Joshua 22: How could you?

I will admit that I have a natural tendency to act first and ask questions later which has, on far more than one occasion, gotten me into trouble. There have been plenty of instances in my experience that have been something other than what they appear, and so you would think that I would learn the lesson and stop before I do something stupid. And yet, all too often, I jump to the conclusion and do or say something rash which only blows the entire situation our of proportion. In Joshua 22, the Israelites came across a similar situation. How they react, though, provides us with a glimmer of hope and a tremendous example that that’s not the way it has to be.As the chapter opens, Joshua is preparing to surrender the reigns of leadership to those who would follow him. The nation’s hold on the promise land is established and secure. As we learned at the end of chapter 21, not one of Israel’s enemies had been able to withstand them by the power of the Lord, and so as the sun set on Joshua’s time, he called the two and a half tribes that had claimed their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan to thank them for their faithful service and release them to return to their homes. His praise of them is well-deserved. His exhortation to them is clear. And his blessing on them is profound. But then, as soon as they arrived home, in vs 10, we’re told that they “built an imposing altar there by the Jordan.”

News of the eastern tribes’ new altar spread like wildfire on the western side of the river, and in verse 12, we learn that “the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them” for their supposed apostasy.

It’s a shocking turn of events considering all that they had been through over the last several years as all twelve of the tribes marched together to conquer the promise land. You would have thought that the rest of the assembly would trust these guys, but no. And so the armies of the rest of Israel made ready for war.

Fortunately, though, at least a couple of people were thinking, and an envoy was sent to investigate the situation. These representatives confronted the people of the two and a half tribes, demanding an explanation, and the explanation they received settled the whole matter. But I think there are a couple of things that we can take from this close call.

The first is something that we should do: when we are tempted to jump to conclusions, it’s important to check things out before we make a grievous mistake from which we can’t go back. The Israelites did this, whether by accident or design, by sending the envoys. These representatives crossed the river to figure out what was going on. And when they go there, they learned that their conclusions couldn’t be farther from the truth!

And the second thing that we can take from this chapter is something we should not do. What’s that? Well, considering that the conclusion the western tribes reached was so far off base, maybe we should avoid jumping to conclusions in the first place. I mean, even though they sent people to investigate, the envoys clearly revealed their presumptions in verse 16 when they barked, “How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this?” They assumed that the eastern tribes had broken faith. They had decided that the moment they heard about the new altar. They believed it when they crossed the river. They knew it when they approached the eastern leaders. And they very nearly started a civil war because of it.

Joshua 22, then, is a basic lesson about patience and presumption. So basic, in fact, that we’ve probably heard it time and again, our entire lives. You would think we would learn it at some point, and yet how often do we continue to jump to a conclusion and do something rash as a result? I know I do it more often than I care to admit.


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