requiring them now to take up the sword again; but such was their
care for God’s honor, and the welfare of the nation as a whole, that they were
ready to engage in that warfare no matter what it might cost them in the way of
personal toil and sorrow. Such a spirit
is much needed, but is conspicuously absent in the midst of God’s people today.
“And the children of Israel sent unto the children of Reuben, and the
children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, Phinehas
the son of Eleazar the priest,”
man chosen to lead the delegation was well qualified for the task. Not only did he, as son of Eleazar, represent the priesthood, but
he was a man whose zeal for God’s honor had ended the plague that had consumed
24,000 sinning Israelites, Nu 25, and earned him God’s commendation, and the
appointment of him and his descendants to an everlasting priesthood, Nu 25:12-13.
Nor is it without significance that his name means mouth of pity, for
this speaks of the tender heart without which no man can hope to shepherd God’s
sheep. His being the son of Eleazar God
is helper, adds the further thought of that dependence upon God apart from which
no work should ever be undertaken.
will have difficulty in recognizing Phinehas not only as a type of the ideal elder
(shepherd), but also as a type of the Lord Jesus Christ the chief Shepherd.
“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.”
as ten is the number of God in government, the truth being set before us in
these ten princes who accompanied Phinehas, is that they were the representatives of
God, and responsible, therefore, for the maintenance of Divine order amongst His
people. As for the question relative to
the identity of the two tribes not represented in the deputation, the explanation is
that they were obviously Reuben and Gad, two of the tribes involved in the erection
of the controversial altar; and though Manasseh was also involved, it was only the
half tribe east of Jordan, so that the delegation included a Manassite prince from
the half tribe west of the river.
obvious lesson in all of this is that God’s people, whether His earthly people
Israel, or His heavenly people the Church, are under His government, and He has
deigned to use human instruments for the administration of that government, the ten
princes under Phinehas being but the OT types of the elders (shepherds) of the
churches under the true Phinehas, the chief Shepherd, 1 Pe 5:4, the Lord Jesus
“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,
have noted already that the two and a half tribes east of Jordan represent us as
those, who though God’s people, must nevertheless live our lives here in the midst
of earthly things; while those west of the river represent us in the context of
spiritual rather than physical experience; and it is scarcely necessary to say that
we are beset by enemies in both realms. The
coming of the delegation into Gilead therefore east of the river, would remind us
that it is in the context of our every-day living that our failures ultimately
manifest themselves, so that it is in that same sphere that the elders are frequently
required to minister.
the case of the two and a half tribes, it was fear of their being rejected by their
brethren at some future time that had impelled them to build the controversial altar,
but that fear was born of their forgetting God’s provision to guard against such a
possibility. All the tribes were
to assemble three times each year at the place where God had placed His name, Ex
23:17. Simple obedience to that command
would have rendered impossible the breach they feared; and the principle still
applies. Simple obedience is the
safeguard against every ill.
forgetting God’s command, the two and a half tribes would do what man is always too
ready to do: invent a human expedient, and with the same results as must always
attend such inventions - angering God and generating strife amongst His people.
Nothing should ever be done without a clear “Thus saith the Lord.”
The deaths of Nadab and Abihu stand for all time as the solemn warning against
acting without having been commanded by God, Le 10:1-2.
Note that “which he commanded them not,” is literally “without having
been commanded to do so”.
same evil is rampant in the professing church today.
God’s silence is wrongly construed as permission, and the resulting
activity, piously claimed to be the right of “Christian liberty,” is nothing but
the rebellion of the libertine.
“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
have drawn attention to the fact that the word trespass is the same as that
used in 7:1 relative to the sin of Aachan, the obvious lesson being that doing what
God has not commanded is just as much sin as is doing what He has forbidden.
Nor should we fail to note, that in spite of their good intentions concerning
the new altar, their building it was described as rebellion.
No matter how seeming good the activity, what is done without a command from
God is sin!
“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,”
reference is to the sin of Israel in connection with their having intermarried with
the Moabites and Midianites, and having worshipped
Baal-peor lord of the opening, cf. Nu 25.
“too little for us” might be paraphrased, “Is that not lesson enough for us?”
and the “from which we are not cleansed until this day,” is literally “from the
effects of which we are not even yet recovered.”
Well might they ask, for 24,000 had died of the plague for that disobedience!
too might well ask, “Are not these evils that befell Israel, sufficient warning
against disobedience on our part?”
“But that ye must turn away this day from following the Lord? and it will
be, seeing ye rebel today against the Lord, that tomorrow he will be wroth with the
whole congregation of Israel.”
noted already, the presumption that construes the silence of God as permission to
act, is no less wrong than was the sin of Achan in deliberately doing what God had
forbidden. That sin affected all Israel.
They fled before the men of Ai, and lost thirty-six of their own number,
lesson couldn’t be clearer. What we do
as individuals, affects the whole assembly.
“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.”
and the ten princes generously offered to share their own inheritance with the two
and a half tribes, if they felt that their inheritance east of Jordan was perhaps
unsanctified because the Tabernacle, symbol of God’s presence, wasn’t on their
side of the river.
fact remains, however, that it was God Who had given the two and a half tribes their
portion east of the river, just as He had given the others theirs on the west; and it
was He Who had marked out the boundaries of each tribe’s inheritance on both sides
of Jordan. The generosity of the offer
therefore should not blind us to the fact that it was not what God had ordained.
The ten tribes had no more authority to make such an offer than had the two
and a half tribes to build the controversial altar in the first instance.
altar shouldn’t have been built, and instead of devising an expedient that would
have eliminated the imagined need of it, the delegation should simply have told the
two and a half tribes to dismantle it, reminding them at the same time of the Divine
safeguard against the feared separation which had impelled them to build it, i.e.,
assemble three times a year at the Tabernacle with their brethren.
often today we also invent kindly expedients to spare the feelings of erring
brethren, and in doing so, minimize sin, dishonor God, and encourage more error.
God never resorts to such subterfuge, nor should we.
Much evil has crept into the assemblies by this very means.
Brethren, knowing that something was wrong, but afraid of offending others,
have remained silent when they should have declared the thing to be wrong.
Were we half as fearful about offending God as we are about offending mere
men, the Church would be in a far happier state.
Those who would preserve peace by silence, which is simply compromise, would
be well advised to consider Paul’s statement in Ga 2:11, “But when Peter was come
to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.”
Human feelings are not to be put before God’s honor.
statement “nor rebel against us” suggests that the ten tribes had jurisdiction
over the other two and a half, yet nowhere do we read of their having been given any
such authority. But we discover in this
the age-old reasoning that the majority is right.
The tribes, however, were autonomous, God Himself being their only Ruler,
obedience to His Word being that which preserved both their tribal autonomy and their
national unity. We are to be governed,
not by the opinion of the majority, but by God’s Word alone.
In Scripture, as in the world and in the professing church, the majority is
very frequently wrong.
“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
this has already been discussed in our study of chapter 7, there is no need to repeat
that discussion here.
“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,
“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
“That we have built us an altar to turn from following the Lord, or if to
offer thereon burnt offering or meat meal offering, or if to offer peace offerings
thereon, let the Lord himself require it;”
can be no question as to their sincerity, but sadly, many another has also been just
as sincerely wrong. Without a command
from God, that altar should not have been built; nor should anything ever be done
without a clear “Thus saith the Lord,” either in direct Scriptural statement or
clear Scriptural principle.
erect an altar upon which no offering would ever be placed, was to pervert its
character, and prostitute it to an inferior use, contrary to God’s intention.
Nor would that incongruity have long escaped the notice of the two and a half
tribes. It was an open enticement to
them to eventually present their offerings at a place of their own choosing, for
there has never yet been an unauthorized altar that didn’t inevitably lead its
builder away from God.
“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?”
noted already, God Himself had provided for just such a contingency. All the tribes were to present themselves three times a year at
the place where He had placed His name, and the obedience of the two and a half
tribes was all that was needed to preserve perpetually their part with their brethren
from the other tribes. Their
well-meaning, but misguided alternative, on the other hand, so far from preserving
tribal unity, had all the potential for destroying it, for it was inevitable that
sooner or later someone would be led to plead the convenience of the new altar: it
would save the time and trouble of going up to Shiloh to worship with their brethren.
it not that so many since then have been equally blind to the evil potential of some
equally well-meant scheme, it would be difficult to understand how the two and a half
tribes could have been so blind as not to see the evil potential of that altar.
That the delegation led by Phinehas was induced to concur, simply confirms
that even godly men may be swayed by plausible, but unscriptural arguments. It is ominously significant that there is no record of their
having sought counsel from God in regard to the whole matter.
Unless sanctified by the Holy Spirit, mere natural intelligence is a very
untrustworthy guide relative to spiritual things.
“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.”
very fact that it was the Lord Who had made Jordan a boundary, ought to have assured
them that they could leave in His hand the preservation of tribal unity.
They were so occupied with an imagined possibility, however, and so
concerned about circumventing it, that they failed to see that the expedient to which
they had resorted was itself the very thing that would bring about the evil they
sought to prevent.
is it with every scheme, no matter how well meant, that isn’t commanded by God.
“Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt
offering, nor for sacrifice:”
have noted in our study of verse 23, that to erect an altar upon which no offering
would ever be placed, was to pervert its use and change its character.
Every scheme not authorized by God’s Word, no matter how good the intention
of its promoter, will eventually pervert Scriptural order, and corrupt God’s
“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.”
obedience to God’s Word was all the safeguard needed against the imagined harm.
They had but to assemble three times a year with their brethren west of
Jordan, to worship with them in the place where God had chosen to place His name, and
in this we learn a salutary lesson. The
spirit of obedience is the spirit of worship, 1 Sa 15:22, and where there is
obedience we can count on God to preserve us from every ill.
Where there is disobedience, the best expedients devised by men cannot secure
blessing, or deliver us from Divine chastisement.
The two and a half tribes had no more need of that great altar, than have
believers today of the countless grandiose schemes being promoted to recover the
blessing forfeited by disobedience. It isn’t pretentious schemes, but penitent obedience that we
it not that the same lack of perception abounds everywhere today, it would be
difficult to believe that they could have been so blind as not to see their folly.
If unity wasn’t preserved by their going up to worship with their brethren
three times a year, just what contribution did they imagine their great altar would
make to the preservation of tribal harmony?
“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.”
their assembling thrice yearly with their brethren at the approved altar set up where
God had placed His name, didn’t remind the other tribes of the bond that linked
them with the two and a half tribes, just how did they think their false altar was
going to accomplish that purpose?
it possible that there was an ulterior motive behind the erection of that great, but
unauthorized altar? Is it possible that
in their hearts they didn’t intend making that thrice annual inconvenient journey
to Shiloh, and their great altar was meant to be a testimony to their good
intentions? Good intentions are no
substitute for deeds. Someone has
commented very aptly that the way to hell is paved with good intentions.
it was indeed in reality merely a testimony to good intentions, then may we not see
in it a foreshadowing of many such spiritual equivalent altars erected today in
Christendom by those who never seem to get beyond good intentions.
The outward facade of much busy activity is simply the “altar” that
distracts the eye of the beholder from the true spiritual state.
Are we, for example, consistent in our attendance at the weekly prayer
meeting, but very inconsistent in our own personal prayer life?
Are we equally consistent in attending the weekly Bible study, but negligent
when it comes to personal study? Do we
talk a lot about evangelizing, but do little or none?
Is our ministry to the sick, the aged, the needy, etc., also confined mostly
to talk? A little honest
self-examination will reveal that the two and a half tribes weren’t alone in having
built an unauthorized altar which would focus attention on good intentions, but
distract the eye from their actual disobedience.
“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.”
their pious protest didn’t change the fact that that great altar ought not to have
been built; nor do all the equally pious claims being made today by professing
Christendom, justify what is all too clearly departure from Scriptural order.
Much that is found in the professing church today has no more Scriptural
warrant than did that altar.
“And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation and heads
of the thousands of Israel which were with him, heard the words that the children of
Reuben and the children of Gad and the children of Manasseh spake, it pleased
far from indicating that it was right for the two and a half tribes to have built
that altar, the pleasure of Phinehas and the princes in response to the assurance,
simply reminds us that even godly men may be swayed by plausible arguments, and led
to endorse schemes and activities which lack Scriptural warrant.
The fact remains that that altar ought not to have been built, nor should it
have been allowed to remain.
“And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said unto the children of
Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the children of Manasseh, This day we
perceive that the Lord is among us, because ye have not committed this trespass
against the Lord: now ye have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the
that the possible trespass hadn’t occurred, may perhaps have induced the too ready
acceptance of the explanation, the wrong reasoning being that since it hadn’t
occurred, it wouldn’t occur. But that
was very flawed deduction. That altar
should have been dismantled, for as long as it remained there it constituted an
inducement to commit the very trespass they feared. No matter how plausible the arguments of those who promote
unscriptural schemes, such programs should not be allowed to remain operative.
“And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the princes, returned from
the children of Reuben, and from the children of Gad, out of the land of Gilead, unto
the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought them word again.”
“And the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel
blessed God, and did not intend to go up against them in battle to destroy the land
wherein the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.”
by their leaders that no sin had been committed by their brethren east of the Jordan,
and that they themselves would not therefore suffer God’s displeasure, the other
tribes were induced to consider the matter closed, relieved, no doubt, that they were
delivered from the necessity of going to war with the two and a half tribes who had
raised their fears originally. Were they perhaps the more anxious to be delivered from that
necessity, having just completed seven years of war with the Canaanites?
There would have been more reason for their complacency had the controversial
altar been dismantled, but it wasn’t.
at any price is a principle not found in the Word of God, nor should it have any
place in the midst of God’s people. The
application of that principle, however, has paved the way for the introduction of
many a seemingly innocent, but unscriptural scheme.
“And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed a
witness: for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God.”
only Divinely authorized witness to that fact was the altar set up at God’s command
in the place where He had placed His name. That
great altar erected by the two and a half tribes was at best superfluous, and at
worst a potential snare. So is
everything in the midst of God’s people that has been introduced without a clear
“Thus saith the Lord.”
comments very aptly in connection with that controversial altar, “It is not by
ability to keep in view the whole horizon of circumstance that we shall be
effectually guarded from the approach of evil: it is by that spirit which is
manifested in those who are the true circumcision - ‘no confidence in the flesh,’