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Joshua 22 begins with the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh being dismissed from their military service, so to speak, and charged with keeping the Words and will and ways of God in their new homes (vv.1-6). The remaining half of the tribe of Manasseh are similarly dismissed and blessed and all seems well (vv.7-9).
Then, however, word reaches Joshua and the people that those now east of the river had built an altar of imposing size. The automatic reaction is one of consternation and preparation for war against their own brothers (vv.10-12). Whilst this would not have been a battle the people wanted to fight, sometimes healthy bodies need to purge themselves of poison (1 Corinthians 5.5, for example) and the threat of perceived paganism within the people was too serious to ignore.
To their credit, a party of representatives is sent over to investigate before military might is deployed and implores the people east of the river to explain, citing previous examples of the principle that ‘your sin affects us all’ (vv.13-20, cf. Leviticus 17.8-9).
The people east of the river explain and actually agree with the concern being raised (vv.21-30) and say, simply, that this altar of imposing size was not built as a rival centre for worship, more of a memorial, a witness between those east and those west of the river that they are all one people. The altar was built as a replica, and worship of God can still happen in the prescribed way not simply how the people wanted (cf. John 4.24). This explanation is accepted by the party sent from west of the river (vv.30-34) and they in turn report back to the people.
There is much to admire in Joshua 22, there are multiple points to ponder today:
- Those west of the river were concerned, primarily, with God’s Word and will and ways being violated. Are we?
- Those west of the river were prepared to sacrifice to make sure their brothers and sisters were not living in sin. Are we?
- Both sides sought to see the issue from the perspective of the other. Do we?
- In the end, God is glorified because His people have come together in unity to listen, to understand, and to put Him first in their own ways.