Now when Phinehas the priest and the rulers of the congregation, the heads of the divisions of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them. 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.”
And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the rulers, returned from the children of Reuben and the children of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought back word to them. So the thing pleased the children of Israel, and the children of Israel blessed God; they spoke no more of going against them in battle, to destroy the land where the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.
The children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar, Witness, “For it is a witness between us that the LORD is God.”
The explanation for the “altar” (in Joshua 22:21–29) is convincing. The delegation from the west side of the Jordan is relieved to hear it and they give a very complimentary, even effusive, response.
It almost looks like they were embarrassed about the harsh accusation they had made. They had jumped to the conclusion that the western tribes had committed a great apostasy. Now, having heard a compelling explanation that it was all totally innocent, they launch into a flowery description of how great it all is.
But that’s not it; Phinehas’s words should be taken at face value.
“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.”
But what does he mean by, “delivered”? How could this altar deliver them out of the hand of the LORD?
It wasn’t the altar that delivered them; it was their explanation. Phinehas is recognizing the “close call” they just had with almost going to war over a misunderstanding. They missed it by the skin of their teeth.
This all has the unplanned beneficial effect of publicizing the altar and its explanation. Now everyone will know why it’s there and will retell “the legend of the war that almost happened.” This gives the whole misadventure a sense of divine purpose.
With a backstory like that, this altar deserves a name of its own—Witness.
This highlights the importance of being slow to start a conflict—something we don’t practice enough. But the takeaway is the official recognition of a close call. They should be celebrated as much as victories.
Imagine the US building monuments to our close calls (e.g., the Cuban missile crisis). We should.
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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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.