Joshua 22:15-18: The Embassage to the Transjordanian Tribes, Part 2

Verse 15:[1] 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, saying…


Verse 16:[2] 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, (see Lev. 17:8, 9; Deut. 12:13, 14) that ye might rebel this day against the LORD?

[The people of the Lord] This carries emphasis. The people faithful to God, to the apostate people (Menochius). When they say this, they are able to seem to announce commands from heaven itself. And the Church is certainly to be heard when the cause of Religion is treated (Masius). That is to say, The religious children of Israel, who especially love the honor of the Lord, have ordered that these things be said by us (Vatablus).

The whole congregation of the Lord, who do and are resolved to cleave unto that God from whom you have revolted, and who speak this to you in the name of the Lord.

[What is that transgression?[3] (thus Munster)] Or, treachery (Tigurinus), or, prevarication (Pagnine, Vatablus, Junius and Tremellius). How great is (or, what is the meaning of) that prevarication? that is, How great do ye suppose that prevarication is? (Vatablus). The מָעַל they translate to act treacherously (Tigurinus), to prevaricate (Pagnine, Junius and Tremellius), to err (Masius), to commit deceit (the Chaldean in Masius), καταγινώσκειν, to think little of, or to despise, or to neglect and reject in contempt (Symmachus in Masius). The הַיּוֹם, this day,[4] they translate today (Montanus, Arabic, Junius and Tremellius), at this time (Vatablus). But that today signifies the obviousness of the matter, rather than the time; as often elsewhere. Unless one might prefer to think that in this place it pertains to the demonstration of the hastiness of the defection, since they next say that they are not yet cleansed from the shame of Peor[5] (Masius).

What trespass is this? how heinous a crime is this! To turn away this day, that is, so soon after God hath obliged you by such wonderful favours, and when God is now conducting you home to reap the fruits of all your pains and hazards. That ye might rebel; with a design to revolt from and rebel against God, and against his express command of worshipping him at one only altar, Exodus 20:24; Leviticus 17:8, 9; Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 13.


Verse 17:[6] Is the iniquity (Num. 25:3, 4; Deut. 4:3) 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…

[Is it too little, etc.? הַמְעַט־לָ֙נוּ֙ אֶת־עֲוֹ֣ן פְּע֔וֹר] Is it too little for us (does it appear to be a small thing [Vatablus, similarly Tigurinus]), the iniquity of Peor? (Munster, Tigurinus) (or, with the iniquity of Peor? [Pagnine]). Is it (that is, ought it to appear) a small thing for us, the iniquity with Peor? that is to say, Should we not be content with that iniquity, if we do not include the other? or, more plainly, Does that sin appear small to us, etc.? (Vatablus). Was it too little to us to have admitted that sin? (Masius). [Others conjoin this with what follows in this manner:] Is it too little for us that we have not yet purified ourselves from the iniquity of Peor? (Junius and Tremellius). Hebrew: Is it too little for us from the iniquity of Peor, that we are not purified from it? A Trajection (Junius). Phineas makes use of this example with good reason, since he had been a great part of that (Masius).

[The blemish…remains, etc., אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־הִטַּהַ֙רְנוּ֙ מִמֶּ֔נּוּ] From which we are not yet purged (Vatablus, similarly the Septuagint, Montanus, Syriac); that we are not cleansed from it (Jonathan). Question: How is this true, seeing that Phineas appeased God, and atoned for the crime? The passage in Numbers 14:20, etc., I have pardoned…nevertheless, as I live, etc., is clearly a twin to this passage (Masius). Responses: 1. Some refer this to the disgrace of the sin (Masius). But this is very weak (Masius). 2. Others more rightly take it of guilt. God was placated to the extent that He was unwilling that more should die at that time in the mutual slaughter; but notwithstanding those impious remained in their guilt, as those that were in the future going to pay the penalty to Divine judgment (Masius, Bonfrerius). He had expiated the guilt of the sin to the extent that God does not go against the people as a whole, or individually against those that were accessories to it, to avenge this with destruction, but to chasten in His own time with certain punishments, as a most merciful father, who, although he pardons his son’s sins, nevertheless corrects his son in certain ways (Masius). 3. Others take this of the fault. Thus the Arabic: from the following of which [namely, sin] we have not yet been cleansed. [Junius and Tremellius also seem thus to have understood it, that we have not yet cleansed ourselves from it.] There were many that had not yet blotted out that fault by repentance, indeed, they were still desiring that fornication (Lapide); they were not yet warding off that sin from the soul (Bonfrerius).

The iniquity of Peor, that is, of our worshipping of Baal-peor, Numbers 25:3, 5. From which we are not cleansed until this day; for though God had pardoned it, as to the national punishment of it, Numbers 25:11, yet they were not yet thoroughly purged from it; partly because the shame and blot of that filthy and odious practice was not yet wiped of; and partly because some of that corrupt leaven still remained among them, and though it smothered for a time, yet was ready to break forth upon all occasions. See Joshua 24:23. And God also took notice of these idolatrous inclinations in particular persons, and found out ways to punish them one time or other.


Verse 18:[7] But that ye must turn away this day from following the LORD? and it will be, seeing ye rebel to day against the LORD, that to morrow (Num. 16:22) he will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel.

[And ye have left] He speaks assertively, so that he might elicit a confession of sin (Bonfrerius).

[And tomorrow] That is, in the future, and quickly, or soon (Lyra, Lapide, Bonfrerius).

To-morrow, that is, suddenly, as that word is oft used, as Matthew 6:30; 1 Corinthians 15:32.

[Against all Israel] Both against you, as the authors of the sin, and against us, as those permitting it (Lapide).

He will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel; with you for doing so, and with us for suffering, or not punishing it.

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּבֹ֜אוּ אֶל־בְּנֵי־רְאוּבֵ֧ן וְאֶל־בְּנֵי־גָ֛ד וְאֶל־חֲצִ֥י שֵֽׁבֶט־מְנַשֶּׁ֖ה אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ הַגִּלְעָ֑ד וַיְדַבְּר֥וּ אִתָּ֖ם לֵאמֹֽר׃

[2] Hebrew: כֹּ֣ה אָמְר֞וּ כֹּ֣ל׀ עֲדַ֣ת יְהוָ֗ה מָֽה־הַמַּ֤עַל הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר מְעַלְתֶּם֙ בֵּאלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לָשׁ֣וּב הַיּ֔וֹם מֵאַחֲרֵ֖י יְהוָ֑ה בִּבְנֽוֹתְכֶ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִזְבֵּ֔חַ לִמְרָדְכֶ֥ם הַיּ֖וֹם בַּיהוָֽה׃

[3] Joshua 22:16a:  “Thus saith the whole congregation of the Lord, What trespass is this that ye have committed (מָֽה־הַמַּ֤עַל הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר מְעַלְתֶּם֙) against the God of Israel…”

[4] Joshua 22:16b:  “…to turn away this day (הַיּוֹם) from following the Lord, in that ye have builded you an altar, that ye might rebel this day (הַיּוֹם) against the Lord?”

[5] See Numbers 25.

[6] Hebrew: הַמְעַט־לָ֙נוּ֙ אֶת־עֲוֹ֣ן פְּע֔וֹר אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־הִטַּהַ֙רְנוּ֙ מִמֶּ֔נּוּ עַ֖ד הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וַיְהִ֥י הַנֶּ֖גֶף בַּעֲדַ֥ת יְהוָֽה׃

[7] Hebrew: וְאַתֶּם֙ תָּשֻׁ֣בוּ הַיּ֔וֹם מֵאַחֲרֵ֖י יְהוָ֑ה וְהָיָ֗ה אַתֶּ֞ם תִּמְרְד֤וּ הַיּוֹם֙ בַּֽיהוָ֔ה וּמָחָ֕ר אֶֽל־כָּל־עֲדַ֥ת יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל יִקְצֹֽף׃

2 thoughts on “Joshua 22:15-18: The Embassage to the Transjordanian Tribes, Part 2

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘The ambassadors’ management of this matter came fully up to the sense and spirit of the congregation concerning it, and bespeaks much both of zeal and prudence.

    (1.) The charge they draw up against their brethren is indeed very high, and admits no other excuse than that it was in their zeal for the honour of God, and was now intended to justify the resentments of the congregation at Shiloh and to awaken the supposed delinquents to clear themselves, otherwise they might have suspended their judgment, or mollified it at least, and not have taken it for granted, as they do here (Joshua 22:16), that the building of this altar was a trespass against the God of Israel, and a trespass no less heinous than the revolt of soldiers from their captain (you turn from following the Lord), and the rebellion of subjects against their sovereign: that you might rebel this day against the Lord. Hard words. It is well they were not able to make good their charge. Let not innocency think it strange to be thus misrepresented and accused. They laid to my charge things that I knew not.

    (2.) The aggravation of the crime charged upon their brethren is somewhat farfetched: Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us? Joshua 22:17. Probably that is mentioned because Phinehas, the first commissioner in this treaty, had signalized himself in that matter (Numbers 25:7), and because we may suppose they were now about the very place in which that iniquity was committed on the other side Jordan. It is good to recollect and improve those instances of the wrath of God, revealed from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, which have fallen out in our own time, and which we ourselves have been eyewitnesses of. He reminds them of the iniquity of Peor, [1.] As a very great sin, and very provoking to God. The building of this altar seemed but a small matter, but it might lead to an iniquity as bad as that of Peor, and therefore must be crushed in its first rise. Note, The remembrance of great sins committed formerly should engage us to stand upon our guard against the least occasions and beginnings of sin; for the way of sin is downhill. [2.] As a sin that the whole congregation had smarted for: “There was a plague in the congregation of the Lord, of which, in one day, there died no fewer than 24,000; was not that enough for ever to warn you against idolatry? What! will you bring upon yourselves another plague? Are you so mad upon an idolatrous altar that you will run yourselves thus upon the sword’s point of God’s judgments? Does not our camp still feel from that sin and the punishment of it? We are not cleansed from it unto this day; there are remaining sparks,” First, “Of the infection of that sin; some among us so inclined to idolatry that if you set up another altar they will soon take occasion from that, whether you intend it or no, to worship another God.” Secondly, “Of the wrath of God against us for that sin. We have reason to fear that, if we provoke God by another sin to visit, he will remember against us the iniquity of Peor, as he threatened to do that of the golden calf, Exodus 32:34. And dare you wake the sleeping lion of divine vengeance?” Note, It is a foolish and dangerous thing for people to think their former sins little, too little for them, as those do who add sin to sin, and so treasure up wrath against the day of wrath. Let therefore the time past suffice, 1 Peter 4:3.

    (3.) The reason they give for their concerning themselves so warmly in this matter is very sufficient. They were obliged to it, in their own necessary defence, by the law of self-preservation: “For, if you revolt from God today, who knows but tomorrow his judgments may break in upon the whole congregation (Joshua 22:18), as in the case of Achan? Joshua 22:20. He sinned, and we all smarted for it, by which we should receive instruction, and from what God did then infer what he may do, and fear what he will do, if we do not witness against your sin, who are so many, and punish it.” Note, The conservators of the public peace are obliged, in justice to the common safety, to use their power for the restraining and suppressing of vice and profaneness, lest, if it be connived at, the sin thereby become national, and bring God’s judgments upon the community. Nay, we are all concerned to reprove our neighbour when he does amiss, lest we bear sin for him, Leviticus 19:17.’

  2. George Swinnock, “Christian Man’s Calling”: ‘Be sure that which thou reprovest be a sin, and not a lawful, or indifferent thing. Some shew much heat, but little holiness, in keeping a great stir about nothing. The Israelites raised a great army to fight against their brethren, upon a supposition that they had built an altar for sacrifice, Joshua 22:16. Eli was mistaken in chiding Hannah for drunkenness, and thinking she was not sober, because she was almost overwhelmed with sorrow, 1 Samuel 2. It is dangerous to apply corroding medicines, upon supposition that the person hath a festered sore, or to cut a man for the stone who is not troubled with that distemper. It were better by much to be silent, than to cry out against that which we cannot by Scripture prove to be sin. He that reproves the deed, will do more hurt than good, if he be not able to convince the doer, Titus 1:9. To some it may be said, as Job to his friends, who accused him of hypocrisy because of his calamity, as if the stick could not be straight because it was brought to the fire, “How forcible are right words! but what doth your arguing reprove?” Job 6:25. Right words have great weight; naked truth will be too hard for armed error; but what power have mistaken or misapplied arguments? what doth such arguing reprove? Such arguings seldom reprove any but the arguer, and him they always reprove.’

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