When Assumptions are Made


Joshua 22

We have been preaching through the bible for the past 12 years. Doing that means that I preach on what comes next, so I can’t plan ahead of time what I am going to preach on. But, many of you have commented on how interesting it is that the passage I am preaching from corresponds precisely to a current situation in our world. Today, we will see another example of that.

For centuries, people have gone to the Lake District in northwestern England to hike the hills and enjoy the scenery. There is one famous hill in the Lake District called “Rash Judgement Point”. It got its name when the famed 19th century poet William Wordsworth and his sister were hiking. While looking from a certain point on the top of one hill, they saw a man in a boat fishing on the lake below. They knew that the locals were all involved in the gathering-in of the harvest and William Wordsworth incorrectly assumed that the fisherman was shirking his community duties. In anger, he decided to go down the hill to the lake and confront the fisherman. Calling the fisherman to the shore, Wordsworth noticed as the man got out of the boat he was old and bent over. Several fish lay in the boat. As Wordsworth proceeded to arrogantly upbraid the man, the old man lifted his hand to stop him, explaining that the farmers had sent him there to fish. Having worked for decades gathering crops from the farm fields, the man’s body was now so broken down that to contribute to the life of the community at harvest time, his job was to bring in fish as food for the community. William Wordsworth was horrified that he had hot-headedly assumed the worst without first knowing the full story. Having been chastised by the truth of the matter, Wordsworth felt so convicted about his hasty judgement and assumptions from his vantage point up on that hill overlooking the lake, that he named that spot on the hill, “Rash Judgement Point”, the name it still goes by.

As we preach our way through Joshua 22 we will see the folly of assumption and jumping to wrong conclusions. Today, we are entering the final section of the Book of Joshua, with only Joshua’s farewell speech and death left to be looked at next Sunday. The Promised Land of Canaan was now under the control of God’s people, the Israelites. Each of the 12 tribes of Israel – as well as the priestly tribe of Levi – had received their allotted portions of land. However, what I have not drawn attention to thus far is that not all of the 12 tribes of Israel were allotted land in Canaan, but only 9 ½ tribes. I will explain: when the Israelites had first come near to the land of Canaan and camped on the eastern side of the Jordan River, the members of the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh, looked at the land where they were camped and they liked what they saw. They went to Moses and said to him, “you know what? This land is good enough for us. We have very large herds and flocks of livestock, and the hills here on the eastern side of the Jordan River would be perfect for our animals so please give us this land as our inheritance. We don’t want to risk having to move our herds across the Jordan River into Canaan. The other 9 ½ tribes can go into the Promised Land and split it up amongst themselves.” We read in Numbers 32 that Moses was not happy about this and so he said to those 2 ½ tribes, “what you are asking for is sinful. God did not promise you land on the eastern side of the Jordan River. By stopping here you are settling for second-best. You are betraying your relatives who will be going into the Promised Land of Canaan. But, very well, you can settle here providing you promise to first go and help take over the Promised Land of Canaan. By the way, your fighting men will have to be the first tribes in battle but if you agree to that, and once the conquest of the Promised Land is completed, then you can return to this east side of the Jordan River and settle here.” So, the women and children and the non-fighting men of those 2 ½ tribes remained in the area called the “Transjordan” while their fighting men went and helped conquer the Promised Land. Let’s look now at a map showing where the 12 tribes settled.



Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh and said to them, “You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed

me in everything I commanded. For a long time now — to this very day — you have not deserted your fellow Israelites but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you. Now that the Lord your God has given them rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their homes. (To the half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had given land in Bashan, and to the other half of the tribe Joshua gave land on the west side of the Jordan along with their fellow Israelites.)

When Joshua sent them home, he blessed them, saying, “Return to your homes with your great wealth — with large herds of livestock, with silver, gold, bronze and iron, and a great quantity of clothing — and divide the plunder from your enemies with your fellow Israelites.” So, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land, which they had acquired in accordance with the command of the Lord through Moses. (Joshua 22:1-9)

The Reubenites, Gadites and half of the Manassehites, simply did what God, Moses, Joshua and the rest of the people expected of them to do in helping conquer the Promised Land of Canaan. But when that task was completed, instead of simply saying to them, “right, lads, that’s it, you can go home now”, Joshua instead made a point of recognising them and publicly commending them for the help they had been. “Look men, your faithfulness to God, your zeal for His cause, and your interest in and commitment to your relatives has not gone unnoticed.” However, troubles soon arose when they returned to the Transjordan.

When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan. And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them. (Joshua 22:10-12)

The Jordan River proved to be not just a geographical divide for the 2 ½ tribes in it from the 9 ½ tribes in Canaan but a mental one, as well. The people on the eastern side of the Jordan River felt separated from their relatives over in Canaan. Fearing that their relatives in Canaan would assume they had abandoned their relatives and YHWH, their God, the 2 ½ Transjordan tribes decided to build a large altar to God, giving the altar the name, “A Witness Between Us that the Lord (YHWH) is God”. But, when the 9 ½ tribes over in Canaan heard about the altar in Transjordan, they assumed that the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had abandoned both them and YHWH. This was an ill-informed, uninformed assumption made by a bunch of hotheads. In a sense, it was as if they added 2 plus 2 and came up with 5. Civil war loomed.

I will tell you that in my 15 years of working at Air Canada that most of the employees were good people but there were some toxic troublemakers there who lied and stirred up dissent continually. I felt it was my duty as a Christian to be a peacemaker and so I would always be working to dispel dissent there. I didn’t do things perfectly but I did try to make a difference when rumours abounded. As we just heard read, civil was loomed in Israel due to rumour-mongers but, as we are now about to read, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the grandson of Aaron the high-priest of Israel, and thus the grand-nephew of Moses, had a similar conciliatory outlook. He told the other hotheads in the 9 ½ tribes to cool their heels while he and a delegate representing each of the tribes would go and find out what was going on. Phinehas wanted to know the facts before he allowed civil war to occur.

So, the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead — to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. With him they sent ten of the chief men, one from each of the tribes of Israel, each the head of a family division among the Israelite clans. When they went to Gilead — to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh — they said to them: “The whole assembly of the Lord says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the Lord and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the Lord! And are you now turning away from the Lord? If you rebel against the Lord today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel. If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the Lord’s land, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the Lord our God. When Achan son of Zerah was unfaithful in regard to the devoted things, did not wrath come on the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.’” (Joshua 22:13-20)

The painful stories of the idolatrous sin of worshipping the false gods of Baal in the land of Peor (described in Numbers 25) and the disobedience of Achan about not stealing the “devoted things” that belonged to YHWH God alone (described in Joshua 7) were fresh in the minds of the Israelites. They had a national memory of those two incidents of sin which had bad consequences for all the people of Israel. Thus, the 9 ½ tribes of Canaan feared that the building of an altar by the 2 ½ Transjordan tribes was a similar act of idolatry and disobedience to God which would result in harm to the entire nation. To add to the problematic perception, the Transjordan altar was a much larger than the original altar that had been established within the Tabernacle, a large tent which had been built by Moses and Aaron at Mount Sinai, the place in which God’s presence on earth would reside. Moses’ tabernacle had been moved from place to place in the Sinai wilderness wanderings but was now permanently set up in the city of Shiloh in central Canaan. It would later be replaced by the Temple built in Jerusalem by King Solomon but for now it was believed to be the only acceptable altar at which Israelites could go to present offerings and sacrifices to YHWH God. Upon hearing about this new, much-larger Transjordan altar, the western tribes remembered back to the altars of Baal in the land of Peor and assumed that it was a place of idolatry. They surmised, “disobedience, idolatry, apostasy!” But the 2 ½ tribes in the Transjordan proclaimed their innocence, explaining that they were not worshipping some other god in the building of their large altar but were actually, instead, remembering and honouring YHWH God.

Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the Lord, do not spare us this day. If we have built our own altar to turn away from the Lord and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the Lord himself call us to account. No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you — you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So, your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord. That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar — but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’ “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’ “Far be it from us to rebel against the Lord and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle.” When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community — the heads of the clans of the Israelites — heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased. And Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, said to Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is with us, because you have not been unfaithful to the Lord in this matter. Now you have rescued the Israelites from the Lord’s hand.” Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the leaders returned to Canaan from their meeting with the Reubenites and Gadites in Gilead and reported to the Israelites. They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived. And the Reubenites and the Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us — that the Lord is God. (Joshua 22:21-34)

Do you see what happens when heartfelt communicating takes place? Our Canadian Prime Minister needs to take seriously as his Emergencies Act will be his downfall and has led to an incredible division in our society. The Premier of Alberta, as well as 7 other Premiers, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Liberty Coalition Canada have all taken the Prime Minister to court over his enactment of the Emergencies Act, and numerous world leaders and foreign media have either mocked or condemned the Prime Minister’s actions. I don’t really care about the politics of it all but I do listen when spiritual leaders speak up and thus I heeded this week’s open letter from 29 denomination leaders representing 5,000 churches across Canada which called the Prime Minister’s Emergency Act have all taken action, written against, or spoken up for the Canadians asking for a meeting with the Prime Minister. Those 29 Christian leaders representing 5000 churches have written, “The Ottawa protest has presented your government with a wonderful opportunity to meet with and speak to ordinary Canadians lawfully and peaceably requiring the restoration of their constitutional rights. You have not displayed a brotherly care and love for these honest hard-working people who have tried to peacefully bring their very serious concerns to your attention. In response to their singing, praying, dancing, candy floss, bouncy castles, speeches about the Constitution and outpourings of patriotic love for the country, your government has not only refused to meet with these citizens to hear their concerns, you have insulted, denigrated and lied about them, further dividing a hurting and broken nation. These tyrannical actions are exposing this government and people to the judgment of God, and we are deeply concerned that you do not appreciate the significance of God’s wrath upon a rebellious and lawless nation.” In closing, they urged the Prime Minister, “to repent of the sins of pride, rebellion against God, and bearing false witness.” Strong, but true, words. By way of contrast, Phinehas and the other Israelites, unlike our Prime Minister, wisely decided to meet with those they were not in agreement with, and not give in to the anger and hothead thinking that many in the 9 ½ tribes had. Instead, Phinehas initiated communication. Doing so lead to reconciliation and peace. When people assume or refuse to communicate but prefer to attack first and ask questions after, the results are always bad. We need to understand this as Christians. Evangelist Dwight L. Moody once stated, “I have never yet known the Spirit of God to work where the Lord’s people were divided.” If you desire to abide in God’s presence, then you must always seek to make peace and work toward the resolution of conflict. The apostle Paul writes:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

With God’s people, it is clear that:

They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. (1 Peter 3:11)

The apostle Paul, in his final words to the believers in Corinth, stated:

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

And, to the Christians in the city of Ephesus, Paul stated:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2,3)

The truth of the matter is that the 2 ½ tribes started the problem by not seeking to live in God’s kingdom of the Promised Land, fearful about how they would live if their livestock didn’t survive crossing over into the Promised Land of Canaan. They were willing to settle for second-best in the Transjordan instead of God’s ideal for them in God’s kingdom of the Promised Land. Still God was willing to bless them even in their settling for second-best. But the 9 ½ tribes did not need to go to war with them. Thank God for Phinehas. Believers too often are willing to assume and think the worst (as did many in the 9 ½ tribes), or settle for what is second-best (as the 2 ½ tribes did) when what God wants is for us to seek first His kingdom, to live in peace, and to settle only for what He wants for us. Instead of fussing and fretting and assuming and fighting, Jesus wants us to believe his words, and to trust in God for the very best in our life. In closing, let us, therefore, hear the words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

Let’s pray…about pursuing peace, about not assuming, about seeking first God’s kingdom…thank the Lord that the peace of God’s people was preserved through those such as Phinehas who desired peace…

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