Bible Studies for Life

with Beth S. Bowman

Sunday, July 5

Work Through Conflict

Joshua 22:11-12, 15-18, 26-27, 33-34

For our wedding anniversary last year, Mark and I went to a new local restaurant. Several people had eaten there and given it fantastic reviews so we were anxious to try it. As we waited for our table, I glanced around. To my surprise, every single person in the establishment had the name of an alcoholic beverage printed on their glasses and it was “as big as Dallas!” Imagine my chagrin, after being seated that we were served our cokes in the exact same glasses! Both of us burst out laughing!  Without all of the information, my earlier assessment was completely wrong. Israel does the same in Joshua 22, but thankfully wise leadership prevents a war.

For seven years, the tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of he tribe of Manasseh had served Israel faithfully. Even though they already had their inheritance promised to them through Moses, they stayed many years to help the other Israelites. Now that the land was conquered and fully distributed to the tribes, they could go back to their families and lands on the eastern side of the Jordan. Before they left, Joshua gives them an exhortation, in verse 5 which states, “Be very careful to obey the law that Moses, the servant of the Lord, gave you.” He continues by telling them to love the Lord and to live exactly as the Lord wanted them to. He encouraged them to be faithful and the serve the Lord with all of their heart and soul. This wise send-off had to be tough for Joshua. He had lived with the people of these tribes for many years. I can picture him with tears in His eyes and sweet memories on his mind giving them a last reminder and a blessing. The scripture tells us that he sent them home with all that had accumulated over the years and he exhorts them to share all of that with each other.

Joshua 22:11-12.

The group had Joshua’s last words on their minds and hearts and they began their trek to their homeland. Scripture tells us the first thing they do was to build an altar between their property lines. And that’s when the story gets very interesting. “Someone” told “someone else” who told “someone else”…you may have heard this type of rumor before. The rest of the Israelites heard that the eastern tribes had built an altar. They had an emergency community meeting and made a knee jerk reaction-they are going to do to war to kill them for building a pagan altar.

Thankfully, someone with a cool head decided to send Phinehas, a priest to the land of Gilead and ten leaders to check things out. So, Phinehas and the leaders set out to ask the tough questions and find out why these tribes were in rebellion. They didn’t mince words, either. They asked specifically and directly (in my words), “What in the world are you doing…How could you?” These people of Israel were so quick to judge that they did not take time to consider why the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had built the altar.

Then the tribes answered quickly of their reasons for building the altar. They told how the leaders that their altar was not for themselves but instead for a reminder of their faith. This altar would serve as a witness between them. This physical structure would serve as a witness between the two groups and future generations that both groups worship the very same God. The tribes had constructed the altar as a replica of the Lord’s altar, not to replace it but instead to serve as a tangible reminder. Phinehas leads the group from Israel to understand that the desires of the tribes were only to honor God in building the altar and to education future generations about their faith. The story concludes with the people of Israel having heard the report and backing down from the fight

What a fantastic lesson when we are so quick to judge when we “hear” or “see” what we believe to be unGodly behavior from our Christian brothers and sisters. Let’s follow the lead of Phinehas-to go, ask and listen. The body of Christ deserves our best communication and understanding!

Bowman is Minister of Connection, First Church, Brandon, and a speaker for women’s events.