Joshua 22:10: The Altar of the Transjordanian Tribes

Verse 10:[1] 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.

[And when they had come unto the mounds of Jordan: that is, where Jordan is enclosed with heaps and mounds of sand, lest it should overflow: אֶל־גְּלִילוֹ[2]] Unto the confines, or limits, of Jordan (Pagnine, Montanus, Junius and Tremellius); unto Gilgal, which is beside Jordan (Syriac).

Built there: Or, built then,[3] as this particle is elsewhere used; and so learned interpreters understand it, Psalm 14:5;[4] 36:12;[5] Ecclesiastes 3:17;[6] Hosea 2:15.[7] And in the Latin tongue adverbs of place are sometimes put for adverbs of time: so I take it here. First, Because this best answers to the when in the beginning of the verse. Secondly, This seems to me to clear a great difficulty as to the place where the altar was built, which though according to our translation it seems, and is generally thought by interpreters to have been, in the land of Canaan; yet if things be more narrowly examined, it may be thought to have been on the other side Jordan in Gilead; and that both, first, from verse 11, where it is said to have been built over against, or in the sight of the land of Canaan, therefore not in it. And secondly, from the reason they gave of the building of this altar, for fear lest the Israelites within Jordan and in Canaan should say unto their children dwelling beyond Jordan, The Lord hath made Jordan a border between us and you, etc.; which jealousy would have been much confirmed by building the altar in Canaan, but would be satisfied and confuted by having on the other side of Jordan, and in their own land, a pattern of that altar at which God was served in the land of Canaan, as a witness that they owned the same God, and the same way of worship, with their brethren that lived in Canaan. But whether the Hebrew particle be rendered then or there, it is not to be taken too strictly: if then, the meaning is not, that they did this as soon as ever they came to the borders of Jordan, that are in the land of Canaan; but about that time when they came to them, that they thought and designed it, and as soon as ever they were got over Jordan, which was in a very little time, they effected and perfected it: if it be rendered there, it is not to be limited to the very same spot of ground mentioned before, as if it was built at that border of Jordan that was in the land of Canaan; but to be a little more largely understood; to be built at one or other of the borders of Jordan; or, in general, by Jordan; which is here purposely added, for the explication of the word there, and to prevent the restraint of it to the border of Jordan, within Canaan.

[An altar of exceedingly great size, מִזְבֵּ֥חַ גָּד֖וֹל לְמַרְאֶֽה׃] Enormous in appearance (Arabic, similarly the Syriac, Junius and Tremellius), that is, of remarkable size (Vatablus).

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־גְּלִיל֣וֹת הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן וַיִּבְנ֣וּ בְנֵי־רְאוּבֵ֣ן וּבְנֵי־גָ֡ד וַחֲצִ֣י שֵׁבֶט֩ הַֽמְנַשֶּׁ֙ה שָׁ֤ם מִזְבֵּ֙חַ֙ עַל־הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן מִזְבֵּ֥חַ גָּד֖וֹל לְמַרְאֶֽה׃

[2] גְּלִילָה, circuit or boundary, is related to the verbal root גָּלַל, to roll.

[3] Joshua 22:10b:  “…the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh built there (שָׁם) an altar by Jordan, a great altar to see to.”

[4] Psalm 14:4, 5:  “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord.  There (שָׁם, or, then) were they in great fear:  for God is in the generation of the righteous.”

[5] Psalm 36:11, 12:  “Let not the foot of pride come against me, and let not the hand of the wicked remove me.  There (שָׁם, or, then) are the workers of iniquity fallen:  they are cast down, and shall not be able to rise.”

[6] Ecclesiastes 3:17:  “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked:  for there is a time there (שָׁם, or, then) for every purpose and for every work.”

[7] Hosea 2:15:  “And I will give her her vineyards from thence (מִשָּׁם), and the valley of Achor for a door of hope:  and she shall sing there (שָּׁמָּה), as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.”

1 thought on “Joshua 22:10: The Altar of the Transjordanian Tribes

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘Here is…The pious care of the separated tribes to keep their hold of Canaan’s religion, even when they were leaving Canaan’s land, that they might not be as the sons of the stranger, utterly separated from God’s people, Isaiah 56:3. In order to this, they built a great altar on the borders of Jordan, to be a witness for them that they were Israelites, and as such partakers of the altar of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 10:18. When they came to Jordan (Joshua 22:10) they did not consult how to preserve the remembrance of their own exploits in the wars of Canaan, and the services they had done their brethren, by erecting a monument to the immortal honour of the two tribes and a half; but their relation to the church of God, together with their interest in the communion of saints, is that which they are solicitous to preserve and perpetuate the proofs and evidences of; and therefore without delay, when the thing was first proposed by some among them, who, though glad to think that they were going towards home, were sorry to think that they were going from the altar of God, immediately they erected this altar, which served as a bridge to keep up their fellowship with the other tribes in the things of God. Some think they built this altar on the Canaan-side of Jordan, in the lot of Benjamin, that, looking over the river, they might see the figure of the altar at Shiloh, when they could not conveniently go to it; but it is more likely that they built it on their own side of the water, for what had they to do to build on another man’s land without his consent? And it is said to be over-against the land of Canaan; nor would there have been any cause of suspecting it designed for sacrifice if they had not built it among themselves. This altar was very innocently and honestly designed, but it would have been well if, since it had in it an appearance of evil, and might be an occasion of offence to their brethren, they had consulted the oracle of God about it before they did it, or at least acquainted their brethren with their purpose, and given them the same explication of their altar before, to prevent their jealousy, which they did afterwards, to remove it. Their zeal was commendable, but it ought to have been guided with discretion. There was no need to hasten the building of an altar for the purpose for which they intended this, but they might have taken time to consider and take advice; yet, when their sincerity was made to appear, we do not find that they were blamed for their rashness. God does, and men should, overlook the weakness of an honest zeal.’

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