The book of Joshua is packed full of war and the distribution of land, the latter of which is honestly pretty boring to read about. Despite the distribution of the land being rather tiring though, the last piece of land given out provides a story that is rich and deep, providing a lens through which we can look at a success story about division and reconciliation. In Joshua 22, we are provided with a story that gives a concrete way to explore the realities of division, separation, fear, regret, rebuke, and love. We’re going to start with a look at the history, and if you already know what’s going on, feel free to skip to the next section called Division.
Joshua 22: the story
Back in Numbers 32, the Israelite tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half tribe of Manasseh struck a deal with Moses and God. They would enter the Canaan land that God was giving Israel and help Israel take it over, but after that, they would return to the other side of the Jordan river and dwell in this other land that seemed good for livestock. When we reach Joshua 22, they have completed their end of the bargain, and we get the story of these two and a half tribes going to live in the land they were promised. No big deal, right?
Apparently, these two and half tribes were concerned. Immediately, they built an altar near the Jordan river, and the other tribes of Israel got really upset. They had seen what happens when Israelites build altars to other gods. They had seen what happens when Israelites worship carved images. It was not good for anyone. Knowing this, the other ten and a half tribes send over a priest and a chief from ten tribes to see what’s going on and confront them about what has happened. Here are the highlights of what went down:
- The ten and half tribes asked the other two and half tribes what they have done
- They remind the two and half tribes what happens when they worship on altars they shouldn’t
- They offer some of their land to the two and half tribes for if the other side of the Jordan just offered too many temptations to commit idolatry
- The two and half tribes explain themselves, describing a fear that one day in the future, the ten and half tribes would see the Jordan river as a separation given by God. A fear that they would consider the two and half tribes cut off from the inheritance of God
- The two and half tribes say that if they have done something wrong then to let them perish
- The two and half tribes explain that the altar is a symbol of their belonging, and is not something they intend to worship at
- The ten and half tribes accept this explanation, see its virtue, and see how God is active among them because of it
Looking at the story, one of the things that really leaps off the page is the fear that is created among the two and a half tribes by the river creating the division. This story really gives me pause and makes me think about the insecurities I may feel because of what I think separates me from others. It makes me think about the insecurities other might feel because of how they are different than the people they are usually around. It makes me think about the Church and all the dividing lines that exist and the fear, stress, insecurities, and doubts that likely arise because of these dividing lines. How do we deal with these fears if we have them?
In the story, the two and half tribes dealt with these fears by creating a structure that was going to be a perpetual reminder of what they had in common with the other ten and half tribes. This obviously created some tension with the other ten and a half tribes, but there was already some tension, the ten and a half just didn’t know it yet. So, what wisdom can we potentially pull from this?
- If you see something somehow creating a fracture in your relationship with your church family or the Church more globally, seek out a way to perpetually remind others of the commonality you have. If you’re not sure of a commonality to use, Jesus would be an excellent place to start!
- If you feel the tension between you and someone else, or between you and a group, be bold! Do something to help alleviate that tension, and if it just draws attention to the tension then you have an opportunity to address it with your church family.
- Don’t do nothing. Do something to build a bridge
and get over itto the people you are disconnected from. God seeks unity in His church, seek to play a part in His plan.
As cool as the story from the two and half tribes is, what happens with the other ten and half might actually be cooler. Why? Let’s try to see what happened more clearly.
- They saw their family in God doing something they perceived to be wrong and didn’t let it slide. They went to do something about it.
- They didn’t just go over and point their fingers at them. They asked what they had done.
- They didn’t just accuse them. They reminded them and warned them in conjunction with an offering of their own land! They were willing to sacrifice something of their own to help their family out.
- They heard the two and half tribes out and gave God the glory.
When I read what the ten and a half tribes did, I only have one reaction each time: what an amazing show of love. If you love someone, you don’t just let them keep going down a path you think will ruin them and the people who love them. If you love someone, you don’t just ignore something that appears to be a problem. You confront it. But you don’t just confront it, you ask questions, you offer help, you go to them willing to sacrifice something of yourself to assist them. Reconciliation and forgiveness and correction aren’t just about someone being right and another person being wrong and therefore the wrong party needs to fess up and pay up. Reconciliation and correction require humility, love, and a willingness to sacrifice even if you have done nothing wrong. What’s more, reconciliation will end with glory being given to God.
One last takeaway from this for now. Notice the immediate response of the two and half tribes when they are confronted by the ten and a half tribes. In verse 22, they say (my words here) God knows! If we’re wrong, then we’re wrong. He will judge. They were open to the possibility of being wrong and they recognized that God was the ultimate authority on the matter. How many times do we get wrongfully accused, and we get so caught up in defending ourselves that we completely skip over recognizing that God knows the situation better than we do ourselves? How many times do we get so up in arms to defend ourselves and just completely leave God out of the picture and instead make it all about ourselves or the other party involved? In this success story, God was integral. The rebuke was one given out of a respect for God. The rebuke was accepted with a God-first mentality. The explanation for the act in question was received, and God was given the credit. If we want correction and reconciliation to be a success in our own lives, in our own families, in our own local churches, and in the Church global, we have to place God in the center of it all. We have to let God do what He’s been trying to do all along, reconciling all peoples to Himself through King Jesus.