-Joshua now summoned the tribes of the sons of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to Shiloh in order to bless them and send them back to their possessions on the eastern side of the Jordan. Joshua noted that they indeed had not forsaken their brothers in all the many battles. They had followed the command of the LORD and their earthly leader. They had kept the charge. Now they were given their proper rest and allowed to return to their families and livestock in good order. Joshua’ only request was that they “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 His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” His blessing was sincere, right on point, and then he sent them away. They had been blessed with many spoils of war, and now it was their responsibility to be good stewards with the things they were entrusted (Joshua 22:1-9).
-When the tribes of the eastern side came to the region of the Jordan still in the land of Canaan, the sons of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh (the half-tribe) decided to build an altar by the Jordan River. The altar was described as being “large” in appearance. As the sons of Israel to the western side heard of it, they were suspicious and gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war. Intelligently, a delegation was sent to inquire about this altar before bloodshed began. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, along with ten chiefs from the tribes of Israel on the western side, went to Gilead and spoke with their brothers on this matter of the large altar. They had been offended and assumed that their brothers had done an unfaithful act against the LORD God in building this altar. They worried that they were rebelliously turning away from the God who had given them victory for some reason. They compared it to the sins of Peor (Numbers 25:1-9) and the plague that came upon them as an entire congregation. They knew all too well the wrath of the Almighty and recounted Achan’s debauchery that ended up causing the unnecessary deaths of many of their brothers (Joshua 7:1-26; 22:10-20). Ticking off God was serious business to them.
-The sons of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Mannaseh assured them that there was no misconduct in their erection of this altar. They called down the wrath of God if they had any evil intent with their actions. They truly desired the LORD, and wanted to make sure that their posterity would follow Him too with the border that could one day possibly divide them. It was for unification and consecration and a future concern regarding their children’s fear of the LORD that inspired them to construct this altar. They had been totally misunderstood. The altar was not for burnt offering or sacrifice, but for a witness between their western brothers and them for the generations that would inevitably come after them. They wanted to make sure that their families completely understood that they had a “portion in the LORD.” They maintained that it would be far from them to do anything illegal before the LORD in this matter. They were not being rebellious at all. This indeed pleased the delegation that had come from the west. They returned home with the news and it also pleased the sons of Israel; therefore, war not even discussed anymore. The altar was thereafter known as “Witness,” aptly named by the sons of Reuben and Gad “for” they said, “it is a witness between us (the entire nation of Israel) that the LORD is God (Joshua 22:21-34).”
-*Application* How many times do we make wrong assumptions about people and situations? Do we, like the 10 western tribes, sometimes operate out of fear and suspicion rather than good will? Think about this for a second, Joshua had just sent these guys out with blessing and shortly afterward they were considering going to war with these dudes and killing them. Crazy, right? Yet we do some of the exact same things with our Christian brothers and sisters in the fellowship realm. Thankfully, there is a prescription here in the text for us to follow in these times and situations. Go to the people we may have fears about or suspicions towards. See what the real story is. Then we can address whatever it is in the proper manner without freaking out. Often, we will find, as in this case, it was just a huge misunderstanding, and greater joy and camaraderie will be the result as the matter is cleared up. Let us make sure that we are building altars of witness between us establishing the LORD as our God in love and Christian brotherhood.
Verses to Memorize: Joshua 22:3-5, 22