- Josh. 22:1-24:28
After they had fulfilled their agreement, Joshua released the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to return to their homes on the east side of the Jordan River. They had fought alongside their brethren in defeating the nations of Canaan and GOD had given the Israelites rest from their enemies. But on the way home, the two-and-a-half tribes stopped to build an altar to GOD at the Jordan River.
News of this altar reached their brethren west of the river. This couldn’t be! Offering sacrifices in a place other than where the tabernacle was located was a violation of GOD’s covenant and would certainly cause the LORD to be angry with them! So Phinehas, son of the high priest, and ten chief men of the western tribes went to Gilead to confront their brethren. They were preparing to go to war with them if necessary. These were the same family members who had fought side-by-side against the Canaanites.
When they arrived at Gilead, Phinehas and the Israelite chiefs learned that their brethren east of the Jordan had indeed built the altar, but it was to serve as a memorial of their involvement in conquering Canaan—that they too had an inheritance from GOD. The people said:
But in fact we have done it for fear, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your descendants may speak to our descendants, saying, “What have you to do with the LORD God of Israel? For the LORD has made the Jordan a border between you and us, you children of Reuben and children of Gad. You have no part in the LORD.” So your descendants would make our descendants cease fearing the LORD.’
Therefore we said, ‘Let us now prepare to build ourselves an altar, not for burnt offering nor for sacrifice, but that it may be a witness between you and us and our generations after us, that we may perform the service of the LORD before Him with our burnt offerings, with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your descendants may not say to our descendants in time to come, “You have no part in the LORD.”’
Therefore we said that it will be, when they say thisto us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say, ‘Here is the replica of the altar of the LORD which our fathers made, though not for burnt offerings nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between you and us.’
(Josh. 22:24-28 NKJV)
Phinehas and the Israelite chiefs were pleased to learn that their brethren had not violated GOD’s covenant with their altar, and everyone returned home peacefully and happily.
This story teaches us an important lesson: our zeal for GOD will sometimes require us to make difficult decisions, perhaps even at the expense of those closest to us, such as our family. No doubt the hearts of those men were heavy and concerned over the thought of having to go to war against their brethren.
A second important lesson is that we must be careful not to jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. The Israelites were ready to go to war with their brothers because it appeared as though they had violated GOD’s law. Once they learned the whole story, however, they realized there was nothing to be concerned about. Remember that appearances can be deceiving. Don’t assume you know what happened before you hear the facts.