UNDERSTANDING UNITY 

There remained other unfinished business about the settlement of the Promised Land.  A system of justice was to be provided according to the law.  Neutral cities were to offer sanctuary for those who were fleeing from an accusation of crime.

Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, And said unto them, Ye have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you:  Ye have not left your brethren these many days unto this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God.  And now the LORD your God hath given rest unto your brethren, as he promised them: therefore now return ye, and get you unto your tents, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side Jordan.  But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.  So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their tents.  Joshua 22:1-6

Moses allowed these tribes to claim land on the near side of the Jordan, if they would go over to war beside their brethren.  Their fellow Jews misunderstood their building a new alter though. 

Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given possession in Bashan: but unto the other half thereof gave Joshua among their brethren on this side Jordan westward. And when Joshua sent them away also unto their tents, then he blessed them,  And he spake unto them, saying, Return with much riches unto your tents, and with very much cattle, with silver, and with gold, and with brass, and with iron,  and with very much raiment: divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.  And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go unto the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, whereof they were possessed, according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses. And when they came unto the borders of Jordan, that are in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by Jordan, a great altar to see to.  And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of Canaan, in the borders of Jordan, at the passage of the children of Israel.  And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them.  And the children of Israel sent unto the children of Reuben, and to the children 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 princes, of each chief house a prince throughout all the tribes of Israel;  and each one was an head of the house of their fathers among the thousands of Israel.  Joshua 22:7-14

The claim to land was accepted because they went to war with their brethren on the far side of the Jordan.  But the appearance was that this new altar was a departure from faith in God.

And they came unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, unto the land of Gilead, and they spake with them, saying, Thus saith the whole congregation of the LORD,  What trespass is this that ye have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the LORD, in that ye have builded you an altar, that ye might rebel this day against the LORD?  Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us, from which we are not cleansed until this day, although there was a plague in the congregation of the LORD,  But that ye must turn away this day from following the LORD? and it will be, seeing ye rebel to day against the LORD, that to morrow he will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel.  Notwithstanding, if the land of your possession be unclean, then pass ye over unto the land of the possession of the LORD, wherein the LORD’S tabernacle dwelleth, and take possession among us: but rebel not against the LORD, nor rebel against us, in building you an altar beside the altar of the LORD our God.  Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.  Josh 22:15-20 (KJV)

Rueben, Gad, and Manasseh answered them well though.  They did not build the altar to use for sacrifices, but for another reason.

Then the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh answered, and said unto the heads of the thousands of Israel,  The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the LORD, (save us not this day,)  That we have built us an altar to turn from following the LORD, or if to offer thereon burnt offering or meat offering, or if to offer peace offerings thereon, let the LORD himself require it;  And if we have not rather done it for fear of this thing, saying, In time to come your children might speak unto our children, saying, What have ye to do with the LORD God of Israel?  For the LORD hath made Jordan a border between us and you, ye children of Reuben and children of Gad;  ye have no part in the LORD: so shall your children make our children cease from fearing the LORD.  Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:  But that it may be a witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the LORD before him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, Ye have no part in the LORD.  Therefore said we, that it shall be, when they should so say to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say again, Behold the pattern of the altar of the LORD, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between us and you.  God forbid that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn this day from following the LORD, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the LORD our God that is before his tabernacle.  Josh 22:21-29 (KJV)

Being on the far side of the river might have tempted the western group to consider them outsiders.  This altar was built as a reminder of the common faith, to prevent the rejection of the rest of Israel.  It was to be a memorial to their common faith, not a wedge between them. 

And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation and heads of the thousands of Israel which were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the children of Manasseh spake, it pleased them.  And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the children of Manasseh, This day we perceive that the LORD is among us, because ye have not committed this trespass against the LORD: now ye have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the LORD.  And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the princes, returned from the children of Reuben, and from the children of Gad, out of the land of Gilead, unto the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought them word again.  And the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel blessed God, and did not intend to go up against them in battle, to destroy the land wherein the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.  And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the LORD is God.  Josh 22:30-34 (KJV)

Rueben and Gad recognized a temptation that might have divided the body and brought the wrath of God against all for the potential false accusations and ensuing warfare.  There had been such fears over their choice to take the near lands.  Their service in war with their brethren had dispelled the doubts then.  A possibility remained that their brethren could consider them outcasts because of the border of the river Jordan.  They could have been shunned and then tempted to turn away from God by this rejection.  By creating a non-functional altar as a reminder of the true altar in Jerusalem, they remind their children of their unity, and display a sign to the brethren of that bond.  They were proactive against a likely temptation against both sides.  They recognized a work of the accuser of the brethren, and raised a standard to display their stand for God.  They had delivered the entire nation from a division that has no power over the kingdom of God.

And it came to pass a long time after that the LORD had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old and stricken in age.  And Joshua called for all Israel, and for their elders, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers, and said unto them, I am old and stricken in age:  And ye have seen all that the LORD your God hath done unto all these nations because of you; for the LORD your God is he that hath fought for you.  Behold, I have divided unto you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, even unto the great sea westward.  And the LORD your God, he shall expel them from before you, and drive them from out of your sight; and ye shall possess their land, as the LORD your God hath promised unto you.  Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left;  That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them:  But cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day.  For the LORD hath driven out from before you great nations and strong: but as for you, no man hath been able to stand before you unto this day.  One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the LORD your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you.  Josh 23:1-10 (KJV) 

It requires courage to do what the Word of God commands.  Moses, Caleb, and Joshua had been the faithful teachers to the children of their generation.  Israel had demonstrated faith and courage to avoid a trap, and passed a crucial test for their graduation.  With a final warning, Joshua sends them off to their destiny.

Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the LORD your God.  Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you:  Know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you.  And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.  Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the LORD your God promised you; so shall the LORD bring upon you all evil things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you.  When ye have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you.  Josh 23:11-16 (KJV)

We live in a nation that may be experiencing judgment today for its sins.  Yet the Kingdom of God is not divided.  We may forget that natural borders and waters do not divide the brethren.  Do not blame foreign competition for our problems.  Do not be tempted to think that Christians are not of one faith, as the Lord our God is one.  The believers in China are one with us in the United States, and with the kingdom of God in all nations.  Our merchandise is coming from these “third world” nations, but the brethren worldwide also benefit from this changing economy.  Focus on God, and find his path to safety without resentment against foreign workers.  Peter focused on who he was walking with, not on what (the water) he was walking on.  Joseph and Daniel were able to rise above their humbling circumstances to become the deliverance of their people.  The cross was our altar, and we can raise this symbol without crucifying Christ anew by warring against the brethren of any nation.  No further sacrifice is required; it is finished.

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