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.”
6 Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their homes. 7 (To the half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had given land in Bashan, and to the other half of the tribe Joshua gave land on the west side of the Jordan along with their fellow Israelites.) When Joshua sent them home, he blessed them, 8 saying, “Return to your homes with your great wealth—with large herds of livestock, with silver, gold, bronze and iron, and a great quantity of clothing—and divide the plunder from your enemies with your fellow Israelites.”
9 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.
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.
13 So the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 14 With him they sent ten of the chief men, one from each of the tribes of Israel, each the head of a family division among the Israelite clans.
15 When they went to Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh—they said to them: 16 “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. 20 When Achan son of Zerah was unfaithful in regard to the devoted things, did not wrath come on the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.’”
21 Then 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.”
30 When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community—the heads of the clans of the Israelites—heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased. 31 And Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, said to Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is with us, because you have not been unfaithful to the Lord in this matter. Now you have rescued the Israelites from the Lord’s hand.”
32 Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the leaders returned to Canaan from their meeting with the Reubenites and Gadites in Gilead and reported to the Israelites. 33 They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived.
34 And the Reubenites and the Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us—that the Lord is God.
Before the conquests of Canaan on the West side of the Jordan Joshua recounts Moses’ words to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh: 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”
It has now been several years, and the task of helping the rest of Israel is over. Joshua tells them to return to their land and prosper. They have obeyed the commands of Moses, Joshua, and God, and now will finally be able to enjoy rest in the promised land. Joshua reminds them to be very careful not to fall into sin against God, but to love Him.
On the way back to their inheritance, the three tribes decide to set up a ‘witness altar’ before crossing the Jordan into their land. They do this to remind the rest of Israel (on the west side of the Jordan) that they are still a part of God’s people, even if they are separated by a river. The rest of Israel band together to go to war with them because they think these 3 tribes are committing a sin by erecting their own altar of sacrifice, ignoring the Lord’s commands: 8 “Say to them: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice 9 and does not bring it to the entrance to the tent of meeting to sacrifice it to the Lord must be cut off from the people of Israel. – Leviticus 17
Though the premise behind Israel’s response is deserving, they take action without first consulting the offenders. They assume that the 3 tribes have done something wrong without first finding out their motives. Once the matter is resolved they agree that because of the 3 tribes faithfulness to God, they have all been spared His wrath. Interesting to note that it is the absence of turning from God in this case that has spared them His wrath, as opposed to earlier chapters (Joshua 7) where one man caused wrath to fall upon the entire nation.
- Is there a promise or principle to remember?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. – Deuteronomy 6:5
This is not just a fleeting verse you whisper to those in need. This is a command. What does it mean to love God?
- Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. a
- Love the Lord your God and serve him with all your heart and with all your soul b
- Love the Lord your God, walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him c
- Love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life d
Jesus repeats these very words in Matthew 22 when asked about the greatest commandment: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
a. Deut. 11:1 b. Deut. 11:13 c. Deut. 11:22 d. Deut. 30:20
- Is there an example to follow or a command to obey?
The 3 tribes of Israel in this passage represent a great example to us as believers. They were told to help their fellow people, to go with them into the trouble that lie ahead, and to serve alongside them until they, too, had their inheritance. As followers of Christ we are called to do the same thing. We are to help others through difficult times, disciple them, and help them understand who God is, and what He has done, until they are ready to stand on their own and do the same for others. “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28
- Are there attitudes that needed changing, or an error to avoid?
Though the Israelites were correct in their concern about the replica altar, they could have approached the 3 tribes in a different manner instead of head on accusation. We are to be meek, and mild as people of God. Our duty to our fellow believers is one of comfort and discipleship, not blame and disregard. “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2
- Is there a sin being revealed?
What is your motivation when it comes to helping others? Is it to truly help them, or to make yourself feel or look good? It is so easy for pride to creep in to what we think is serving the Lord. Anything done out of pride for yourself is a sin. God gets the glory. We are only vessels to be used for that glory, not to take it upon ourselves. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18
- Does this make you want to pray for someone or yourself?
Lord, my heart desires to do your will. Make me clean inside and out so when I speak and share your truth it is for your glory, and yours alone.