Good morning! Today’s reading (Joshua 21-22) adds to the account of land designations by describing the cities from each tribe which belong to the Levites, then narrates a confrontation between the majority of Israel and those tribes who have settled on the east of the Jordan River.
The cities for the Levites are given by lot (chance) in Joshua 21. We don’t hear the mechanics of how these cities were randomly chosen, but they also include the six cities of refuge identified yesterday. I can’t help but think what trust would be required for the tribes to surrender control of these towns within their “inheritances” and provide space for the Levites. Were there jealousies and disagreements between these city-dwelling Levites (with their pasturelands) and the other tribes that surrounded them? We don’t (yet) see evidence of that, but it seems likely to me since humans are involved! Chapter 21 closes by emphasizing God’s faithfulness to the covenant promises of territory for the Hebrews.
Joshua 22 gives an example of human reliability to an earlier promise, and also reveals the negotiations needed to stay together despite evident mistrust between the tribes. The chapter begins with commendation of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh for their faithfulness in fighting west of the Jordan while their land-holdings are on the east. They have been loyal to the other tribes of Israel in fighting valiantly alongside them, so now that fighting is over these tribes go home with the spoils of battle. They build a great altar on the east side of the Jordan, which raises the hackles of the rest of Israel. They interpret this action as idolatrous rebellion against the true altar and tabernacle of God’s presence. Phinehas (the zealous warrior who spears an Israelite and Moabite in Numbers 25) reappears as a strongman emissary from the western tribes. He invokes examples of idolatry and disobedience from Hebrew history, including the “sin at Peor” (Numbers 25) and the rebellion of Achan (Joshua 7). Their concern seems to stem from an idea that God could only be manifest and truly worshipped in one geographic place, but also demonstrates a sensitivity to rival altars which reflects later conflict between Judah and Israel after the civil war. The eastern tribes respond that they have built this altar in order to keep faith with the rest of Israel, not to separate away. They fear that later generations might discount the eastern tribes and write them off from “really” belonging to Israel. Therefore, the altar is a visible reminder intended to mimic the altar of the tabernacle so as to convey their perpetual place among the tribes, even though they are east of the Jordan River. This story underscores again the desire of those tribes to be found faithful, and demonstrates unity across difference (communal loyalty which will later be in very short supply elsewhere in Israel). Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Joshua 23-24. Thanks for reading!