Modern discourse, both in and outside the Church, seems to be fraught with suspicion and accordant condemnation of others, because we think we fully know other’s motives. Especially if they are people we disagree with theologically or politically. If they do not see things completely as we do, then there MUST be some nefarious reason. And in our pretended omniscience, we are certain we can dive deep into their souls and divine the dark coal of their wicked purposes. Whether those purposes are actually there or not.
And it is sin.
Joshua chapter 22 shows us how even the very best of men can fall prey to this tendency. And, it shows us just how disastrous such a practice can be. Why we need to ask questions and ascertain a full blown set of truths, before we begin accusing. Or, as in this case, before we nearly start a civil war. A war very narrowly averted.
The book of Joshua catalogs the events and battles of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. Key victories and even some key defeats are displayed before us. There are acts of bravery, heroics, bad choices, miracles, sad compromises and throughout – God’s faithfulness to His promises. It is a rollicking account.
By the time we come to chapter 22, all of the major conquests are done. There are pockets of enemies still to be dealt with, but the basic landmass has been secured and parceled out among the tribes. And if you recall, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and 1/2 of Manasseh had petitioned to receive their inherited lands east of the Jordan. That petition had been granted on condition of those tribes still aiding the remaining tribes in their conquering of the land west of the Jordan. Which they did.
Now, it is time for Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh to return to their allotment. Upon doing so, they stop at the Jordan – the traditional eastern border of Israel – and build what vs. 10 calls “an altar of imposing size.” Once news of this got out – we read: Josh. 22:12 “And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.”
God had made it abundantly clear over and over again, that there was to be but one place in Israel for sacrifice and worship – and that was to be where the Ark of the Covenant was – and where the Levitical Priesthood would officiate. For all intents and purposes, this signaled a breach of the worst kind – rebellious idolatry.
War seemed inevitable.
Israel gets its army together and marches up against Reuben, Gad and 1/2 of Manasseh and calls them out.
Josh. 22:16-17 ““Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord? Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the Lord,”.
Serious stuff indeed.
The “rebels” respond. In essence they say – “if we’re actually doing what you think we’re doing – you should wipe us out. But we’re not doing that. Since we are separated from you by the Jordan, we feared that in time you might not consider us still part of Israel, and might eventually say “You have no portion in the Lord.” So we built this, not for sacrifices or worship – but merely to serve as a reminder that we are still all one nation serving the same God.”’”
Here’s the problem.
Reuben, Gad and half-Manasseh thought they could guess the future motives of Israel about something that hadn’t even happened yet. And Israel thought they could guess the current motives behind something they didn’t fully understand. And because both groups were steeped in their mutual suspicion, they nearly entered into a civil war that potentially could have cost many thousands of lives. All because suspicious minds were certain they knew why other people were doing things they didn’t understand or like. And because no one thought to talk about it to the other party to find out what was really going on.
Maybe, just maybe, our homes, our Churches and our political discourse could learn something here.
For the Body of Christ’s sake – I pray so.