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Sacrificing Love on the Altar of Misunderstanding


(Please read Joshua chapter 22.)

The Reubenites, Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh fought alongside the rest of Israel to take possession of the land west of the Jordan. When the time came for them to return to their lands east of the river, Joshua affirmed their faithfulness and sent them away with his blessing. On their way back, they stopped by the Jordan and built an impressive altar.

“And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered together
at Shiloh to go to war against them.”
(Joshua 22:12)

They abruptly went from thanking and blessing their brothers to gathering for war against them. Why? It was because they assumed their brothers were going against the Word of the Lord.

We can appreciate the fervor on the part of the tribes west of the river to be completely faithful to God and His Word. They were certainly animated by their passion not to be contaminated by what they perceived as waywardness on the part of their brothers, and they voiced a sincere desire for them to repent.

Wanting to be faithful to God’s Word, to guard against being contaminated by error, and to call upon those erring to repent are all good things. Was there, nevertheless, something missing on the part of those who were upset and spouting accusations? Before impulsively gathering to go to war against those they perceived as violating God’s Word, wouldn’t it have been appropriate for someone to go and talk with them first?

When they finally got around to sending representatives to confront their brothers east of the river, they began by fiercely accusing them of treachery and rebellion against the Lord; and they warned them of God’s impending wrath.

When the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh were finally allowed to speak, they explained their reason for building the altar by the Jordan. They intended for it to be a reminder to themselves and future generations of their connection with their brethren on the other side of the river. The altar by the Jordan was to signify that they would continue faithfully to make the trips across the river in order to go to the tabernacle and worship the Lord there according to His Word. Even though they lived on the other side of the Jordan, they still wanted to be faithful to God and remain connected to their brothers. The altar was meant to be a teaching device to remind future generations of that.

The rest of Israel had jumped to conclusions without first making sure they had all the facts. They were quick to make judgements and were ready to go to war over what they assumed to be true—rather than first finding out what their brothers were thinking when they built that altar.

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift
to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”
(James 1:19)

Beloved brethren will seek first to understand. That can happen only if we listen, really listen, to the other person. We’re not really listening if we’re formulating our rebuttal while they’re still talking. How refreshing it is when you can tell that others are truly listening to you and want to understand. That demonstrates respect and provides a helpful context in which to have a profitable discussion.

As followers of Christ, we are called to walk “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2,3) This always applies, even when it’s necessary to confront a brother.

Love is never a good reason to compromise the truth; and the desire to be faithful to God’s Word is never a good reason to neglect love.

O Holy Spirit, grant us willing ears to listen carefully and respond with truth and love in our interactions with others.

Delwyn Maas is pastor of Gift of God Lutheran Church in Mapleton, North Dakota.