Then Joshua called together the people of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh.
He said to them, "You have done everything that Moses the Lord's servant ordered you to do, and you have obeyed all my commands. 1
All this time you have never once deserted the other Israelites. You have been careful to obey the commands of the Lord your God.
Now, as he promised, the Lord your God has given the other Israelites peace. So go back home to the land which you claimed for your own, the land on the east side of the Jordan, that Moses, the Lord's servant, gave you.
Make sure you obey the law that Moses commanded you: love the Lord your God, do his will, obey his commandments, be faithful to him, and serve him with all your heart and soul."
Joshua sent them home with his blessing and with these words: "You are going back home very rich, with a lot of livestock, silver, gold, bronze, iron, and many clothes. Share with your fellow tribesmen what you took from your enemies." Then they left for home. Moses had given land east of the Jordan to one half of the tribe of Manasseh, but to the other half Joshua had given land west of the Jordan, along with the other tribes.
So the people of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh went back home. They left the rest of the people of Israel at Shiloh in the land of Canaan and started out for their own land, the land of Gilead, which they had taken as the Lord had commanded them through Moses.
When the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh arrived at Geliloth, still on the west side of the Jordan, they built a large, impressive altar there by the river.
The rest of the people of Israel were told, "Listen! The people of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh have built an altar at Geliloth, on our side of the Jordan!"
When the people of Israel heard this, the whole community came together at Shiloh to go to war against the eastern tribes.
Then the people of Israel sent Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, to the people of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh in the land of Gilead.
Ten leading men went with Phinehas, one from each of the western tribes and each one the head of a family among the clans.
They came to the land of Gilead, to the people of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh,
and speaking for the whole community of the Lord, they said to them, "Why have you done this evil thing against the God of Israel? You have rebelled against the Lord by building this altar for yourselves! You are no longer following him! 2
Remember our sin at Peor, when the Lord punished his own people with an epidemic? We are still suffering because of that. Wasn't that sin enough? 3
Are you going to refuse to follow him now? If you rebel against the Lord today, he will be angry with everyone in Israel tomorrow.
Now then, if your land is not fit to worship in, come over into the Lord's land, where his Tent is. Claim some land among us. But don't rebel against the Lord or make rebels out of us by building an altar in addition to the altar of the Lord our God.
Remember how Achan son of Zerah refused to obey the command about the things condemned to destruction; the whole community of Israel was punished for that. Achan was not the only one who died because of his sin." 4
The people of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh answered the heads of the families of the western tribes:
"The Mighty One is God! He is the Lord! The Mighty One is God! He is the Lord! He knows why we did this, and we want you to know too! If we rebelled and did not keep faith with the Lord, do not let us live any longer!
If we disobeyed the Lord and built our own altar to burn sacrifices on or to use for grain offerings or fellowship offerings, let the Lord himself punish us.
No! We did it because we were afraid that in the future your descendants would say to ours, "What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?
He made the Jordan a boundary between us and you people of Reuben and Gad. You have nothing to do with the Lord.' Then your descendants might make our descendants stop worshiping the Lord.
So we built an altar, not to burn sacrifices or make offerings,
but instead, as a sign for our people and yours, and for the generations after us, that we do indeed worship the Lord before his sacred Tent with our offerings to be burned and with sacrifices and fellowship offerings. This was to keep your descendants from saying that ours have nothing to do with the Lord.
It was our idea that, if this should ever happen, our descendants could say, "Look! Our ancestors made an altar just like the Lord's altar. It was not for burning offerings or for sacrifice, but as a sign for our people and yours.'
We would certainly not rebel against the Lord or stop following him now by building an altar to burn offerings on or for grain offerings or sacrifices. We would not build any other altar than the altar of the Lord our God that stands in front of the Tent of his presence."
Phinehas the priest and the ten leading men of the community who were with him, the heads of families of the western tribes, heard what the people of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh had to say, and they were satisfied.
Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, said to them, "Now we know that the Lord is with us. You have not rebelled against him, and so you have saved the people of Israel from the Lord's punishment."
Then Phinehas and the leaders left the people of Reuben and Gad in the land of Gilead and went back to Canaan, to the people of Israel, and reported to them.
The Israelites were satisfied and praised God. They no longer talked about going to war to devastate the land where the people of Reuben and Gad had settled.
The people of Reuben and Gad said, "This altar is a witness to all of us that the Lord is God." And so they named it "Witness."