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. — Joshua 22:5
When I first entered the job market, I had to make a decision between a job with the state government or a job in the small town where I lived. It was tempting to take the job with the state because it paid more to start with, and the opportunities for advancement were fantastic, but I would have had to commute over thirty miles each way. I finally decided to take the job close to home so I would have more time for church and family. It was a decision I never regretted.
We face decisions every day that may impact our spiritual walks with the Lord. Some of these decisions include where to work, who to marry, who our friends are, how many church activities to get involved in, and the list goes on and on. If we are not careful, we can be more concerned about what seems beneficial for us than what is God’s will for our lives.
Years before today’s text, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh made a decision to request a possession on the east side of Jordan. This request made sense to them because they raised cattle, and the land on the east side of Jordan was excellent for their herds. Yet, they were using their own reasoning rather than following God’s perfect will. It was a decision that eventually led them into trouble.
God has a perfect plan for each of our lives. At times, we may look at the decisions we face and expect to trust our common sense to help us choose correctly. Yet, our own reasoning may lead us astray. How much better to choose to cleave to God and His commandments! We are always safe when we lay our decisions out before the Lord and seek His direction. Then, if we follow His instructions, we will benefit and be blessed — even if those directions do not sometimes seem the most advantageous to our ways of thinking.
Moses had given one requirement to the children of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, when he agreed that they could develop their land on the east side of Jordan. They had to help their fellow tribes conquer the land on the west side of Jordan. In our text today, these tribes had fulfilled their promise and now the land was at rest. They had been at battle for over seven years, and finally the time came when Joshua told them they could return to their families and the land of their possession.
Joshua commended these tribes who remained loyal to their duties until the enemy was defeated. They had pledged their loyalty to Moses, and then they extended that same loyalty to Joshua after Moses died. After commending them, Joshua admonished them concerning their spiritual walk. He knew they had won the victory over their enemies because they loved God and kept His commandments. They needed to show the same diligence in their worship of God as they had in battle.
In Israel, it was the custom that those who stayed home to take care of the land, women, and children, or those who could not participate in the battles for some other reason, shared in the wealth that had been taken from their enemies in battle. These returning men carried the riches to be distributed.
As the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh started home, they began to feel isolated from their brothers on the west side. They decided to solve their problem by building a large altar by the Jordan River as a reminder that they belonged to the nation of Israel. The altar on the Jordan River did not guarantee spiritual success for the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. Their success would only come if they faithfully attended the feasts at the Tabernacle, obeyed God’s Word, and diligently taught their children to serve God.
The tribes on the west side of Jordan became concerned when they saw the altar that their brothers had built. God had commanded them to destroy all the altars of the heathen Canaanites, and they were not to build any altars of their own. So they decided to send a group of ten princes from each tribe, led by Phinehas, the son of the high priest, to investigate this seeming breach of the Law. Phinehas accused the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh of rebellion against the Lord, reminding them of two grave instances of rebellion and the consequences. He encouraged the three tribes to move over to the other side of Jordan and dwell with their brothers near the sanctuary of the Lord.
In verse 22, the accused tribes used the sacred names for the Lord: “El” (the Mighty One), “Elohim” (God), and “Jehovah” (the Lord). This denoted an earnest vow that their intentions were pure and that the Lord knew their hearts. They declared that the altar was not for sacrifices; they were not trying to start an opposing religion. Their purpose was to erect an altar as a memorial.
Phinehas and his delegation, as well as all the Children of Israel on the west side of Jordan, were pleased with the eastern tribes’ declaration that they were not rebelling against the Lord. They were relieved that the altar was erected as a witness and not for sacrifices, and they were thankful that a civil war had been averted.
In verse 34, the children of Reuben and Gad named the altar “Ed” which means “witness.” These stones may have been a witness, but the eastern tribes did not keep their promise to follow God with their whole heart. It was not long before their separation led to idolatry and their eventual captivity.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
III. The epilogue
A. The return of the Transjordan tribes (22:1-34)
1. The tribes sent home (22:1-9)
2. The conflict over the altar (22:10-34)
a. The altar erected (22:10-12)
b. The concern of Israel (22:13-20)
c. The answers of the tribes (22:21-29)
d. The controversy resolved (22:30-34)
When making decisions in our own lives, we need to make sure we are in line with God’s Word, and not making choices that may seem to benefit us but, in fact, will draw us away from our service to God.