In Joshua 22, after war had ceased and Israel was settled in the Promised land, it came time for two and a half tribes, whose land was east of the Jordan but who had joined the nation to take over the land west, to return home and settle themselves. Joshua bid them adieu with hearty blessing and reminders to be careful to follow, love, cling to, and serve the LORD. Then they did something that stirred the pot–they built an imposing altar by their side of the Jordan River.
The people of Israel immediately jumped to the conclusion that they had broken faith and “the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.” They sent a delegation of tribal chiefs, led by wise Phinehas the priest. “What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar in rebellion against the Lord? Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the Lord, that you too must turn away this day from following the Lord? And if you too rebel against the Lord today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. If the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the Lord‘s land where the Lord‘s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the Lord or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God.”
Phinehas, in telling them how their decision to build their own altar was perceived, asked them questions that allowed them to explain, and to offer restoration and protection if they had fallen into wrong thinking and rebellion. His reasonable, God-directed approach and argument elicited an equally reasonable and humble ‘defense’ from them: “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the Lord, do not spare us today for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord. No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you. You have no portion in the Lord.’ Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.’ Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away this day from following the Lord!” Matter resolved. Phinehas declared, “The LORD is in our midst,” and the eastern tribes “called the altar Witness, ‘For,’ they said, ‘it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.’”
This account, tucked into Old Testament history, is greatly instructive for our generation of video-recordings, social media, and the easily-offended. Jumping to conclusions foments unreasonable judgment and out-of-control anger that can slide into destruction of property and reputation. Oh, to be a Phinehas!
Mighty One, God, You do know all! Every motive and action is understood by You. Guard me from jumping to wrong conclusions. Give calm reason, the ability to ask good questions, and the grace to offer peaceful resolution. “Teach me good judgment and knowledge. You are good, and You do good.” As Your agents, may Your people so be and do. (Psalm 119:66,68)