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Commentary On Joshua by Jean Calvin

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, (Exodus 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, (1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 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 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.

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, (1 Samuel 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. 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.

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