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The Altar Called Ed
The Israelites' crossing of The Jordan River to claim their physical promised land is one of the most well-known events of Bible History. But their crossing of the river was actually to complete the taking of their God-given land that had already begun east of the Jordan in the time of Moses. Gad, Reuben and half of Manasseh (see the map below) were assigned lands there, but crossed over with the other tribes to help them fight to take their territory west of the Jordan, just as the other tribes had helped them to take their provinces east of the Jordan.
"32:31 And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben answered, saying, As the LORD [see 'Before Abraham Was, I AM'] hath said unto thy servants, so will we do. 32:32 We will pass over armed before the LORD into the land of Canaan, that the possession of our inheritance on this side Jordan may be ours.
They "called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the LORD is God"
Upon the completion of their responsibilities in the time of Joshua (see also Joshua's Warning), the eastern tribes returned home.
"22:1 Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, 22:2 And said unto them, Ye have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you: 22:3 Ye have not left your brethren these many days unto this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God. 22:4 And now the LORD your God hath given rest unto your brethren, as he promised them: therefore now return ye, and get you unto your tents, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side Jordan. 22:5 But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.
As they were returning home (fighting men were the only ones to cross over; their families remained on the other side of the river, with sufficient forces to defend them), they became concerned that they would be forgotten, or regarded as less of Israel. So they built a monument, an altar, that would serve as historical evidence that they were one nation of diverse tribes. Their concerns were proven out by the response that the western tribes had toward their monument of unity - they gathered "to go up to war against them."
"22:10 And when they came unto the borders of Jordan, that are in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by Jordan, a great altar to see to.
The misunderstanding was settled before bloodshed. The altar was recognized for what it was, a witness of their unity. The King James uses the transliterated (written in one language, not according to meaning as in translation, but rather the way it sounds in another language) word "Ed" (i.e. "called the altar Ed" in KJV) which means witness, while the RSV and the Complete Jewish Bible render it as "the altar Witness."
"22:30 And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation and heads of the thousands of Israel which were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the children of Manasseh spake, it pleased them. 22:31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the children of Manasseh, This day we perceive that the LORD is among us, because ye have not committed this trespass against the LORD: now ye have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the LORD.
Fact Finder: (a) How did the tribes of Israel originate? (b) How and when did they divide into two separate kingdoms? (c) When will Israel and Judah be reunited?