The two and a half tribe may return home after Israel has taken possession of the land. Joshua praises their loyalty and exhorts them to continue serving the LORD. Yet this two and a half tribe causes worry by the construction of a large altar. The other tribes, led by Phinehas, are right to head out to it. Phinehas points out that there is only one altar: the altar in the tabernacle (verse 1919If, 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.). That is the place where the people of God come together. By erecting this other altar, the unity of the people of God is broken.
This is still the case in Christianity. There the altar is called the Lord’s Table (1Cor 10:18-2118Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?19What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?20[No], but [I say] that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.). At the Table of the Lord the unity of the church is expressed in the celebration of the Supper (1Cor 10:16-1716Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?17Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.; 11:23-2523For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”25In the same way [He took] the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink [it], in remembrance of Me.”). But many churches and groups have built their own altar and thereby emphasized the division.
Phinehas and the people are satisfied with the answer of the two and a half tribe, because there is sincerity present. That does not mean that they acknowledge this altar. Nor do we need to condemn tables set up by men if there is sincerity in serving God. However, it is important that we know for ourselves at which ‘altar’ we are.
The basis of the two and a half tribe’s attitude is that they preferred the wilderness side of the Jordan over the land chosen by God. What they have chosen is no longer the wilderness. It belongs to the inheritance. It is their property, for God has given it to them. But it was not God’s intention that they should be content with it.
The part they have chosen does not speak of the blessings of the land, for which it is necessary to cross the Jordan. It represents the earthly blessings as a gift from Him. It is God’s intention, however, that all tribes have a large part in the land and a small part outside the land, on the other side of the Jordan. This goal will be achieved in the realm of peace.
In the picture it is about real Christians who have also fought for and conquered the inheritance. They know the inheritance. Yet they never enjoyed it in reality. They don’t know how to deal with it. They only enjoy the earthly things. If we thank God every day only for things such as our health, our work, and our gaze does not go beyond these earthly blessings, then we are poor Christians.