One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Sunday, April 21, 2013: Joshua 22:21-23:16
Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh, “This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord. Now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.” Joshua 22:31 (NKJV)
Isn't it amazing how quickly relationships can deteriorate and turn sour? Old seemingly dormant issues resurface and an uneasy peace turns into an outright war. That's what happened to two and a half tribes of Israel.
It all started in the days before Israel crossed Jordan. After 40 years of journey, all Israel stood on the brink of entering their Land of Promise. Quite amazingly, the tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh decided to opt out at the last minute. They felt that they had gone far enough. These two and a half tribes offer a strange kind of instruction for us today.
In Numbers 32 we read the first chapter of this story. These two and a half tribes saw land that was GOOD ENOUGH. God had promised them THE BEST, but they chose to stop short. They settled for a land that seemed adequate for their needs. They had cattle, and this land east of Jordan was "a place of livestock" (Num.32:1). Like Lot before them (Gen. 13:10-11), they chose a well-watered land that looked good enough, but it was not God's best plan.
Moses reluctantly granted their wish (Num. 32:20-24). He only required that they enter Canaan to help their fellow tribes win their territories, too. It is clear that this decision by these two and a half tribes was a surprise and a disappointment to the rest of Israel. They had come such a great distance only to stop short of Canaan. It does not seem that Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had any thought of rebellion or disobedience. They had no desire to separate themselves from their brothers in the other tribes. They did it purely out of expedience and convenience. Their cattle would be well cared for. It did not occur to them that this move was inconsistent with the historic call of God on their lives. They simply responded to immediate need and the first available answer. Does this sound familiar to you? We far too often settle for WHAT WORKS rather than believe for God's best!
Years later, in Joshua 22, the second chapter of these two and a half tribes unfolds. They had fulfilled their word to Moses and helped their fellow tribes win their territories. Joshua released them to return east of the Jordan. It was a solemn moment when Joshua charged them to keep the faith with the ten tribes west of the Jordan (Josh. 22:5). From this point the story goes haywire and brings God's family to the brink of their first civil war.
The two and a half tribes BUILT AN ALTAR on the banks of the Jordan River -- a great and impressive altar (Josh. 22:10). In fact it looked just like the main altar before the Tabernacle at Shiloh. The ten tribes of Israel MISUNDERSTOOD what these two and a half tribes were trying to do. They thought this new altar was designed to set up a new "East-of-Jordan" type of worship and sacrifice.
The old injury re-surfaced. The seeds of distrust that were planted in Numbers 32 came back to life in Joshua 22. This new altar WAS NOT what they thought it was. It was not for burnt offerings or sacrifice. Instead it was for WITNESS -- for solidarity -- for saying, "We are still one people." By the grace and mercy of God, a war was averted. But, there are several lessons we should take away from this story.
1. Distrust can destroy our relationships. If distrust is allowed to remain and fester, it can ultimately bring an all-out war. When the two and a half tribes settled for land east of Jordan it produced a silent anger in the other ten tribes. That anger lay dormant until additional evidence surfaced to "confirm" their suspicions. Lesson: DEAL WITH TRUST ISSUES. If you don't deal with them, they willcome back to trip you up later.
2. Send an envoy to check it out. Israel sent the priest Phineas to check out the rumors. When distrust and misunderstanding kick in, it can be the devil's playground. Always stop and check out the details before charging into war. I have found this to be true so many times. I can THINK things are one way when all along it is totally different. Things are fine but I think they are about to fall apart. Phineas represents the ministry of reconciliation. Communicate before you start firing the bullets.
3. Allow people to differ from you.
The two and a half tribes settled for less than God's best. But, when the dust settled, the rest of Israel had to accept that. In fact, they all had to affirm God's blessing on them even though they had gone in different directions. This requires bigness of heart. Israel did this with Reuben, Gad, and half-Manasseh. They released them. In so doing, they avoided the first civil war among God's people.
These are three small steps -- lessons -- that each of us need to apply in our family relationships. It is a daily and weekly discipline to keep positive peace in our families -- and in all relationships for that matter. Taking the land is huge mandate before us. But, keeping the peace is perhaps even bigger.