Joshua 22:1-6 – Lessons from the Eastern Tribes

For those who follow after God, these six verses of Joshua 22 issue a hefty challenge.
  • It only takes a little digging to see where the challenge comes.
    • (1) Obedience – Submitting to Authority
    • (2) Connectedness of the “Body”
    • (3) Clinging to God


Joshua 22:1–3 (ESV) — 1 At that time Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 2 and said to them, “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. 3 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.

Our first three verses lead us into some background.
  • We need to take a look at Numbers 32 and Joshua 1.

Numbers 32:
“Moses the servant of the Lord commanded” what?
  • In Numbers 32, the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh (vs. 33) are given the land on the east side of the Jordan.
  • Their first inclination, once given the land, was not surprising.
  • Numbers 32:5 (ESV) — 5 And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.”

Moses was not pleased.
  • Numbers 32:6 (ESV) — 6 But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here?
  • The answer, of course, was “NO!”
  • Among other things, Moses said it would “discourage the heart of the people of Israel” (vs. 7).

Then Moses warned them:
  • Numbers 32:15 (ESV) — 15 For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”
  • The last time some of the Israelites refused to cross the Jordan, they wandered for 40 years.
  • Moses is suggesting something like this will happen again.

Wisely, their response was:
  • “…we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place…” (vs. 17).
  • We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance” (vs. 18). 

Joshua 1:
What was Joshua’s “all that I have commanded you”?
  • We find it in Joshua 1.
  • Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you…” (vs. 13).
  • Joshua simply repeated the commands of Moses.
  • Simple enough, but would they submit to the new leadership of Joshua.
  • Moses’ authority was established, but Joshua had yet to solidify his leadership.

Their response to Joshua:
  • 16 And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses!

Joshua commended the people for their obedience to Moses and to himself.
  • There are a number of reasons why this obedience was so important.
    • More soldiers.
    • Unity and morale.

But, one is difficult for Westerners to understand.
  • It is profoundly offensive to the individualistic culture of the West.
  • It has to do with the individual’s responsibility to the “body”.


Moses made it clear that the 2 ½ tribes had a responsibility to join with their brothers in the Conquest of Canaan.
  • Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here?” (vs. 6).

We saw earlier that the 2 ½ tribes first response to this responsibility was essentially, to give it a Western spin, “we got ours, leaves us alone”.
  • Their actual words were, “Do not take us across the Jordan” (vs. 5).

Moses had some harsh words for this rebellion.
  • Numbers 32:23 (ESV) — 23 But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out.
  • As part of the elect nation of Israel, called out by God to bless the nations, the 2 ½ tribes had responsibilities to the group – well beyond themselves.
  • To abandon this responsibility to the group was a sin “against the Lord”.

But worse than that, their “we got ours, leave us alone” sin would impact the body of Israel negatively.
  • Moses said, it would “discourage the heart of the people of Israel” (vs. 7).
  • This was itself sinful; a stumbling block.

So the 2 ½ tribes desire to stay behind on their rightful land was both –
  • (1) A sin against God – that would have affected their standing with God.
    • For which they sin would be “found out” – ominous language.
  • (2) A sin against the body of Israel – that would have been a stumbling block.

But wait, there is more:
  • (3) Their sin would have also resulted in their absence from fellowship.
  • Or to put more severely, it would have severed the fellowship of the body of Israel.
  • As the body of Israel sought to pursue God’s will in the Conquest, they would have been absent.
  • They would have missed out on all that God had done on Israel’s behalf – the work of God in redemptive history.

BTW – Is the body of Christ participating/fellowshipping together in worship, sacraments, learning and teaching a work of God in redemptive history?

We have just discovered the connectedness of the body of Israel.
  • The actions of a few have consequences for the many.
  • This was true whether they believed it or not.
  • This concept clashes with Western individualism.

Connectedness – A Western Hang-up:
It is an affront to everything American to teach that sin is not a private affair!
  • A Barna survey revealed the following about American Christianity –
  • “The Christian faith is less a life perspective that challenges the supremacy of individualism as it is a faith being defined through individualism…with feelings and emotions more significant” than Scripture – John Jefferson Davis.

However, theologically, the Church is put together in such a way that, just as we are in union with Christ, we are in union with our brothers and sisters.
  • Union with Christ is not individualistic!
  • The implications of this are many.

Joshua 22 speaks of one such implication:
  • Joshua 22:18b (ESV) — 18b And if you [2 ½ tribes] too rebel against the Lord today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel.
  • Achan’s sin also affected the body of Israel.

Paul also speaks about the implications of this union.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:26–27 (ESV) — 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
  • And speaking about the Church and how it is defiled he says, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Cor. 5:6b).
    • The leaven is sin (an act of sexual immorality); the lump is the Church.

If you are in Christ, you are no longer your own!
  • The 2 ½ tribes who were “in Israel”, were no longer their own.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 (ESV) — 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

The Blessing of Obedience and Connectedness:
Joshua 22:4 & 6 (ESV) — 4 And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised them. Therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan…6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.

The 2 ½ tribes obedience to God, Moses and Joshua to join with their brothers bore fruit:
  • They presumably already had rest in their land – it had been conquered.
  • But, now their rest included a participation in the rest of their brothers.

In fact, in Joshua 22 we see just how much they came to value this connectedness of the body of Israel.
  • They built an altar to bear witness to it.
  • Joshua 22:24 (ESV) — 24 No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?


Joshua 22:5 (ESV) — 5 Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

After Joshua commended them for their obedience he offered a word of exhortation.
  • He quoted Moses quoting God:
  • Deuteronomy 6:4–5 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Some 1400+ years later the other Joshua – Jesus – would say:
  • Matthew 22:37–40 (ESV) — 37 …“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” 

Joshua’s words make clear, as we have seen previously, that obedience to the covenant sworn at Sinai was needed.
  • Israel had obligated itself to the law at Sinai.
  • If there were disobedience, Israel itself would come under a “cherem”.
  • Disobedience by any tribe would also bring God’s curses upon the entire body – as we just saw.

But, behind this outward conditional “works” based obedience, there was an inward heart issue.
  • Cling to him and…serve him with all your heart and with all your soul”.
  • Joshua exhorts the tribes to “cling” to God serving Him with all their heart and soul.
  • The Hebrew carries with it the idea of being physically “joined” to something.

The Greek LXX chose a word for “cling”, “kollao”, that is often used in texts that speak of sexual union.
  • Ephesians 5:31 (ESV) — 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

The point, apparently, was to convey how dependent upon and intimate the clinging was to be.
  • Theologically speaking, they were to be one with God with their heart, soul and mind.

Paul speaks of this intimate clinging too:
  • 1 Corinthians 6:17 (ESV) — 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

Who powers the “clinging” that Joshua exhorts?
  • Who is the Joiner?
  • Jeremiah 13:11 (ESV) — 11bso I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.
  • God chose Israel as His people; they did not choose him.
    • In fact, they failed over and over.
  • He chose to join Himself to them in covenant.

So, it seems that when Joshua spoke of clinging to God, he was alluding not just to being faithful to God in obedience as His chosen people.
  • He already said that.

But, given the intimacy of the term and the source of the clinging, it appears he was referring to something like the faith of Abraham.
  • A trust in what God has done.
  • A trust that He will do what He says He will do – that He was a covenant faithful God.

This trust is the very opposite of the idolatrous trust in themselves or others.
  • Sadly, the type of trust Israel was quite good at – 12 spies, Achan, Ai, etc.
  • The type we just read about in Jer. 13:11.

Moses alluded to a heart based trust/clinging this way:
  • Deuteronomy 10:16 (ESV) — 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

And, looking forward in God’s redemptive history, this meant that they were to cling to Christ as found in the Pentateuch:
  • The “He” who crushes the serpents head (Gen. 3:15).
  • The Promised Offspring (Gen. 26).

Jeremiah sums up the kind of clinging that Joshua was advocating.
  • Jeremiah 17:5–8 (ESV) — 5 Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6 He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”