After Israel had conquered the land of Canaan, the fighting men of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh were summoned by Joshua. He commended them for their faithfulness in keeping all that Moses had commanded them. Next he warned them to remain faithful to Jehovah God in all of their future dealings, and finally he blessed them and released them to return to their families on the east side of the Jordan (Joshua 22:1-9).
Just before crossing the Jordan, the men of these tribes erected a large altar on the west side of the Jordan along the frontier (22:10-11). As word spread of their actions, all of Israel assembled at Shiloh in preparation for making war on these tribes. Phinehas, the priest, and the most senior elder of each of the remaining tribes were then sent to confront the men of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh saying, “What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the Lord this day, by building yourselves an altar, to rebel against the Lord this day?” (22:16). These emissaries also noted that when some of God’s people engage in idolatry all of the people suffered God’s wrath (22:17-18) and even the sin of one man had caused suffering and death at the battle of Ai (22:19-20).
There is no mistaking the seriousness of this offense in the minds of the emissaries. They were the vanguard of a military action, and they used phrases like “unfaithful act,” “turning away,” and “rebel against the Lord.” They compared this act of building an altar with the sins of Peor and the unfaithfulness of Achan who took things under the ban at Jericho.
The response given by the men of these eastern tribes was lengthy, emphatic, and intense. They first point out that God knows their motives, but they want their brethren throughout Israel to also know and understand their motives (22:21-22). Then they assure the elders of Israel that if they have engaged in an act of idolatry or unfaithfulness to the Lord, then they did not deserve to be spared and that their punishment would be no less than the hand of the Lord turned against them (22:22-23). Finally, after denying that they had acted unfaithfully, they explained exactly why they had built their altar. They were concerned about the generations to come and were afraid that in time some on the west side of the Jordan would consider their future generations to no longer be a part of the covenant, saying, “You have no portion in the Lord” (22:27). The altar was never intended to be an instrument of worship or sacrifice, but an altar of witness to remind the future generations of both sides that those on the east side of the Jordan were brethren and “that the Lord is God” (22:24-29). Furthermore, they would not cease to worship the Lord at Shiloh, the designated place where the tabernacle was pitched in permanency.
The explanation that these men gave for their actions was acceptable and allayed the valid concerns of those sent to find out what was meant by building this altar. For their part, the elders of Israel, upon hearing this explanation, thanked the men for their forthrightness and for keeping the western tribes from making war against them. They said, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this unfaithful act against the Lord; now you have delivered the sons of Israel from the hand of the Lord” (22:31).
What lessons could we take from this event? First, honest men can misunderstand the motives of others. Nothing indicates that the rest of Israel was wrong to be alarmed at what they saw but misinterpreted. Second, unfaithfulness to God, especially on a level that involves widespread unfaithfulness, is serious and must be confronted. While in fact there was no unfaithfulness, it did not appear that way to the rest of Israel; and their serious reaction to their perceptions is justifiable. If we were equally as serious today, there would be less sin in the camp! Third, choosing wise men to investigate is prudent. It was nothing less than what was required for those under that covenant (Deut. 13:12-15). We should be equally as prudent by checking our facts before dialing our phones or spreading rumors in other ways. Fourth, be willing to listen to reason. The explanation given ran for nine verses (while the confrontation and rebuke was only five verses in length), and it gave assurances of faithfulness to the Lord regarding every single valid concern that had been raised. Fifth, when a brother proves his innocence in a matter for which you feel wronged, be thankful and acknowledge that he has kept you from sinning against him by judging him falsely.
God gave us the information in Joshua 22 for a reason (Rom. 15:4).
Keep studying. DC Brown ©2016