Here’s a long stretch of chapters in Joshua that concern the division of the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel. It’s a fairly dry series, with a few interesting nuggets of information scattered throughout…you know, just enough to keep you reading. Our email group talked about the biggest lesson from these chapters, and we concluded that it was that God is a God of order, and He cares about the details. It’s encouraging to see the way God cares about — and takes care of — the minutiae of our lives.
The passage ends with a fascinating story in which a well-intentioned monument nearly leads to civil war:
10 When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan.11 And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side,
12 the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.
13 So the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
14 With him they sent ten of the chief men, one for each of the tribes of Israel, each the head of a family division among the Israelite clans.
15 When they went to Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh—they said to them:16 “The whole assembly of the Lord says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the Lord and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now?17 Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the Lord!
18 And are you now turning away from the Lord?
“ ‘If you rebel against the Lord today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel.19 If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the Lord’s land, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the Lord our God.
20 When Achan son of Zerah acted unfaithfully regarding the devoted things, did not wrath come upon the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.’ ”
21 Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel:22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the Lord, do not spare us this day.
23 If we have built our own altar to turn away from the Lord and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the Lord himself call us to account.
24 “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?
25 The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord.
26 “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’
27 On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’
28 “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our fathers built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’
Joshua 22:10-28 (NIV)
There’s a double lesson here, from both sides of the story. One is to make your intentions clear. Despite the innocence of your intentions, don’t ever think that it’s easy to know why you do something. The other lesson is not to assume. Find out what’s going on before you jump into a situation. Thankfully, the Israelites checked into the situation by sending Phinehas.
Thus marks the end of a long stretch of less-than-compelling chapters, but like anything else in God’s Word, there’s wisdom to be found. Sometimes you just have to look.