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Joshua 22 Effect of Exclusion


I have been mulling over this chapter over the past few days. It intrigues me. I will admit that it is narrative I was not familiar with. I know lots of Bible narratives, but this one had escaped my notice. So in case you like me had skipps over this bit let me try and give you the story in a nutshell.

These events come in, as you probably guessed, when Joshua was still in charge, The promised land had been occupied by the "Children of Israel". Who was Israel? He was Jacob, renamed Israel, and the children, were the descendants of Israel, and they belonged to "tribes named after the sons of Jacob and sons of Joseph (for the half tribes). Back track a bit to before they crossed over the Jordan, they were camped in the region on the Eastern side of the Jordan for quite a while. Now, as you do, a bunch of them kind of liked where they were living and wanted to stay. These people who were from the Tribes of Reuben and Had and the half tribe of Manasseh (One of Joseph's sons), asked Moses if tgey could stay, Moses agreed on condition that the men of the tribe FIRST cross over the Jordan with the rest of the Tribes and help take occupancy and settle the land, before going back to set up their own homesteads. So they had the bits that they liked apportioned to them on that condition. The men of Reuben, Gad and Manesseh are conscripted, and occupying the promised land was no walk in the park. SEVEN years it took them to get things in shape on the West side, and the Tabernacle, the centre of Jewish worship, the location of the Ark of the Covenant, was set up at Shiloh. 

After seven years, Joshua summons the men of Reuben, Gad and Manesseh, and said, you can go back to your families. You are being honourably discharged, having done your duty and served well.   Go back to your families who are on the other side of the Jordan River but keep on Loving God, obeying his commandments and serving Him with all your heart and soul. 

So they go. They take their spoils of war, which is a bit like, in the modern sense, the severance and retirement packages. They were told to share this with their families.  They go back, and the first thing they do, on getting back is decide to build a humongous altat. It was not meant, as far as I can determine, not to be an alternative to the Tabernacle at Shiloh, but what they termed a "remembrance".  There was a problem with this altar, and that is, in the Mosaic law, there was to be only ONE centre of worship and that was where the Tabernacle was. 

Somebody on the Eastern side must have seen this altar, and thought, "Hang on a bit, what's going on here? That's not right. and the rumour mill started. If they are building an altar then they must be worshipping other gods, and the ten tribes on the East side were inflamed with righteous indignation. They all head for Shiloh and are willing to go to war against those on the West side of the Jordan. That is an extreme action of a zealous bunch. 

So often injustices and violence comes as a result of rumour and misunderstanding and most often, it is the people who are regarded as different for some reason that become the target of violent repercussions of a misunderstanding. I believe this was what could possibly have happened here.

Fortunately, instead of them taking a preemptive strike, they decide to send a delegation of leaders to find out what is going on there.  

After being challenged and accused of treachery and told that their ''sin" could destroy the whole nation, they explained their motive. This is the bit that got my attention. 

Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: 22 “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. 23 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.
24 “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? 25 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.

So the crux of the matter was that Reuben Gad and Manasseh thought that one day the bunch over there will look at us, our children and grandchildren and will say, that we are not part of them, that we are not part of God's people and will refuse to allow us to come to the Tabernacle to worship. They will view the river of Jordan, that they had all crossed together as a barrier between them. This altar was not built as the others thought as a rebellion against the Lord, but as a remembrance that they belonged to the Lord. 

Were they wrong to do this? Were they mistaken?  Could it be that despite the original purpose of this altar, over time, it could have become a substitute for Tabernacle/Temple,  not only a different place to worship the one true God, but an alternative to the one true God? I don't know. It is possible. Whatever is the case, the thing I find intriguing is the thought that worried the two and a half tribes was the idea that one day they might come to be regarded as foreigners, and that they would be excluded from regular worship in the Tabernacle. They were going to be told YOU DON'T BELONG! 

They feared that this might occur in the future. Were there fears well founded? 
I believe they were, even if, I do not think that the idea of building an altar was tgevbest way of dealing with this. As we see from the narrative, the altar was seen as rebellion instead of remembrance. It became a bone of contention instead of a unifying force. 

I think of how the people of Israel became a divided people, the Northern Kingdom of 'Israel" and the Southern kingdom of Judah, which included Benjamin.. I think of the Jews of Jesus time and how they despised the Samaritans who worshipped on Mount Gerazim . AndvI think of today, when one part of the body of Christ says to another part, you do not belong to this body. Go away. We di not need you. One denomination will point an accusatory finger at another denomination, andcsaya they are not real Christians. 

Something has divided them and caused them to see the one's on the other side of the Jordan as outsiders. 

What is your Jordan, is it a theological difference? There are a lot of those. Is it a racial or cultural divide?

In our modern age, with communication devices and transport that link continents across oceans, it is hard to understand how a River could become such a barrier as to split a nation, but it did, and you need to remember that it took a miracle for the nation to cross over the Jordan in the first place.

Psychological barriers are far more challenging than physical ones.  At the root of this fiasco was a fear, a dread, that future generations, due to unfamiliarity would grow apart to such an extent that they would no longer be recognized as part of the same family, the same nation.

How is that possible? Look at Israel today, where Jewish people are at odds with Palestinians. Palestinians, as Muslims have a common heritage and view Abraham as their Patriarch too. And yet the division is such that even the religion is different. 

All over the world there is a growing distrust of the immigrant. The beginning of the idea that you do not belong here, you are not a true believer. That is what is happening here.

I am not sure that building an altar was the right answer for Gad, Reuben and Manesseh. Personally, I think that it would have been better had they pledged to ensure that Gad, Reuben and Manasseh people regularly participated in the worship at the Tabernacle, and encouraged the other tribes to come to their region to enjoy their hospitality.

However, I am intrigued that the controversial altar was allowed to remain, and the delegation did not insist on its destruction.

The conclusion of the matter was, it did not matter which side of the Jordan River they lived, they all loved and served the same loving God.

Today,  seek out what unites you to others, not what divides. 

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