COMMUNICATION 15 - Conflict Resolution (Joshua 22)

Historical Context
  • Under Moses’s leadership whole Israel conquers East-Jordan, which is then allotted to the 2½ tribes (Reuben, Gad, East Manasseh) as per their request (Deu 32).
  • Moses heeds their request but obliges the 2½ tribes to assist the remaining 10½ tribes with the conquest of Canaan, West of the Jordan (Deu 32:25-27).
  • The 2½ tribes fulfill their promise and help the other tribes conquer Canaan under the leadership of Joshua.
Joshua 22:1-9             Israel at peace and in consensus
  • Joshua at Shiloh (the site of the tabernacle at the time) releases the 2½ Transjordan tribes (Reuben, Gad, East Manasseh) in peace, commending them for their faithfulness (Jos 22:1-3), reminding them to stay obedient (Jos 22:5), blessing them (Jos 22:6) and allowing them part in the spoil of the Canaan conquest (Jos 22:8).
  • At this point the relationship between the Eastern and Western tribes is very good, they have supported each other, seen God’s victory and blessing on them, divided the land in mutual consensus. Word has been kept. There is peace and mutual trust.
Joshua 22:10-11         Eastern tribes build an Altar at the Jordan

“When they came to the region near the Jordan that lies in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, and altar of great size. 11 The Israelites heard that the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh had built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region near the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the Israelites.”

What happens?

  • During their journey East when crossing the Jordan, the 2 ½ tribes build a great altar on the Western side of the Jordan river.

What could be reasons for building this altar?

  • to sacrifice?
  • to worship God?
  • to commemorate?
  • to remind?

Why is this altar potentially contentious?

  • God commanded in Deuteronomy that all sacrifices must be made at the central burnt offering altar at the tabernacle (currently at Shiloh, eventually it will be at Jerusalem).
  • This applies to all sacrifices in general (Deu 12:5, 11). Specifically mentioned are freewill offerings (Deu 12:18), tithes offerings (Deu 14:23-25), firstborn sacrifices (Deu 15:20), passover (Deu 16:2, 6-7), festival of weeks (Deu 16:11), festival of booths (Deu 16:15), festivals 3x a year (Deu 16:16), first fruit offerings (Deu 28:2), and mentioned in contrast to eating meat in towns (Deu 12:21-16).
  • Clearly this is a very strong and highly repeated command. No sacrifices anywhere except at the central tabernacle altar by an Aaronitic priest.
  • Why? God wants a center of spiritual life. He wants unity among the tribes: this is the nation’s common ground and spiritual foundation. He wants a law-trained, ordained, obedient, teaching priest to perform the sacrifices.
  • To allow ‘everybody to sacrifice in their backyard’ is a sure and quick slide into idolatry, lack of teaching, ignorance of the law, decentralization and disunity.
  • So an alternative altar at the Jordan is a problem and a possible breach of law.
Joshua 22:12              Reaction of the Western tribes

“And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh, to make war against them.”

What is the reaction of the Western tribes?

  • They assemble at Shiloh to make war against the Eastern 2½ tribes.

Why is the reaction so strong, so immediate?

  • They fear that again (!) and so quickly (!) the Eastern tribes are slipping into idolatry

What do they fear?

  • They fear that the wrath of God will be on them for the idolatry (like at Baal Peor, Num 22:17 or when Achan sinned Jos 7).
  • They fear God’s judgment, the weakening of Israel, defeat, loss of blessing and disunity of the nation.
Joshua 22:13-14         Western delegation sent

“Then the Israelites sent the priest Phinehas son of Eleazar to the Reubenites, and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, 14 and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel.”

How do the Western tribes engage in the conflict?

  • Though they came together to make war against the Eastern tribes, they decide to send a delegation first: Phinehas (current high priest) with a head from each tribe > representative group ahead of troops.
  • Phinehas is a wise choice for a representative, as he is the spiritual leader over all tribes, knows the law, can act as conscience and is proven (Num 25).
  • One head from each tribe is wise also, not a huge threatening band, but a representative one. This is not just a random band of flustered neighbor, this is a carefully chosen delegation.
Joshua 22:15-20          Accusation & Offer

“They came to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them, 16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the LORD, ‘what is this treachery that you have committed against the God of Israel by turning away today from following the LORD by building yourselves an altar today in rebellion against the LORD? 17 Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which a plague came upon the congregation of the LORD, 18 that you must turn away from following the LORD! If you rebel against the LORD today, he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow. 19 But now, if your land is unclean, cross over into the LORD’s land where the LORD’s tabernacle now stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us only do not rebel against the LORD our God. 20 Did not Achan son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity!”

What do they do?

  • They bring up the issue: an altar has been built.
  • They bring their interpretation of this, they accuse of rebellion
  • They warn the Eastern tribes, remonstrate, explain, talk about consequences, plead with them.
  • They lay their thinking, worries, fears open. They are direct, honest, serious.
  • They remind of earlier sin (Peor, Achan) and the consequences.
  • They seek communication and hope to convince them otherwise.
  • They make a sacrificial offer of sharing their land with the Easterners rather than seeing them slip into idolatry. By this they prove the purity of their motivation: prevention of sin & its consequences at all price.

They have done well. The only thing they could have done better is before accusing of idolatry to ask for the reasons behind building the altar.

Joshua 22:21-29          The Eastern tribes explain themselves

“Then the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, 22 “The LORD of gods! The LORD of gods! He knows and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith toward the LORD, do not spare us today 23 for building an altar to turn away from following the LORD; or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or offerings of well being on it, may the LORD himself take vengeance. 24 No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the God of Israel? 25 For the LORD had made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the LORD.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the LORD. 26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the LORD in his presence with our offerings … so that your children may never say to our children in the time to come, “You have no portion in the LORD.”’ 28 And we thought, If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we could say, ‘Look at this copy of the altar of the LORD, which our ancestors made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice but to be a witness between us and you.’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn away this day from following the LORD …”

What do the Eastern tribes answer?

  • They upfront confess God as LORD, God of gods.
  • They call on God as the one who knows what their motives were, they call for his vengeance, they swear to be not guilty of what they are accused for.
  • They explain what their motivation really was.
  • They agree with Western Israel’s judgment on an alternative sacrifice altar as sin.
  • But they assert strongly that that never was the intention.
  • They give a clear explanation, laying open their motivations & reasoning

How do they convince Phinehas?

  • By calling on God, by agreeing with his conclusion but showing his faulty assumptions, by freely sharing their view.
  • They are not as reproachful and assuming as the West, swallow any hurt pride, keep to the issue

How does their answer change your view of the conflict?

  • motivation is crucial
  • the law is not legalistically applied here, and all are fine with that.
Joshua 22:30-31          The Western tribes accept the explanation

“When the priest Phinehas and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the Reubenites and the Gadites and the Manassites spoke, they were satisfied. 31 The priest Phinehas son of Eleazar said to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the Manassites, “Today we know that the LORD is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against he LORD; now you have saved the Israelites from the and of the LORD.”

What is the reaction of the delegation upon hearing the explanation?

  • They believe them, trust them to speak truthfully, accept the explanation.
  • They do not insist on mistrust, they are not un-convinceable.
  • They are relieved, satisfied. They rejoice that the evil they thought was happening is not a reality.
  • Their motivation to come was good, they can trust others to have good motivation also. Love does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth (1 Cor 13:6).
Joshua 22:32-34          The conflict is resolved fully

“Then the priest Phinehas son of Eleazar and the chiefs returned … to the Israelites, and brought back word to them. 33 The report pleased the Israelites; and they praised God and spoke no more of making war against them, to destroy the land where the Reubenites and the Gadites were settled. 34 The Reubenites and the Gadites called the altar Witness; “For”, said they, “it is a witness between us that the LORD is God.”

What is the reaction of the Western tribes?

  • Same as that of the delegation: they trust the Eastern tribes, believe their explanation, are satisfied.
  • They praise God and abandon the plan to make war.

How do you think this affects their relationship in the future?

  • They will be more careful not to misjudge, careful to communicate first, careful to consider motivation or other explanations.

What can we learn from this story?

  • Be careful with assumptions about other people’s motives!
  • Be careful to communicate directly, to seek understanding, to ask first, rather than reproach and attack.
  • Stories can look completely different if you hear the other side.