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Commentary On Joshua by Jean Calvin

Joshua 22:21-34

21. Then the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh answered, and said unto the heads of the thousands of Israel,

21. Responderunt autem filii Ruben, et filii Gad, et dimidia tribus Manasse, loquutique sunt cum principibus millium Israel.

22. The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the LORD, (save us not this day,)

22. Deus deorum Jehova, Deus deorum Jehova ipse novit, et Israel cognoscet, si per rebellionem, et si per prevaricationem in Jehovam, ne serves nos die hac.

23. That we have built us an altar to turn from following the LORD, or if to offer thereon burnt offering or meat offering, or if to offer peace offerings thereon, let the LORD himself require it;

23. Si cogitavimus aedificare nobis altare, ut averteremur ne iremus post Jehovam, et si ad immolandum super illud holocausta et sacrificium, et si ad faciendum super illud sacrificia prosperitatum, Jehova ipse inquirat.

24. And if we have not rather done it for fear of this thing, saying, In time to come your children might speak unto our children, saying, What have you to do with the LORD God of Israel?

24. Et si non potius timore hujusce rei fecimus hoc dicendo: Cras dicent filii vestri filiis nostris dicendo: Quid vobis et Jehovae Deo Israel?

25. For the LORD has made Jordan a border between us and you, you children of Reuben and children of Gad; you have no part in the LORD: so shall your children make our children cease from fearing the LORD.

25. Nam terminum posuit Jehova inter nos et vos filii Ruben et filii Gad, Jordanem: non est vobis portio in Jehova: et cessare facient filii vestri filios nostros, ut non timeant Jehovam.

26. Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:

26. Et diximus, Demus nunc operam ut aedificemus altare, non pro holocausto, nec pro sacrificio:

27. But that it may be a witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the LORD before him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, You have no part in the LORD.

27. Sed ut testis sit inter nos et vos, et inter generationes nostras post nos, ut serviamus servitutem Jehovae coram eo in holocaustis nostris, et in sacrificiis nostris, et prosperitatibus nostris: et ne dicant filii vestri cras filiis nostris, Non est vobis pars in Jehova.

28. Therefore said we, that it shall be, when they should so say to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say again, Behold the pattern of the altar of the LORD, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between us and you.

28. Diximus itaque, Et erit, si dixerint nobis aut generationibus nostris cras, tum dicemus, Videte similitudinem altaris Jehovae quod fecerunt patres nostri, non pro holocausto, neque pro sacrificio, sed ut testis sit inter nos et vos.

29. God forbid that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn this day from following the LORD, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the LORD our God that is before his tabernacle.

29. Absit a nobis ut rebellemus contra Jehovam, et avertamur hodie ne eamus post Jehovam, aedificando altare pro holocausto, pro oblatione, et pro sacrificio, ultra altare Jehovae Dei nostri quod est ante tabernaculum ejus.

30. And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation and heads of the thousands of Israel which were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the children of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them.

30. Porro quum audisset Phinees sacerdos, et principes coetus, capitaque millium Israel qui cum eo erant, verba quae loquuti fuerant filii Ruben, et filii Gad, et filii Mannasse, placuit in oculis eorum.

31. And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the children of Manasseh, This day we perceive that the LORD is among us, because you have not committed this trespass against the LORD: now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the LORD.

31. Dixitque Phinees filius Eleazar sacerdotis filiis Ruben, et filiis Gad, et filiis Manasse, Hodie novimus quod in medio nostri sit Jehova, quod non praevaricati sitis contra Jehovam praevaricationem istam: tunc liberastis filios Israel de manu Jehovae.

32. And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the princes, returned from the children of Reuben, and from the children of Gad, out of the land of Gilead, unto the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought them word again.

32. Reversus est igitur Phinees filius Eleazar sacerdotis, et principes illi a filiis Ruben, et a filiis Gad, de terra Gilead ad terram Chanaan ad reliquos filios Israel, et retulerunt eis rem.

33. And the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel blessed God, and did not intend to go up against them in battle, to destroy the land wherein the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.

33. Placuitque res in oculis filiorum Israel, atque benedixerunt Deo filii Israel: neque decreverunt ascendere contra eos ad pugnam, ut disperderent terram in qua filii Ruben et filii Gad habitabant.

34. And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the LORD is God.

34. Vocaverunt autem filii Ruben et filii Gad altare Hed, dicendo: Quia testis erit inter nos quod Jehova est Deus.

21. Then the children of Reuben, etc The state of the case turns on the definition. For the children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, explain that they had a different intention, and thus exculpate themselves from the charge, inasmuch as the nature of the proceeding was quite different from what the others supposed. In not making a disturbance, nor picking a quarrel for the injustice done, to them they give an example of rare modesty, which is held forth for our imitation; so that if at any time anything we have rightly done happen to be unjustly and falsely blamed by those not acquainted with its nature, we may deem it sufficient to refute the censure only so far as may be necessary for clearing ourselves. Moreover, that the more credit may be given to them, and that they may the better attest their integrity, they, by a solemn protest, put far from them the wickedness of which they were suspected. For there is force and meaning in the reduplication, The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, by which they with vehemence affirm, how faithfully they desire to persevere in the doctrine of the Law, and how greatly they abhor all contrary superstitions. But as their intention was not patent to men, and every one explained it variously, according to his own sense, they appeal to the judgment of God, and offer to submit to punishment if he decide that they had attempted anything wickedly. And to prove that they are not like hypocrites who, with abandoned wickedness, appeal to God a hundred times as judge even when they are convicted in their own minds, they not only bring forward conscience, but at the same time declare, that the whole people will be witness; as if they had said, that it will be made palpable by the fact itself, that they never had any intention of devising any new form of worship; and they rightly explain, how the altar would have been unlawful, namely, if they had built it for the purpose of offering sacrifice. For the Law did not condemn the mere raising of heaps of stones, but only enjoined that sacrifices should be offered in one place, for the purpose of retaining the people in one faith, lest religion should be rent asunder, lest license should be given to human presumption, and thus every man might turn aside to follow his own fictions. We thus see how an explanation of the nature of the deed removes the detestation which the ten tribes had conceived of it.

It is not strictly correct, though appropriate enough, for the rudeness of sense, to place our God above all gods. For it is impossible to compare him with others, seeing that no others actually exist. Hence, in order to avoid the apparent absurdity, some interpreters substitute angels for gods; this meaning holds in some cases, though not in all. It ought not, however, to seem harsh when he who is the one sole supreme being is called the God of gods, inasmuch as he has no equal, standing forth conspicuous above all other height, and so, by his glory, obscuring and annihilating all names of deity which are celebrated in the world. Hence this mode of speaking ought to be viewed with reference to the common sense of the vulgar.

26. Therefore we said, etc The gross impiety of which they had been accused was now well refuted; and yet they seem not to have been in every respect free from blame, because the Law forbids the erection of any kind of statues. It is easy, however, to excuse this by saying, that no kind of statues are condemned except those which are intended to represent God. To erect a heap of stones as a trophy, or in testimony of a miracle, or a memorial of some signal favor of God, the Law has nowhere prohibited. (Exodus 20:4; Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 5:8) Otherwise, Joshua and many holy judges and kings after him, would have defiled themselves by profane innovation. But the only thing displeasing to God was to see the minds of men drawn hither and thither, so as to worship him in a gross and earthly manner. The children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh do all that is required for their exculpation, when they declare that they would use the altar only as a bond of brotherly union; and add a sufficient reason, namely, the danger there was, lest, after a long course of time, the ten tribes might exclude the others as strangers, because they did not inhabit the same land. For as the country beyond the Jordan was not at first comprehended in the covenant, a difference of habitation might ultimately prove a cause of dissension. They therefore consult timelessly for their posterity, that they may be able by means of the altar as a kind of public document to defend their right, that they may mutually recognize each other, and unite in common in serving one God.

30. And when Phinehas the priest, etc Phinehas and the ambassadors rightly temper their zeal, when, instead of harshly insisting and urging the prejudice which they had conceived, they blandly and willingly admit the excuse. Many persons, if once offended and exasperated by any matter, cannot be appeased by any defense, and always find something maliciously and unjustly to carp at, rather than seem to yield to reason. The example here is worthy of observation. It teaches us that if at any time we conceive offence in regard to a matter not sufficiently known, we must beware of obstinacy, and be ready instantly to take an equitable view. Moreover, when the children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh are found free from crime, Phinehas and the ambassadors ascribe it to the grace of God. For by the words, We know that Jehovah is in the midst of us, they intimate that God was propitious to them, and had taken care of their safety.

This is to be carefully observed; for we are able to infer from it that we never revolt from God, or fall off to impiety unless he abandon us, and give us up when thus abandoned to a reprobate mind. All idolatry, therefore, shows that God has previously been alienated, and is about to punish us by inflicting judicial blindness. Meanwhile, we must hold that we persevere in piety only in so far as God is present to sustain us by his hand, and confirm us in perseverance by the agency of his Spirit. Phinehas and the ambassadors speak as if they had been delivered by the children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, because there was no longer any ground to fear the divine vengeance, when all suspicion of criminality had been removed. At last similar equity and humanity are displayed by the whole people, when accepting the defense of their brethren they gave thanks to God for having kept his people free from criminality.

Though they had been suddenly inflamed, they depart with calm minds. In like manner the two tribes and the half tribe carefully exert themselves to perform their duty by giving a name to the altar, which, by explaining its proper use, might draw off the people from all superstition.

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