We are going to take a break from our great commission series for something I wanted to share. This morning I was reading through Joshua 22. You may know the story. If you don't here is a summary but if you can, read the chapter. Things were settling down for Israel after conquering the promise land. Joshua blesses the tribes of Ruben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh and they go to the land that was given to them. After arriving they decide to made a huge altar. The other tribes hear of it, get angry, and the leaders of the other tribes get together and confront them about the issue. The leaders come to them with all kinds of accusations. They tell them about how they are departing from the Lord and remind them of how God judged Israel because of Achan's sin. They demand their repentance or war will break out. The tribes of Ruben, Gad, and Manasseh tell them it has nothing to do with departing from the Lord or worshiping contrary to the law. They are afraid that the other tribes will cut them off and not allow them to worship in the place God commanded. They had made the altar as a reminder to everyone of what God had commanded hoping that everyone would remember.
That is the story. What should we make of it? I had several thoughts this morning as I mediated on it. I began to think about relationships. The main thought I had was relationships in the church but you could also apply these things to families or other situations.
Here are some of my thoughts:
1) There was a lack of trust. For some reason the tribes of Ruben, Gad, and Manasseh felt like at any moment the other tribes could disown them and even come against them. I'm not sure why they would have come to that conclusion; but they did. If there is going to be a war in a church, there will be lack of trust. This could be for all kinds of reasons. Possibly it was only there because these 2.5 tribes didn't really know the character of the others tribes. Or they did know their character and that was the reason for their fear.
2) There was a lack of communication. In the story, this guilt seems to land more on the 2.5 tribes than the others. Why didn't they communicate their fears? Why didn't they at least tell the other tribes what they were doing? It doesn't make much sense to have a monument that is supposed to remind others of something when no one has ever told of it's purpose. How could a monument remind you of something when you don't even know why it's there in the first place? Were they just supposed to read through the lines? Who knows? There wasn't any communication. What ever the reasons, there was definitely a lack of communication.
3) There was quick judgment/ false accusations. The other tribes felt they had all the information they needed. There was proof they had made an altar and clearly they were worshiping idols or at least contrary to the law. Why else would they have made it? They had heard it. They had judged it. And that settled it. Sounds familiar doesn't it? Most people are quick to give their opinions and form their judgments. It never occurred to them that the the whole problem could easily be their own fault. Why didn't they confirm their covenant unity with these tribes who were going to be on the other side of the Jordan? Isolation seems to bring out all kinds of strange thinking in people. If we know someone is going to be isolated either through our own doing or even through God's own will we should make an effort to reach out to them. But rather than doing anything like that, these tribes come to them speaking of sins they have supposedly committed and how God is going to judge the whole congregation because of them. What is your problem? Why are you doing this? You're going to destroy everything God has been trying to do here!
It's amazing how that the tribes were in peace after pushing the enemies out of the land and then they want to go to war with each other! I don't know why we do this but it has happened many times in the history of the church and in individual churches. We fight together against the enemy and when he appears defeated we start wanting to fight ourselves.
Another thing that sticks out to me is that Joshua isn't mentioned at all during this. He blesses the tribes but from the altar building to the end of the chapter you don't see him mentioned. I don't want to bring false accusations against him, but it is curious. Was he not aware of it? Did no one come to him for advice? Did he choose to stay out of it? Did he neglect his role as leader? Was he involved yet the text simply doesn't say? Did he stand up for the 2.5 tribes during this? The fact is that we just don't know. Anything I might say is just an argument from silence. But either way, without any accusation to Joshua, I do feel justified in at least mentioning that the leaders do have an important role in these situations. Leaders have to step up and do what is right no matter the cost. Wisdom and prudence is definitely needed here. As soon as we even see the temptation of war, we should be praying for our leaders. Even in this case with Joshua not mentioned, the leaders of the tribe were playing a part.
Thankfully in all this we see a happy ending. They found the truth, worked out the details, and war was avoided. But unfortunately many congregations don't end this way. There are wars and splits, hurt feelings and pain. I think that when we see the three areas I mentioned above start to come into our relationships we need to move quickly to remedy it. If not, we are on the brink of war.