As we approach Joshua 22, the conquest of Canaan has been completed. When Israel made its way toward the land of Canaan, Israel conquered nations on the eastern side of the Jordan River, before crossing the river and conquering the land of Canaan. When Israel had completed conquering the land to the east, the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh wanted to live there rather than live on the land west of the Jordan River. However, these tribes were required to go into the land of Canaan and help the rest of the nation of Israel with the conquest of the land. Because the conquest of the land was completed, Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh are told that they can cross back over to the eastern side of the Jordan and take possession of the land. In verse 5 of Joshua 22, Joshua instructs the tribes to be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses commanded.
The Conflict (22:10-20)
But immediately there is a problem. When the two and a half tribes returned to their land, they built an altar of imposing size. The rest of the tribes on the western side of the Jordan River heard about what these tribes had done and gather the whole assembly of Israel together to go to war against them. The people of Israel will explain in just a moment why this is a grievous sin for these tribes to erect such an altar. So the people of Israel sent a delegation to the two and a half tribes concerning the altar they had built. Rather than immediately go to war, the people of Israel send some representatives on a fact-finding mission to determine what has happened and to deal with the two and a half tribes. Verses 16-20 describe how Israel was going to deal with this problem.
The first point the delegation makes is asking the tribes why they are turning away from the Lord by building this altar. The delegation goes on to remind the tribes of what happens when the people have rebelled against the Lord. They remind the two and a half tribes about the sin at Peor where the people had worshipped false gods while in the wilderness and a plague broke out against them (Numbers 25:1-9). Based upon this, the delegation argues that if they rebel against the Lord today, the Lord will be angry with the whole congregation tomorrow.
I think the next point is very important to notice. The delegation offers a solution. “But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us” (22:19). The delegation offers to make personal sacrifices to help keep these tribes from sinning. They do not come across the Jordan River, tell them that they are a bunch of sinners, and then kill them through war. The delegation makes an offer. If there is a problem with the land that they have, or if the land has been defiled with idolatry which has caused the people to be tempted to follow after these other gods, then return to the other side of the Jordan. The delegation is will to sacrifice their land and give it to these two and a half tribes so that they will not be motivated to sin.
Finally, the delegation reminds the two and a half tribes about the sin of Achan and how wrath fell upon the whole congregation of Israel because of his sin. The delegation ends on these words: “And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.” Remember that those who sin are not the only people who will suffer the consequences. The delegation is pleading with the people to stop sin and even offers solutions that will help keep them from sinning.
Response of the Tribes (22:21-29)
The two and a half tribes are now given an opportunity to respond. The first thing the tribes do is accept the consequences if such were their actions. They say that if they built the altar to be in rebellion to the Lord or to offer sacrifices, then may the Lord himself take vengeance. In verse 24, the tribes explain the purpose of the large, imposing altar. They feared that in the future the people in Canaan would think that they have no dealings with those on the eastern side of the Jordan River because the river was a boundary between them. Therefore, the altar was not for sacrifices or offerings, but to be a witness and a memorial so that the children of the future would not think that the two and a half tribes were not to cross over and worship the Lord. In essence, the tribes say to the delegation that this is all just a big misunderstanding. They will not build any altars of worship and will continue to use the altar at the tabernacle only.
Conclusion of the Matter (22:30-34)
The delegation accepts the words of the tribes and they are joyful to hear that the people had not violated the law of God nor was turning away from the covenant. This was a good report in the eyes of the people of Israel and everyone realized that the altar was a witness between those on the eastern side of the Jordan River and those on the western side of the Jordan River that the Lord is God.
Application- How To Treat Our Brethren
1. Sin was not going to be tolerated. Too often when we talk about treating our brethren well, the religious world means that we need to overlook people’s sins. I think it is important to note this first point before we look at all of the other things that Israel did that they were not going to tolerate sin. They did not deal with sin by ignoring the tribes on the other side of the Jordan River. While the delegation was sent, the men of war were getting prepared for battle if the tribes on the other side were truly sinning. We cannot tolerate sin under the guise of love or mercy. Sin is not acceptable and something must be done to save the person’s soul.
2. Seek the truth by going to “the horse’s mouth.” The people of Israel assume that the people on the other side of the Jordan River are sinning. But they did not then slander them to everyone. The people of Israel are going to seek the truth. How did they go about seeking the truth? Israel sends people directly to the tribes. They do not maintain their assumption without going on a fact-finding mission to seek the truth. I think we could very well say that Israel does exactly what Jesus would teach over 1000 years later in Matthew 18. If a brother sins, you are to go to that person directly. Israel goes to the tribes to find out what they are doing. Too many preachers like listening to rumors but have no interesting in seeking the truth by going to the person who has been accused of sin.
3. Offer solutions and help. Israel could have simply gone on a mission to show how the tribes on the other side of the Jordan River are a bunch of heathens. But that was not the intent of the delegation. The purpose of convicting the tribes of sin was to have them not rebel against God and turn to the Lord. Israel made a sacrifice in an effort to bring these tribes back from the sin they perceived they were committing. They offered to move the two and a half tribes back to the other side and they would give them land to live in. They were willing to reapportion the land so that they would not continue to sin. We can live up to this example by asking people who are having trouble with sin, “what can I do to help?” We need to not only convict people of sin, but tell people how to stop and help them to return to the Lord. Too many people are interested in pointing out sin, but have no desire to help people stop sinning and help them serve the Lord. Pointing out sin is not particularly useful if we are not willing to offer solutions to the problem.
4. Accept the response; do not assume evil motives. Notice that the tribes say that they were not worshipping idols or offering sacrifices that violated God’s law with this imposing altar. They state that all they are doing is making a reminder for the people to know that they are in fellowship with one another. Also notice that the people of Israel do not reject their explanation. They do not continue to assume that they are involved in evil. They accept their answer because there was not reason to doubt their word. We should accept what people tell us at face value unless there are some overriding circumstances. We should not assume the worst of someone when they have said something to the contrary.
We had a situation when I was in Fayetteville preaching with my father that a preacher had heard that we had changed the name on our sign and we were going down the road of being a community church. Our sign said “a church of Christ meets here.” We had visitor packets that said, “Old Wire Road church. A church of Christ.” This preacher came to us with another preacher about what we were doing, assuming we were doing something false by making this change. We stated that there was nothing unscriptural about the changes. We told him that we were trying to distinguish ourselves from the number of other liberal churches of Christ that were in our town so people would not think we were affiliated with them. Rather than accept our answer, he then went on to ask if we were going to start taping money under the pews to draw people in. He asked if were going to add musical instruments to draw people in. Of course, our practice was no different than what these preachers were practicing at their congregations. These preachers left and went on to write articles against us and the congregation in Gospel Truths and on their church websites. They preached lessons in surrounding churches warning them about us. They did not accept our words, even though they had no reason to doubt us.
I believe Joshua 22 shows the proper balance of how to deal with our brethren. Sin is serious and Israel was getting prepared for war because they believed the tribes were sinning. However, they did not “shoot first and ask questions later.” Nor did they ask questions and regardless of the answer, shoot anyway. They ask questions and found the truth which turned out to be a complete misunderstanding. We may find that many times we are making unfounded assumptions about the motives of others. If we think someone has been false or has sinned, we are to seek the truth by going to that person.