Warrior Prophets, Chapter 17
Introduction to Part II
To War with the Eastern Tribes
From the diary of Boaz the Bethlemite:
“Though consistently triumphant, the natural order prevailed during the remainder of Joshua’s battles. The miraculous days of Moses, the manna from heaven, and the lighting-fast conquests of the vast tracts of land east of the Jordan, all became a vague recollection to me. Even the fantastic battles at Jericho and at Gibeon seemed like a distant memory. It took seven years for the Children of Israel to conquer the land of Canaan, and even then, there were significant areas that the Canaanites still held. Thankfully, Joshua excused me from further fighting. Eventually, I was able to play and study as a normal child, reclaiming some of that lost innocence. It lessened the trauma of the death and destruction I had been a part of.
We conquered many cities and killed many soldiers. The idols and their worshippers were destroyed throughout the land. But there was still a vast population of Canaanites that went unconquered and unchallenged. It took a further seven years to divide the conquered land amongst the less aggressive tribes. My tribe of Judah, under Caleb’s leadership, was the first to claim our vast territory, stretching southward from Jerusalem over the mountains and down until the desert of Beer Sheva. The descendents of Joseph, namely the tribe of Ephraim and the western half of the tribe of Menashe, secured their territory from the ancient city of Shechem and northwards.
The Reuvenites, Gadites and half of the Menashites, the two-and-a-half tribes, as they were called, had their territories on the eastern side of the Jordan, bequeathed to them by Moses himself on condition that they fight with the western tribes. They had done so admirably.
One story I heard but did not witness, tells, how the Reuvenites, upon attacking a city and overcoming the initial defense would immediately attack the city’s temple, smashing its idols, dismantling the altars and then burning the structure. It seemed this took the heart out of the defenders and made conquest all the easier.
The two-and-a-half tribes had left their families and possessions behind and were always at the forefront of every battle. After the battles of conquest ended, the two-and-a-half tribes pressed Joshua to let them return home, or to proceed with division of the rest of the land to the tribes that had not yet claimed any land.
The tribe of Levi, dedicated to the service of God, would receive no tribal allotment. Rather they would be split up throughout cities in Israel and give guidance and instruction to the rest of Israel. The other tribes, Simeon, Yissachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naftali, Asher and Benjamin were comfortable in the camp of Shilo. There was a unity and camaraderie they were hesitant to give up. Joshua berated them:
‘How long will you hesitate to go in to possess the land, which the Lord has given you? Appoint for you three men for each tribe and walk through the land, and describe it according to their inheritance. And they shall divide it into seven portions.’
Surveyors were sent to the conquered territories. They measured tribal boundaries. They noted the cities that belonged to each territory. Upon their return, Joshua conducted a public lottery. The names of the seven remaining tribes were written on a small piece of parchment and placed in a burlap bag. The names of the demarcated territories were likewise written on parchment and placed in a separate bag. The princes of the homeless tribes grabbed one parchment from each bag. So the territories were assigned.
The two-and-a-half tribes went back home. I was twenty four that year. And then we received the news. After a fourteen year campaign of eradicating idol worship, after having worshipped together with us at the sole Tabernacle in Shilo, we received word that the two-and-a-half tribes built their own altar on the banks of the River Jordan, on the border of their tribal allotment. This meant war. War with our own brothers.
Joshua dispatched Pinchas the priest and the ten western tribal princes. They went together with the top soldiers and commanders. Joshua said it would be a diplomatic delegation. It was a delegation with hundreds of Israel’s most fearsome warriors. And Joshua asked me to go along…
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Joshua Chapters 18 and 22