Joshua 22  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Joshua 22
“Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.”
The history of the two and a half tribes is a warning to Christians who would fain be guided by expediency instead of by faith in the words of promise. In considering their story, the Lord’s first exhortation, “Arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them,” must be borne in mind; and also that the tabernacle was set up, the law read, and the camp pitched on “this side Jordan.”
Their history occupies a distinct place throughout the book of Joshua, for when Israel crossed the Jordan they had already chosen their possessions.
From Numbers 32 we learn why these tribes inherited on “the other side Jordan,” and it is well to ponder beginnings. “Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle: and when they saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle ... said they, If we have found grace in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession, and bring us not over Jordan.” God had greatly enriched them upon their way to the promised land, and they preferred sitting down and enjoying their riches to pressing forwards to the inheritance. Expediency instead of faith guided them. The cities which they saw had greater attractions for them than the soldiers’ tents on the other side of the river. Settling down, let it assume what form it may, is a sorrowful thing, but in whom has not the will of the flesh cried out, “Bring me not over Jordan”? However, faith inherits “yonder and forwards,” in nearness to God.
The soul of Moses was stirred within him at their proposition, which he regarded as coming short of God’s inheritance; he compared their desire to the sin of the false spies at Eschol, and saw in it an earnest of Israel’s reaping again those bitter fruits which were appointed to them upon their despising the promised land. Grieved at their spirit, he said, “Shall ye sit here? And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord hath given them ... .And they came near unto Him,” and said that they would leave their wives and children and cattle behind, and go themselves to the war! Expediency argues smoothly, and finds many ready ways of gaining its object; but it is a poor thing to fight God’s battles unless for Him alone; for where the treasure is there will the heart be also. Let such as are not in spirit inheriting “yonder and forwards,” and who are not fighting the fight of faith with a whole heart, consider what it is to “sit here,” for they not only “discourage the heart” of their brethren by their ease-seeking, but are themselves not far off departing from God.
The mind of these men was made up. “We will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan or ... our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward.” The heart by degrees establishes itself in its wishes, and at length openly expresses its desires; it resists warnings, and then becomes resolute in its own willfulness. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” One false step usually begets another – evil leads to evil; these tribes, beginning with the spirit of expediency, added to expediency willfulness, and to willfulness, schism. “We will not inherit with them.” To carry out their purpose they were prepared to make a breach in Israel. “We” and “them,” said they, of Jehovah’s one undivided family. Jehovah had given one inheritance to His people, but they would have their inheritance, and Israel should have theirs! “We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.”
However we may admire the zeal of the forty thousand, who for their brethren’s sake fought on the Lord’s side of Jordan – and surely they had their reward – it cannot be denied that the two and a half tribes sent them to fight the Lord’s battles in order to compromise matters. “We will pass over armed before the Lord into the land of Canaan, that the possession of our inheritance on this side Jordan may be ours.” When a believer bargains to serve God in order to retain a self-chosen position, it is certain he will not do even one-half of what he promises, for expediency is departure from God. Instead of sending over “every man armed for war,” these tribes sent only forty thousand, considerably more than half their men of war remaining behind to protect their treasure. (See census Num. 26.)
The Lord having now given rest to the brethren of the two and a half tribes as He promised, Joshua said to them, “Return ye ... unto the land of your possession ... on the other side Jordan.” And after enjoining them to keep the law of God, and to be true to Him, he sent them away with blessing. “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.” There is a blessing for any child of God who follows the Lord with a true heart, even if he do so only for one day, and there ought to be grace enough among his companions to own it, even if he afterward go astray. But departure from any degree of nearness to God is grievous, as the forty thousand returning from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, the place of worship, found it. In a sense, it may be the Lord accepted them in the position which they had chosen (Josh. 22:99And 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. (Joshua 22:9)). The Lord did not cast them off. He acts towards His people according to His own standard of faithfulness. “He remaineth faithful.”
When these men of war, who had fought and endured hardness with their brethren, began to return to their self-chosen position, they had not gone far before they made a halt and questioned among themselves. Conscience spoke. Yet they did not condemn their course, and give it up; indeed, the result of their pause only developed their original spirit. They did not adopt the course which the nine and a half tribes afterward suggested. “Pass ye over unto the land of the possession of the Lord, wherein the Lord’s tabernacle dwelleth”; but instead, “They ... built it ... a great altar to see to.” “When they came unto the borders of Jordan, that are in the land of Canaan, [they] built there an altar by Jordan.” Sight, not faith, ruled. Their great altar was not the Lord’s altar, it was only a pattern of it, and its chief value would be in its evidencing that once they had been with their brethren at Shiloh. If the two and a half tribes had only felt that they demonstrated the untenableness of their position on the “other side Jordan,” by building an altar to witness where they had been, they might have been spared going into captivity when they did go. But if they could not have “the Lord’s tabernacle” except by going over into “the land of the possession of the Lord,” they were determined to have their “inheritance.” Their affections – their wives and little ones, and their riches were on the other side Jordan, whither they returned, and so were found out, as Moses had warned them.
Perhaps in time to come, they reasoned, the children of the nine and a half tribes may say, “What have ye to do with the Lord God of Israel? For the Lord hath made Jordan a border between us and you, ye children of Reuben and children of Gad; ye have no part in the Lord: so shall your children make our children cease from fearing the Lord.” They felt unmistakeably that the Jordan was a border. It was plain to them that crossing it appeared like leaving the Lord, with His holy tabernacle and its blessings, and that their return was fraught with danger, but as they considered the danger, they manifested the state of their souls by placing in the lips of their brethren bitter words. Their brethren had never suggested divisions among the Israel of Jehovah, nor that the Jordan was a separation, nor that their children should cease fearing the Lord.
The believer who leaves his more devoted companions for some worldly association, invariably lays the blame of the consequences upon those who abide with God: blaming godly people is the usual salve for an uneasy conscience. “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God” (1 John 3:2121Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. (1 John 3:21)). Altars of “witness,” – great altars to see to – are, alas! in many hearts and associations where once there was real devotedness to Christ. People talk of what they used to be, how they served God, how they enjoyed seasons of heartfelt worship, and by the sign of the past would prove their present portion. Would that they had the honesty to confess their fault and to return to the only source of strength! The deceitfulness of sin is that which hardens the soul. The spirit of expediency is utterly contrary to God; yet who has not listened to his heart, bidding him choose some easy place, and to excuses for abiding where he ought not? We have to learn that we must go up to the position of faith – whatever it may be – which God sets before us, and to refuse the invitations of our own lusts, which bid us endeavor to bring God into our self-chosen land of sight.
We can admire the earnestness of the two and a half tribes when they said, if we have built the altar in “rebellion, or in transgression against the Lord, (save us not this day)”; and the desire of the forty thousand for their children; yet, why should there be “fear of this thing” – their forsaking God? Simply because they were on the other side Jordan. When we begin to please ourselves, we are not good judges of our actions.
What a poor thing was their altar! It was not for worship; they did not mean that “burnt-offering, or meat-offering, or peace-offering,” should ever be placed upon it. No sweet savor was to arise from it, nor were gladdened hearts to surround it. What then was it for? “To see to!”
When the tidings of the altar of Ed reached Israel they assembled at Shiloh – at the one altar of Jehovah – beholding in the erection of a second, nothing less than rebellion against the Lord of the twelve tribes. The zeal of Israel was stirred, and as when the heart is zealous for God in the contemplation of the failings of others, it remembers with a chastened spirit its own sins, so “the iniquity of Peor,” “the trespass of Achan,” with all their bitter fruits, were present before them. Israel, moreover, judged themselves before attempting to judge the wrong doers; they felt that the seeds of the very evils they mourned over, in the two and a half tribes, and which they were assembled to root out, were even among them. Such is the spirit in which the believer, when in communion with God, laments the desertion of his fellow soldier, and deals with evil. Judgment must begin at home, and who is guiltless? And where the sin is a controversy (as was this in the mind of Israel) between Jehovah and their brethren, great will be the contrition and brokenness of spirit in those who have grace given to them, to be zealous for God’s glory.
It is well to note the end as well as the beginning of the path of expediency. After the lapse of some years, the prosperity of Israel, its Gilgal, was changed for Bochim (weeping). The sorrowful time of national declension had come. God, filled with pity, raised up judges to deliver his erring people; and at that time we read of a day of testing (Judg. 5). Where were the two and a half tribes then? Had the great altar of sight inspired them to devotion? “Gilead abode beyond Jordan”; remained at home – at ease. For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart. Resolutions were made by the men of war, but nothing was done. “Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks?” The piping of the shepherds was preferred to the trumpet of war. Hard, indeed, must be the necessity which rouses an ease-seeking believer into action. The feet of them who prefer gain to godliness generally tread the path of expediency to its mournful end.
Nothing but looking steadfastly to Christ can preserve the soul from spiritual declension. Former zeal, riches, spoils, blessings, having once surrounded the altar of worship – having once trodden the land of the Lord’s inheritance, will not avail. In a time when so many turn aside, thrice happy they who inherit “forwards,” and who endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ.
Later in Israel’s history we find the two and a half tribes gone into captivity, and the land of Gilead lost beyond recovery (1 Kings 22). “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it” (Heb. 4:11Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. (Hebrews 4:1)).