Notice first that their entire transformation is based on Yahweh’s faithfulness: “Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers.
And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their
enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their
hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:43-45). We can
understand Israel’s reaction in these three chapters and in the whole fifth unit of the Bible in context with Yahweh’s grace.
Now we are ready to delve into these last chapters. Notice that Joshua
congratulates the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh for their
obedience and faithfulness: “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the
LORD commanded you and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded
you. You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the LORD your God” (Joshua 22:2-3). Notice that we have read about five years of the conquest of the land, and this group has not registered one complaint about leaving their families on the other side of the Jordan River while they participate in the conquest of the Promised Land for the benefit of their brothers. By their actions they have extinguished any of the doubts Moses had about them in Numbers 32. Therefore, they are returning to their new homeland in victory: “So Joshua blessed them and sent them away,
and they went to their tents… He said to them, ‘Go back to your tents with much wealth and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, and iron, and with much clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers” (Joshua 22:6, 8).
Immediately something happened that almost started a civil war: “And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size” (Joshua 22:10). “And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them” (Joshua 22:12).
Before we launch criticisms at the two groups for this crisis, we ought to let them speak. Notice first that the concern of the nine and a half tribes is the relationship of all Israel with Yahweh’s holiness. They remember the lesson of Midian and Baal-peor about Yahweh’s devastating holiness (Numbers 25; Joshua
22:17; happily, they have internalized Moses’ historical instruction and produced it when they most needed it!) They remember that the sin of just one man can curse the whole nation just like Achan’s sin caused the defeat of the Israelite army (Joshua 7; 22:20). They do not stand in enmity against their brothers on the other side of the river; instead, they invite them to come and live with them within the borders of the Promised Land if they desire (Joshua 22:19). But in their zeal for Yahweh’s holiness, they do not want a sin on the part of the two and a half tribes to cause a plague on the entire nation.
The two and a half tribes answer with a declaration of faith that expresses the exclusivity of their worship of Yahweh: “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD!” (Joshua 22:22) They are as zealous as their brothers for Yahweh’s holiness. Their concern is that the enormous geographical breach that forms the Jordan River would form a breach between them and the rest of the tribes, leaving them outside the worship of their God, separated from their brothers
just like their neighbors: the Moabites, the Ammonites and the Edomites. Phineas and the delegation of the nine and a half tribes are satisfied (Joshua 22:30-34).
Diplomacy zealous for Yahweh’s holiness has saved the nation from civil war.
In chapters 23 y 24, Joshua gives a farewell address to Israel similar to that of Moses in the whole book of Deuteronomy but much shorter, without prophecy and without naming a successor. He includes a historical summary of Yahweh’s grace (Joshua 24:2-13), blessings and curses for obeying or disobeying the covenant (Joshua 23) and therefore, an exhortation to obey Yahweh in the present (Joshua 24:14-15).
The people respond by confirming Joshua’s words and their obedience to the covenant in recognition of Yahweh’s devastating holiness (Joshua 24:16-24). They
reconfirm the covenant before Yahweh in Shechem (Joshua 24:25-28), the same
place where Yahweh first promised the land to Abraham (Genesis 12:5-7).
And thus the book of Joshua, the feats of this generation and the fifth unit of the Bible all close with the reaffirmation of the covenant and the burial of three leaders: Joshua, Eleazar and the bones of the patriarch Joseph (Joshua 24:29-33). These serve as three monuments to Yahweh’s faithfulness across the generations and testimony to the fact: “Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45).