In the opening verses of Joshua 22 the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh are commissioned by Joshua and sent on their way. They have chosen to live on the opposite side of the Jordon from the rest of Israel. So the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land, which they had acquired in accordance with the command of the LORD through Moses (v. 9). When they returned to their land they built an imposing altar there by the Jordan (v.10).
This did not sit well with the remaining tribes. In fact, the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them (v. 12). OK, they didn’t like this – but war? Was this really offensive enough to kill a brother? Apparently it was, since altars were used to worship pagan gods and any worship of the God of Israel must be done in the tabernacle (cf. Lev. 17).
But before attacking them and leveling out justice, some decided to question them. They sent a guy named Phinehas and a few leaders and asked them how could they could break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could they turn away from the LORD and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? (v.13). Legitimate questions – no doubt.
They responded quite definitively:
21Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: 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.”
When Phinehas and the leaders of the community heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased (v 30). They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them.(v. 33).
Now, let us imagine what this would look like if Phinehas and the leaders each had a blog. And let’s assume each were self-appointed watchman set on pointing out any way in which the tribes of Israel strayed from the fold – whether or not the straying violated God’s Law – or just their cultural preferences.
If that were the case, Phinehas may have indeed believed the Reuben, Gad and Manasseh and even reported this to the Israelites and praised God. But the others were not so sure. They would blog and comment on each others blogs saying:
I do not believe they are being honest about their comments.
I do not deny they are still faithful, but I want to see fruit before I believe them.
I asked them about pagan altars, and they dodged my question with postmodern jargon like “For us it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow…” – Why can’t they give a straight answer?
Others would chide and mock Phinehas for meeting with them… saying only those with something to hide meet with enemies of Israel.
And so, even after the answers were given and the truth proclaimed… even after the issue should have been settled… it would fester in their watchful minds.
Why? Because it is always easier and certainly more self-rewarding to assume the worst about people. To point at other and say “They are different, therefore they are inferior” or “I want proof… proof based on my criteria.” Or maybe just to say: “I do not like them, therefore I do not believe they are being honest.”