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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.

32:33 And Moses [see The Master's Messenger and The Trysting Tent] gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and unto half the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land, with the cities thereof in the coasts, even the cities of the country round about." (Numbers 32:31-33 KJV)

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.

The Promised Land

"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.

22:6 So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their tents. 22:7 Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given possession in Bashan: but unto the other half thereof gave Joshua among their brethren on this side Jordan westward. And when Joshua sent them away also unto their tents, then he blessed them, 22:8 And he spake unto them, saying, Return with much riches unto your tents, and with very much cattle, with silver, and with gold, and with brass, and with iron, and with very much raiment: divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.

22:9 And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go unto the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, whereof they were possessed, according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses." (Joshua 22:1-9 KJV)

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.

22:11 And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of Canaan, in the borders of Jordan, at the passage of the children of Israel. 22:12 And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them." (Joshua 22:10-12 KJV)

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.

22:32 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the princes, returned from the children of Reuben, and from the children of Gad, out of the land of Gilead, unto the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought them word again. 22:33 And the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel blessed God, and did not intend to go up against them in battle, to destroy the land wherein the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.

22:34 And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the LORD is God." (Joshua 22:30-34 KJV)

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?
(a) See Jacob's Family and The Origin Of 'Israel'
(b) The Division Of Israel, The Northern Kingdom and The Southern Kingdom
(c) The Gathering of Israel and Judah and David, Future King Of Israel


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