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Read Joshua 22

Eastern Tribes Return Home

1 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh and said to them, “You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. For a long time now—to this very day—you have not deserted your fellow Israelites but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you. Now that the Lord your God has given them rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their homes. (To the half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had given land in Bashan, and to the other half of the tribe Joshua gave land on the west side of the Jordan along with their fellow Israelites.) When Joshua sent them home, he blessed them, saying, “Return to your homes with your great wealth—with large herds of livestock, with silver, gold, bronze and iron, and a great quantity of clothing—and divide the plunder from your enemies with your fellow Israelites.”

So the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land, which they had acquired in accordance with the command of the Lord through Moses.

10 When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan.11 And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, 12 the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.

13 So the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 14 With him they sent ten of the chief men, one from each of the tribes of Israel, each the head of a family division among the Israelite clans.

15 When they went to Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh—they said to them: 16 “The whole assembly of the Lord says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the Lord and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? 17 Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the Lord! 18 And are you now turning away from the Lord?

“‘If you rebel against the Lord today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel. 19 If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the Lord’s land, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the Lord our God. 20 When Achan son of Zerah was unfaithful in regard to the devoted things, did not wrath come on the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.’” 

21 Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: 22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the Lord, do not spare us this day. 23 If we have built our own altar to turn away from the Lord and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the Lord himself call us to account.

24 “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord.

26 “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ 27 On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’

28 “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’

29 “Far be it from us to rebel against the Lord and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle.”

30 When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community—the heads of the clans of the Israelites—heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased. 31 And Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, said to Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is with us, because you have not been unfaithful to the Lord in this matter. Now you have rescued the Israelites from the Lord’s hand.”

32 Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the leaders returned to Canaan from their meeting with the Reubenites and Gadites in Gilead and reported to the Israelites. 33 They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived.

34 And the Reubenites and the Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us—that the Lord is God.


Go Deeper

The land promised to the Israelites is now established. The proverbial dust has settled. The promise fulfilled. Each tribe staying the course until the last acre of land acquired. Not one person selfishly falling behind to enjoy their secured inheritance while the rest of the tribes fought to secure theirs. A job fully done. Faithfulness to the end. Family fighting for the desired goal. Family fighting for one another. 

Each tribe now had possession and provisions. Final exhortations and goodbyes given. The two and a half tribes that lived on the east side of the Jordan river finally sent home to enjoy and rest in their inheritance given by God. But not before Joshua’s final commendation and instruction: 

Love the Lord your God.

Walk in obedience to Him.

Keep His commands. 

Hold fast to Him.

Serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.

And as it sometimes goes with family, the goodbyes aren’t even off the tongue before fighting for our families turns to fighting with our family. 

Misunderstandings are inevitable. Family dynamics and expectations are often layered and complicated and missed. But, we can learn and apply wisdom to our relational misunderstandings from these strange names and often confusing rituals found on the holy pages of Scripture. 

Like Phinehas and the representatives of the western tribes we can hold in tension a readiness to courageously take a stand against sin and a readiness to listen for understanding. Courage to confront while believing the best in another. Like the western tribes we, as believers, move toward other believers in attempts to reconcile…not assume or alienate or abandon them. 

This is the gospel. While we were still sinners, Christ moved into our world. Hating sin and loving people. He died a death we deserve so that we may be called children and friends of God and be part of His eternal family. He taught us how to be reconcilers. Let’s put His teaching into practice.


  1. What do you learn from Joshua’s leadership in this chapter? 
  2. Why was it so important for the Israelites to be unified in their worship to God? Why is it important for us as believers to be unified?
  3. Is there someone in your life with whom you need to make a step toward reconciliation today? What action will you take to move toward them?

Did You Know?

There are multiple reasons Phinehas was chosen to go confront the wayward Israelites in Gilead. Not only was he the high priest over the whole nation, but he was also a prominent figure in their war with the Midianites (Numbers 25, 31). He had a lot of credibility built up with them, so he was a logical person to send.

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2 thoughts on “Joshua 22”

  1. In Joshua 22 the eastern tribes finally return home. For seven years they have been separated from their families to fight for their brothers’ rights. They have faithfully obeyed God’s commands and now return to their homes with great wealth to share with their brothers. Joshua’s parting words to the tribes are weighty. They will be a new nation living among pagan people and the only way to stay true to their God will be to “carefully obey the command and instruction that Moses the Lord’s servant gave you: to LOVE the Lord your God, WALK in his ways, KEEP his commands, REMAIN faithful to him, and SERVE him with all your heart and all your soul.” These tribes then build an altar of remembrance and its purpose got misunderstood and blown out of proportion. What was meant to be a symbol of a common faith was now rumored to be rebellion against God. Thankfully, Phinehas, the high priest, investigated and discovered the true meaning of the altar. I’m amazed at how quickly the tribes were to judge their own brothers, who were clearly seen as faithfully following God and had fought beside them in conquering the land. Oh, wait, I have been guilty of the same thing more times than I care to admit. Why are Christ-followers so quick to judge each other? Today, I want to err on the side of mercy and grace not jumping to conclusions but stopping to humble myself before God in prayer, the only righteous judge. In conflict, may we seek to understand and be willing to take that bold 1st step in seeking resolution.

  2. I am also encouraged by how Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh took the time to explain why they built the alter. Kindly and thoroughly they gave testimony to their heart and motives. Rather than taking offense at being misunderstood and adding conflict they instead reassured the heads of the clans of Israel the heart behind the action. I want to respond this way when I feel misunderstood.

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