Joshua 22: The Breach
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Joshua 22:1–22:24
Good morning! Today we’re in the Joshua 22. With only 2 more chapters left we’re the beginning the end of our series The Lord’s Army. For most of my life I’ve been a big fan/student of World War II. When I was a boy I just liked tanks, ships, planes, gun, and explosions. As a student I started to appreciate the strategy of Generals and Admirals as well as some of the political implications. Now as a man I’ve found myself particularly interested in the stories of soldiers and how they were impacted by their experience fighting together. That’s why I love mini-series like Band of Brothers and The Pacific. In each series, after nine episodes of intense battles and individual/corporate conflicts, the 10th of each is dedicated to unpacking and previewing what life will look like for the men after the war is over as they finally get to leave the field of battle and go “home”. That’s a lot what these last three chapters of Joshua are like. The major campaigns are over and the military battles have been won, and yet not quite time for Israel to fully declare “Mission Accomplished”; as the mission isn’t just to defeat the enemy on the field of battle but to live in the peace, freedom, and unity as one people purely worshipping the One True God. We’ll see today maintaining unity and Holiness among the people of God can be even more difficult during “peace time” than during raging conflict. It requires a zeal for the holiness, justice, and purity of worship among all of God’s people, while having a heart for the relationships with-in the family/nation of God.
Eastern Tribes Commended and Commanded (Josh 22:1-9)
The major conflict is over; the Promised Land for all the tribes of Israel has been subdued. While the tribes have been fighting together to posses land west of the Jordan, Joshua singles out 2 ½ tribes for commendation before the others because of the unique nature of their sacrifice and extraordinary commitment to the greater mission of all of Israel. While, most of the tribes were fighting for to receive their own land, the tribes of Ruben, Gad and the Half-tribe of Manasseh were fighting for the land of their brothers. They were the first tribes to receive their portions and their land, families, livestock, and cities were already secure east of the Jordan, so they didn’t have the same individual motive to fight as the rest of Israel. These tribes could have easily stayed home with their brides and kids, enjoyed their individual freedom, wealth, and comfort, but they cared enough about the mission and for the rest of God’s people that they willing committed to Moses to keep fighting for/with their brothers until all had received rest, with the promise that when the battles were over they would return home.
"We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, 17but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. 19For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east." 20So Moses said to them, "If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the LORD for the war, 21and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the LORD, until he has driven out his enemies from before him 22and the land is subdued before the LORD; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the LORD and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the LORD. Numbers 32:16-22
The tribes had remained faithful to this mission through its completion. After 7 long years of war, away from their families and homes, Joshua releases them from the specific collective military mission to the more individual general mission of living life as faithful worshipers of God. Worshiping had required specific marching orders, targeting specific immediately enemies. Their new lives would require the same discipline and service only with more general overarching commands whose implications should permeate into their whole lives. Knowing that these tribes would no longer be in daily community and mission with the rest of Israel Joshua gives them these final commands in verse 5 that 5,000 years later still show us what life following God is to look like in our heads, our hearts and our actions:
- § Observe, the Word of God: Meaning studying, hearing, and knowing it as a constant, intentional part of your life.
- § Love the Lord your God: Once you’ve actually taken the effort to Listen/know God words the response is to LOVE Him. This is a matter of where your heart is, and yet Joshua commands a certain response.
- § Walk: It is not enough to know God and His word and claim to love Him if it doesn’t actually change the way we live. Actions matter. You can have actions without love, but you cannot love without actions.
After receiving public commendation and final commands for the life ahead, they left with the assembly of Israel at Shiloh and made way for Gilead with all their spoils of War. That’s when things start to get a little interesting.
The Breach (Josh 22:10-12)
So right before they cross the Jordan into their lands, the two and a half tribes make an altar of “imposing size”. It’s in the middle of the “frontier” but is prominently located near the Jordan River in a location that both the Western and Eastern tribes can easily encounter it. Word of this Alter spread fast throughout the western tribes, who by this time were also likely scattering to their new lands. This was the biggest news of the day that everyone was surely talking about. The Ark of the Lord and the Tabernacle was at Shiloh, why would these tribes set up another place of worship away from the direct presence of God? Hadn’t Joshua just commended these tribes for their faithfulness and reminded them to continue to worship the one true God? Why was this an issue and what should Israel’s response be?
12"If you hear in one of your cities, which the LORD your God is giving you to dwell there, 13that certain worthless fellows have gone out among you and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods,' which you have not known, 14then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently. And behold, if it be true and certain that such an abomination has been done among you, 15you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword.
Based on the reports, this altar it certainly seemed to be a sign of allegiance to the pagan religions of the region. Several things stand out in the Western tribe’s initial response to gather at Shiloh and prepare for war.
- § Joshua didn’t have to call them together: Each person in the congregation felt a personal responsibility to both know and maintain the proper worship of God. They didn’t wait for one of the leaders to point the issue out or assume that others with in the family would deal with the conflict while they waited and watch to see how things shook out. With the prospect of the purity of worship being threatened/ compromised individuals felt called to draw closer to the presence of God, gather with His people, and had willingness to act to maintain the faithfulness of the worship of God in accordance with His Word. They have fought faithfully for God’s truth and holiness for years; they know what needs to be done.
- § They knew the truth well enough not be fooled by an attractive counterfeit. Later in this passage we’ll see that in addition to the altar’s “imposing size” it was intended to be copy of the true altar. Israel, and God, doesn’t care they if something is close to the truth, resembles, the truth, or is patterned after the truth. All that matters is if it actually IS true. They didn’t give their brothers credit for apparently being “creative” or “innovative” with their worship. They were righteously concerned with anything that appeared to be a breach with orthodox worship that God had prescribed by His word.
- § Their concern for their relationship with their God was greater than their concern for the relationship with their brothers. The western tribes knew these men, they had fought side by side with them, as the war wound down, they likely sat around the campfire eating meat and drinking while sharing stories of the battles they had fought together. These weren’t foreign mercenaries, or local interlopers, setting up a place of worship to a false god, these were literally their Band of Brothers, their family, who seemed to quickly turning from God. And yet, the men of the western tribes gathered at Shiloh ready to engage in a civil war against the men who had just given years of their lives to help the western tribes achieve victory. While the men, sick from war, were unquestionably heartbroken at the prospect of fighting their brothers they understood that the Holiness of God demands no compromise. This is a healthy body ready and willing to deal with and purge poison/disease.
- § They didn’t immediately attack. Faithfulness to God and the pursuit of holiness is absolutely primary, but it doesn’t have to mean a complete disregard for the other parties involved. In fact, often faithfulness to God requires consideration for the relationships with others. Israel is willing and prepared for War, but loves their brothers enough to send an ambassador. They did not go to battle without consideration of the relationship they share, they don’t fight without first attempting greater understanding and reconciliation.
Israel’s response is a striking example of God’s simultaneous Holiness and love, holiness, because they were ready for battle, angered at the perceived rebellion, and loving because they proactively sent an ambassador on a mission of reconciliation. To ignore apparent error/sin/folly without concern for holiness or willingness to fight for truth would be to potentially accept sin and/or heresy. Conversely, to attack without first attempting to reconcile is blind legalism which leads to pride and potentially condemning innocent actions that may have been judged wrongly. Israel rightly chooses the third “gospel” path of pursuing reconciliation, but only if God and His truth is honored.
The Reminder of Sin and the Hope of Restoration (Josh 22:13-20)
Phinehas, Grandson of Aaron sent. In some ways this is a transition of power/leadership. The military campaigns are over. During wartime, a military commander is needed to lead the battles against outside enemies, but during “peace time” matters inside the family are first mediated by a High Priest. As High Priest, Phinehas has the spiritual authority over all the tribes, including the eastern ones. He could have come gone on his own, but he brought leaders of the 10 other tribes to show the unity among God’s people over this issue. Collectively they are concerned, not that their brothers had turned against them, but because they were worried they had a “breach of faith” with God, literally to commit a trespass or treachery against the God. To illustrate the graveness of Israel’s concern, Phinehas brings up two earlier episodes that would resonate clearly with the eastern tribes. The first is Israel’s Baal worship in Peor eight years earlier, where Phinehas had become High Priest.
1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’s anger burned against them.
4 The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”
5 So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.”
6 Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; 9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
I’ll be honest, before I read that I assumed Phinehas might have been a bit of a wus, his name wasn’t particularly tuff, he wasn’t a solider like Joshua, and I thought he might have brought the ten chiefs to get his back if things turned sour. But here we see his primary qualification as Priest is that of zealous idolatry assassin. I can only imagine how the leaders of the two and a half tribes felt when they heard that Phinehas was on his way to “talk” about potential idolatry. I imagine they had healthy fear and respect for who he was and how seriously he takes sin.
This isn’t some minor doctrinal debate. By bring up Peor, Phinehas is telling them if they have in fact sinned and turned from the lord; the consequences are not limited to the two and a half tribes. If not dealt with could become a plague to the entire congregation with long lasting effects. As brother and sisters in Christ we mind our boundaries, but we don’t ignore warning signs with-in the family as sin affects all. How many of us have been in churches where sin was allowed to go unchecked? How many of us are still feeling the effects of Sins committed by others in our families? How many of us wish someone had stepped in earlier in the situation before it’s impact spread. It’s a reminder to all of us that our sin, while individual is not limited to ourselves. Have you ever considered how many people are impacted by our “seemingly” small rebellions?
Then comes verse 19, which must have surprised the Eastern Tribes. Phinehas, is ready to Redeem, remove them from their sin and share in their inheritance. WOW, what an offer from the guy who speared a Hebrew “john” and his idolatress whore. This is Grace! Phinehas makes it clear he’s not on a mission of condemnation but of reconciliation, reconciliation to right worship of God. You may have committed heinous sin and given God the middle finger, if so repent and come live in my kingdom. This is the call, the offer, of the Gospel. If you want to see Jesus in the passage here he is. You are in rebellion, you may not be in proper relationship with God or His people, but you still have tremendous value to both. You can lay down your arms, you can turn from your false worship of creation over the Creator, and if you do there is a place for you in His kingdom with His people. You don’t need a spear ran though you to atone for your sin, and yet your sin is not completely ignored. It was Christ who was pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5). Phinehas, like Jesus, comes as a representative of a God who as 2 Peter 3:9 says is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
And yet Phinehas doesn’t end with the offer of grace. He leads with the consequences of sin, invites with grace and repentance, and reminds them of the ultimate consequence of sin. Death. He remindes them of the Sin of Achan, Sam preached an extensive sermon on this so I won’t go into detail, he reiterates that if there is not repentance there will be consequences for them and the entire congregation. How will the eastern tribes respond?
The Response (Josh 22:21-29)
As impressive as it is that the western tribes were willing to go to war with their brothers over the holiness of God, it is equally impressive in how the eastern tribes responded to this confrontation. It would have been very easy for them to respond to this grave charge with anger, offence, and pride; and yet they don’t. They also respond with a heart for God and a desire for unity with His people.
Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Their first appeal is to God to judge their heart. The faithfulness of their vertical relationship will determine the continuation of their horizontal relationships with their brothers. They know both their hearts and actions are pure before God and if given proper explanation the western tribes will be equally satisfied. They humbly agree with the western tribes that if what they were saying was true and God’s commands were indeed breached, they deserved judgment. Where there is an apparent breach, they acknowledge the teaching and authority of God’s word as the foundation of their unity with the western tribes. They explain that what they built was not an Altar to a foreign God, or even intended to set up some new place or alternate form of worship. It was a symbol of witness to point future generations of all tribes towards pure worship and unity rooted in God’s truth and His Word. The eastern tribes saw unity with God’s people nearly important as unity with God. Simply put, they understood it’s nearly impossible to maintain a faithful relationship with God without striving for unity and relationship with His people. They had participated in one shared mission but now moving forward each tribe would be left to their own boundaries and they were rightly concerned with the longevity of their unity. The message to future generations was clear. Cling to God, not as in individual tribes defined by geography, wealth, or family lineage, but as one body unified in their pure worship of “The Might One, God, the Lord!”
The Reflection (Josh 22:30-24)
There is no rebellion; no need for war, fellowship is restored! Where there could have pain, pride, and prejudice, there was peace. This episode could have gone very, very badly. All the tribes rightly recognized and verbally acknowledge God’s hand in the beautiful resolution of this incident. God is glorified, when there is unity among the people of God over the purity of worship of God. By God’s grace the Western tribes were courageous enough to stand for truth but also gracefully enough to act in love. By God’s grace the Eastern tribes followed Joshua’s instructions to Observe God’s word, Love God, and Walk in the way he commands.
Our unity with God and His people is not tied to a place, an Altar, a family, or a nation. It is in the unifying work of Jesus on the Cross. Where sin separates us from God and each other, the Cross brings us together. It displays God’s Holiness and Justice in its punishment of sin and rebellion, and His love and grace as He takes the punishment we deserve.
We shameless identify with God and His people by the waters of Baptism. We remember the work Christ did for us on the Cross redeeming us from lives as individuals sinners, into life united with the Body and Bride of Christ, the Church. He tells us our witness to His act of justice and grace is the communion table. It’s where we come together remember his body broken for our transgressions, and his shed blood that covers the sins of all who repent and run to the foot of His cross. As you come to this table remember the Cross not only saves you from the wrath of God but unites you to all of His people, in this church, across the world, and across all time.
We will give our tithes and offerings remembering that our possessions were graciously given to us by God.
We are going to sing together in unity with one harmonious voice because “Today we know that he Lord is on our midst!”
Benediction: Ephesians 4:1-5