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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 7: Joshua, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at


Joshua 22:1-9

1. Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh,

1. Tunc accersivit Josue Rubenitas et Gaditas ac dimidiam tribum Manasse,

2. And said unto them, You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you:

2. Dixitque ad eos, Vos custodistis omnia quae praecepit vobis Moses servus Jehovae, et obedistis voci meae in cunctis quae praecepi vobis.

3. You have not left your brethren these many days unto this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God.

3. Non deseruistis fratres vestros jam diebus multis usque ad diem hanc, sed custodistis custodiam praecepti Jehovae Dei vestri.

4. And now the LORD your God has given rest unto your brethren, as he promised them: therefore now return you, and get you unto your tents, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side Jordan.

4. Nunc autem requiem dedit Jehova Deus vester fratribus vestris, quemadmodum dixerat eis: nunc igitur revertimini, et proficiscimini ad tabernacula vestra, ad terram possessionis vestrae, quam dedit vobis Moses servus Jehovae trans Jordanem.

5. But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.

5. Tantum observate diligenter ut faciatis praeceptum et legem quam praecepit vobis Moses servus Jehovae, ut diligatis Jehovam Deum vestrum, et ambuletis in omnibus viis ejus, servetisque praecepta ejus, et adhaereatis ei, atque serviatis ei toto corde vestro, et tota anima vestra.

6. So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their tents.

6. Benedixitque eis Josue, ac dimisit eos, abieruntque in tabernacula sua.

7. Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given possession in Bashan: but unto the other half thereof gave Joshua among their brethren on this side Jordan westward. And when Joshua sent them away also unto their tents, then he blessed them,

7. Dimidiae autem tribui Manasse dederat Moses in Basan: alteri autem ejus parti dedit Josue cum fratribus suis trans Jordanem ad occidentem. Et etiam quum dimitteret eos Josue in tabernacula sua, et benedixisset eis.

8. And he spoke unto them, saying, Return with much riches unto your tents, and with very much cattle, with silver, and with gold, and with brass, and with iron, and with very much raiment: divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.

8. Tunc dixit ad eos, dicendo. Cum divitiis multis revertimini ad tabernacula vestra, et cum aquisitione multa valde, cum argento, et auro, et aere, et ferro, et vestibus multis valde: dividite spolia inimicorum vestrorum cum fratribus vestris.

9. And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go unto the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, whereof they were possessed, according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses.

9. Reversi sunt itaque, et abierunt filii Ruben, et filii Gad, et dimidia tribus Manasse a filiis Israel de Silo quae est in terra Channan, ut irent ad terram Gilead, ad terram possessionis suae, in qua possessionem acceperunt secundum sermonem Jehovae per manum Mosis.


1. Then Joshua called the Reubenites, etc Here is related the discharge of the two tribes and half-tribe, who had followed the rest of the people, not that they might acquire anything for themselves, but that, as they had already obtained dwellings and lands without lot, they might carry on war in common with their brethren, until they also should have a quiet inheritance. Now, as they had been faithful companions and helpers to their brethren, Joshua declares that they were entitled to their discharge, and thus sends them back to their homes released and free. It is asked, however, how he can consider them to have performed their due measure of military service, while the enemy were still in possession of part of the land, of which the sole possession was to be the proper termination of the war?  178 But if we bear in mind what I lately said, the knot will be loosed. Had the Israelites followed the invitation of God, and seconded his agency, nay, when he was stretching out his hand to them, had they not basely drawn back,  179 the remaining part of the war would have been finished with no danger and little trouble. From their own sloth, therefore, they refused what God was ready to bestow. And thus it happened that the agreement by which the two tribes and half-tribe had bound themselves, ceased to be binding. For the only obligation they had undertaken was to accompany the ten tribes, and contend for their inheritance as strenuously as if their condition had been exactly the same. Now, when they have perseveringly performed their part as faithful allies, and the ten tribes contented with their present fortune, not only do not demand, but rather tacitly repudiate their assistance, a free return to their homes is justly allowed them. They, indeed, deserve praise for their patient endurance, in not allowing weariness of the service to make them request their discharge, but in waiting quietly till Joshua of his own accord sends for them.  180

5. But take diligent heed, etc He thus releases and frees them from temporary service, that he may bind them for ever to the authority of the one true God. He therefore permits them to return home, but on the condition that wherever they may be they are to be the soldiers of God; and he at the same time prescribes the mode, namely, the observance of his Law. But since such is the vanity and inconstancy of the human mind, that religion easily fades away from the heart, while carelessness and contempt creep in, he requires of them zeal and diligence in executing the Law. He calls it the Law of Moses, that they may not be carried to and fro by airy speculations, but remain fixed in the doctrine which they had learned from the faithful servant of God. He touches also on the end and sum of the Law, love to God, and adherence to him, because outward worship would otherwise be of little value. He confirms the same thing by other words, by which sincerity is denoted, namely, serving the Lord with their whole heart and soul.

8. Return with much riches, etc As it was formerly seen that the greater part of the two tribes were left in their territories beyond the Jordan, when the others passed over to carry on the war, it was fair that, as they had lived in case with their families, or been only occupied with domestic concerns, they should be contented with their own livelihood and the produce of their own labor. And they certainly could not, without dishonesty, have demanded that any part of the booty and spoil should be distributed among them, when they had taken no share in all the toil and the danger. Joshua, however, does not insist on the strictly legal view, but exhorts the soldiers to deal liberally with their countrymen, by sharing the prey with them. Here some one may unseasonably raise the question, Whether or not the booty was common? For Joshua does not decide absolutely that it is their duty to do as he enjoins; he admonishes them that, after they have been enriched by the divine blessing, it would betray a want of proper feeling not to be liberal and kind towards their brethren, especially as it was not their fault that they did not take part in the same expedition. Moreover, when he bids them divide, he does not demand an equal partition, such as that which is usual among partners and equals, but only to bestow something that may suffice to remove all cause of envy and hatred.  181

Joshua 22:10-20

10. 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.

10. Devenerunt autem ad limites Jordanis qui erant in terra Chanaan, et aedificaverunt filii Ruben, et filii Gad, et dimidia tribus Manasse, ibi altare juxta Jordanem, altare magnum visu.

11. And the children of Israel 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.

11. Audierunt autem filii Israel dici, Ecce aedificaverunt filii Ruben, et filii Gad, et dimidia tribus Manasse, altare e regione terrae Chanaan, in confinibus Jordanis in transitu filiorum Israel.

12. And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them.

12. Audierunt, inquam, filii Israel, et convenerunt universus coetus filiorum Israel in Silo, ut ascenderent contra eos ad pugnam.

13. And the children of Israel sent unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest,

13. Miserunt autem filii Israel ad filios Ruben, et ad filios Gad, et ad dimidiam tribum Manasse, ad terram Gilead, Phinees filium Eleazar sacerdotis.

14. And with him ten princes, of each chief house a prince throughout all the tribes of Israel; and each one was an head of the house of their fathers among the thousands of Israel.

14. Et decem principes cum eo, singulos principes per singulas domos avitas ex omnibus tribubus Israel: singuli namque principes familiarum patrum suorum erant in millibus Israel.

15. 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 spoke with them, saying,

15. Venerunt ergo ad filios Ruben, et ad filios Gad, et ad dimidiam tribum Manasse, ad terram Gilead, loquutique sunt cum eis, dicendo,

16. Thus says the whole congregation of the LORD, What trespass is this that you have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the LORD, in that you have built you an altar, that you might rebel this day against the LORD?

16. Sic dicunt universus coetus Jehovae, Quae est praevaricatio ista, qua praevaricati estis contra Deum Israel, ut avertamini hodie ne eatis post Jehovam aedificando vobis altare, ut rebelletis hodie contra Jehovam?

17. Is the iniquity 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,

17. An parum nobis est cum iniquitate Peor, a qua nec dum sumus mundati etiam hodie, et tamen fuit plaga in coetu Jehovae?

18. But that you must turn away this day from following the LORD? and it will be, seeing you rebel to day against the LORD, that to morrow he will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel.

18. Vos autem avertimini hodie ne eatis post Jehovam, et erit, vos rebellabitis hodie contra Jehovam, et cras in totum coetum Israel irascetur.

19. Notwithstanding, if the land of your possession be unclean, then pass you over unto the land of the possession of the LORD, wherein the LORD’S tabernacle dwells, and take possession among us: but rebel not against the LORD, nor rebel against us, in building you an altar beside the altar of the LORD our God.

19. Et quidem si immunda est terra possessionis vestrae, transite ad terram possessionis Jehovae, in qua habitat tabenaculum Jehovae, et possessiones accipite in medio nostrum et contra Jehovam ne rebellitis: neque a nobis deficiatis, aedificendo vobis altare praeter altare Jehovae Dei nostri.

20. Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.

20. Nonne Achan filius Zerah praevaricatus est praevaricatione in anathemate, et contra omnem coetum Israel fuit ira? Et ille vir unus non obiit propter iniquitatem suam.


10. And when they came unto the borders, etc The history here is particularly deserving of notice, when the two tribes and half-tribe, intending to erect a memorial of common faith and fraternal concord, allowed themselves from inconsiderate zeal to adopt a method which was justly suspected by their brethren. The ten tribes, thinking that the worship of God was violated with impious audacity and temerity, were inflamed with holy wrath, and took up arms to use them against their own blood; nor were they appeased till they had received full satisfaction. The motive for erecting the altar was right in itself. For the object of the children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, was to testify that though they were separated from their brethren by the intervening stream, they were, however, united with them in religion, and cherished a mutual agreement in the doctrine of the Law. Nothing was farther from their intention than to innovate in any respect in the worship of God. But they sinned not lightly in attempting a novelty, without paying any regard to the high priest, or consulting their brethren, and in a form which was very liable to be misconstrued.

We know how strictly the Law prohibited two altars, (Ex 20:24) for the Lord wished to be worshipped in one place only. Therefore, when on the very first blush of the case, all were at once led to think that they were building a second altar, who would not have judged them guilty of sacrilege in framing a ritual of a degenerate description, at variance with the Law of God? Seeing, then, that the work might be deemed vicious, they ought, at least, in so great and so serious a matter, to have made their brethren sharers in their counsel; more especially were they in the wrong in neglecting to consult the high priest, from whose lips the divine will was to be ascertained. They were, therefore, deserving of blame, because, as if they had been alone in the world, they considered not what offence might arise from the novelty of the example. Wherefore, let us learn to attempt nothing rashly, even should it be free from blame, and let us always give due heed to the admonition of St. Paul, (1Co 6:12; 1Co 10:23) that it is necessary to attend not only to what is lawful, but to what is expedient; more especially let us sedulously beware of disturbing pious minds  182 by the introduction of any kind of novelty.

11. And the children of Israel heard say, etc There is no doubt that they were inflamed with holy zeal, nor ought their vehemence to seem excessive in taking up arms to destroy their countrymen on account of a pile of stones. For they truly and wisely judged that the lawful sanctuary of God was polluted and his worship profaned, that sacred things were violated, pious concord destroyed, and a door opened for the license of superstitious practices, if in two places victims were offered to God, who had for these reasons so solemnly bound the whole people to a single altar. Not rashly, therefore, do the ten tribes, on hearing of a profane altar, detest its sacrilegious audacity.

Here, then, we have an illustrious display of piety, teaching us that if we see the pure worship of God corrupted, we must be strenuous, to the utmost of our ability, in vindicating it. The sword, indeed, has not been committed to the hands of all; but every one must, according to his call and office, study manfully and firmly to maintain the purity of religion against all corruption’s. More especially deserving of the highest praise was the zeal of the half-tribe of Manasseh, who, setting aside all regard to the flesh, did not spare their own family. I admit, however, that this zeal, though pious, was not free from turbulent impetuosity, inasmuch as they hasten to declare war before they inquired concerning the mind of their brethren, and properly ascertained the state of the case. War, I admit, was declared only under conditions; for they send ambassadors to bring back word after they had carefully investigated the matter, and they move not a finger in the way of inflicting punishment till they are certified of the existence of the crime. Excuse, therefore, may be made for the fervor of their passion, while they prepare for battle in the event of any defection being discovered.  183

16. Thus says the whole congregation, etc Just as if it had been known that this second altar was opposed to the one only altar of God, they begin with upbraiding them, and that in a very harsh and severe manner. They thus assume it as confessed, that the two tribes had built the altar with a view of offering sacrifices upon it. In this they are mistaken, as it was destined for a different use and purpose. Moreover, had the idea which they had conceived been correct, all the expostulation which they employ would have been just; for it was a clear case of criminal revolt to make any change in the Law of God, who values obedience more than all sacrifices, (1Sa 15:22) and there would have been perfect ground for condemning them as apostates, in withdrawing from the one only altar.

17. Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us? etc They represent the crime as more heinous, from their perverse obstinacy in not ceasing ever and anon to provoke the Lord by their abominations. They bring forward one signal example of recent occurrence. While they were encircling the sanctuary of God from the four cardinal points, like good watchmen of God, and when they had received the form of due worship, and were habituated to it by constant exercise, they had allowed themselves, through the seductive allurements of harlots, to be polluted by foul superstitions, and had worshipped Baal-Peor. As the whole people were implicated in this crime, the ten ambassadors do not hesitate to admit, that they were partners in the guilt. They therefore ask, Is not the iniquity which we contracted in the matter of Baal-Peor sufficient? They add, that they were not yet purified from it, just as if they had said, that the remembrance of it was not yet entirely buried, or that the vengeance of God was not yet extinguished; and hence they infer, that the two tribes and the half tribe, while with impious contumacy they turn aside from God, and shake off his yoke, not only consult ill for themselves, but are calling down similar destruction on the whole people, because God will avenge the insult offered him to a wider extent. This they confirm by the example of Achan, who, though he was alone when he secretly stole of the accursed thing, did not alone undergo the punishment of his sacrilege, but also dragged others along with him, as it was seen that some fell in the line of battle, while all were shamefully put to flight, because pollution attached to the people.

They reason from the less to the greater. If the anger of God burnt against many for the clandestine misdeed of one man, much less would he allow the people to escape if they connived at manifest idolatry. A middle view, however, is inserted, that if the two tribes and half tribe built up an altar, and if their condition was worse from not dwelling in the land of Canaan, let them rather come and obtain a settlement also in the land of Canaan, but let them not provoke God by a wicked rivalship.  184 Hence we infer, that they were not urged by some turgid impetus, since, even at their own loss and expense, they are willing kindly to offer partnership to those who had demanded a settlement and domicile for themselves elsewhere.

Joshua 22:21-34

21. Then the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh answered, and said unto the heads of the thousands of Israel,

21. Responderunt autem filii Ruben, et filii Gad, et dimidia tribus Manasse, loquutique sunt cum principibus millium Israel.

22. The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the LORD, (save us not this day,)

22. Deus deorum Jehova, Deus deorum Jehova ipse novit, et Israel cognoscet, si per rebellionem, et si per prevaricationem in Jehovam, ne serves nos die hac.

23. That we have built us an altar to turn from following the LORD, or if to offer thereon burnt offering or meat offering, or if to offer peace offerings thereon, let the LORD himself require it;

23. Si cogitavimus aedificare nobis altare, ut averteremur ne iremus post Jehovam, et si ad immolandum super illud holocausta et sacrificium, et si ad faciendum super illud sacrificia prosperitatum, Jehova ipse inquirat.

24. And if we have not rather done it for fear of this thing, saying, In time to come your children might speak unto our children, saying, What have you to do with the LORD God of Israel?

24. Et si non potius timore hujusce rei fecimus hoc dicendo: Cras dicent filii vestri filiis nostris dicendo: Quid vobis et Jehovae Deo Israel?

25. For the LORD has made Jordan a border between us and you, you children of Reuben and children of Gad; you have no part in the LORD: so shall your children make our children cease from fearing the LORD.

25. Nam terminum posuit Jehova inter nos et vos filii Ruben et filii Gad, Jordanem: non est vobis portio in Jehova: et cessare facient filii vestri filios nostros, ut non timeant Jehovam.

26. Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:

26. Et diximus, Demus nunc operam ut aedificemus altare, non pro holocausto, nec pro sacrificio:

27. But that it may be a witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the LORD before him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, You have no part in the LORD.

27. Sed ut testis sit inter nos et vos, et inter generationes nostras post nos, ut serviamus servitutem Jehovae coram eo in holocaustis nostris, et in sacrificiis nostris, et prosperitatibus nostris: et ne dicant filii vestri cras filiis nostris, Non est vobis pars in Jehova.

28. Therefore said we, that it shall be, when they should so say to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say again, Behold the pattern of the altar of the LORD, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between us and you.

28. Diximus itaque, Et erit, si dixerint nobis aut generationibus nostris cras, tum dicemus, Videte similitudinem altaris Jehovae quod fecerunt patres nostri, non pro holocausto, neque pro sacrificio, sed ut testis sit inter nos et vos.

29. God forbid that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn this day from following the LORD, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the LORD our God that is before his tabernacle.

29. Absit a nobis ut rebellemus contra Jehovam, et avertamur hodie ne eamus post Jehovam, aedificando altare pro holocausto, pro oblatione, et pro sacrificio, ultra altare Jehovae Dei nostri quod est ante tabernaculum ejus.

30. And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation and heads of the thousands of Israel which were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the children of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them.

30. Porro quum audisset Phinees sacerdos, et principes coetus, capitaque millium Israel qui cum eo erant, verba quae loquuti fuerant filii Ruben, et filii Gad, et filii Mannasse, placuit in oculis eorum.

31. And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the children of Manasseh, This day we perceive that the LORD is among us, because you have not committed this trespass against the LORD: now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the LORD.

31. Dixitque Phinees filius Eleazar sacerdotis filiis Ruben, et filiis Gad, et filiis Manasse, Hodie novimus quod in medio nostri sit Jehova, quod non praevaricati sitis contra Jehovam praevaricationem istam: tunc liberastis filios Israel de manu Jehovae.

32. And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the princes, returned from the children of Reuben, and from the children of Gad, out of the land of Gilead, unto the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought them word again.

32. Reversus est igitur Phinees filius Eleazar sacerdotis, et principes illi a filiis Ruben, et a filiis Gad, de terra Gilead ad terram Chanaan ad reliquos filios Israel, et retulerunt eis rem.

33. And the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel blessed God, and did not intend to go up against them in battle, to destroy the land wherein the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.

33. Placuitque res in oculis filiorum Israel, atque benedixerunt Deo filii Israel: neque decreverunt ascendere contra eos ad pugnam, ut disperderent terram in qua filii Ruben et filii Gad habitabant.

34. And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the LORD is God.

34. Vocaverunt autem filii Ruben et filii Gad altare Hed, dicendo: Quia testis erit inter nos quod Jehova est Deus.


21. Then the children of Reuben, etc The state of the case turns on the definition. For the children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, explain that they had a different intention, and thus exculpate themselves from the charge, inasmuch as the nature of the proceeding was quite different from what the others supposed. In not making a disturbance,  185 nor picking a quarrel for the injustice done, to them they give an example of rare modesty, which is held forth for our imitation; so that if at any time anything we have rightly done happen to be unjustly and falsely blamed by those not acquainted with its nature, we may deem it sufficient to refute the censure only so far as may be necessary for clearing ourselves. Moreover, that the more credit may be given to them, and that they may the better attest their integrity, they, by a solemn protest, put far from them the wickedness of which they were suspected. For there is force and meaning in the reduplication, The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, by which they with vehemence affirm, how faithfully they desire to persevere in the doctrine of the Law, and how greatly they abhor all contrary superstitions. But as their intention was not patent to men, and every one explained it variously, according to his own sense, they appeal to the judgment of God, and offer to submit to punishment if he decide that they had attempted anything wickedly. And to prove that they are not like hypocrites who, with abandoned wickedness, appeal to God a hundred times as judge even when they are convicted in their own minds, they not only bring forward conscience, but at the same time declare, that the whole people will be witness; as if they had said, that it will be made palpable by the fact itself, that they never had any intention of devising any new form of worship; and they rightly explain, how the altar would have been unlawful, namely, if they had built it for the purpose of offering sacrifice. For the Law did not condemn the mere raising of heaps of stones, but only enjoined that sacrifices should be offered in one place, for the purpose of retaining the people in one faith, lest religion should be rent asunder, lest license should be given to human presumption, and thus every man might turn aside to follow his own fictions. We thus see how an explanation of the nature of the deed removes the detestation which the ten tribes had conceived of it.  186

It is not strictly correct, though appropriate enough, for the rudeness of sense, to place our God above all gods. For it is impossible to compare him with others, seeing that no others actually exist. Hence, in order to avoid the apparent absurdity, some interpreters substitute angels for gods; this meaning holds in some cases, though not in all. It ought not, however, to seem harsh when he who is the one sole supreme being is called the God of gods, inasmuch as he has no equal, standing forth conspicuous above all other height, and so, by his glory, obscuring and annihilating all names of deity which are celebrated in the world. Hence this mode of speaking ought to be viewed with reference to the common sense of the vulgar.

26. Therefore we said, etc The gross impiety of which they had been accused was now well refuted; and yet they seem not to have been in every respect free from blame, because the Law forbids the erection of any kind of statues. It is easy, however, to excuse this by saying, that no kind of statues are condemned except those which are intended to represent God. To erect a heap of stones as a trophy, or in testimony of a miracle, or a memorial of some signal favor of God, the Law has nowhere prohibited. (Ex 20:4; Le 26:1; De 5:8) Otherwise, Joshua and many holy judges and kings after him, would have defiled themselves by profane innovation. But the only thing displeasing to God was to see the minds of men drawn hither and thither, so as to worship him in a gross and earthly manner. The children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh do all that is required for their exculpation, when they declare that they would use the altar only as a bond of brotherly union; and add a sufficient reason, namely, the danger there was, lest, after a long course of time, the ten tribes might exclude the others as strangers, because they did not inhabit the same land. For as the country beyond the Jordan was not at first comprehended in the covenant, a difference of habitation might ultimately prove a cause of dissension. They therefore consult timelessly for their posterity, that they may be able by means of the altar as a kind of public document to defend their right, that they may mutually recognize each other, and unite in common in serving one God.

30. And when Phinehas the priest, etc Phinehas and the ambassadors rightly temper their zeal, when, instead of harshly insisting and urging the prejudice which they had conceived, they blandly and willingly admit the excuse. Many persons, if once offended and exasperated by any matter, cannot be appeased by any defense, and always find something maliciously and unjustly to carp at, rather than seem to yield to reason. The example here is worthy of observation. It teaches us that if at any time we conceive offence in regard to a matter not sufficiently known, we must beware of obstinacy, and be ready instantly to take an equitable view. Moreover, when the children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh are found free from crime, Phinehas and the ambassadors ascribe it to the grace of God. For by the words, We know that Jehovah is in the midst of us, they intimate that God was propitious to them, and had taken care of their safety.

This is to be carefully observed; for we are able to infer from it that we never revolt from God, or fall off to impiety unless he abandon us, and give us up when thus abandoned to a reprobate mind. All idolatry, therefore, shows that God has previously been alienated, and is about to punish us by inflicting judicial blindness. Meanwhile, we must hold that we persevere in piety only in so far as God is present to sustain us by his hand, and confirm us in perseverance by the agency of his Spirit. Phinehas and the ambassadors speak as if they had been delivered by the children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, because there was no longer any ground to fear the divine vengeance, when all suspicion of criminality had been removed. At last similar equity and humanity are displayed by the whole people, when accepting the defense of their brethren they gave thanks to God for having kept his people free from criminality.

Though they had been suddenly inflamed, they depart with calm minds. In like manner the two tribes and the half tribe carefully exert themselves to perform their duty by giving a name to the altar, which, by explaining its proper use, might draw off the people from all superstition.



Latin, “Cujus sola possessio justum debuit bello imponere finem.” French, “De laquelle il faloit qu’ils fussent paisibles possesseurs avant qu’ils peussent avoir licence de se desparter, et avant que finir la guerre;” “Of which it was necessary that they should be peaceful possessors before they could have license to depart, and before finishing the war.” — Ed.


French, “Ou pour mieux dire, s’ils n’eussent vilainement tourne le dos arriere, quand il leur tendoit la main;” “Or, to speak more properly, if they had not villanously turned their back when he stretched out his hand to them.” — Ed.


Jewish writers, founding on plausible data, calculate that the auxiliary tribes who crossed the Jordan to assist their brethren, had been absent from their homes for a period of fourteen years. — Ed.


The Septuagint alters the tenor of the whole passage by substituting the past tense for the imperative, and making it read not as a part of Joshua’s address, but as the statement of a fact, “They departed with much riches,” etc., and “they divided the spoil of their enemies with their brethren.” — Ed.


Latin, “Pios animos.” French, “Les bonnes consciences;” “Good consciences.” — Ed.


French, “S’il se trouve que les autres se soyent revoltez de la religion;” “If it be found that the others have revolted from religion.” — Ed.


Latin, “Prava aemulatione.” French, “Abusant en mal de ce qu’ils ont veu faire aux autres;” “Making a wicked abuse of what they have seen others do.” — Ed.


Latin, “Quod autem non tumultuantur.” French, “Et en ce qu’ils n’escarmouchent point;” “And in not skirmishing.” — Ed.


Several Romish writers endeavored to make the most of this transaction, and think they find in the apparent sanction which it gives to the erection of an altar similar to the one on which sacrifices were offered though intended for a different purpose, an authority for their endless forms of image worship. It is scarcely possible to treat such an argument seriously, but it is surely sufficient to answer, that while the Reubenites and their associates justified the erection of their altar, by declaring in the most solemn manner, that they never intended, and were firmly determined never to employ it for religious service, the Romanists, on the other hand, erect their images for the express purpose of so employing them, and are continually extolling the imaginary benefits which this sacrilegious employment of them confers. — Ed.

Next: Chapter 23