Joshua 22:10-20 Uniting our families and communities around the centrality of God
10 When 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. 11 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.” 12 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.
13 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, 14 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. 15 They came to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, to the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them saying, 16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘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? 17 Is not the iniquity of Peor enough for us, from which we have not cleansed ourselves to this day, although a plague came on the congregation of the Lord, 18 that you must turn away this day from following the Lord? If you rebel against the Lord today, He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow. 19 If, however, the land of your possession is unclean, then cross into the land of the possession of the Lord, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take possession among us. Only do not rebel against the Lord, or rebel against us by building an altar for yourselves, besides the altar of the Lord our God. 20 Did not Achan the son of Zerah act unfaithfully in the things under the ban, and wrath fall on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.’”
The 7-year conquest of Canaan led by Joshua was over and it was time for the Eastern tribes to return home to their families. The Jordan river was a natural boundary separating the Eastern (Transjordan) from the Western tribes (Cisjordan)(see figure below).
Transjordan (eastern): two and a half tribes
Cisjordan (western): the rest of Israel, nine and a half tribes
Because of this natural boundary, the Eastern tribes (being smaller) feared being estranged from the rest of Israel and cutoff from the worship of Yahweh. As Moses’ Law did not allow another sanctuary to exist apart from the one at Shiloh, the Eastern tribes had to cross the Jordan river to Shiloh three times a year to worship there. The building of a copy of the original altar serves to awaken the tribes on both sides of Jordan to dangers that might divide them. The theme of unity weighs heavily on the final chapters of Joshua. Today’s devotion teaches us the importance of uniting our families, our churches and our nation around the centrality of God.
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.
As the armies of the two and a half-tribe headed home east of Jordan, a sense of isolation from the rest of Israel began to descend upon them. It led them to build a copy of the original altar of sacrifice that could be seen from a great distance. The prevalent concern among the Eastern tribes was the fear of being barred from accessing the tabernacle at Shiloh. Hence, they decided that by erecting an altar in the likeness of the original one at Shiloh may jolt their brothers into acknowledging what was to them an impending threat against the unity of Israel. The sight of this imposing altar was intended to serve as a reminder of the covenant the tribes made with one another as a nation. The other fear related possibly to the threat of fending off enemies by themselves. The Eastern tribes unlike the Western tribes did not have a natural geographical border and were prone to attacks from the east. The altar, which was a copy of the original tabernacle in Shiloh served to unite the people against the threat of being estranged, left “out of sight” and hence, “out of mind”.
What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel.
The sight of the altar caused no small stir among the tribes in the west of Jordan. The tribes wasted no time and gathered to go to war against their errant brothers. They perceived the altar as the alternative to the original altar in Shiloh which was explicitly prohibited in the Mosaic Law (see Leviticus 17:8-9). Their over the top response was understandable given Israel’s past encounters with idolatry where 24,000 died in a plague (see Numbers 25). They also recalled the sin of apostasy; Achan who took a banned item that led to the fateful defeat of Israel and the demise of his own family. Hence, the action of an individual could have wide ranging consequences for the community. For such cases (where the sins of idolatry and apostasy were committed), swift consequences came upon the whole nation, not just on the sinner alone. Hence, it is natural for the people to respond in a spirited manner at the sight of the altar. The divine retributions of idolatry and apostasy were still fresh on their minds.
However, the meeting at the scene of the new altar gave occasion for conciliation and renewal of covenant among the tribes. The Western tribes extended their good will to make room for the Eastern tribes should they find their land defiled and uninhabitable. For what it was worth, this incident threw light on the deep bonds of fraternity that flowed in the veins of the Israelites.
What is unity and why is it important?
Unity is a communal mindset that brings prosperity to a body of people. Unity causes individuals to put the interests of the whole before his own. Unity helps keep the eyes of every individual trained on the goals of the whole community. Without unity, no organization, community or nation will be able to overcome the challenges of its time. Throughout Israel’s military campaigns, every Israelite, family and tribe were required to think from the perspective of the community as it concerns the survival of the nation. When the two and a half tribes requested for land at the Transjordan side, they were still required to fight along side with the other tribes as a nation to conquer the Cisjordan region (west of Jordan).
A united community harbours three mindsets:
a. A united community builds her life around the centrality of God as opposed to a cult figure.
A community that builds herself around a cult figure may appear united and committed on the surface. But there is an undercurrent of discontent and manipulation among the members. There are churches that tie down their members by instilling fear instead of love and freedom. A strong leader may rise up for an occasion and attain cult status because of his achievements. However, he must quickly return the center stage to God in order for the community to grow healthily. There is a tendency for a strong leader to overstay in exercising control especially over the personal lives of the people. Joshua wasted no time in relinquishing control over to the tribal leaders and restoring the centrality of God at Shiloh amongst the Israelites at Shiloh.
b. Members of a united community puts the interests of others before his own.
A united community takes care of her own and ensures the well being of fellow members. In doing so, the whole community prospers as opposed to a selected few thus fulfilling Paul’s teaching,
“So that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:25.
In a united community, no one walks alone in all his personal struggles. In times of crisis, no one would have to beg for help, or a listening ear. There is always someone whom one can turn to, to share without reservation the musings of the heart.
c. A united community works together to fulfill kingdom purposes.
A united community comes together for a meaningful purpose; to fulfill kingdom’s goals. I have seen church members who go ecstatic over songs, chit chats, and food. But when it comes to the real work of evangelism and outreaching to the poor, these fellowshippers will shrink from the service of God’s kingdom. As oppose to sport fans who gather for a season to make merry and to support their favourite team, a true community of God exists for the purpose of doing the Father’s will. James wrote, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this:to visit orphans and widows in their distress,” James 1:27. Therefore, believers must be united towards touching lives and doing what truly matters. The church community exists not to fuel her members’ wellbeing alone, but to become a conduit of blessing to world. Jesus said concerning the purpose of His coming,
I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. John 10:16
Therefore, believers must be of the same mind and not be fixated on playing church and fixated on one another’s problems. But be active in bringing other sheep into the family of God so that we can become one flock with one shepherd.
Do not make your family and your church community an idol. For many, its no longer about outreaching to the community and in fulfilling the great commission. It’s about protecting our family now and keeping them safe and primed for their future. That is one reason why many children from Christian families backslide and ditch God altogether because they didn’t see Jesus in your life. There is nothing real, it’s all talk and play church. We must unite our family and our church around God’s business of lifting the poor and giving hope to the lost. Children learn not by the teachings you professed to be true, but by observing how you conduct your life, and how you relate with God.
Dear Lord, I realise the prosperity of my family and community hinges on the centrality of God. I am willing to first unite my family around God’s purposes and to be passionate towards Him. Change me and renew a right spirit within me. As I open my heart to you, restore to me your vision and the joy of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.