A Misunderstanding Removed
Joshua 22:26, 27
Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:…

Having completed their engagement, the auxiliaries of Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh were dismissed by Joshua in peace and honour to their homes, now at length to settle down to the enjoyment of their possessions on the east of the Jordan. Joshua had strictly charged them "to love the Lord," and "to walk in all his ways," and to share with their brethren the spoils acquired in war. One of their first acts on arriving in Gilead was to erect an altar, conspicuous by size and position, and framed after the pattern of the altar before the tabernacle.

I. THE INTENTION of the eastern tribes.

(1) To have a memorial of their unity in religious faith with their brethren across the river. Religious ceremonies were inseparably interwoven with the national life, so that to be refused a right to participate in the former would imply a denial of their claim to kinship. The Jordan might hereafter be regarded as a natural barrier of exclusion from the privileges of dwellers in the land of promise. When the Reubenites, etc., had proffered their request to be permitted to dwell on the east of the river, they had not perceived this possible difficulty so clearly, but now, after having trodden the promised land, and viewed the habitations of their brethren, they were seized with anxiety lest in after years they might be regarded as "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel." Their conduct exhibits a respect for God. Their chief care was not for horses or trophies of war, but for the preservation of a common interest in the worship of the true God, and all the advantages thereby secured. They feared the selfishness of the human heart. Men so often like to reserve to themselves peculiar honours and privileges, to be esteemed the only true people of the covenant. Brotherly love and sympathy are forgotten in the attempt to surround ourselves with walls of exclusiveness. And against this narrowing of the national bounds the altar was to be a continual guard, a silent yet eloquent and forcible "witness" to the brotherhood of all the tribes. And amongst Christians of today some such voice is not unneeded to remind us of our common interest in the "altar" (Hebrews 13:10), the cross of Christ, whereby we are made "one body."

(2) To prevent a lapse into idolatry on the part of their descendants. The altar would be a standing reminder of the commandment of God, which forbade the rearing of strange altars for sacrifice. These easterns showed a right sense of the importance of preserving the religion of their fathers, and of handing it down uncorrupted to remotest ages. If the knowledge of the true God vanished, then farewell to all prosperity! What a hint to parents! Men toil to gather wealth for their heirs, to found an estate, to perpetuate the family name; it is more important to perpetuate piety, to train up the children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. "The fear of the Lord" (ver. 25) is the choicest treasure which children can inherit, and apart from it riches do not prove a blessing. Religion and prosperity eventually go hand in hand. Statesmen, if wise, will seek to establish the throne in righteousness. Their aim will be that religion shall flourish in the land, not necessarily by direct enactments, but by removal of all restrictions to its progress. It is not our commerce, our art, our resources for war that constitute our strength or hope for the future, but love to God, the prevalence of honesty and integrity, peace and truth. We need not so much ascendancy over other nations as over ourselves, our own passions and prejudices, vices and errors.

(3) To secure the offerings of the proper sacrifices at the tabernacle. Not only rights were remembered, but consequent duties. The altar would ever call these tribes to attend to the performance of their obligations, not to neglect "the service of the Lord." Some of the people would have a long distance to travel, and might grow weary of providing for ceremonies celebrated at such a distance from their dwellings. What shall be the "witness" in each household, testifying to the duty incumbent upon its members to contribute of their substance to the support of God's cause? The Bible? The missionary box? And in our churches the first day of the week is a mute appeal, seconded by the gathering now and again around the table of the Lord.

II. THE INDIGNATION of the western tribes.

(1) Exhibited in a striking manner their jealousy for the Lord God. Though these brethren had been lately endangering their lives and strength on their behalf, marching at their head and capturing their places of abode, nevertheless this kindness does not excuse an after fault. Our gratitude must not blind us to derelictions on the part of our friends. It were mistaken love that hesitated to reprove error. Nor did the westerns delay, they were prompt in action to prepare to root out evil. They knew the value of early attention to it. A little water quenches a fire which, if allowed time to spread, will surpass the power of a flood to extinguish. Let us not say of any sin, "Is it not a little one?" Attack the disease at its commencement or it will defy all treatment! Better lose a limb than the whole body.

(2) Manifested the abiding impression produced by past events. Peor and its dreadful plague, Achan with the loss in battle and dire retribution exacted from the offender and his family, had written in letters of fire and blood the wrath of God against iniquity. The lessons were remembered. Punishment graves the commandment deep within the conscience. Well for us if the past is not forgotten, its events recorded not on the sands but on the rocks. The reasoning of the Israelites was clear. If two and a half tribes transgressed, surely it was to be feared that God would chastise the entire nation; perhaps blot it out from under heaven, since lie had in previous days manifested such severe displeasure at the defection of a few of the people. We cannot allow our brother to persevere in sin and ourselves remain unharmed. The contagion spreads. "Am I my brother's keeper?" is a foolish inquiry and a groundless plea.

(3) Rested on a misunderstanding. And so does much of the strife which prevails. It is frequently impossible for men to know all the reasons by which others are actuated, and a partial view is often unjust. We do not advocate false leniency, or a total suspension of judgment. In the sermon wherein our Lord gave the warning, "Judge not that ye be not judged," He also declared, "By their fruits ye shall know them." We are apt to be hasty in drawing our conclusions, and it is probable that concerning a brother's behaviour we are especially quick in rushing to an adverse judgment. If acquainted with all the circumstances we might praise where now we blame. Let us try to avoid putting uncharitable constructions upon each other's acts. Appearances deceive. In heaven the harmony of love will be perfect, for we shall know even as also we are known. No veil of flesh shall intercept the vision of the spirit. Every signal flashed is clearly deciphered in the pure light of the presence of God; there is no cloud, no haze, to mar the reflection of His glory.


(1) The right method was pursued by the complainants. Before proceeding to the arbitrament of the sword they resolved to send an influential deputation to remonstrate, and to seek to dissuade their brethren from the indulgence of idolatrous practices. They manifested their sincerity and affection by offering to provide settlements within the land of Palestine, if the eastern tribes were now repenting of having chosen an unclean possession (ver. 19). Such is the method of dealing with brethren whom we believe to be sinning against God. Inquire and expostulate! "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." Reformation is better than excommunication. Wisdom and affection concur in urging the adoption of such a course.

(2) The apparent offenders displayed similar reasonableness of spirit. They willingly explained what they had done; did not stand sullenly upon their rights, refusing to render reasons for their action. They did not ask what business their brethren had to interfere with them, "Who made you rulers and judges over us?' Their procedure conveys lessons for modern days. Peaceable overtures must be peaceably met, and even unjustifiable suspicion must be pardoned.

(3) The suspected altar became a pleasing object to all. The explanation was accepted, and the deputation, gratified with the answer they received, bore home a favourable account, and the dispute was amicably terminated. The end was even better than the beginning, for the affair reflected credit upon all concerned. God grant that all misapprehensions among believers may vanish with equal celerity and happiness! that no root of bitterness be allowed to spring up and trouble them. Nothing should delight us more than to be enabled to exonerate our brethren from blame. ]Discovery of their freedom from guilt is a sweet proof of the presence of God in our midst (v. 31).

CONCLUSION. This narration begets the inquiry whether we have any part in the Lord. Can any secret place of prayer, or any word or deed testify that the Lord is our God? The strongest union is formed by religious ties. Where families are thus united the bands of love axe indissolubly cemented. Have we a family altar, not material but spiritual, a witness to the Lord? May the lessons thus derived from an old book be indelibly stamped upon our hearts. - A.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:

WEB: "Therefore we said, 'Let's now prepare to build ourselves an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice;

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