Chapter 12

CHAPTER 12

Return of the two and a half Tribes to their Homes - Building of an Altar by them - Embassy to them - Joshua's Farewell Addresses - Death of Joshua - Review of his Life and Work.
(JOSHUA 22-24)

YET another trial awaited Joshua, ere he put off the armor and laid him down to rest. Happily, it was one which he rather dreaded than actually experienced. The work given him to do was ended, and each of the tribes had entered on its God-given inheritance. And now the time had come for those faithful men who so truly had discharged their undertaking to recross Jordan, and "get unto to the land of their possession." These many years had the men of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh fought and waited by the side of their brethren. And now that God had given them rest, Joshua dismissed the tried warriors with a blessing, only bidding them fight in their own homes that other warfare, in which victory meant loving the Lord, walking in His ways, keeping His commandments, and cleaving unto and serving Him.

It must have been with a heavy heart that Joshua saw them depart from Shiloh.*  It was not merely that to himself it would seem like the beginning of the end, but that misgivings and fears could not but crowd upon his mind.

* From Joshua 22:9 we learn that they "departed out of Shiloh," hence after the land had been finally apportioned among the tribes. Of course, this does not imply that the same warriors had continued all through the wars without changing.

They parted from Shiloh to comparatively far distances, to be separated from their brethren by Jordan, and scattered amid the wide tracts, in which their nomadic pastoral life would bring them into frequent and dangerous contact with heathen neighbors. They were now united to their brethren; they had fought by their side; would this union continue? The very riches with which they departed to their distant homes (22:8) might become a source of danger. They had parted with Jehovah's blessing and monition from the central sanctuary at Shiloh. Would it remain such to them, and they preserve the purity of their faith at a distance from the tabernacle and its services? Joshua remembered only too well the past history of Israel; he knew that even now idolatry, although publicly non-existent, had still its roots and fibers in many a household as a sort of traditional superstition (24:23). Under such circumstances it was that strange tidings reached Israel and Joshua. Just before crossing Jordan the two and a half tribes had built an altar that could be seen far and wide, and then departed without leaving any explanation of their conduct. At first sight this would have seemed in direct contravention of one of the first principles of Israel's worship. Place, time, and manner of it were all God-ordained and full of meaning, and any departure therefrom, even in the slightest particular, destroyed the meaning, and with it the value of all. More especially would this appear an infringement of the express commands against another altar and other worship (Leviticus 17:8, 9; Deuteronomy 12:5-7), to which the terrible punishment of extermination attached (Deuteronomy 13:12-18). And yet there was something so strange in rearing this altar on the western side of the Jordan,*  and not on the eastern, and in their own possession, that their conduct, however blameworthy, might possibly bear another explanation than that of the great crime of apostasy.

* This we gather from 12:10: "And when they came to the circle (circuits) of Jordan, that is in the land of Canaan" (in contrast to "the land of Gilead"), ver. 9. Again in ver. 11 "built an altar in face (or, in front) of the land of Canaan (that is, at its extreme boundary, looking towards it), in the circuits of Jordan, by the side of (or, 'over against') the children of Israel."

It was an anxious time when the whole congregation gathered, by their representatives, at Shiloh, not to worship, but to consider the question of going to war with their own brethren and companions in arms, and on such grounds. Happily, before taking decided action, a deputation was sent to expostulate with the two and a half tribes. It consisted of ten princes, representatives, each of a tribe, and all "heads of houses of their fathers," though, of course, not the actual chiefs of their tribes. At their head was Phinehas, the presumptive successor to the high priesthood, to whose zeal, which had once stayed the plague of Peor, the direction might safely be left. We are not told how they gathered the representatives of the offending tribes, but the language in which, as recorded, the latter were addressed, is quite characteristic of Phinehas.

The conduct of the two and a half tribes had been self-willed and regardless of one of the first duties - that of not giving offense to the brethren, nor allowing their liberty to become a stumbling-block to others. For a doubtful good they had committed an undoubted offense, the more unwarranted, that they had neither asked advice nor offered explanation. Phinehas could scarcely help assuming that they had "committed unfaithfulness towards the God of Israel."*  He now urged upon them the remembrance, yet fresh in their minds, of the consequences of the sin of Peor, and which had, alas! still left its bitter roots among the people.**  If, on account of their uncleanness, they felt as if they needed nearer proximity to the altar, he invited them back to the western side of the Jordan where the other tribes would make room for them. But if they persisted in their sin, he reminded them how the sin of the one individual, Achan, had brought wrath on all the congregation. If so, then the rest of Israel must take action, so as to clear themselves of complicity in their "rebellion."

* So literally, and not, as in Authorized Version (22:16): "What trespass is this that ye have committed?" This sin is very significantly viewed here as an "unfaithfulness" towards the God of Israel.

** So in Joshua 22:17. Such a judgment as the death of 24, 000 (Numbers 25:9) must have left many painful gaps in Israel. But this was not the saddest consequence. For, evidently, the worship of Baal-Peor had struck root among the people, even although for the present it was outwardly suppressed.

In reply, the accused tribes protested, in language of the most earnest expostulation, that their conduct had been wholly misunderstood.*  So far from wishing to separate from the tabernacle and worship of Jehovah, this great altar had been reared as a witness to all ages that they formed an integral part of Israel, lest in the future they might be debarred from the service of Jehovah. That, and that alone, had been their meaning, however ill expressed. The explanation thus offered was cause of deep thankfulness to the deputies and to all Israel. Thus, in the good providence of God, this cloud also passed away.

* There is a fervency of utterance in their protestation, which appears even in the accumulation of the names of God. The particle rendered "if" is here used as the formula for an oath.

A twofold work had been intrusted to Joshua: to conquer the land (Joshua 1:8), and to divide it by inheritance among the people*  (1:6). Both had been done, and in the spirit of strength, of courage, and of believing obedience enjoined at the outset (1:7). Unlike his great predecessor and master, Moses, he had been allowed to finish his task, and even to rest after its completion.**  And now he had reached one hundred and ten years, the age at which his ancestor Joseph had died (Genesis 50:26). Like a father who thinks of and seeks to provide for the future of his children after his death;***   like Moses when he gathered up all his life, his mission, and his teaching in his last discourses; as the Apostle Peter, when he endeavored that Christians might "be able after his Exodus|*   to have these things always in remembrance," so did Joshua care for the people of his charge. On two successive occasions he gathered all Israel, through their representative "elders,"|**  to address to them last words. They are in spirit and even in tenor singularly like those of Moses, as indeed he had no new truth to communicate.

* So also the Book of Joshua is divided into two parts: the first (ch. 1-12), descriptive of the conquest, the second of the division of the land.

** Joshua seems to have lived about fifteen years after the final division of the land.

*** This idea is suggested by Calvin.

|* The word used by the apostle (2 Peter 1:15) is "Exodus," the same as employed in the conversation on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:31), to which St. Peter in his epistle makes pointed reference (2 Peter 1:16-18).

|** All Israel were summoned through their elders, which is a genetic name including the three divisions: "heads" of tribes, clans, and houses of fathers, "judges," and "officers."

The first assembly must have taken place either in his own city of Timnath-serah,*   or else at Shiloh. The address there given had precisely the same object as that afterwards delivered by him, and indeed may be described as preparatory to the latter.

* Literally "the possession of the sun" - properly Timnath serach, also called Timnath-Cheres (Judges 2:9) by a transposition of letters, not uncommon in the Hebrew.

Probably the difference between the two lies in this, that the first discourse treated of the future of Israel rather in its political aspect, while the second, as befitted the circumstances, chiefly dwelt on the past mercies of Jehovah, and urged upon the people decision in their spiritual choice. Both discourses are marked by absence of all self-exaltation or reference to his own achievements. It is the language of one who, after long and trying experience, could sum up all he knew and felt in these words: "As for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah." The first discourse of Joshua consisted of two parts (23:2-13, and 14-16), each beginning with an allusion to his approaching end, as the motive of his admonitions. Having first reminded Israel of all God's benefits and of His promises, in case of their faithfulness, he beseecheth them: "Take heed very much to your souls to love Jehovah your God" (ver. 11), the danger of an opposite course being described with an accumulation of imagery that shows how deeply Joshua felt the impending danger. Proceeding in the same direction, the second part of Joshua's address dwells upon the absolute certainty with which judgment would follow, as surely as formerly blessing had come.

The second address of Joshua, delivered to the same audience as the first, was even more solemn. For, this time, the assembly took place at Shechem, where, on first entering the land, Israel had made solemn covenant by responding from Mounts Ebal and Gerizim to the blessings and the curses enunciated in the law. And the present gathering also was to end in renewal of that covenant. Moreover, it was in Shechem that Abraham had, on entering Canaan, received the first Divine promise, and here he had built an altar unto Jehovah (Genesis 12:6, 7). Here also had Jacob settled after his return from Mesopotamia, and purged his household from lingering idolatry, by burying their Teraphim under an oak (Genesis 33:20; 35:2, 4). It was truly a "sanctuary of Jehovah" (Joshua 24:26), and they who came to it, "gathered before God"*  (ver.1). In language the most tender and impressive, reminding us of Stephen's last speech before the Sanhedrim (Acts 7), Joshua recalled to them the mercies of God (Joshua 24:2-13), specially in those five great events: the calling of Abraham, the deliverance from Egypt, the defeat of the Amorites and of the purpose of Balaam,** the miraculous crossing of Jordan and taking of Jericho, and finally, the Divine victory***  given them over all the nations of Canaan. On these grounds he now earnestly entreated them to make decisive choice of Jehovah as their God.|* 

* In the Hebrew with the article "the God," to indicate that it was the only true and living Elohim. Israel in Canaan.

** In 24:9: "Then Balak.... arose and warred against Israel;" not with outward weapons, but through Balaam.

*** The expressive figure is here used: "And I sent the hornet before you," to designate that which carries terror among the inhabitants of a place. Comp. Exodus 23:28; Deuteronomy 7:20.

|* The call to "choose this day" whom they would serve (ver. 15), does not place the duty of their allegiance to Jehovah in any doubt, but is rather the strongest and most emphatic mode of enforcing the admonition of ver. 14, especially followed, as it is, by the declaration: "but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah."

And they replied by solemnly protesting their determination to cleave unto the Lord, in language which not only re-echoed that of the preface to the ten commandments (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6), but also showed that they fully responded to Joshua's appeals. To bring the matter to a clear issue, Joshua next represented to them that they could not serve Jehovah (24:19) - that is, in their then state of heart and mind - "in their own strength, without the aid of grace; without real and serious conversion from all idols; and without true repentance and faith."*  To attempt this were only to bring down judgment instead of the former blessing. And when the people still persevered in their profession, Joshua, having made it a condition that they were to put away the strange gods from among them and "direct" their hearts "unto Jehovah, God of Israel,"**  made again solemn covenant with them. Its terms were recorded in a document which was placed within the book of the Law,***  and in memory there of a great stone was set up under the memorable tree at Shechem which had been the silent witness of so many solemn transactions in the history of Israel.

* So in substance J. H. Michaelis in his notes on the passage.

** Keil argues that the expression (ver. 23), "put away the strange gods which are among you," means "in your hearts." But this interpretation is critically untenable, while such passages as Amos 5:26 and Acts 7:43 prove the existence of idolatrous rites among the people, even though they may have been discarded in public.

*** He took, as we would say, "Minutes" of this transaction, which were placed inside the roll of the law of Moses.

With this event the history of Joshua closes.*  Looking back upon it, we gather the lessons of his life and work, and of their bearing upon the future of Israel. Born a slave in Egypt, he must have been about forty years old at the time of the Exodus. Attached to the person of Moses, he led Israel in the first decisive battle against Amalek (Exodus 17:9, 13), while Moses, in the prayer of faith, held up to heaven the God-given "rod."

* The deaths of Joshua and Eleazar were, of course, chronicled at a later period. According to the Talmud (Baba Bathra, 15 a), the former was written down by Eleazar, and the latter by Phinehas.

It was no doubt on that occasion that his name was changed from Oshea, "help," to Jehoshua, "Jehovah is help" (Numbers 13:16). And this name is the key to his life and work. Alike in bringing the people into Canaan, in his wars, and in the distribution of the land among the tribes - from the miraculous crossing of Jordan and taking of Jericho to his last address - he was the embodiment of his new name: "Jehovah is help!" To this outward calling his character also corresponded. It is marked by singleness of purpose, directness, and decision. There is not indeed about him that elevation of faith, or comprehensiveness of spiritual view which we observed in Moses. Witness Joshua's despondency after the first failure at Ai. Even his plans and conceptions lack breadth and depth. Witness his treaty with the Gibeonites, and the commencing disorganization among the tribes at Shiloh. His strength always lies in his singleness of purpose. He sets an object before him, and unswervingly follows it. So in his campaigns: he marches rapidly, falls suddenly upon the enemy, and follows up the victory with unflagging energy. But there he stops - till another object is again set before him, which he similarly pursues. The same singleness, directness, and decision, rather than breadth and elevation, seem also to characterize his personal religion.

There is another remarkable circumstance about Joshua. The conquest and division of the land seem to have been his sole work. He does not appear to have even ruled as a judge over Israel. But so far also as the conquest and division of the land were concerned, his work was not complete, nor, indeed, intended to be complete. And this is characteristic of the whole Old Testament dispensation, that no period in its history sees its work completed, but only begun and pointing forward to another yet future,*  till at last all becomes complete in the "fullness of time" in Christ Jesus. Thus viewed, a fresh light is cast upon the name and history of Joshua. Assuredly Joshua did not give "rest" even to his own generation, far less to Israel as a nation. It was rest begun, but not completed - a rest which even in its temporal aspect left so much unrest; and as such it pointed to Christ. What the one Joshua could only begin, not really achieve, even in its outward typical aspect, pointed to, and called for the other Joshua, the Lord Jesus Christ,**  in Whom and by Whom all is reality, and all is perfect, and all is rest for ever. And so also it was only after many years that Oshea became Joshua, while the name Joshua was given to our Lord by the angel before His birth (Matthew 1:21). The first became, the second was Joshua. And so the name and the work of Joshua pointed forward to the fullness in Christ, alike by what it was and by what it was not, and this in entire accordance with the whole character and object of the Old Testament.

* See some interesting remarks in Herzog's Real Encycl., vol. 7 p. 41. If any reader, able to follow out such questions, should feel interested in "the higher criticism" of the Book of Joshua, we would direct him to the masterly essay by L. Konig, in Alttest. Studien, part 1.

** Jesus is the Greek equivalent for Joshua.