Thursday, April 20, 2017

April 20

Joshua 21:1-22:20; Luke 20:1-26; Psalm 89:1-13; Proverbs 13:15-16

I LOVE Joshua 22.  It gives us a picture of the kind of faithful, passionate living the nation of Israel was designed to experience - fierce, wise, distinctly different, following God at any cost.

Start with me in verse 10.  The two-and-a-half tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh have done their due diligence on the east side of the Jordan.  They've helped their brothers defeat the inhabitants of the Promised Land; they've gone to war and fought and killed to establish the inheritance of the other eight-and-a-half tribes (Levi's tribe didn't inherit land).  And now they get to go home, but the first thing they do is to build "an imposing altar" (Josh. 22:10) next to the river.  The rest of the nation hears about it and assembles "to go to war against them" (vs. 12).  What?  Why?  What's the big deal?  Isn't there already an altar by the Jordan to commemorate the initial crossing (see Josh. 4:8-9)?  What's one more?

It is a big deal.  The two-and-a-half tribes appear to be disobeying God's explicit command that he be worshiped only in "the place the Lord would choose as a dwelling for his name" (Dt. 12:8-14, among others).  Building this altar could be the start of idol worship by the western tribes.  God has warned against this kind of treacherous slide into false worship, commanding his people to root out any flickers of idolatry with ruthlessness (see Dt. 13:6-9 for an example).  God takes it seriously and wants his people to do so as well.

AND THEY DO.  Woo-hoo!  Way to go, Israel!  Even after months and months of warfare and bloodshed and death, even though all the nation wants is to settle down into their inheritance, they rally as one ("the whole assembly" [Josh. 22:12]) to defend the holiness and honor of Yahweh.  They are willing to go against their brothers.  They are willing to continue fighting.  They respond, immediately, in the prescribed manner.

But they don't just rush in willy-nilly and start killing their fellow Israelites.  Instead, they send a deputation ahead, comprised of priests and leaders, to ask the two-and-a-half tribes about the altar.  The eastern tribes want to make sure that they've got the facts straight: "How could you break faith?  How could you turn away?  Don't you remember our nation's history?  Are you now turning away from the Lord?" (See vs. 15-18.)  They remind the western tribes of the consequences of idolatry and plead with them to stay faithful.  They even - and this is so beautiful - offer to share their own inheritance on the other side of the Jordan (vs. 19).  Anything to keep their brothers from sin and destruction!

So, so great!  The larger part of the nation, though sick of war, is ready to fight for the purity of God's worship, but first seeks to understand and be certain.  As we'll see in the coming weeks of reading the rest of Joshua and then Judges, Israel will fail again and again.  But here - for this shining moment - they get it right.  And (spoiler alert) they get it right on both sides of the Jordan.  Awesome!

- Sarah Marsh

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