Josh 22.1-9 begins to deal with the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh who came over from the east side of the Jordan to assist the other tribes in their battles against the Canaanites. Now that the war with the Canaanites has ended, Joshua commends them for their obedience to Moses, to himself and to God. He dismisses them to go back to their inheritance across the Jordan and tells them to follow the Lord and to worship him only.
Remember, these tribes on the east side of the Jordan symbolize the believer living in the world. They crossed the Jordan and back (two times) and they live in the world, but not of the world. When Joshua calls them to come before him it is a picture of the Judgment Seat of Messiah. It will go well with us when we appear before Yeshua to be commended like this at the end of our warfare. They kept all that Moses had directed them (Torah) and gave selfless service. Now they can enjoy their rest because they were true to Joshua and defeated their enemies. They returned to their tents, symbolic of a pilgrim in this world. They were encouraged to be fervent in their Torah observance and to walk in everything that God told them to do. Their purpose was to serve the Lord with all their heart (desires).
They were blessed by Joshua (we will be blessed by Yeshua) and they went to their tents (symbolizing their lives as pilgrims in this life). The tribe of Manasseh served on both sides of the river, which symbolizes our “dual” existence on both sides of the “river.” So, one half of the tribe was on the east side of the Jordan, and the other half was on the west side (approaching God). The position eastward is by faith in everyday affairs of life, westward is our faith to enjoy the blessings we have in Messiah. Again, the idea of returning to their tents was to remind them that they were just “passing through” this life. They returned with their livestock (speaking of worship), the silver (redemption), gold (deity of God), bronze (judgment), iron (strength in God-2 Cor 12.9) and with many clothes (speaks of righteousness). They were to divide the spoil with their brothers meaning we are to share our spiritual riches.
So the sons of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh returned home and departed from the sons of Israel at Shiloh (peace bringer) in Canaan (traffickers) and went to the land of Gilead (heap of witness) and they possessed their inheritance, according to the word of Yehovah through Moses. Spiritually, only those in the Messiah (the peace bringer) can return to the world and not live like they formally did. They were going to be among the traffickers in spiritual things but we are to remember the cross (Gilead)
Josh 22.10-34 gives an interesting story. It says that when they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan these tribes built an altar by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance. This was forbidden and it seemed like they were committing a similar offense that Nadab and Abihu did (Lev 10.1-20). So the other tribes gathered at Shiloh where the Mishkan and the true altar was. We know that God judged Nadab and Abihu and and he did not need to teach that lesson again. The recompense for that act was reserved for the Day of Judgment. It is the same concept in Acts 5 with Ananias and Sapphira.
When the sons of Israel heard about it they consulted the Lord to see if they should go to war. While Joshua lived, it seems they still had a zeal for God and his ways. They sent Pinchas (mouth of pity) the son of Eleazar (God is my helper) the high priest to them, along with ten (number of God’s government and order). Pinchas had already shown his zeal in Num 25.7). They came to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh and told them they have committed a sin (v 13-20). Didn’t they learn anything from the Baal-Peor and Achan incident? Reuben, Gad and Manasseh gave their answer in in Josh 22.21-29.
They believed in Yehovah and he knows the intentions of what they were doing. They were not turning away from the Lord or going to offer korbanot on this altar. They did it because in time the descendants of the other tribes in Canaan may say they were aliens and strangers from Israel and the Torah because they lived on the east side of the Jordan, a foreign land. They said the Jordan separated them so they could be perceived as different. So, they thought about it and discussed what they could do to convey to the others their solidarity, and to prevent apostasy. They decided to built the altar as a witness between them and the other tribes, not to moffer korbanot on it.
When Pinchas and the others heard their words it pleased them. They were not only relieved that they were not going into apostasy, but that they were taking these steps to preserve the common faith of Israel and the Torah. As a result, they returned back into Canaan and brought their words to the rest of the children of Israel, and decided not to go to war against them. The eastern tribes called the altar “Witness” (“Ed” in Hebrew) because it is a witness between these tribes that Yehovah is God.
In Deut 6.4 we have what is called the “Shema” (meaning to hear/obey). In Hebrew, the last letter of the word “Shema” is the letter “ayin” (eye, see, perceive) and it is enlarged. The last word of the Shema is “echad” and it has a “dalet” (door, path) as the last letter and it is also enlarged. If you put these two letters together it spells “ed” or “witness” in Hebrew. This teaches us that that the only true witness is the one that is divinely inspired and is consistent with his Torah.
Now, there is no question that they were sincere in building this altar but God did not tell them to do it. He already took care of the issue of apostasy and the common faith by telling all the people, no matter what side of the Jordan they were on, to come up to the Mishkan (and eventually the Temple) three times a year for the festivals of Unleavended Bread, Shavuot and Sukkot (Exo 23.14-17; Deut 16.16). Simple obedience to God’s word is all that is needed against any supposed apostasy. If their coming together for these festivals three times a year would not accomplish this, how would their false altar do it? Maybe they weren’t planning on coming three times a year and this altar was to show “good intentions?” But intentions will never replace deeds (Jam 2.26).
We will pick up in Josh 23 in Part 15.