Margin Notes: Reading Joshua 22

Joshua 22:9–30 (NET) — 9 So the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites in Shiloh in the land of Canaan and headed home to their own land in Gilead, which they acquired by the Lord’s command through Moses…and built there, near the Jordan, an impressive altar.11 The Israelites received this report: “Look, the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the entrance to the land of Canaan, at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side.” 12 When the Israelites heard this, the entire Israelite community assembled at Shiloh to launch an attack against them…15 They went to the land of Gilead to the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and said to them…‘Why have you disobeyed the God of Israel by turning back today from following the Lord? You built an altar for yourselves and have rebelled today against the Lord…You are rebelling today against the Lord; tomorrow he may break out in anger against the entire community of Israel…don’t rebel against the Lord or us by building for yourselves an altar aside from the altar of the Lord our God…21 The Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh answered the leaders of the Israelite clans..we decided to build this altar, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, 27 but as a reminder to us and you, and to our descendants who follow us, that we will honor the Lord in his very presence with burnt offerings, sacrifices, and tokens of peace. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to our descendants, ‘You have no right to worship the Lord.’28 We said, ‘If in the future they say such a thing to us or to our descendants, we will reply, “See the model of the Lord’s altar that our ancestors made, not for burnt offerings or sacrifices, but as a reminder to us and you.” ’29 Far be it from us to rebel against the Lord by turning back today from following after the Lord by building an altar for burnt offerings, sacrifices, and tokens of peace aside from the altar of the Lord our God located in front of his dwelling place!” 30 When Phinehas the priest and the community leaders and clan leaders who accompanied him heard the defense of the Reubenites, Gadites, and the Manassehites, they were satisfied.

Barely had the Israelites taken possession of Canaan then they faced civil war. And over what? One group assuming they knew the motives of another group, and interpreting their actions according to their misunderstanding.

Things haven’t changed much, have they?

Of all the lessons in the Christian life I’ve needed to learn personally, this one certainly falls into the top 5 if not the top 3. I do not know, I CANNOT know the motives of other people’s hearts. And how desperately I need to reserve judgments until ALL the facts are in.

This scenario is a simple albeit tricky, and nearly disastrous one. After all 12 tribes of Israel had fought to so hard to take possession of Canaan, the 2 & 1/2 tribes who had been assigned their inheritance east of the Jordan, finally went home to live in it. And as the text notes, when they got to the Jordan – they built a large, conspicuous altar there. Moses had made it abundantly clear that God was going to choose a place in Israel where He would have the one official altar built – the single altar where sacrifices for sin and worship would be located. At that place alone, all the males in Israel would have to appear 3 times a year according to God’s command. No other such altar was authorized. And now, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and 1/2 of Manasseh had built this altar. What to do? The text says that as soon as the others heard about it – they “assembled at Shiloh to launch an attack against them.” Nobody asked any questions. No one sought for clarity first. They just strapped on their weapons, got on their horses and full of their righteous indignation – got ready for the massacre.

How much like me.

Fortunately, the 2.5 tribes didn’t just say “bring it on” – but took the time to explain themselves. And when they did, the war was averted. And the text says the 9.5 tribes “were satisfied.”

How careful we must be here Believer. How easily we can assign motives to actions before we’ve ever bothered to really ascertain the truth. And how often Christians throughout the centuries both on the Church level, and personally – have waged needless, bloody and divisive conflicts all because we were absolutely sure we knew the motivations lurking in the hearts of others. Father forgive us.

The truth is, some things can take on a very sinister appearance at first glance, which when investigated more fully, could actually be the very opposite. What appears to be sin or rebellion to the naked eye, may in fact, be careful devotion.

Beware. None of us knows the motives of others hearts until they are revealed in thoughtful dialog and disclosure. Base no decisions on why you “think” or “feel” someone did or said what they did. Brother to brother, seek them out and ask. And who knows but that your union will be all the greater for having disposed of unwarranted suspicions.

Father help us. Help us to live in love, and not baseless suspicion of hearts and motives we cannot possibly know.

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