And when they came to the borders of Jordan, that are in the land of Canaan…
Bitter contention often arises from simple misunderstanding. The Israelites were on the verge of a civil war as a result of a simple mistake of judgment. Much unhappiness might be avoided if the lessons of this incident were well considered by Christian people.
I. CONSIDER THE INCIDENT IN RELATION TO THE TRANS-JORDANIC TRIBES. They erected an altar of witness which was supposed by their brethren to be an altar of sacrifice, a rival to the altar at Shiloh, a mark of national secession and religious schism.
(1) We should be careful to avoid the appearance of evil. These tribes had voluntarily chosen a position of isolation. They were now acting in a way which exposed their conduct to suspicion. It is our duty to prevent the misinterpretation of our conduct when possible
(a) lest quarrels be engendered;
(b) lest the name of God be dishonoured;
(c) lest the weak be hindered.
(2) We must expect sometimes to be misunderstood. There are persons who are always ready to give an evil interpretation to ambiguous actions. We must not refrain from doing right for fear of being misjudged. False judgment is a trial to be endured with patience and accepted as a means of discipline to humble us and drive us to the sympathy of God (1 Corinthians 4:3).
(3) A refuge from the misunderstanding of men may be found in the knowledge and sympathy of God. The suspected tribes appeal to the "Lord God of gods," who knows everything. When men misjudge, God sees the truth. It is better to be blamed by all the world and approved by god, than to win the world's approval at the expense of God's disapproval.
(4) We should explain our conduct when it is questioned by those in whose good opinion we are interested. The trans-Jordanic tribes made a full explanation of their motives in building the altar. The pride which disdains an explanation is
(a) foolish, for it injures ourselves;
(b) unjust, for it allows the world to suffer for a false impression; and
(c) ungenerous, since our brethren have a right to expect us to justify our conduct when this is possible.
II. CONSIDER THE INCIDENT IN RELATION TO THE TEN TRIBES. These tribes were hasty in judgment, but wise in conduct.
(1) Zeal for God's honour is always commendable. Phinehas and his friends feared dishonour to the name of God. It is well to be jealous for God's truth rather than for our private interest.
(2) We should be cautious of passing an adverse judgment on others. Phinehas was too hasty. Many are too ready to form an unfavourable opinion of the conduct of others. Charity should incline us to view this in the best light (1 Corinthians 13:7).
(3) Contentions often spring from mistakes. It is so in the wars of nations, in ecclesiastical differences, in personal quarrels.
(4) It is our duty to inquire well into the grounds of a quarrel before taking an active part on either side. The Israelites sent a deputation to their brethren. It is unjust to decide and act on the uncertain information of mere rumours. Before saying anything ill of a person we should endeavour to see the accused himself, and hear his explanation.
(5) We should frankly recognise our errors of judgment. The Israelites admitted their mistake. It is mean and unchristian to hold to a mistaken judgment from feelings of pride. The Christian should always work for peace (Matthew 5:9). - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when they came unto the borders of Jordan, that are in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by Jordan, a great altar to see to.
WEB: When they came to the region about the Jordan, that is in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, a great altar to look at.