While we may speak the same language, it doesn’t mean we use the same definitions. It follows that misunderstandings are part of daily life. Sometimes they lead to laughter, sometimes to broken relationships, and other times to conflict and war. Joshua 22 tells the story of a conflict between family members that led to the brink of civil war.
After seven years of conflict, the conquest of the Promised Land is complete (21:43-45). General Joshua dismisses his troops to their well-deserved rest (22:1-4). Joshua 13-21 describes how the land was parceled out among the 12 tribes of Israel. According to Numbers 32, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh decided to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River rather than inside the Promised Land.
As Joshua dismisses the soldiers, he is like a concerned parent watching a son or daughter go off to college or into the world. He wonders whether or not they will walk with God. So Joshua challenges the people to the deepest spiritual commitment with six short commands—pay attention to God’s instructions; love the Lord your God; walk in his ways; keep his commandments; cling to God; serve God with all your heart and soul (22:5).
As the two and a half tribes head east, they set up a large, imposing altar on the eastern side of the Jordan River (22:10). The tribes who stayed in the Promised Land immediately jumped to the conclusion that their brothers had abandoned the faith. They were ready to go to war to bring them back (22:11-12).
On the one hand, Israel was to be commended because they took the holiness of God seriously. They were not willing to compromise one iota. On the other hand, they based their judgement on circumstantial evidence. They were cynical and suspicious and believed the worst rather than believing the best about their friends and family.
Rather than avoiding conflict at any cost, Israel formed a delegation to confront their supposed erring brothers (22:13-20). They went directly to their brothers and spoke what they thought was the truth. Unfortunately, they failed to ask questions and get all the facts first.
The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and east Manasseh could have acted offended and sullenly refused to listen to the wrong accusations. However, they wisely took the opportunity to present their reasoning (22:22-23). In doing so, they also engaged in some blame shifting as they too had believed the worst about the tribes who remained in the Promised Land (22:24-25). They explained that rather than setting up a competing altar for worship, their replica altar was a witness to the unity of the entire nation (22;26-29, 34).
After hearing the explanation, the delegation from the west was satisfied and peace was restored (22:30-33).
In the Bible Knowledge Commentary, Dr. Donald Campbell gives four principles we can take from this chapter. (1) It is commendable for believers to be zealous for the purity of the faith. Compromise of truth is always costly. (2) It is wrong to judge people’s motives on the basis of circumstantial evidence. It is important to get all the facts, remembering that there are always two sides to every dispute. (3) Frank and open discussion will often clear the air and lead to reconciliation. But such a confrontation should be approached in a spirit of gentleness, not arrogance. (4) A person who is wrongly accused does well to remember the wise counsel of Solomon, “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:11).
When misunderstandings arise, seek to be a peacemaker. In his book Living on the Cutting Edge: Joshua and the Challenge of Spiritual Leadership, Pastor R. Kent Hughes offers his adaptation of the beatitudes with these words—“Blessed are those who … do not assume the worst when they hear of the sins of another; go directly to supposed sinners; are frank and up-front about their concerns; are loving and magnanimous in their confrontations over sin; reprove their sinning brother in private; go a second time to their brother with others who care; will, when all else fails, tell it to the church—with tears.”
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 6, 2019. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.