One goal—“to keep the commandment to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and serve him with all your heart and soul…” With this instruction, the Eastern tribes of Reuben, Gad, and eastern Manasseh are released by Joshua and sent back to their own regions. These tribes had fulfilled their duties to fellow Israelites and now take their places in the designated regions. Just to summarize for a second—they construct an altar, which my Bible calls, “of imposing size,” (v. 10). This was built on the Israelite’s side of the Jordan, but visible from either side. When the rest of the Israelites heard about the altar, they prepared to go to war against them, for fear that the eastern tribes had turned to idol worship, inviting God’s wrath on the nation.
It turns out that it wasn’t as they expected. These tribes constructed the altar as a witness to them and to their children that they belonged to the LORD. Once they’d had a chance to explain themselves, the other tribes accepted the explanation and war was deemed unnecessary.
One possible lesson from this passage is a reminder not to jump to conclusions, and, that if you suspect that someone has done wrong, it should be handled in the way God ordains. Yet, I’d like to focus instead on the instruction spoken by Joshua in v. 5. Then we’ll view the story through that lens.
Joshua sends the eastern tribes out with the reminder of what truly matters, what’s important. “Only be very careful to…” he urges them, and then lists (observe the law, love the LORD your God, walk in all his ways, keep his commandments, cling to him, and serve him). I like the way this is worded. By the way he begins, “only,” you’d think he’s about to give one focused assignment, but rather what we get is a list of six different instructions, each distinct, but all meant for the purity of their worship.
What I love is the vigilance the Israelites show against idolatry, at least in this one chapter. Knowing their past—that they’re prone to getting sidetracked and worshiping idols—the western tribes recognize a potential misstep in their brothers and go quickly to restore them. But they do it in a righteous, unassuming way. They allow the brother tribes to explain themselves and then accept them back once understanding is had, to the glory of God.
- The Israelites recalled their own sin and how it impacted not only the guilty individual, but those associated with him. Do you see that your sin affects not only you but those around you?
- The Israelites showed zeal to keep their hearts pure in worshiping the true God alone. Are you zealous to keep yourself and your family pure in worship? With what idols do you need to make war?
By: Taylor Gilliam