Joshua
Introduction 1-5 Back to the Wilderness Side of the Jordan 6-8 Joshua Blesses the Wilderness Side Tribes 9-10 A Large Altar 11-14 Inquiry About the Altar 15-20 The Impression the Altar Makes 21-29 Why the Altar Is Built 30-33 Israel Accepts the Statement 34 The Name of the Altar
Introduction

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.


Back to the Wilderness Side of the Jordan

1Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 2and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have listened to my voice in all that I commanded you. 3You have not forsaken your brothers these many days to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God. 4And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as He spoke to them; therefore turn now and go to your tents, to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan. 5Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

The time has now come to send the two and a half tribe back to their families, who did not go with them through the Jordan. Although in fulfilling their promise they have done no more than their duty, Joshua praises their loyalty. All those who have been busy for the Lord will say: “We are unworthy slaves; we have done [only] that which we ought to have done” (Lk 17:1010So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done [only] that which we ought to have done.’”). But the Lord will praise and reward that service (Mt 25:2121His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’).

Regarding their mindset, they have always longed for this moment. After seeing so much of the land, they still give up its wealth, even though they receive an enormous amount of blessing from the land, all treasures they have captured from the enemy (verse 88and said to them, “Return to your tents with great riches and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, iron, and with very many clothes; divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.”). Instead of calling their families to join them in the land, which is still possible (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.), they choose to leave the land of the LORD. Those who were the first to receive their inheritances can now enjoy them as the last.

Their departure from the land of the LORD makes it clear that they have no real interest in it. Therefore they do not have to expect that their families, their children, will be interested in the inheritance of God’s people. The latter can only be so, if they notice that the inheritance means so much to their parents, that this is the life of the soul of their parents. God does not force us if we do not want the inheritance and are content with the lesser. God allows them to go back for that reason.

Joshua gives them some insistent exhortations. They may have been released from their military obligations, but their mental obligations have not changed. To receive the blessing of the LORD it is necessary to hold fast to God’s commandments, to love and follow Him, and to serve Him with all their heart and soul. Joshua is like a worried father who gives good advice to his children who want to stand on their own two feet and who are therefore no longer under the blessed influence of home.


Joshua Blesses the Wilderness Side Tribes

6So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents. 7Now to the one half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had given [a possession] in Bashan, but to the other half Joshua gave [a possession] among their brothers westward beyond the Jordan. So when Joshua sent them away to their tents, he blessed them, 8and said to them, “Return to your tents with great riches and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, iron, and with very many clothes; divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.”

Joshua blesses the tribes of the wilderness side of the Jordan and lets them go. They are allowed to return to their families through the Jordan. It is telling that this time the ark does not go out for them. It stays in the land. By going back they turn their backs on the ark, the symbol of God’s presence.

But Joshua does not let them go away empty-handed. He gives them much of the wealth they have conquered in the land. No one who works for the Lord and His people will remain unrewarded. They must share the spoils with their brothers who have stayed behind. This is comparable to what Moses said earlier in another situation: “And divide the booty between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation” (Num 31:2727and divide the booty between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation.; cf. 1Sam 30:2424And who will listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike.”). Believers who stand in the front lines and make spiritual profits there will share them with the ‘home front’, they are those who have prayed for them (cf. Acts 14:26-2726From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished.27When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they [began] to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.).


A Large Altar

9The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned [home] and departed from the sons of Israel at Shiloh which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, to the land of their possession which they had possessed, according to the command of the LORD through Moses. 10When they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance.

The two and a half tribe move away from the Israelites and from Shiloh. It does not say that they are leaving the nine and a half tribe, but they “departed from the sons of Israel”. What lives in the land is Israel. The two and a half tribe remain part of God’s people. But those who live in the land are the expression of all the people. They experience this unity at the altar – for us this is the Lord’s Table – for there the LORD dwells.

They didn’t feel completely happy with it. It seems that they are aware that they are going down a dangerous road. They see the threat that a separation will take place among the people of God. To prevent that they make an altar. It is a large altar, something that makes an impression. This fake altar is larger than the real one. If one does not have the real thing, one wants an imitation that is exciting for the human eye.

They don’t mean anything wrong with it. They do not want an altar of idols, not even an altar to bring sacrifices to the LORD. They only want the altar as a picture of their unity with the whole people. But it happens in a human way. Something that is well meant is therefore not yet good. They want to show unity, but give the impression to want to go their own way, in independence from the people of God. The consequences are the opposite of what they meant by it.


Inquiry About the Altar

11And the sons of Israel heard [it] said, “Behold, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, on the side [belonging to] the sons of Israel.” 12When the sons of Israel heard [of it], the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war. 13Then the sons of Israel sent to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, 14and with him ten chiefs, one chief for each father’s household from each of the tribes of Israel; and each one of them [was] the head of his father’s household among the thousands of Israel.

The people come together in Shiloh, by the LORD. What they have heard calls for disciplinary action. After all, there may be no other altar than the altar of the LORD (Deu 12:55But you shall seek [the LORD] at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.). Evil must be stopped, otherwise it will soon gain the upper hand. They are willing to fight.

Yet they do not act in haste, but with reason. They first want to investigate the matter closely and not act upon impressions (Deu 13:1414then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly. If it is true [and] the matter established that this abomination has been done among you,). God Himself shows in the judgment about Sodom and Gomorrah that He works in this way (Gen 18:2121I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”). Therefore they decide to first send messengers to get acquainted with the matter. Phinehas is sent, from whom is known how he stands for the honor of the LORD. He has a feeling for the holiness of God (Num 25:6-156Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting.7When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand,8and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked.9Those who died by the plague were 24,000.10Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,11“Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy.12Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace;13and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.’”14Now the name of the slain man of Israel who was slain with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father’s household among the Simeonites.15The name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was head of the people of a father’s household in Midian.). He is accompanied by ten chiefs, one from each tribe.


The Impression the Altar Makes

15They came to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, to the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them saying, 16“Thus says the whole congregation of the LORD, ‘What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the LORD this day, by building yourselves an altar, to rebel against the LORD this day? 17Is not the iniquity of Peor enough for us, from which we have not cleansed ourselves to this day, although a plague came on the congregation of the LORD, 18that you must turn away this day from following the LORD? If you rebel against the LORD today, He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow. 19If, 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. 20Did not Achan the son of Zerah act unfaithfully in the things under the ban, and wrath fall on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.’”

Phinehas and the ten chiefs come the two and a half tribe. They speak with them on behalf of the whole people. They address those who also belong to the people, but who in practical terms do not live up to it. The accusation is: acting unfaithfully against the LORD and His people, which will have bad consequences for all people. To underline their words, the delegation points to two examples that they also know and in which sin has also brought disciplined over the whole people: the iniquity of Peor, and Achan who has seized of the things under the ban. These examples show two major dangers, also in the church, for the holiness.

At Peor, the terrible thing is the teaching of Balaam to destroy the people of God by mixing good and false religion, the service of God and that of the idols of Midian (Num 25:1-31While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab.2For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.3So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel.; 31:1616Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD.). Then the true religion is increasingly outstripped by idolatry. Therefore, God’s wrath has come upon the whole. Phinehas warns the two and a half tribe of this danger with the construction of this altar. The construction may seem small in comparison with the iniquity of Peor, but if this iniquity is not nipped in the bud it will have the same terrible effect as the iniquity of Peor.

After mentioning the first danger, the second danger is not immediately mentioned. First comes, between the indications of the two dangers, the kind invitation to come to the LORD anyway, to His land and His altar (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.). Here we hear that all who belong to God’s people – for the church this means: all believers – are invited. Phinehas appeals to their spiritual discernment. Only if they see their chosen inheritance as unclean – that is to say, not sanctified by God’s presence – will they want their place in God’s land and be allowed to possess it. But the two and a half tribe does not draw that conclusion.

As for the believers of the church, they are all but guests of the Lord at His altar, that is His Table. Those who are there may say to all believers that the Lord also invites them to His Table. It is His Table, not that of a group. It is about the place where the Lord Jesus is, not where such nice or oddly believers are. We must not say, ‘Come with us’, but ‘Let us remember the Lord together at His Table.

We can and must only be ‘exclusive’ to evil. In the face of the good, we must always be open and not closed. All believers are ‘free brethren’ when it comes to what they are in Christ and all are ‘bound brethren’ when it comes to their responsibility. Whoever wants to act according to the Lord’s will in this will avoid all sectarianism and likewise the freedom of the flesh.

Every Israelite is invited by Phinehas to come there. Later Hezekiah does the same (2Chr 30:11Now Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel.). It is about the whole people of God, that is now the church of God. The church is represented, among other things, by a body, because that picture aptly depicts the unity of the church, that is, the whole people of God. The Table of the Lord belongs to all the people. There God’s people can experience unity in a Scriptural way.

There God’s people also find a place of worship and priesthood, while in Christianity the emphasis is generally on preaching. Where can we still find the desire to give God what He is entitled to and less the question of what is in it for me? We must not make it heavier for all who seek this place than Scripture indicates. For this it is necessary to possess and reveal the spirit of a Phinehas.

After this invitation follows the second warning example, which is Achan (Jos 7:1,19-261But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the LORD burned against the sons of Israel.19Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I implore you, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.”20So Achan answered Joshua and said, “Truly, I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel, and this is what I did:21when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.”22So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was concealed in his tent with the silver underneath it.23They took them from inside the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the sons of Israel, and they poured them out before the LORD.24Then Joshua and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver’, the mantle, the bar of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him; and they brought them up to the valley of Achor.25Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day.” And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.26They raised over him a great heap of stones that stands to this day, and the LORD turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the valley of Achor to this day.). Achan did not bring false teaching, but was guided by the desire for the worldly things. In him we see how the flesh is given the opportunity to introduce the things of the world into God’s people, while they may have no place there. An example of this is the desire to be attractive to young people and therefore to introduce popular forms of worship by using compelling melodies and dance and drama.


Why the Altar Is Built

21Then the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh answered and spoke to the heads of the families of Israel. 22“The Mighty One, God, the LORD, the Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If [it was] in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the LORD do not save us this day! 23If we have built us an altar to turn away from following the LORD, or if to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, may the LORD Himself require it. 24But truly we have done this out of concern, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your sons may say to our sons, “What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? 25For the LORD has made the Jordan a border between us and you, [you] sons of Reuben and sons of Gad; you have no portion in the LORD.” So your sons may make our sons stop fearing the LORD.’ 26“Therefore we said, ‘Let us build an altar, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; 27rather it shall be a witness between us and you and between our generations after us, that we are to perform the service of the LORD before Him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices and with our peace offerings, so that your sons will not say to our sons in time to come, “You have no portion in the LORD.”‘ 28Therefore we said, ‘It shall also come about if they say [this] to us or to our generations in time to come, then we shall say, “See the copy of the altar of the LORD which our fathers made, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; rather it is a witness between us and you.”‘ 29Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD and turn away from following the LORD this day, by building an altar for burnt offering, for grain offering or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the LORD our God which is before His tabernacle.”

The two and a half tribe doesn’t get excited by the accusations. They answer calm. Their responsibility reassures the other tribes. They do not want to introduce idolatry in any way. Nor do they in any way want to offer the LORD sacrifices on that altar. They understand that there is only one altar. By this visible sign, they only want to establish a testimony of unity for their children.

It is well intentioned, but not correct. The intention to testify of unity is worked out according to human model. Examples of this we see in confessions of faith. These are always set up to testify to the truth about falsehoods and to preserve the unity of God’s people. They originated from a desire to be appreciated in order to establish unity in doctrine for the whole people. But it is a human work.

History has shown that creeds have been placed on an equal footing with and even above Scripture. They play a decisive role in ecclesiastical circles; they must generally be signed in order to belong to that church. In so doing, they have brought division rather than unity. They are well-intentioned, yet human means to preserve unity. The greatest false teachers sign the creeds and can remain. Every form of unity that is established by people and is used as a condition to experience unity, does not promote unity, but division.

It is not a seemingly altar that creates unity, but the altar in the place chosen by the Lord. The altar of the two and a half tribe is a symbol of a fictional unity. The evangelical alliance is such a fictional unity. The joint organization of large evangelization campaigns by all kinds of churches and groups evokes the picture of the unity of all members involved. But after a campaign, everyone goes back to their own church to celebrate their own supper. For a moment there was an altar of a testimony of unity, but it disappeared soon afterwards. At the altar of worship at the place where the Lord Jesus is, they have not appeared.

The fictional unity has not been preserved for long. The tribes of the wilderness side of the Jordan are the first to be deported in scattering (1Chr 5:2626So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, even the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away into exile, namely the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara and to the river of Gozan, to this day.). We must learn from this that our unity as Christians is not shaped by human means. The Lord has made clear in His Word how we can show the unity of the believers. We show this unity by celebrating the Lord’s Supper at His Table: “Is 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? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (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.).


Israel Accepts the Statement

30So when Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the congregation, even the heads of the families of Israel who [were] with him, heard the words which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the sons of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them. 31And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Manasseh, “Today we know that the LORD is in our midst, because you have not committed this unfaithful act against the LORD; now you have delivered the sons of Israel from the hand of the LORD.” 32Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest and the leaders returned from the sons of Reuben and from the sons of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the sons of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33The word pleased the sons of Israel, and the sons of Israel blessed God; and they did not speak of going up against them in war to destroy the land in which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad were living.

Israel accepts the statement. The critical situation, where civil war is imminent, has turned for the better. A gentle answer has turned away wrath (Pro 15:1a1A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.
). The report of the encounter brings praise to God.


The Name of the Altar

34The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad called the altar [Witness]; “For,” [they said], “it is a witness between us that the LORD is God.”

Why should a book that writes about taking possession of and distributing the promised land cover this single history in such detail? This will be because it will reveal important principles with a view to the unity of the people of God, if any part of that people turns out to give the preference to another position. In the name of the altar is expressed that also the deviating part will maintain its relationship with the LORD as their God, in accordance with the part of the people living in the land.


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