When we jump to a conclusion, we often land in a misunderstanding. Such was the case for some of the children of Israel, as documented in the book of Joshua.
After the journey in the wilderness for forty years, before the people crossed over Jordan and into the Promised Land, three groups of them—the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh—asked Moses to let them remain on the East side of Jordan and possess that land instead (Numbers 32.) Moses granted the request on the condition that soldiers from those groups would first help the other tribes conquer Canaan—an effort that would take “a long time” (Joshua 11:18.) When the wars were finally ended and all the tribes had received their inheritance in the Promised Land, the men of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, crossed back over Jordan to join their families. That’s when the misunderstanding occurred.
Joshua 22 tells us that the East-of-Jordaners built a great altar on their side of the river, and when the people on the West heard about it, they assumed it was a pagan altar. So, the West-of-Jordaners “gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them” (Joshua 22:12.)
Fortunately, Israel didn’t go immediately into battle. The tribes first sent ambassadors to Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh and confronted them about their supposed wrongdoing. ‘How could you rebel against the Lord this way?’ they said.
On one hand, the people on the West had good reason to be concerned. They’d seen firsthand that God doesn’t deal lightly with rebellion. If there was any chance their brothers on the other side of the river had fallen into idolatry, it could have resulted in destruction for all of Israel, and they had been commanded to remove idol worship from among them at all costs (as we all should.) But their assumptions about the East-of-Jordaners’ intentions were wrong. The purpose of the altar is explained in Joshua 22:27: “But that it may be a witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the LORD before him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, Ye have no part in the LORD.” They wanted a symbol of their shared faith, a reminder to future generations that, though separated by the river, they were still part of God’s chosen people. So, they called the altar Ed, meaning witness. May we always be mindful of our witness to those around us. May we aim to leave a road map for future generations, to lead them in the right path.
Israel accepted their brothers’ explanation, but can you imagine how it felt to be accused? It must have been hurtful, especially after the tribes of Gad and Reuben and the half tribe of Manasseh had spent years fighting alongside the rest of Israel to take the land of Canaan that God had promised. They were family; they were on the same team.
I know a little of that kind of hurt. I once tried to help someone, but my intentions were grossly misinterpreted, and even though I tried to explain, the person wasn’t willing to hear or accept my heart on the matter. How much dissension we could resolve in the body of Christ if people were willing to listen to one another.
Believers should be careful to avoid sin and unafraid to call it out, when necessary, but we should always give our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt. Maybe there’s a good reason the other party said what they said or did what they did. Maybe the point of contention is all a big misunderstanding. Just because someone doesn’t do things the way we do doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Talking things out may be all that’s needed to bring resolution.
The story of the altar called Ed on the East side of the Jordan River should be a reminder to us all: Be wary of sin, but don’t jump to conclusions.
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