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There were six such cities of refuge; three on
; each side of the river Jordan, and so located as to be at convenient distances for the benefit of the several tribes.
At the same time, also, forty-eight cities, with suitable suburbs, were appointed for the residence of the Levites, and distributed among them by lot. They were, in this way, stationed among the different tribes in all parts of Canaan, to be the instructers of the people in the institutions and ordinances of religion; and by their example and influence to preserve the Israelites against idolatry, and keep alive among them the spirit of obedience to the only true God.
Thus the various divisions of the country were completed, and the divine promises most faith fully fulfilled. "The Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. And the Lord gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers : and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them: the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed not aught of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel ; all came to pass.”
Man often violates his engagements, or may not have the means of carrying them into effect. But what God promises he will never fail to perform. His truth and omnipotence are both pledged to do it. " Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe."
The services of the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, being now no longer necessary, Joshua called them together, in order to grant them permission to return to their families and possessions on the east side of the Jordan. There were forty thousand of them; and they had continued to be faithful and efficient soldiers, during the late wars which the Israelites had carried on in completing the conquest of Canaan. They were doubtless anxious to see once more their wives and children, their relatives and friends, and to settle down in their own territory, and cultivate the arts of peace.
After commending their fidelity and obedience, and telling them that the Lord, according to his promise, had given rest unto their brethren, Joshua directed them to return to the land of their possession which Moses had assigned them. " Take diligent heed,” said he, "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.” He then gave them his blessing, remind. ing them at the same time, of the vast amount of
spoils which they would carry with them—the cattle, silver, gold, brass, iron, and raiment-and enjoining them to give a suitable portion of these spoils to their brethren who had remained at home to protect their families, and conduct the management of their affairs.
Under these favorable auspices, they took their departure from Shiloh, and soon after crossing the Jordan, erected a great altar, of such height and extent that it was visible at a very considerable distance.
It was not long before the other tribes on the west side of the river heard of what was done; and their fears were awakened lest the transaction was an act of direct disobedience to the di, vine commands, and perhaps of open idolatry. For God had given an express injunction to the whole nation to offer up their sacrifices on but one altar, and only at the place which he should appoint for its erection. The most exemplary punishment, too, was required to be inflicted by the Israelites upon the individuals or the cities who should establish any idolatrous rites worship.
Had their brethren done this? It might prove to be the case. Their jealousy for the divine honor was aroused. The people were assembled, and after deliberation on the subject, it was con. cluded, before setting out with an army to inflict
the merited chastisement upon the offenders, to send an embassy, to inquire more particularly into the matter. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the high priest, and ten princes of as many of the tribes of Israel, were deputed on this impor. tant errand. They were, undoubtedly, men of distinction, cool judgment, and weight of character, fitted to the magnitude of the trust reposed in them, and who would act with prudence, and all necessary forbearance. It was a wise measure, as the result proved, and furnishes one, among many similar instances, how much it is the part of candor and forbearance towards others, to examine the motives and ends of their conduct, before hastily concluding from mere appearances or reports, that they are wrong. If a little more of this charity were exercised by men, in their intercourse with each other, it would save a great deal of secret heart-burning, and of open
strife. The deputation arrived in the land of Gilead, the residence of the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh. They immediately made known the object of their errand, and inquired why it was that their brethren had thus, as it would seem, been guilty of an open and flagrant act of disobedience to the Lord, in erecting a new altar for his worship. They reminded them of the awful displeasure of the Almighty,
in consequence of some former transgressions of the Israelites, and of their rashness in again provoking his judgments, not only upon themselves but upon the whole nation. If they were dissatisfied with the allotment of their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan, thinking that of the other tribes, on the opposite side, a more favorable one, especially because the tabernacle of the Lord was there, they might pass over and have provision made for them among their brethren, who would cheerfully make any sacrifices for such a purpose. "But rebel not," said they,
, " against the Lord, nor rebel against us, in building you an altar besides the altar of the Lord our God. Did not Achan, the son of Zerah, commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel ? and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.”
What a noble example of disinterestedness, and of pious regard for the honor of God, and the true welfare of their whole nation! When will individuals, and families, and civil communities imbibe such a spirit, and carry it out in the management of their various affairs. To seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and to be willing to make sacrifices and practise self-denial, that ourselves and others may be led to love and obey him, is both our highest duty and happiness. Would men universally do this, our