Rocks of Offense?

Separation didn't have to lead to division.

Read Joshua 22.10-12.

1.  Israel’s response to a hearsay report seems a bit hasty, don’t you think? Why were they so ready “to go to war” against their brethren?

2.  How might the two-and-a-half tribes have avoided upsetting their brethren? 

Think about it.
After crossing over to the east side of the Jordan River, the people of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh build “a great, impressive altar” in the region of Gilead, in the land east of the middle of the Jordan River. We should understand that this altar would have been visible from the west side of the Jordan. At this point, we’re not given any explanation as to why they did this; so, if we didn’t know (from previous readings of the book of Joshua), we might wonder: Say what? And we might not think this was such a great idea.

The two-and-a-half tribes might have given their brethren in the west a heads-up on this plan, to avoid any misunderstanding as to their intentions. But they weren’t thinking about their brethren, only about themselves.

The “children of Israel” learned of this altar by hearsay, and the report they heard was only half true (v. 11). Immediately, they decide to go to war against the two-and-a-half tribes. Didn’t anyone think to check this out first? Or to find out what the tribes had in mind? This will be Israel’s chosen course eventually, but I’m struck by the fact that their first response was to go to war. No prayer. No seeking the Lord. No sending a delegation to the tribes east of the Jordan. Just every man to his weapons.

This knee-jerk reaction suggests to me that love for God and love for their neighbors are not the primary operating principles at work among the children of Israel. They do not yet have a heart for God (Deut. 5.29), and, apparently, they didn’t have much heart for one another, either. It almost seems as if some resentment had built up against the two-and-a-half tribes, and that perhaps Joshua’s dismissing them with commendation, before the land had been completely settled, may have sprung up a root of bitterness in some.

At any rate, the people are not one, and they will rarely be one people throughout the remainder of the Old Testament. It takes more than military prowess and equal distribution of land and spoils to make a people one. Only the Spirit of God can do this.

Our hearts sink at Israel’s combativeness toward their brethren. Would they look back on this with regret? Would they long in their hearts for some means of living in God’s shalom as brethren? 

Meditate and discuss.
1.  In churches today, do we tend to rely more on pragmatic means – programs, staff, facilities, etc. – or on the Spirit of God in building Jesus’ Church? Explain.

2.  We can be like Israel: Let someone slight us, or let us hear that someone has said something unkind about us, and we’re ready to go to war. How can we check this tendency and overcome evil with good (Rom. 12.21)? 

3.  Failure to communicate, mistaken assumptions, knee-jerk reactions, thinking the worst rather than the best of others. How can we avoid such things causing divisions in our churches? 

“The motive for erecting the altar was right in itself. For the object of the children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, was to testify that though they were separated from their brethren by the intervening stream, they were, however, united with them in religion, and cherished a mutual agreement in the doctrine of the Law. Nothing was farther from their intention than to innovate in any respect in the worship of God.” John Calvin, Commentary on Joshua (1509-1564 AD)

Keep me from over-reacting, Lord, when I hear something that might disturb or upset me. Remind me that…

Pray Psalm 133.

Ask the Lord to lead you today so that you contribute to true unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4.3) among the Christians you know.

Psalm 133 (Tryggare Kan Ingen Vara:Children of the Heavenly Father)
O behold, how sweet, how pleasant, 
When the brethren dwell together; 
All in unity abiding
Find God’s blessing there presiding.

Like the precious oil of blessing
Flowing down on Aaron’s vestment, 
God’s anointing rests forever
Where His people dwell together.

Like the dew of Hermon’s fountain
Falling down on Zion’s mountain, 
So the blessing of the Savior
Dwells where unity finds favor.

T. M. Moore

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Where does the book of Joshua fit in the ongoing story of God’s covenant? Our workbook, God’s Covenant, can help you discover the place in God’s work of redemption not only of Joshua but of all the books of the Bible. God’s Covenant is a valuable resource to guide you in all your studies in God’s Word. To order your copy, click hereAnd when you order, we’ll send you a free copy of Bricks and Rungs: Poems on Calling.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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