22 August 2012

Walk with Him Wednesday ~ A Witness Between Us that the Lord is God

 {I'm giving something new a try here @ Our Wrighting Pad. Every week, a community of bloggers joins Ann for Walk with Him Wednesday, posting what God is teaching them regarding different spiritual practices that draw us nearer to His heart. This week finishes a series of three - though I've only participated the last two - focusing on "The Practice of Relationship."}

Somewhere in between 1451 BC (Joshua recognized as Moses' successor) and 1425 BC (fulfillment God's promise of a homeland to Abraham's descendents), the priest Phineas led a group of Israelite elders to confront the tribes of Gad, Reuban and half of the tribe of Manasseh. Choosing to settle in Gilead instead of within the Promised Land, these tribes had nonetheless faithfully warred with the rest of their people to overpower and overcome the Canaanites. Conquest completed, Joshua released these valiant men to return to their desired portions, first charging then blessing them with the following words: 
You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have listened to my voice in all that I commanded you. You have not forsaken your brothers these many days to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God. And now the LORDyour God has given rest to your brothers, as He spoke to them; therefore turn now and go to your tents, to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan. Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.... Return to your tents with great riches and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, iron, and with very many clothes; divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.” (Joshua 22:2b-5, 8)
As they returned, these men stopped on the Canaan side of the Jordan stopped and built a large altar. When word reached the other 8.5 tribes, horror at such a blatant act of unfaithfulness filled their hearts. This obvious affront to God's Law needed to be dealt with immediately and so "whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war."
Reubenites discuss the altar
(originally found here)
I picture that confrontation starting off as a really tense one. Think about it.

The larger group of Israelites had a vested interest in seeing that God's law was devotedly and meticulously kept. In recent history, many perished as the result of the sin of a single man - Achan, and the consequences of their iniquity at Peor presently impacted their daily lives, still. They knew from experience that God could (and had in the past) righteously visit His wrath on the unfaithful. If I stood in their shoes, potential consequences to my tribe and my family would concern me first and foremost; but I also believe I'd worry about what might happen to these brothers of mine who'd so recently sacrificed for my benefit; we'd struggled alongside and battled the world together shoulder to shoulder. I believe this larger group if Iraelites truly deemed their response as the only one God would expect and want from them. They were in agreement, reaching a pretty amazing consensus if you think about it, and united they acted, seeking out and confronting the warriors from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh.

Yet when I consider the perspective of that group of returning warriors, they had every reason to react indignantly to this response from their brothers. Hadn't they just a significant chunk of time, delaying their reward to wind something that was of no personal benefit to them to keep a promise and to aid the rest of their nation? Why would their brothers assume the worst of intentions - that rebellion and disloyalty motivated the building of the altar? How could they march to confront, prepared first for battle instead of proposing dialogue and discerning of the true motives and heart intent of their compatriots?

As the two groups met, the confonters demanded: "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?" As I study this chapter, I'm so thankful they asked first... a typical confrontation generally implies attacking and maybe an "interrogation," saving any seeking questions (or asking forgiveness when needed) for later... and after-the-fact afterthought.

"The Mighty One, God, the LORD, the Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the LORD do not save us this day!" the "offending" warriors responded. They continued by explaining they had no intention of worshipping at this altar. Rather, they constructed it to remind both sets of tribes on the two sides of the Jordan of their shared inheritance as God's chosen. Their concern for their sons and daughters motivated the construction of this memorial altar, an undeniable proof of their joint, divine heritage. These wise men finished by saying: this altar is "...a witness between us and you [that the LORD is God]. Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD and turn away from following the LORD this day, by building an altar for burnt offering, for grain offering or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the LORD our God which is before His tabernacle.”

How did the larger group of Israelites respond? Pleasure! They were encouraged, for clearly their brothers remained faithful and intended to do so. They would be teaching and discipling the coming generations in the way of their faith.

What a relevant story for today. For today, many issues divide those who name themselves "followers of Jesus," destroying dialogue, fellowship and relationship. Christians of all different stripes tend to allow issues to become more important than people, their brothers and sisters in the Lord -
  • dividing those who should be friends and brothers,
  • extinquishing feeble flames of unity,
  • mocking grace - for what has been freely received should be freely given to others,
  • distracting Jesus-followers from growing a relationship with their Lord because they are so obsessed and preoccupied with human relationships within the Church,
  • judging intent without first asking to determine motivations,
  • battling first and asking questions (if questions happen at all) once all is said and done,
  • choosing harsh, angry, mean-spirited, accusatory words and violent, drastic and/or dramatic courses of action without first considering how those paths might be perceived by others,
  • insisting on rights instead of Christ-like laying down of rights, and
  • refusing to graciously accept the concern proffered, to recognize that zeal for obedience to God's revealed will requires a response to sin or what appears to be sinful.(i.e. We are to be our brothers' keepers. We need to have each other's back, sensitive to Holy Spirit guidance and willing to risk God-guided, biblical confrontation.)
I really like how Matthew Henry says it:

...there was on both sides a disposition to peace, as there was a zeal for God; for quarrels about religion, for want of wisdom and love, often prove the most fierce and difficult to be made up. Proud and peevish spirits, when they have passed any unjust blame on their brethren, though full evidence be brought of its unfairness, can by no means be persuaded to withdraw it. But Israel was not so prejudiced. They looked upon their brethren's innocence as a token of God's presence. Our brethren's zeal for the power of godliness, and faith and love, notwithstanding the fears of their breaking the unity of the church, are things of which we should be very glad to be satisfied. The altar was called ED, a witness. It was a witness of their care to keep their religion pure and entire, and would witness against their descendants, if they should turn from following after the Lord. Happy will it be when all professed Christians learn to copy the example of Israel, to unite zeal and steady adherence to the cause of truth, with candour, meekness, and readiness to understand each other, to explain and to be satisfied with the explanations of their brethren. May the Lord increase the number of those who endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! May increasing grace and consolation be with all who love Jesus Christ in sincerity!


  1. I taught through Joshua this summer, and that scene between the two divisions of Israel would definitely have been tense! I liked the parallel you drew between them and the Church. It will be a fine day when we stop splitting denominational hairs and start making disciples.

    Blessings from VA!

    1. Thanks for stopping by.

      I've gone through Joshua so many times, but never had thought about that aspect of that particular account before.

      Sadly, I think that fine day will be in glory! Can't wait for that. :-)


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