I was about 17 years old, and sometime in February, I was driving home late from a baseball game. Now from my school to my home it was about a forty-five minute drive. I got done with the game about seven, and by the time I was about twenty minutes from my house it was completely dark.
At that point on the road, there were very few people out. It’s a really peaceful drive, with no lights whatsoever, because it’s all farms. As a came around a curve and down a hill, I saw a car with it’s flashers on. Being the courteous person I am, and a little naive at the same time, I pulled over to help. I pulled in front of the car, so I wouldn’t startle whoever was in it. But as I around the car, I realized it wasn’t your run of the mill stranded motorist, instead it was a sheriff. Once I pulled over, he flipped on his lights and order me out of the vehicle.
He asked me what I as doing, to which I replied, pulling over to see if I could help. In a very gruff and angry voice, he told me that he didn’t need any help, and to get home.
I spent the rest of my drive home upset at the guy. To me all I was doing was trying to be courteous, and all I got was a rude reaction.
And it’s a similar situation of someone trying to do good, but only getting a rude response in return, that brings us to our passage in the book of Joshua chapter 22, verse 1 today.
Now we’re almost done with the book of Joshua. In fact, next week, we’re going to wrap up this series. But let’s get a refresh, to bring us up to speed to where we are today.
For the last five weeks we have been going over eight chapters. First talking about Joshua’s belief that God has fulfilled all this promises, then talking about three responses from the people as Joshua divides the land, and finally the fact that God seeks justice and not revenge from his people.
But to understand where we’re at today, we have to go all the back to the very first chapter of the book of Joshua. It’s in this first chapter that we talked about Joshua’s first day on the job. God called him to be the leader of the nation of Israel after the death of Moses. And not only did God call him to take over a very important position, but he also had Joshua deal with a potential split within the nation.
See Moses had already given land to two and half of the tribes of Israel. This land was on the east side of the Jordan River. It had been conquered and the people that now claimed the land were ready to relax and stop fighting.
Joshua told these two and half tribes, that they needed to fulfill their vow of helping their brothers and sisters claim their land allotments on the west side of the Jordan. It was there that we talked about how, the nation could have split, with the two and half tribes telling the rest, that they had their land, and they didn’t need to do anything else.
But they didn’t. Instead, the two and half tribes, were willing and ready to fulfill their vow of helping the fellow Israelites and they did just that.
Which brings us to where we’re at today. This is the end of their story in the book of Joshua. So let’s start reading in Joshua chapter 22, starting in verse 1.
1 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh 2 and said to them, “You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. 3 For a long time now—to this very day—you have not deserted your fellow Israelites but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you. 4 Now that the Lord your God has given them rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5 But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Joshua’s announcements to these people to return home, is about 35 years after their call to fulfill their vow in chapter 1. That’s how long it’s been since Joshua called the two and a half tribes to come with the rest of Israel to go into the land of Canaan. For almost 35 years, these two and a half tribes have been working to fulfill the calling of God on their lives. That’s a long time to be away from your family. Because from what we learned in the very first chapter when Joshua called these two and half tribes to come with him, they had left their wives, their children and their possessions back on the other side of the Jordan River.
These two and a half tribes have missed their families for a long time. They have missed celebrations, they have missed the growth of their children, they have missed loved ones who passed away. And yet through it all they were faithful, as Joshua puts it, doing “all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obey me in everything I commanded…”
What kind of selfless drive do you have to have, to be willing to give up on missing decades of events for the prosperity of another person?
But, have you ever done a good deed and a bad thing happened? Like the old saying, no good deed goes unpunished. Well, that’s what happens to the two and a half tribes. Even though they spent about 35 years working for the good of their fellow Israelites. Even though they have missed the important moments in their families lives. Even though they have done everything that was required of them. Their loyalty and focus on God gets called into question.
Let’s drop down to verse 10.
10 When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan. 11 And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, 12 the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.
So the two and half tribes return home, and after doing so, they build an really grand alter. Which must have matched very closely to the one that was on the other side of the Jordan, with the rest of Israel at Shiloh. And this throws the rest of Israel into a a frenzy, where they prepared to go to war with their fellow Israelites on the east side of the Jordan. Why is that? Why would the Israelites on the west of the Jordan River, get so upset with the Israelites on the east of the Jordan building an alter?
Well, we’re told why. In verse 16 we’re given the reasoning for war. It says…
“The whole assembly of the Lord says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the Lord and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? 17 Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the Lord! 18 And are you now turning away from the Lord?
“‘If you rebel against the Lord today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel. 19 If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the Lord’s land, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the Lord our God.
So what was the Israelites west of the Jordan’s reason for wanting to go to war? When the people east of the Jordan built the alter that matched the one on the west side, the people on the west thought that they were straying from their belief in the God of Israel. See the tabernacle, the place where God would meet with Israel, was on the west side of the Jordan. It was at this place that they conducted the ceremonies that God instructed them to. It was there that the alter on which sacrifices were made on behalf of the people and their sin was located. So by the people on the east side building their own alter, the people on the west side, interrupted it as being a rejection of the God of Israel.
The reference to Peor is a reference to a situation in which someone was practicing idolatry. Which is the worship of man made things instead of the Living God of Israel. For the westerner Israelites, this isn’t some small offense, but rathe ra rejection of everything they have endured for the last 75 years. It’s like someone saying their your friend, and acting like it, and then turning around and stabbing you in the back.
So I can see where the people on the west side are coming from. God had done so much for everyone, and now their fellow Israelites seemed to be rejecting him. And they didn’t want God’s wrath to come down on them because of it. They didn’t want to stand by and allow evil to happen, so they prepared themselves for war.
But we quickly learn that this whole thing is a misunderstanding, because as the elders of west Israel come to confront those on the east, the people on the east explain their situation. Let’s pick that explanation up in verse 22.
22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the Lord, do not spare us this day. 23 If we have built our own altar to turn away from the Lord and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the Lord himself call us to account.
24 “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord.
26 “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ 27 On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’
28 “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’
29 “Far be it from us to rebel against the Lord and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle.”
So, the reasoning behind the alter being built was to solidify the relationship between the two sides of the Jordan, and not to cause division.
But a misunderstanding of the purpose behind the alter, almost led to a civil war between the two sides.
And the reality is, everyone, at one time or another, falls into this trap of misunderstanding. Someone says a word, and we miss hear it. Someone shows up late, and we think that are being disrespectful to our time.
There’s a great meme, that shows a husband and wife in bed looking in opposite directions. In the wife’s thought bubble it always says, “I bet he’s thinking about another woman.” Then you read his thought bubble which is always different, sometimes saying ridiculous things like, “If two people on opposite sides of the earth drop a piece of bread at the same time, that means that the world briefly becomes a sandwich.”
But misunderstandings happen all the time, and it’s because we put motives to other people that assumptions. In the case with the Israelites on the west, they attributed the motive of rejecting God to the people that had fought and died for them for the last 35 years. When in reality, the motive was to bring together the people, and honor God.
So instead of miss attributing motive to people, thereby creating a misunderstanding, God desires us to find out if something is true or not. Instead of assuming something, we need to find out what the reasoning is, before me make a judgement. In other words, we need to wait to fight, until there’s a reason to do so.
And how do we do that? We start with giving people the benefit of the doubt. One of the complaints I have received throughout my time with the youth is that when a rumor happens I don’t simple believe it. Instead, I ask the person of whom the rumor is about, if the rumor is true. Sometimes I get a yes, sometimes I get a no. And when I get a no, sometimes is truthful, and sometimes it’s a lie. Either way, I try to give the person the benefit of the doubt. And when someone lies to me, the relationship gets hurt, because now I can’t trust that person. But I would rather the relationship be broken by someone else, rather than for me to not give them the benefit and the relationship get broken by me.
If I treated everyone as if they had ulterior motives, what does that do for me? Doesn’t it cause me to be judgmental with no basis? Doesn’t cause me to believe lies over truth? Doesn’t it cause me to break relationships more often than not? And doesn’t cause me to always be looking for a reason to not trust, rather than trust? And when we start attributing ulterior motives to people, it eventually transfer that same attitude over to our relationship with God. We start believing that he doesn’t have my best interest at heart, but rather just wants to hurt me. And that is the farthest thing from the truth.
This is why Paul says this about love in 1st Corinthians 13, “6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails…”
My challenge for you this weeks is to evaluate a relationship in which a misunderstandings has or might occur, and then ask for forgiveness if you have caused a a lapses in trusting someone without cause. Allow trust on your side of the situation to extend to others, and if you are lied to, then allow God to deal with that situation. Like we talked about last week, God desire us to seek truth and justice, and not revenge.
Let us be people who don’t seek to attribute false motives to people, but rather seek to build trust and truth with the people that God brings into our lives. So that we may trust him more, and buried stronger relationships with each other. Amen.