Joshua 22:11, 12: The Children of Israel Prepare for War over the Altar

Verse 11:[1] And the children of Israel (Deut. 13:12, etc.; Judg. 20:12) 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 Israel.

[And when the children of Israel had heard] The law of the corporate body is unto all its parts, and the greater part maintains the law of the corporate body. See Deuteronomy 13:12, and Concering the Law of War and Peace 2:5:17 (Grotius).

[In the land of Canaan, upon the banks of Jordan, over against the children of Israel, אֶל־מוּל֙ אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֶל־גְּלִילוֹת֙ הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן אֶל־עֵ֖בֶר וגו״] Over against (or, in the view of [Osiander], or, upon the borders of [Septuagint]) the land of Canaan, over against the children of Israel (Tigurinus, Osiander, Bonfrerius). Others: on the side, or, toward the side, of the children of Israel (Jonathan, Munster), on the portion of the side of the children of Israel (Arabic). Others: at the passage, or, toward the passage, of the children of Israel (Septuagint, Montanus, Junius, Pagnine, English). Over against, that is, in such a way that this altar was in the midst of the Gileadites and the Canaanites, and joined the former with the latter, and associated them in the religion and law of sacrifice (Lapide). Question: Where was this altar? Responses: 1. On the farther bank of Jordan, or in Gilead (Jonathan in Bonfrerius). 2. Rather on the nearer bank, or in the land of Canaan (Lapide, Bonfrerius, Menochius, Drusius). The reason is that they were wanting to testify by this altar to their original right that they had in the land of Canaan, especially to sacrifice on th altar of the Temple, common with the other nine tribes (Lapide). Of which unique altar this was a symbol, that among their descendants it might testify that they worshipped, and are obliged to worship, the same God with them in the same sacred rites (Masius).

At the passage of the children of Israel: Where they passed over Jordan, either at their first entrance into Canaan, or afterwards, and usually.


Verse 12:[2] And when the children of Israel heard of it, (Judg. 20:1) the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them.

The children of Israel; not in their own persons, but by their elders, who used to transact all affairs of this kind in the name and stead of all the people.

[They gathered together, etc.] Just as zeal for the vindication of Religion is worthy of praise; so also it is worthy of great reprehension that with a rash judgment they altogether condemn that which they have known with insufficient investigation. But it is well that, with their thoughts first gathered, they take counsel concerning first becoming acquainted with the intention of their brethren, etc. Let us learn not rashly to be moved with suspiciouns concerning the words and deeds of our brethren. Judge not, etc., Matthew 7:1, 2. It is asked here whether under the new Law Religion might be vindicated with the sword. Response: What the old Law determined is evident from Deuteronomy 13. Moreover, no more by the Law of Christ than by the Law of Moses was the salvation of the honest obliged to be advanced through the impunity of the wicked, since there was one and the same end for both Laws, namely, love toward God and one’s neighbors. But by the Gospel of Christ are men liberated for freedom and impunity of wickedness? And what sin is greater than for one to defect from true Religion, and to go to lead others away? Now, I do not speak of those that in the study of piety turn a little from the Religion of the fathers, and follow, not so much diverse doctrines, as certain rites; but of those that overthrow the very foundations of Religion, and are not able to be moved from their wickedness by any arguments (Masius).

[So that they might fight against them] As against transgressors of the Law, because God had commanded that there be only one place, and on altar, of sacrifices for the people of Israel, Exodus 20:24; Leviticus 17:8, 9; Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 13 (Menochius).

To go up to war against them; as apostates from God, according to God’s command in that case, Deuteronomy 13:13, etc.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁמְע֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר הִנֵּ֣ה בָנ֣וּ בְנֵֽי־רְאוּבֵ֣ן וּבְנֵי־גָ֡ד וַחֲצִי֩ שֵׁ֙בֶט הַֽמְנַשֶּׁ֜ה אֶת־הַמִּזְבֵּ֗חַ אֶל־מוּל֙ אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֶל־גְּלִילוֹת֙ הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן אֶל־עֵ֖בֶר בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

[2] Hebrew: וַֽיִּשְׁמְע֖וּ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיִּקָּ֙הֲל֜וּ כָּל־עֲדַ֤ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ שִׁלֹ֔ה לַעֲל֥וֹת עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם לַצָּבָֽא׃

1 thought on “Joshua 22:11, 12: The Children of Israel Prepare for War over the Altar

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘The holy jealousy of the other tribes for the honour of God and his altar at Shiloh. Notice was immediately brought to the princes of Israel of the setting up of this altar, Joshua 22:11. And they, knowing how strict and severe that law was which required them to offer all their sacrifices in the place which God should choose, and not elsewhere (Deuteronomy 12:5-7), were soon apprehensive that the setting up of another altar was an affront to the choice which God had lately made of a place to put his name in, and had a direct tendency to the worship of some other God. Now,

    1. Their suspicion was very excusable, for it must be confessed the thing, prima facie—at first sight, looked ill, and seemed to imply a design to set up and maintain a competitor with the altar at Shiloh. It was no strained innuendo from the building of an altar to infer an intention to offer sacrifice upon it, and that might introduce idolatry and end in a total apostasy from the faith and worship of the God of Israel. So great a matter might this fire kindle. God is jealous for his own institutions, and therefore we should be so too, and afraid of every thing that looks like, or leads to, idolatry.

    2. Their zeal, upon this suspicion, was very commendable, Joshua 22:12. When they apprehended that these tribes, which by the river Jordan were separated from them, were separating themselves from God, they took it as the greatest injury that could be done to themselves, and showed a readiness, if it were necessary, to put their lives in their hands in defence of the altar of God, and to take up arms for the chastising and reducing of these rebels, and to prevent the spreading of the infection, if no gentler methods would serve, by cutting off from their body the gangrened member. They all gathered together, and Shiloh was the place of their rendezvous, because it was in defence of the divine charter lately granted to that place that they now appeared; their resolution was as became a kingdom of priests, who, being devoted to God and his service, did not acknowledge their brethren nor know their own children, Deuteronomy 33:9. They would immediately go up to war against them if it appeared they had revolted from God, and were in rebellion against him. Though they were bone of their bone, had been companions with them in tribulation in the wilderness, and serviceable to them in the wars of Canaan, yet, if they turn to serve other gods, they will treat them as enemies, not as sons of Israel, but as children of whoredoms, for so God had appointed, Deuteronomy 13:12, etc. They had but lately sheathed their swords, and retired from the perils and fatigues of war to the rest God had given them, and yet they are willing to begin a new war rather than be any way wanting in their duty to restrain, repress, and revenge, idolatry, and every step towards it—a brave resolution, and which shows them hearty for their religion, and, we hope, careful and diligent in the practice of it themselves. Corruptions in religion are best dealt with at first, before they get head and plead prescription.’

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