Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Time; before the assembly broke up. The 40,000 had continued to fight along with their brethren, (Calmet) as long as there was occasion. Now peace being obtained, they are permitted to return to their families. (Haydock)
Ver. 4. And peace. This is a farther explication of rest, (Haydock) which alone occurs in Hebrew. It may denote a fixed and permanent abode, Deuteronomy iii. 20., and Ruth i. 9.
Ver. 6. Blessed them, like a good magistrate, having given them a solemn admonition not to forget God, the source of all blessings. (Haydock) — This expression may also intimate that he loaded them with praises and with presents, and wished them all prosperity. — Dwellings. Literally, “tents,” in which they had been accustomed to live, in the desert. Hence they gave the name to houses, temples, &c.
Ver. 8. Riches. Hebrew, Septuagint, &c., “cattle.” — Brethren. Grotius pretends that they were to keep what they had gotten. But his proofs rather shew that they were to follow the ancient custom and law, which prescribed that those who had remained at home to guard the country, should share the booty with those who had gone to battle, 1 Kings xxx. 24., and Numbers xxxi. 27. Some suppose that the booty was divided into equal parts, and the 40,000 would retain as much as all the rest of their brethren, who had been less exposed. The Israelites, however, made all alike, as other nations seem to have been, Exodus xv. 9., &c.
Ver. 9. Galaad here denotes all that country, (Calmet) as Chanaan does that on the west of the Jordan (Haydock) and Ephraim, the ten tribes. (Calmet)
Ver. 10. Banks. Hebrew Goliluth, which is (chap. xiii. 2, &c.) rendered Galilee, Galgal, “limits,” &c. (Haydock) — Chanaan, consequently on the western banks. Vatable, however, says that the eastern country went sometimes by this name, on account of the Amorrhites having dwelt in it. Josephus ([Antiquities?] v. 1.) and the Jews affirm, that the altar was built on that side; and it seems natural that these tribes would erect it in their own territories, for the benefit of their children. (Calmet) — The effect would nevertheless have been equal, on which side soever it appeared, as the Jordan was not so broad but they might see over. (Haydock) — Immensely. Hebrew, “a great altar to be seen,” like those heaps which Bacchus and Alexander raised to perpetuate the memory of their victories. (Pliny, [Natural History?] vi. 16.)
Ver. 12. In Silo, without being called, as they were all fired with a holy zeal, (Menochius) to prevent the growth of idolatry among their brethren. (Haydock) — They knew that one altar was to be allowed (Menochius) in the place which the Lord should appoint, Leviticus xvii. 8., and Deuteronomy xii. 5., &c. (Haydock) — God had ordered such cities as embraced idolatry among them, to be exterminated, Deuteronomy xiii. 12. (Calmet)
Ver. 14. Tribe. Another of the tribe of Levi, and deputies from the other nine tribes, accompanied Phinees on this important occasion. The Levites were most of all concerned, as their rights seemed to be particularly invaded. (Haydock) — The princes of the tribes did not (Calmet) perhaps (Haydock) go, but only men of high rank. Kimchi says, men set over a thousand. Hebrew, “ten princes with him of each chief house, a prince of all the tribes of Israel, and each one head of the house of his fathers, among the thousands of Israel.” (Calmet) — These were commissioned by Eleazar, Josue, and all the congregation, to endeavour to bring back their brethren to a sense of their duty, if they had so soon forgotten God, (Haydock) or if they should persist in their rebellion, to denounce an eternal war against them. (Menochius)
Ver. 16. Lord. Thus Phinees shews that he speaks in the name of those who still continued faithful to the Lord. He imputes the crime of apostacy to Ruben, &c., that they may declare more openly for what reason they had built this altar. (Menochius)
Ver. 17. Beelphegor. As they lived in the country, where this idol had been adored, Phinees was afraid lest they might have built the altar in his honour. He reminds them what destruction that worship had brought upon all Israel. He had been particularly zealous in appeasing the wrath of God, and therefore speaks with more authority. Hebrew, “is not the crime of Phegor enough for us, that we should not wish to expiate it until this day?” (Calmet) or Protestants, “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).” The stain of this impiety still remained upon Israel. They ought, therefore, to endeavour by sincere repentance, to obliterate it entirely, and not, by fresh provocations, enkindle the dreadful wrath of God. (Haydock) — There was reason to fear lest the Lord should punish this sin still more, as he is accustomed to do, when people relapse. (Calmet) — All must therefore shew their zeal to prevent such crimes, as the multitude sometimes suffers for the offence of one, when they do not take all possible care to prevent it, ver. 20. (Haydock)
Ver. 19. Unclean, as being destitute of the ark, &c. The Israelites had the greatest veneration for the land which God had chosen for their habitation. Naaman loaded two mules with some of the earth. We cannot help admiring the zeal and the disinterestedness of Phinees. He proposes to abandon some of the possessions on the other side of the Jordan, rather than that his brethren should forsake God, or offend him.
Ver. 20. Wickedness. Hebrew, “he did not expire in his sin,” (Calmet) but repented; (Haydock) or, Did he not? &c. The Septuagint, “he did not alone die in his sin.” Chaldean, “but this man alone did not die in his transgression.” (Calmet) — All Israel was in consternation, and 36 were slain. If this secret offence was so severely punished, what judgments will not the public apostacy of so many thousands draw down upon our heads!
Ver. 21. Israel. Septuagint, “answered the Chiliarchs of Israel,” who had spoken by the mouth of their president. They repel the charge with earnestness. (Haydock)
Ver. 22. God. In Hebrew there are three terms, (Calmet) El, Elohim, Yehova, “the strong, the judge, the self-existent Being.” To him they make their appeal. Him they acknowledge in the first place, as the only true God, as they had been accused of departing from him, ver. 19. (Haydock) — They are willing to undergo any punishment, if they had any evil intention. (Menochius)
Ver. 23. Sacrifice. Hebrew intimates particularly “of flour or libations.” (Calmet)
Ver. 24. To-morrow. At any future period. (Haydock) — Israel. The same idea is expressed, ver. 27. You have no part in the Lord. You are not his peculiar people. Of this title the Israelites were always very jealous, even when they neglected the worship and covenant of the Lord. (Calmet) — Hence these tribes take these precautions, that they may not be excluded from the society and privileges of their brethren on the other side of the Jordan. They profess openly that they do not esteem it lawful to offer sacrifice in any other place, besides that which God had chosen. (Haydock)
Ver. 31. Lord, who would not have failed to punish Israel for such a crime. (Calmet) — They rejoice, therefore, not only at the fidelity of their brethren, but also on their own account, because they may now confidently look up for protection to God, instead of being in continual apprehensions of feeling his avenging arm. (Haydock)
Ver. 32. Into, &c. (finium Chanaan) “of the confines of Chanaan,” which is ambiguous. (Haydock) — But the Hebrew removes the difficulty in this manner.
Ver. 34. God. Hebrew seems rather defective; (Calmet) “called the altar, (Syriac supplies the altar of witness) for it shall be a witness between us, that the Lord he is the God. Ed, “witness,” is placed in the margin of Plantin’s edition (Kennicott) and the Protestants have inserted it in the text, though in a different character, (Haydock) as “it is confirmed by the Syriac, Arabic, and Vulgate versions.” Kimchi quotes the Chaldean paraphrase, as having the word seid, “witness,” twice, which, if read in two places formerly, has been lately omitted in one, as many other alterations have perhaps been made in it, in conformity to the later copies of the Hebrew text. It is still found in one Chaldean manuscript and in that of Masius. Between the two last words of this verse, some Hebrew manuscripts read eva, “He.” “The Lord, He is the God;” which not only gives an emphasis, but is expressly confirmed by the Chaldean; and indeed this seems to have been a common form of confessing the belief of the one true God, 3 Kings xviii. 39. (Kennicott, Diss. i.) — Masius would translate, “They made an inscription upon the altar, declaring that it should be an eternal witness of their attachment to the Lord.” Cora, in effect, sometimes means to write, as Alcoran, in the Arabic tongue, signifies “the scripture” (Calmet) of the Mahometans, which they hold in the utmost veneration, as containing the life and doctrine of their great prophet. The Septuagint (Grabe) insinuate that Josue approved of what had been done, “and Jesus gave a name to the altar,….and said, it is a witness in the midst of them, that the Lord God is their God.” Thus, instead of war and destruction, which seemed to threaten Israel on all sides, all ended in peace and harmony. If Christians would imitate the conduct of the Israelites, they would not so rashly condemn their neighbours on every idle report; and, if our adversaries would condescend to examine seriously into the grounds of charging idolatry upon us, and on that account waging an eternal war against us, it is to be hoped they would pronounce our doctrine innocent, and reform their own iniquitous proceedings. (Haydock)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The tribes of Ruben and Gad, and half the tribe of Manasses, return to their possessions. They build an altar by the side of the Jordan, which alarms the other tribes. An embassage is sent to them, to which they give a satisfactory answer.
1 At *the same time Josue called the Rubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasses,
2 And said to them: You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you: you have also obeyed me in all things,
3 Neither have you left your brethren this long time, until this present day, keeping the commandment of the Lord your God.
4 Therefore as the Lord your God hath given your brethren rest and peace, as he promised: return and go to your dwellings, and to the land of your possession, *which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan:
5 Yet so that you observe attentively, and in work fulfil the commandment, and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you: that you love the Lord your God, and walk in all his ways, and keep all his commandments, and cleave to him, and serve him with all your heart, and with all your soul.
6 And Josue blessed them, and sent them away, and they returned to their dwellings.
7 Now to half the tribe of Manasses, Moses had given a possession in Basan: and therefore to the half that remained, Josue gave a lot among the rest of their brethren, beyond the Jordan to the west. And when he sent them away to their dwellings, and had blessed them,
8 He said to them: With much substance and riches, you return to your settlements, with silver and gold, brass and iron, and variety of raiment: divide the prey of your enemies with your brethren.
9 So the children of Ruben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasses, returned, and parted from the children of Israel in Silo, which is in Chanaan, to go into Galaad, the land of their possession, which they had obtained according to the commandment of the Lord, by the hand of Moses.
10 And when they were come to the banks of the Jordan, in the land of Chanaan, they built an altar immensely great near the Jordan.
11 And when the children of Israel had heard of it, and certain messengers had brought them an account that the children of Ruben, and of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasses, had built an altar in the land of Chanaan, upon the banks of the Jordan, over-against the children of Israel:
12 They all assembled in Silo, to go up and fight against them.
13 And in the mean time they sent to them, into the land of Galaad, Phinees the son of Eleazar the priest,
14 And ten princes with him, one of every tribe,
15 Who came to the children of Ruben, and of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasses, into the land of Galaad, and said to them:
16 Thus saith all the people of the Lord: What meaneth this transgression? Why have you forsaken the Lord, the God of Israel, building a sacrilegious altar, and revolting from the worship of him?
17 Is it a small thing to you *that you sinned with Beelphegor, and the stain of that crime remaineth in us to this day? and many of the people perished.
18 And you have forsaken the Lord to-day, and to-morrow his wrath will rage against all Israel.
19 But if you think the land of your possession to be unclean, pass over to the land wherein is the tabernacle of the Lord, and dwell among us: only depart not from the Lord, and from our society, by building an altar beside the altar of the Lord our God.
20 *Did not Achan, the son of Zare, transgress the commandment of the Lord, and his wrath lay upon all the people of Israel? And he was but one man, and would to God he alone had perished in his wickedness.
21 And the children of Ruben, and of Gad, and of the half tribe of Manasses, answered the princes of the embassage of Israel:
22 The Lord the most mighty God, the Lord the most mighty God, he knoweth, and Israel also shall understand: If with the design of transgression we have set up this altar, let him not save us, but punish us immediately:
23 And if we did it with that mind, that we might lay upon it holocausts, and sacrifice, and victims of peace-offerings, let him require and judge:
24 And not rather with this thought and design, that we should say: To-morrow your children will say to our children: What have you to do with the Lord the God of Israel?
25 The Lord hath put the river Jordan for a border between us and you, O ye children of Ruben, and ye children of Gad: and therefore you have no part in the Lord. And by this occasion your children shall turn away our children from the fear of the Lord. We therefore thought it best,
26 And said: Let us build us an altar, not for holocausts, nor to offer victims,
27 But for a testimony between us and you, and our posterity and yours, that we may serve the Lord, and that we may have a right to offer both holocausts, and victims and sacrifices of peace-offerings: and that your children to-morrow may not say to our children: You have no part in the Lord:
28 And if they will say so, they shall answer them: Behold the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for holocausts, nor for sacrifice, but for a testimony between us and you.
29 God keep us from any such wickedness that we should revolt from the Lord, and leave off following his steps, by building an altar to offer holocausts, and sacrifices, and victims, beside the altar of the Lord our God, which is erected before his tabernacle.
30 And when Phinees the priest, and the princes of the embassage, which were with him, had heard this, they were satisfied: and they admitted, most willingly the words of the children of Ruben, and Gad, and of the half tribe of Manasses.
31 And Phinees the priest, the son of Eleazar, said to them: Now we know that the Lord is with us, because you are not guilty of this revolt, and you have delivered the children of Israel from the hand of the Lord.
32 And he returned with the princes from the children of Ruben and Gad, out of the land of Galaad, into the land of Chanaan, to the children of Israel, and brought them word again.
33 And the saying pleased all that heard it. And the children of Israel praised God, and they no longer said that they would go up against them, and fight, and destroy the land of their possession.
34 And the children of Ruben, and the children of Gad, called the altar which they had built, Our testimony, that the Lord is God.
1: Year of the World 2562, Year before Christ 1442.
4: Numbers xxxii. 33.; Josue i. 13. and xiii. 8.
17: Numbers xxv. 3.; Deuteronomy iv. 3.
20: Josue vii. 1.