Joshua 22:34: The Naming of the Altar of Witness

Verse 34:[1] And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar (so Josh. 24:27) Ed (that is, a witness[2]): for it shall be a witness between us that the LORD is God.

[And they called…the altar that they had built, Our Testimony that the Lord is God (similarly Munster, Osiander),וַֽיִּקְרְא֛וּ בְּנֵי־רְאוּבֵ֥ן וּבְנֵי־גָ֖ד לַמִּזְבֵּ֑חַ כִּ֣י עֵ֥ד הוּא֙ בֵּֽינֹתֵ֔ינוּ כִּ֥י יְהוָ֖ה הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃] A great many maintain that עֵד is to be supplied, and thus they translate it; they called that altar (here they supply עֵד/Ed, that is, witness [manuscripts of Jonathan in Masius’ book and in Kimchi in Drusius’ work, likewise the Rabbi Salomon and Rabbi Isaiah in Masius, Arabic, Pagine, Tigurinus, English, Junius and Tremellius], or, altar of testimony [Syriac]). For it shall be a witness between us, etc. (English). They called it Ed, or witness, saying (or by saying [Pagnine]). Because it shall be a witness, or testimony, between us that the Lord is (supply, to us [Junius and Tremellius]) God (Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius). I approve the opinion of the Jews: but I suppose that it is also able to be said that the name of the altar is not expressed in the sacred words, but that it is only indicated that it was of the sort that by its explanation reminds that the altar is a monument to the Israelites that Jehovah ought to be worshipped by all as the true God (Masius). Others thus: They called the altar, Let it be a witness between us, etc. (Dutch). עֵד/ed here signifies witness, and the כִּי/for is superfluous in this place (Vatablus). I would prefer to translate it in this way, They applied writing, or an inscription, to the altar; for קָרָא, to call, signifies this. For the Hebrews called the Sacred Books קרא/Kara and מקרא/ Mikra, Divine writing, as it were, which ought to be read continually: And the Mohammedans call their code ALKORAN, that is, that writing (Malvenda). The name of the altar was this, Our Testimony that He is God; that is to say, We have erected this altar, so that we might testify that the true God of the Israelites is as much our God as of the nine tribes, etc. (Lapide, Bonfrerius). By this naming of the altar they wanted to take precautions for the future, as much as it was in them, lest anyone should think that this altar was erected to offer sacrifices on it, and be offended by it. As far as it was able to be done, care was to be taken lest one allow an unnecessary stumbling block (Osiander). Moreover, from these words, כִּ֥י יְהוָ֖ה הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃, that the Lord is God, it is manifest that in that formula of swearing expressed above the name אֱלֺהִים/Elohim was a designation for the true God, not for Angels or false gods, much less Princes. Now, the sedulous care of these to hand the ancestral Religion to their posterity is to be commended again: they impose such a name that exhibits by its explanation the sum of all Theology. For, he that recalls to mind that Jehovah is God, determines that He is worthy of worship for Himself as God, hearkens to Him, and yields to His word (Masius).

[1] Hebrew: וַֽיִּקְרְא֛וּ בְּנֵי־רְאוּבֵ֥ן וּבְנֵי־גָ֖ד לַמִּזְבֵּ֑חַ כִּ֣י עֵ֥ד הוּא֙ בֵּֽינֹתֵ֔ינוּ כִּ֥י יְהוָ֖ה הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃

[2] Hebrew: עֵד.

1 thought on “Joshua 22:34: The Naming of the Altar of Witness

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘The separate tribes were gratified, and, since they had a mind to preserve among them this pattern of the altar of God, though there was not likely to be that occasion for it which they fancied, yet Joshua and the princes let them have their humour, and did not give orders for the demolishing of it, though there was as much reason to fear that it might in process of time be an occasion of idolatry as there was to hope that ever it might be a preservation from idolatry. Thus did the strong bear the infirmities of the weak. Only care was taken that they having explained the meaning of their altar, that it was intended for no more than a testimony of their communion with the altar at Shiloh, this explanation should be recorded, which was done according to the usage of those times by giving a name to it signifying so much (Joshua 22:34); they called it Ed, a witness to that, and no more, a witness of the relation they stood in to God and Israel, and of their concurrence with the rest of the tribes in the same common faith, that Jehovah he is God, he and no other. It was a witness to posterity of their care to transmit their religion pure and entire to them, and would be a witness against them if ever they should forsake God and turn from following after him.’

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