Joshua sends the Transjordanian tribes home and they make an altar along the way. This enrages the Cisjordanian tribes. War is averted when the Transjordanians explain that their “altar” is actually a memorial that is not meant for sacrifice.
The Cisjordanian Israelites are ready for war: “When the Israelites heard this, the whole community of the Israelites assembled at Shiloh to make war on them.” (v. 12)
III. Select Verses
7a: To the one half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had assigned territory in Bashan, and to the other Joshua assigned [territory] on the west side of the Jordan, with their kinsmen.
7b-10: Furthermore, when Joshua sent them off to their homes, he blessed them and said to them, “Return to your homes with great wealth — with very much livestock, with silver and gold, with copper and iron, and with a great quantity of clothing. Share the spoil of your enemies with your kinsmen.” So the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh, in the land of Canaan, and made their way back to the land of Gilead, the land of their own holding, which they had acquired by the command of the LORD through Moses. When they came to the region of the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a great conspicuous altar.
12: When the Israelites heard this, the whole community of the Israelites assembled at Shiloh to make war on them.
24-27: We did this thing only out of our concern that, in time to come, your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? The LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between you and us, O Reubenites and Gadites; you have no share in the LORD!’ Thus your children might prevent our children from worshiping the LORD. So we decided to provide [a witness] for ourselves by building an altar — not for burnt offerings or [other] sacrifices, but as a witness between you and us, and between the generations to come — that we may perform the service of the LORD before Him with our burnt offerings, our sacrifices, and our offerings of well-being; and that your children should not say to our children in time to come, ‘You have no share in the LORD.’
30: When the priest Phinehas and the chieftains of the community — the heads of the contingents of Israel — who were with him heard the explanation given by the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the Manassites, they approved.
33: The Israelites were pleased, and the Israelites praised God; and they spoke no more of going to war against them, to ravage the land in which the Reubenites and Gadites dwelt.
1-6a. Joshua praises, blesses, and warns Reuben, Gad, and Half Manasseh
6b. These tribes return to their tents
7a. Review: Manasseh was allotted land by both Moses and Joshua
7b-8. Joshua’s blessing
9. These tribes set off for Gilead
10. They build an altar before crossing the Jordan
11-12. The Cisjordanian Israelites prepare for war
13-15. Phinehas and ten leaders approach the tribes
16-20. The delegation reprimands the 2 1/2 tribes
21-29. The 2 1/2 tribes respond: the altar is not for sacrifice, it is a replica as a witness
30-31. The delegation accepts the response
32-33. The Cisjordanian Israelites accept the report
34. The witness altar is named
It is interesting to note that the tribe of Manasseh, which was dealt land by both Moses and Joshua (v. 7), is seemingly ready to do battle against itself in vv. 11-20. This is because the Cisjordanians sent 11 emissaries, one priest (a Levite) and ten leaders, presumably one from each of the 10 Cisjordanian tribes, Manasseh included. This means that a leader from Cisjordanian Manasseh was willing to go to war against his Transjordanian brethren. Also note that Joshua, who is still alive at this point in the narrative, does not play a role in avoiding the civil war.
VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)