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Joshua 22:10 . A great altar to see to. See on Numbers 32:0. The object of this mount or tumulus was to show that they belonged to the Hebrew nation, and had hope in the Messiah. It was a sudden ebullition of thought, and the army executed the work in a few days. The ancients were accustomed to works of this kind from the earliest traces of society. At Marlborough we have two mounts, raised at different times by an army, for sepulchral honours and memorials of victory. In America there are great mounds, whose history is now lost; these were visited by Count Chateaubriand. So in Sweden also.
Joshua 22:34 . Ed; a witness that we are worshippers of the same God, and of the same religion as the Israelites. It is good for families to keep records of the piety of their ancestors.
The war being now closed, after the various conflicts and toils of seven years, Joshua called the remains of the forty thousand men of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, and applauded them for their piety, their discipline, and fidelity to the covenant made with Moses. Applauses of this nature proceeding from a prince, and accompanied with correspondent rewards, are among the highest honours attendant on merit. At the same time he delivered a charge, that they should return to their brethren, not as vagabonds and idle wicked men, but to cultivate the habits of social life with a fidelity equal to that with which they had executed the duties of war.
Joshua sent them home very much enriched with the cattle, and spoil of the devoted nations. The rewards of successful warfare made them nearly equals perhaps to those, who had cultivated their lands at home. Joshua here set a fine example to future princes. The soldier blanched in the service, who has won battles, guarded colonies, and endured the extremes of cold and heat, and every hardship by sea and land, ought not to be sent home to beg his bitter bread. The country which is grateful to those only who have friends in courts, and is negligent of humble merit, may alienate the affections of the poor to whom it is indebted for defence. But however forgetful earthly princes may be of their companions in the toils of war, it is not so with Jesus Christ. He crowns the conqueror with glory, and gives him a throne and a kingdom at his right hand: and he says to every one yet remaining in the conflict, I am thy shield and exceeding great reward.
These brethren and companions in war returned from the conquest, with a mind deeply impressed with the hand of God, and a spirit highly national. Hence they built an altar; say rather, a monument to apprize posterity, that they belonged to the Israel of God, who had achieved all these wonders. This pile being the work of an army, it presently raised its proud summit to overlook the plains, and it exhibited a sightly appearance when viewed from the distant hills.
The elders at Shiloh, by its sudden rise, took the alarm, for they supposed it to be a revolt of the Reubenites, and against the altar of JEHOVAH. Hence they instantly assembled in arms to punish the offenders. The people on the left bank of the river were imprudent in not acquainting their brethren with their design, unless they thought, as is highly probable, that no particular notice would be taken of their stupendous work. There was rashness also in the people on the right bank of the river, in not asking the purport of the pile before they assembled in arms. We seldom lose time by stopping a moment for reflection.
The offended party had however the prudence to send a very honourable deputation to their brethren, before they acted in a hostile manner. Phinehas the son of Eleazar, and ten princes of each tribe composed the embassy. Phinehas expostulated with them in a bold tone, for he was a man of great courage. Divested of all fear, he enumerated the consequences of past sins, to deter them from future presumption; arguments in themselves very weighty; but he had neglected to enquire of God before he entered on so serious a mission. Hence we should learn at all times, and especially in religious concerns, not to be led away with the impetuosity of passion.
On the other hand, the defence of the accused brethren is highly impassioned. They twice appeal to JEHOVAH, the God of gods; they simply unfold their design, and the noble motives which animated their conduct; and their eloquence carried conviction to the embassy. Just so, in religious society, when our conduct is suspected, or our motives thought not pure, let us be both ready and willing to give our brethren satisfaction on that head, because they are our brethren; and they ought at all times to be dearer to us than a mere opinion, so we shall become the more attached to one another after explanation; for many actions deemed at first sight reprehensible, are on investigation, like the altar of Reuben, laudable deeds. But though the Israelites on the west were blameable for their haste, they were certainly commendable for their zeal in the support of their national covenant, and the true religion. The God of their fathers was dearer to them than their brethren in the flesh. And had the children of future ages manifested the same zeal against the city, or the family which first introduced an idol, or bowed the knee to Baal, the covenant and glory of Israel would have remained for ever. Let the christian world learn hence never to suffer any apostasy from the form of sound words, handed down to us in the sacred writings. He who shall dare to invalidate the doctrines of truth sealed with the blood of Jesus, and the martyrdom of his apostles, accounts in fact the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and there remains nothing for him but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and of the fiery indignation of the Lord, which shall devour the adversaries.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 22". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13