If chapters 22-24 are a summary warning to Israel to be faithful to God now that they are settling in the Promised Land (and I believe they are), then chapter 22 is a perfect introduction to this section. A little background for those who may not recall the details: Before Israel crossed the Jordan, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh asked that they be given land on the east side of the Jordan as their tribal allotment. This was done with the condition that they entered the land and fought with the rest of Israel. Once the land was taken, they would be allowed to return home. That is what is happening as we get to chapter 22.
Joshua commends these eastern tribes for their faithfulness and obedience in the conquest of Canaan. In Joshua 22:5, he instructs them to, “…be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses…commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all you heart and with all your soul.” He then blessed them and sent them home.
The writer creates a bit of a mystery here in Joshua 22:10 by indicating that the eastern tribes built an altar by the Jordan of imposing size. He makes no mention of their motivation or rationale for this construction. Once word gets back to the western tribes, there is great consternation. Yahweh was to be worshiped in only one location, under the supervision of the Levitical priests, in order that the false worship of the Canaanites would not infiltrate Israel. The ten tribes send representatives to find out what these folks were thinking. Note two things here:
- The western tribes were concerned about God’s honor and fearful of corporate consequences for the sin of the eastern tribes, similar to what had happened with Achan and his unauthorized stash from Jericho. They were primarily concerned with the purity of worship.
- The eastern tribes wanted to make sure that future generations knew they were part of God’s people, even though they lived on the other side of the Jordan. They wanted to be able to worship the true God and their primary concern was for unity that would preserve faithfulness to God.
Both sides talked it out and rejoiced over the altar called “Witness.”
Both sides of this potential dispute had legitimate concerns. The primary point of this text is a not warning against responding too hastily to potential bad news. The main point is to provide an example of faithfulness to the covenant exhibited by both parties from two very different perspectives. What a great example for the church today. May we have such concerns; for faithfulness that preserves pure worship and right doctrine, and for the unity (and community) that helps to ensure future faithfulness to God and his word.