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The DEEP

Escalation

Unity forgotten.

Joshua 22:10–12

And when they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan—a great, impressive altar. Now the children of Israel heard someone say, “Behold, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar on the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan—on the children of Israel’s side.” And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered together at Shiloh to go to war against them.

The Israelites on the west side think the altar on the east side will be a functioning altar—to be used for sacrifices. Since crossing the Jordan is no easy task, this makes sense. This would, however, violate the single altar standard set in Leviticus.

“Also you shall say to them: ‘Whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to offer it to the LORD, that man shall be cut off from among his people.’ ” — Leviticus 17:8–9

So, the sight of this giant altar on the east side of the Jordan triggers the “Westerners.”

But notice that their instant reaction is war. And this won’t be just any war; it’ll be a war with their kin. That’s ridiculous. The passage in Leviticus only prescribes expulsion, not death. What’s going on here?

Part of this is their war-oriented perspective. These are people who grew up wandering around in the Sinai desert followed by nothing but war. So starting another war doesn’t seem strange to them.

But the other part is the lesson for us—they jumped to a conclusion. And notice that it was a reasonable conclusion. That’s a typical element of this kind of mistake. Far-fetched conclusions usually (but not always) come packaged with a dose of uncertainty. That is supposed to keep violent overreaction in check.

But this is a really big altar; what would they do with it besides use it as an altar?

So, they just assumed.


The lion’s share of their error isn’t just that they’re wrong (as we’ll soon see) or even that they jumped to this conclusion; it’s that they immediately went for a violent response. What is up with these quick escalations? There are, for example, numerous cases of this in Acts. Arguments never seem to stay civil.

Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks. — Acts 23:10

While our civilization tamps down violence, we still get way too riled up over religious disagreements.

Unity in the body of Christ is a very high priority. Pick fights only in cases that absolutely require it.


These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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