THE MEMORIAL ALTAR EAST OF JORDAN

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    [Joshua:22:1-34].

    Lesson No.: 
    176
    Class: 
    Senior
    Memory Verse: 

    “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

    Cross References: 

    I The Dismissal and Blessing
    1. The Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh had been faithful to Moses’ charge and Joshua’s commands, [Joshua:22:1-2]; [Numbers:32:20-29]; [Joshua:1:12-18].
    2. They had fought with their brethren until the Lord had given Israel rest, [Joshua:22:3-4]; [Joshua:21:43-45].
    3. After commending the two and a half tribes for their services, Joshua sent them home, [Joshua:22:5-8]; [1 Corinthians:15:58].

    II An Altar in Gilead
    1. The two and half tribes erected an altar on the east side of Jordan, [Joshua:22:9-10].
    2. When the Children of Israel in Canaan heard thereof, they feared idolatry, [Joshua:22:11-12]; [Deuteronomy:13:12-15].
    3. Phinehas led an embassy of prices to inquire into the matter, [Joshua:22:13-20]; [Deuteronomy:13:14]; [Matthew:18:15]; [Acts:15:2].

    III An Altar of Witness
    1.The men of Gilead pleaded that the altar was erected for a witness only, [Joshua:22:21-28]; [Psalms:7:4-5]; [Psalms:44:20-21].
    2. The Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh pledged anew their allegiance to God, [Joshua:22:29]; [Joshua:24:15-18], [Joshua:24:21]; [John:6:66-69].
    3. The words of the men of Gilead satisfied the men of Israel, [Joshua:22:30-31]; [Judges:8:3]; [Proverbs:15:1]; [Romans:12:17-18].
    4. The embassy returned home and reported to the Children of Israel, [Joshua:22:32-34]; [Acts:15:22-31].

    Notes: 

    Rest for Israel
    The major wars of Canaan had come to an end, for God had given the tribes of Israel rest in the land of their possession. War was not Israel’s profession but was resorted to only as necessity dictated; therefore, Joshua, the good general that he was, knew that a great army was no longer needed. Accordingly, he called the soldiers of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh to him to discharge them from the army and send them to their homes beyond Jordan.

    These men had been good soldiers. The Bible does not tell how long they had served with Joshua, but the most reliable chronologers say that it took between six and seven years to conquer and divide Canaan. So far as can be determined, these men had never returned to their homes during all this time. They had kept all the commandments of Moses in regard to helping their brethren in battle, and they had followed Joshua in all that he had asked them to do.

    Looking for Home
    No doubt these soldiers had longed for home at times, that they might see and be with those whom they loved; but as good soldiers, they waited until they were given leave by their commander. How similar this is to the life of a true, Christian soldier. He is in a warfare in a land that is far away from his Homeland. The battle may rage, but God has put a song in his heart and a hope in his soul of better things to come.

    “This world is not my home, I’m only passing by,
    My treasures and my hopes are all laid up on high.”

    He longs for Heaven and Home often enough; but, being true to his Captain, he is willing to stay at his post of duty until the signal comes and the release from this world is given. Thoughts of the Home and loved ones over there do not detract from valuable service to God here. They add to that service and make the Christian the better soldier for having those thoughts.

    Joshua gave these soldiers their discharge, and added his blessing with it. Though the service that had been rendered was the payment of a debt due or the performance of a promise, the blessing was included because that duty had been so faithfully carried out. These soldiers had agreed to help their brethren win Canaan, although the land east of Jordan had been given to them. They did their duty, and they were rewarded with riches: cattle, silver, gold, brass, iron, and much raiment, in addition to their covenanted possession.

    The Christian’s Reward
    “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke:17:10). The Christian works not for reward, but if he does faithfully those things that are his duty to do and the things that his Commander asks, a reward is certain. The Christian has covenanted with his Lord to serve Him and be with Him throughout eternity, and great riches and abundant joys will be added. “This lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew:25:21).

    Compare this reward of the righteous with the payment that will be meted to those who follow Satan. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans:6:23). Jesus will say to those on His left hand on the day of judgement, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew:25:41). There is only one wise choice in life -– serving our heavenly Father faithfully here until he can say, “Friend, go up higher” (Luke:14:10).

    A Memorial Altar
    The Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh departed for their home on the east side of Jordan. As they came to that barrier which lay between their country and the house of God at Shiloh, their hearts must have been troubled. They must have wondered if they would always have the welcome and fellowship that they felt among their brethren on this day of departure. Perhaps the time would come when the Children of Israel on the west side of Jordan would say to those on the east side: “What have ye to do with the LORD God of Israel?” To make certain that nothing of this nature should ever come to pass, the two and a half tribes built an altar on their side of Jordan.

    Zeal for God
    The news of the altar on the other side of Jordan soon reached the Children of Israel. Immediately they gathered at Shiloh to go against the two and a half tribes in war. Why the sudden change? Only a few days before these people had bidden their brethren farewell and had sent them away with a blessing. And now war? The Children of Israel had strict commandment from God that they should have but one altar on which to offer their sacrifices and offerings. Any sacrifice offered any place except at the door of the Tabernacle before the priest was considered a sacrifice to the devil ([Leviticus:17:12-15]). The Children of Israel had further commandment to put to death any among them who thus transgressed God’s law ([Deuteronomy:13:12-19]). We can see, then, that it was commendable zeal for God that prompted this spontaneous action on the part of the people of Israel.

    Ascertaining the Truth
    “Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently” (Deuteronomy:13:14). Accordingly, the Children of Israel sent an embassy from Shiloh to the Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh to find out the reason for building this great altar. Phinehas, the priest, was the leader of this group of men which consisted of a prince from each of the ten tribes of Israel on the west side of Jordan.

    When the embassy came to the people who were thought to be offenders against God, the business at hand was stated in no uncertain terms. Phinehas, as spokesman for the group, reminded the people that idolatry would bring quick retribution from God, as in the case of Baal-peor. That iniquity had been practised among the Children of Israel in this same vicinity, and 24,000 people had died as the result of that sin ([Numbers:25:3], [Numbers:25:9]).

    Phinehas also stressed the truth that the sin of a few people could bring the wrath of God down upon the whole congregation. Achan was the one person who transgressed God’s commandment at Jericho, yet the whole army of Israel was brought to a standstill at Ai until the sin was removed from the camp. The Israelites did not want another experience like that.

    Land Unclean?
    Phinehas may have been outspoken in his charges against the two and a half tribes, but he was prompted by love for God and right. The thing that the two and a half tribes had done certainly had the appearance of evil and looked like rebellion against God. Phinehas told the people that if they deemed the land of their possession unclean, then they were to leave that land and pass over Jordan into a possession of the Lord. Though the land of Canaan had been divided, the people were ready to make room for the two and a half tribes if they manifested any desires to come into the land where the Tabernacle was pitched. The people in Canaan would sooner sacrifice their comfort and possessions than have rebellion in their midst. Is not that the real Christian spirit?

    A Soft Answer
    The two and a half tribes heard the envoys through to the end of their arguments. It seems that a great many of the people had gathered to hear this discussion. The army who had made the altar and who had so recently returned from Canaan were probably still on hand to hear the charge of the envoys.

    After the envoys had finished speaking, the men of Gilead presented their case. They stated that the altar had not been built for sacrifice or offerings, and called upon God to witness to the truth of their statement. They told of their fears that someday they might be excluded from God’s altar at Shiloh. In that event, they wanted a witness that would prove beyond question that they were Israelites indeed. They seemed to feel that this altar on the east side of Jordan, no doubt made after the pattern of God’s altar, would serve as that witness. They maintained that there was no thought of rebellion in their actions. The envoys took the words of the men of Gilead at their face value and returned home rejoicing that God’s honour had prevailed. When the Children of Israel heard the good report, they blessed the Lord and put away all intentions of going to war with the two and a half tribes.

    Commendation
    Both the Children of Israel and the men of Gilead might be commended for their behaviour on this occasion. The Children of Israel had a right cause to inquire into the questionable conduct of their brethren and were prompt to bring the matter to a clear understanding. They considered not the cost to themselves, but were willing to pay any price to keep rebellion against God out of their midst. Their zeal for God bore fruit.

    The men of Gilead illustrated how to act under stress. Though their actions were misinterpreted, yet they waited until the heat of words had cooled before attempting to frame an answer. Their work had the appearance of evil, which we as Christians are to avoid ([1 Thessalonians:5:22]); but so far as can be determined, their hearts were clear before God.

    A Clear Record
    It is the duty of every Christian to keep his record clear before God, so that the Spirit can bear witness with his spirit that he is a child of God ([Romans:8:16]). If a Christian does come under the censorship of men, it is very comforting to be able with a humble confidence to appeal to God concerning his integrity ([1 Corinthians:4:3-4]); yet there is a proof of integrity, besides, which should be manifest to the world at all times through the fruits of the Spirit. “And be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ” (I Peter:3:15, 16).

    It might be said that Christ is our great Altar that sanctifies every gift. If we have the pattern of that Altar in our hearts, it will be the best evidence possible of our interest in Him, and a testimony to the whole world that we have a part and lot in Him.

    Questions: 

    1. Why did Joshua dismiss the soldiers of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh?
    2. How many soldiers in Joshua’s army came from the two and a half tribes?
    3. When Joshua dismissed these men from his army, did he send them home empty-handed?
    4. What was the first thought that entered into the hearts of the Children of Israel when they heard that the two and a half tribes had built a new altar?
    5. What did the Children of Israel do about this matter?
    6. What did the men of Gilead say in defence of their altar?
    7. Do you think that it was a wise thing to build this altar?