Joshua continued to divide the land among the tribes of Israel. Each tribe receiving their allotment and giving portions to the Levites, and making asylum cities. As this is being completed, we can see the faithfulness of God to do what He promised so many years ago.
And so, God gave Israel the entire land that He had solemnly vowed to give to their ancestors. They took possession of it and made themselves at home in it. And God gave them rest on all sides, as he had also solemnly vowed to their ancestors. Not a single one of their enemies was able to stand up to them—God handed over all their enemies to them.
Not one word failed from all the good words God spoke to the house of Israel. Everything came out right. (Joshua 21:43-45 The Message)
Joshua then sent the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh home to the land they chose on the other side of the Jordan. Joshua blessed them and said:
“Be vigilant in keeping the Commandment and The Revelation that Moses the servant of God laid on you: Love God, your God, walk in all His ways, do what He’s commanded, embrace Him with everything you are and have.” (Joshua 22:5 The Message)
So far so good right? But when the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe Manasseh reached this side of the Jordan river, they decided to build a huge altar. Not their side, but the side of the other Israelites.
When the other Israelites heard of this, they wanted to go to war against them immediately.
How often have I seen something, or heard someone do or say something and jumped to the wrong conclusion? Sometimes I think that is just my nature—to think the worst of people. But shouldn’t I really give them the benefit of the doubt till I get all the details? The correct answer is yes, but not what I instinctively do. I have learned over the years that communication is the best weapon in my arsenal of weapons. I can learn a lot about a situation by talking it over with the actual person or people involved, and not from second-hand information. But back to our story. Israel thought that by building the alter, the two and ½ tribes were rebelling against God, and that God would take His anger out on all of them, not just Reuben, Gad and the ½ tribe of Manasseh. And this they knew from previous experiences, so it wasn’t a bad thing to ward off trouble with God. But thankfully they sent Phinehas the priest, and the 10 heads of the military to get the scoop. The wanted to find out why they were turning their back on God by building their own altar apart from the “Altar of God”. This is what they were told:
We did it because we cared. We were anxious lest someday your children should say to our children, ‘You’re not connected with God, the God of Israel! God made the Jordan a boundary between us and you. You, Reubenites and Gadites have no part in God’ And then your children might cause our children to quit worshipping God.
“So, we said to ourselves, ‘Let’s do something. Let’s build an altar—but not for Whole-Burnt-Offerings, not for sacrifices.’
We build this altar as a witness between us and you and our children coming after us, a witness to the Altar where we worship God in His Sacred Dwelling with our Whole-Burnt-Offerings and our sacrifices and our Peace-Offerings.
“This way your children won’t be able to say to our children in the future, ‘You have no part in God.”
(Joshua 22: 24-27 The Message)
‘It’s a witness connecting us with you.’ “Rebelling against or turning our backs on God is the last thing on our minds right now. We never dreamed of building an altar for Whole-Burnt-Offerings or Grain-Offerings to rival the Altar of our God in front of His Sacred Dwelling. (Joshua 28c-29 The Message)
Wow, that was not what they were expecting to hear. They thought that they were being lazy and didn’t want to make the journey to “God’s Altar” so built one closer. They thought they were bringing a curse on them but it was really a blessing. One side was thinking of the future, the other was thinking of the here and now. Reuben, Gad and the ½ tribe of Manasseh wanted to make sure they were not shut off from God somewhere down the road just because they were on the wrong side of the Jordan River.
Thank goodness someone had the sense to talk about it before they decided to actually go to war! Communication does go a long way. I can avoid a lot of misunderstandings, if I decide to talk it over with the one whom I have shut down with. Just to ask “Why did you say that? What did you mean? That made me feel sad.” Then I will find out their true intentions, not mine, because it doesn’t always have to do with me. It could be something they are walking through that has them upset. Then I could become a blessing to them and not shut down a relationship. God cares about relationships. Israel was ready to shut down their brothers after they had just helped them to defeat their enemies. How quickly the tides can turn.
But the truth was that Reuben, Gad and the ½ tribe of Manasseh loved God and didn’t ever want to be separated from Him, nor have their descendants separated from God. It is sad that people create divisions amongst themselves. But Reuben and Gad and the ½ tribe of Manasseh understood human nature, as sad as it was, and wanted to prevent others from telling them or their descendants that they could not worship God.
The people of Reuben and Gad named the altar “Witness” for they said,” It is a witness between us and them that the Lord is our God, too” (Joshua 22:34 NLT)
And this same God, is my God too! May I never forget my heritage!
Father God, it is true You are a jealous God and will not stand for Your people to disobey your ways, or to worship other gods, and Your anger will burn against those who do go off Your path and serve themselves or other gods. But it is also true, that You will bless those who stay strong and steady, walking faithfully towards You for all their days. You let us choose. Choose life or death, blessing or curses. Thank You for the freedom to choose. Thank You for Your love and protection that abounds towards me even when I make bad choices. You see my heart, You know my intentions. It is so comforting that You know the beginning from the end. You see where I end up, before I even know. Thank you for walking with me every step of the way, leading and guiding me straight into Your loving arms! Thank You for Jesus! Thank You for the Cross! In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen!