Joshua Chapter 22 (ESV)
21 Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, 22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the Lord, do not spare us today 23 for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the Lord himself take vengeance. 24 No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord.26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”’ 28 And we thought, ‘If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, “Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.”’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away this day from following the Lord by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle!”
30 When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes. 31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the Lord. Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the Lord.”
32 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the chiefs, returned from the people of Reuben and the people of Gad in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the people of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 And the report was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled. 34 The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”
The tribes which had been given land on the east side of the Jordan had fulfilled their commitment to the rest of Israel. They had entered the Promised Land and fought with rest tribes. Now it was time for them to return to their own homes. But since the Israelites would be living on both sides of the river, the Jordan Rift Valley became a natural barrier which hindered the unity of the twelve tribes.
When the returning tribes built an altar by the Jordan, their brothers interpreted it as an act of rebellion against the Lord, and they were ready to go to war rather than risk divine punishment (vv19-20).
The eastern tribes then explained their reason for building the altar was to be a memorial. This explanation was accepted by the western tribes. A potential conflict and division was resolved.
It is easy to misunderstand another person’s actions. Both groups acted wisely. The western tribes decided to talk before acting. The easterners didn’t take offense, but instead humbly explained what they had done.
It’s good to remember that before we accuse, we need to go to the persons involved and talk about what has happened. And if anyone misunderstands an act of ours, rather than be upset, we need to be humble and willing to explain.
PRAYER: Is there an unresolved conflict between you and another person?
Lord, when I am ready for worship or to serve in the church, help me to examine my heart. Prompt me to seek reconciliation before coming to worship/serve. For I know that if I have cherished in sin, the Lord will not have listened. But you have indeed listened and have heard my prayer. (ref. Matt 5:1-5, Ps 66:18-20).