Conquering the Land
“A Memorial of Witness”
This morning we come to the last three chapters in our series in the book of Joshua. So far, we have seen the conquest of Canaan completed. Each tribe is living within their allotted portion of the land as their inheritance. The Tabernacle was residing in its permanent location in Shiloh. The six Cities of Refuge had been established as a sanctuary for those seeking God’s justice and mercy. The Levitical Cities were designated, and the Levites had moved into those cities to nourish God’s people with God’s Word.
Last week we concluded with chapter twenty-one acknowledging God’s faithfulness throughout the conquest the land saying, “So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.” (21.43-45)
This morning we come to Joshua chapter twenty-two. This chapter is the first of three assembles that took place in the last days of Joshua’s life. In the first assembly recorded in chapter twenty-two Joshua addresses the two and a half tribes, in chapter twenty-three Joshua addresses the elders, heads, judges, and officers of the nine and a half tribes, and in chapter twenty-four Joshua addresses all the elders, heads, judges, and officers of all the tribes. In each of these assemblies Joshua calls the tribes to love the Lord with all of their heart and cautions them to be on guard against idolatry.
Let’s begin our look into Joshua’s first address to the two and a half tribes by reading verses one through six.
Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, and have listened to my voice in all that I commanded you. You have not forsaken your brothers these many days to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord your God. And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as He spoke to them; therefore turn now and go to your tents, to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan. Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents. (Josh.22.1-6)
The Two and a Half Tribes
You might remember all the way back in Joshua chapter one when the Israelites were poised to enter the Promise Land before they crossed the Jordan River the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh approach Joshua to remind him of the promise that Moses made to allow them to settle on the east side of the Jordan.
The book of Numbers reveals the reason why these tribes wanted the land east of the Jordan River telling us that these two and a half tribes had very large herds and flocks and the land east of the Jordan was prime real estate for raising livestock. At first Moses was opposed to the idea because he believed that these tribes were attempting to avoid the military conquest of Canaan. However, these tribes responded with a pledge saying, “We will build here sheepfolds for our livestock and cities for our little ones; but we ourselves will be armed ready to go before the sons of Israel, until we have brought them to their place.” (Num.32.16-17a) Now when we come to Joshua chapter twenty-two, we see that the two and a half tribes kept their promise and are ready to return to their land east of the Jordan.
Before returning to their land Joshua summons them and commends them for their faithfulness to the Lord and to their brothers saying, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, and have listened to my voice in all that I commanded you. You have not forsaken your brothers these many days to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord your God.” (22.2-3) Joshua commissions them saying, “Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (22.5)
As the two and a half tribes made their journey back home, they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance. (22.10)
A Memorial of Witness
Even though we do not know the exact location of this large altar we do know the reason why the two and a half tribes built it. As the two and half tribes would explain later, the reason they built the large altar was to be a witness of their connection together with the other nine and a half tribes on the western side of the Jordan. The large altar was a witness of their spiritual solidarity. The large altar was not for sacrifices but to be a witness that even though the Jordan River separated them geographically all the tribes were united together as one people under God. The two and a half tribes also wanted the large altar to be a witness to future generations that they were part of a larger community of God’s people. (22.21-29)
The problem is when the other nine and a half tribes heard about the large altar they were outraged. Upon hearing about the altar, they jump to the conclusion that the two and a half tribes were flaunting their rebellion against the Lord and His people. In their minds the only logical reason for this altar was that it represented a departure from the true altar at the Tabernacle in Shiloh. The nine and a half tribes assumed the worst about their own kinsmen and gathered together to go to war against their own brethren. Listen to how God’s word describes their rush to judgment. And the sons of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, on the side belonging to the sons of Israel.” When the sons of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war. (22.11-12)
A Rush to Judgment
To be fair the Law of Moses prohibited the building of altars other than those the Lord commanded. (Dt.12.1-14) And the Law instructed that anyone who built a false altar had committed idolatry and should be destroyed. (Dt.13.12-16) But the problem was that the nine and a half tribes rushed to judgment and automatically assumed that their brothers on the west side of the Jordan had rejected the Lord and this large altar was a symbol of their rebellion.
It is sad to say but I can believe it. It has been said that the church is the only army that seeks to wound its own soldiers. It has been said the Christian army is the only army that kills their own. So sad but true. Jesus told us, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”(Jn.13.35) Often the way we treat one another is our worst apologetic. Instead of our brotherly kindness being our testimony, the world watches the way we treat one another, and this bad behavior becomes a terrible witness. It’s true the nine and a half tribes had a chapter and verse, but the problem was their assumption was wrong. The problem was that they assumed the worst about their brothers instead of the best. Why is that? Well, I believe verses eleven and twelve tell us. Listen again, “And the sons of Israel heard it . . . When the sons of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war.(22.11-12)
Listening to a Bad Report
And the sons of Israel heard it. (22.11) When the sons of Israel heard of it. (22.12) The nine and a half tribe were quick to listen to a bad report. Who told them these falsehoods about their brothers? Remember, the two and a half tribes had journeyed with them in the desert. They willingly agreed to fight alongside of them for seven years of conflict. They were with them at the parting of the raging Jordan. They were with them when the walls of Jericho came falling down. They were with them at the shameful defeat to Ai and were with them at the later triumph over Ai. They were with them during the conquest of southern Canaan. They were with them at during the conquest of northern Canaan. They were with them as they waited patiently for each of the nine and a half tribes to receive their inheritance. They were with them as they waited patiently for the relocation of the Tabernacle at Shiloh, the establishment of the Cities of Refuge, and the gifting of the Levitical Cities. And after all those years of faithfully being a witness to their God and their brothers and sisters the nine and a half tribes heard one word of misleading gossip and they were ready to rise up and take them out.
Brothers and sisters this should not be the behavior of God’s people. There are two deadly words, “I heard.” There are three deadly words, “Did you hear?” There are four deadly words, “Someone told me that.” My advice to you is when someone begins a sentence with any of these deadly words that you simply tell them that you don’t want to hear it. The sons of Israel heard it and they were willing to listen. The sons of Israel heard of it and they believed it. The law of Moses tells us, “You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.” (Ex.23.1) And the Apostle James instructs us, “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law.” (Js.4.11a) Personally I have been on the receiving end of false rumors and speculations from fellow Christians and let me tell you it is very hurtful and painful. Like the Psalmist who wrote, “For it was not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; Nor was it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, then I could hide myself from him. But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend; We who had sweet fellowship togetherand walked in the house of God in the throng. (Ps.55.12-15)Like the two and a half tribes you spend your whole life faithfully serving the church and fellow Christians and someone comes along spewing false rumors and accusations against you seeking to tarnish your reputation and maybe destroy your many years of ministry. The Apostle James is right, “the tongue is a fire” (Js.3.6) and left untamed can cause a tremendous amount of damage.
Fortunately, before they took up swords and starting a holy war, the sons of Israel sent a delegation to inquire about this altar. Then the sons of Israel sent to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and with him ten chiefs, one chief for each father’s household from each of the tribes of Israel; and each one of them was the head of his father’s household among the thousands of Israel. (22.13-14)
Go to Your Brother
This is exactly how we are supposed to handle this type of situation. You are to go to your brother. God’s Word is clear about this. Jesus taught that if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. (Mt.18.15) And in another place Jesus taught to be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. (Lk.17.3) The Apostle Paul taught that if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. (Gal.6.1) And the Apostle James taught if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (Js.5.19-20)
So, even though the sons of Israel got off to a bad start they did do the right thing by going to the brothers and inquiring about the altar. When they arrived, the priest Phinehas took the lead by asking a question, “What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the Lord this day, by building yourselves an altar, to rebel against the Lord this day?” (22.16) It is obvious that Phinehas and his delegates were still under the wrong assumption but at least they made the effort to go to their brothers. Phinehas went on to wrongly compare the building of the large altar to two previous incidents of idolatry that caused the people of God to suffer get lost (22.17-20) but at least he shared his heart and allow the two and a half tribes the opportunity to respond. Let me encourage you that if you are going to make accusations against another person instead of going around and telling others be responsible enough to go to directly to that person and tell them what you think and please give them the opportunity to respond. That’s Bible!
Thankfully the two and a half tribes were anything but haughty, prideful, or defensive. They agreed with Phinehas and his delegation that if building the altar was an act of rebellion and idolatry they should certainly die. But they explained that their motives were the exact opposite of what the nine and a half tribes were thinking. They explained the reason for building the large altar was a witness of their connection together to show their spiritual solidarity that even though the Jordan River separated them geographically they were united together as one people under God. They explained that the altar was a witness to future generations to show that they were part of a larger community of God’s people. (22.21-29) So, when Phinehas and his delegation heard this, they were pleased. (22.30) Phinehasthe priest said to them, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this unfaithful act against the Lord; now you have delivered the sons of Israel from the hand of the Lord.” (22.31) Phinehas and his crew returned home and brought the good news back to the sons of Israel and everyone rejoiced. (22.32-33) The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad called the altar Witness; “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.” (22.34) “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon themountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.” (Ps.133.1-3)
Brothers and sisters, peace in the church is not something we fabricate it is something that must be preserved. As the Apostle tells the church of Ephesus, “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph.4.3)
Peace in the church is something we all must be committed. Peace in the church is something we must all be disciplined to maintain. Peace in the church is something we must all labor towards by being willing to go the extra mile. Maintaining peace doesn’t mean that we agree one hundred percent on everything, but it does mean that we purposely avoid strife, dissention, and division within the church family.
The Apostle Paul in giving instruction to the church at Corinth about the Lord’s Supper wrote, “But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.” (ICor.11.17.18)
A Memorial of Witness
You see the Lord’s Supper is a community meal giving witness to our connection together as the body of Christ. It is a community meal giving witness to our spiritual solidarity in Christ. It is a community meal giving showing that we are united together as one people under God. It is a community meal giving witness to the world and to future generations that we were part of a larger community of God’s people. (22.21-29)
Therefore, before we receive the Supper, we are called to be a witness by examining our relationship with Christ as our greatest joy. To love the Lord your God and walk in all of His ways. Before we receive the Supper, we are called to be a witness by examining or relationship with one another to assure that there is no division among us. Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. (ICor.10.17) Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? (ICor.10.16a) For as often as we eat this bread and drink of this cup, we are giving witness to the Lord’s death until He comes. (ICor.11.26) So as the worship team comes back up to the stage let us individually and quietly examine our hearts before the Lord.
Transition to the Table