An Altar Called Ed
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.
This is not a typical blog post from me. Trust me, this one is a little “out there”. Definitely off brand for my writing. But I’ve been chronicling an oddity in my life, and I want to share, partly to see if anyone else has experienced anything similar, and partly to record about it for the future. So, here I go…
Do you ever have something pop into your mind with seemingly no trigger and no related conscious thought? Maybe you’re watching a show about dogs and suddenly an image of a purple rocket ship is in your brain in perfect detail. Or you’re cooking dinner and the words of the preamble to the Constitution forms instantly in your mind, like someone held up an imaginary flashcard that you weren’t expecting. For the last few months, I’ve frequently had a similar occurrence, sometimes many times a day, only it involves tastes and smells. I experience very vivid and very specific tastes and smells, in my mind, at random times. I’ll be going about my day and suddenly, I'm acutely aware of the taste of popcorn or the smell of gasoline. Sometimes, I find the event interesting. Other times, I'm befuddled, and I question if I’ve somehow tipped the scales of normal brain processes.
I don’t call the tastes and smells memories because they aren’t associated with a specific place and time, but they are memories in the sense that my brain recalls a particular taste and/or smell just before it identifies the specific food or item to which the taste and/or smell is associated. These tastes and smells are so vivid and sudden that I've been tempted to call them sensory hallucinations, but I am able to distinguish that I’m not actually smelling or tasting what my brain evokes.
There are two life events that I can loosely connect to the onset of this phenomenon: 1) Contracting and recovering from Covid, and 2) Changing to a low carb/keto diet. When I lost my smell with Covid, it was only for a few days, but it nearly drove me crazy. I cried because not having any sense of smell felt overwhelmingly strange. Around the time I got better, I completely changed my eating habits. Could the phenomena be a brain quirk caused by the virus? Maybe my diet has altered my brain somehow; some (certainly not all) of the tastes and smells could be triggered by normal cravings for foods I've given up. Or maybe I've developed a form of synesthesia, but I haven't identified the triggers for the sensory perceptions.
There was a day in early January where the tastes and smells occurred so many times that it started to get on my nerves. It had crossed the line into distraction. To try to make some sense of it, I decided to document what I was “smelling” and “tasting” and the time of day it happened, to see if there were any patterns. I did this for one month, and the results are fairly interesting (at least to me.)
I'm tempted to share my log for the month, but that might be too much. Let's just say, there are some odd things documented. Some of the items on the list I haven't actually tasted or smelled in years. Deviled ham? A tanning bed? Chinese donuts? Dried tobacco? Others are common for me, like ketchup, ranch dressing, and apples. Some of the tastes/smells are very specific, like Ivory Soap, Smarties candies, and Fruit Stripe gum, while some are more general, like toothpaste.
Are these perceptions here to stay? Will they become less distracting over time? Maybe they aren't so odd. Perhaps there are lots of people with the same experience, who don't talk about it because it's their normal.
The human brain is an amazing thing. No doubt, we are all "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14,) despite our quirks or differences, or perhaps evidenced by them. As we change and get older, we learn new things about ourselves, and that's one of the things that makes life interesting.
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