The Story of Ed the Altar
There are a lot of great things we can learn from the Old Testament. It is included for us to be our example in many things.
I Corinthians 10: 11
There are some valuable lessons we can learn from a study of Joshua. From Joshua 22 we learn about fellowship, falling out, fact finding, and fairness. I didn’t print the passages from Joshua 22, so please turn there in your Bibles. Hopefully, we see from our lesson today that we should follow the example of the Israelites when resolving our problems as well.
In our study of the Mosaic books, we learned in Numbers 32 how the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh desired to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan. Moses told them that they could do this as long as they went to war with the rest of Israel to conquer and occupy the lands on the west side. Joshua 4 tells us that these tribes went armed into the western part of the land and they fought. After the wars were completed, these men then returned to the eastern side of the Jordan to be with their families who had settled there in the meantime. Joshua 22 is the story of their return and the events surrounding that return. We want to take the time to notice some lessons from this chapter.
From Joshua 22 we learn about fellowship.
Reuben, Gad, and Half of Manasseh return to their homes with blessings. They had done their job in fighting alongside their brethren. They had been faithful to their task. Consider the blessings they had as a result of being faithful. They were blessed with many riches.They were blessed with a lot of cattle. They were blessed with silver, gold, brass, and iron. They were blessed with many garments.
When we are faithful to the Lord’s designs, then we have God’s blessing and fellowship.
We have God’s blessing for being faithful to Him.
We are blessed by having fellowship with God.
1 John 1:3
We also have the blessing of fellowship and unity with our brethren.
1 John 1:7
Unity is desired by God.
Unity is something we must strive to obtain.
Unity is beautiful.
In Joshua 22, we also see a falling out among the tribes.
When these tribes returned, they built a great altar near the Jordan river. Word got back to those on the western side that this had been done. The rest of the nation then gathered for war with them at Shiloh. Before they went to war, they sent Phinehas and 10 princes to ascertain the situation. Phinehas ask them why they would trespass and rebel against God in building this altar.
Phinehas reminds them of the sin at Peor where some went to worship Baal and 24,000 were killed by God. He also reminds them of the sin of Achan who trespassed in the devoted things at Jericho. Phinehas was worried that something similar would happen here and the rest of Israel wanted nothing to do with it. They were right to be worried about this. The eastern tribes had erected a seemingly religious object, an altar. It’s possible that some thought this group was returning to a patriarchal system.
That’s because Noah used an altar. Abraham used an altar. Isaac used an altar. Jacob used an altar. Many of the ones on the west of the Jordan concluded that those on the east were abandoning the law of Moses. They were concerned that there would be division in Israel. They were also concerned that the Lord would punish them for this as well as those on the east. First and foremost, however, they wanted to do things the Lord’s way.
Like them, we also need to be concerned about doing things the Lord’s way.
1 Peter 4:11
Even Jesus took this attitude.
We see appropriate action taken in response as well. Israel gathered for war at Shiloh. They wanted to be prepared for the worst. They sent Phinehas and others as ambassadors to represent their concerns. We too need to take appropriate action in response to potential division. Jesus told us to head off concerns when a brother sins against us through the same kinds of actions.
Consider the actions of the apostles and elders in Acts 15. The problem of false teaching was confronted. They listened to each other's concerns and then reached a decision based on God’s Word. Like them, we cannot afford to sit idly by when problems arise.
In Joshua 22, we learn about fact finding.
The two and a half tribes responded that God knew whether they had transgressed or not. They stated that if they had built this altar for worship purposes, it would be because God required it of them. However, they had not built it for worship. Instead they had different intentions for building it. They wanted their children to remember that they too worshipped with the rest of Israel in Jerusalem. They did not want the rest of Israel saying to them that they had no part with the Lord since they were on the east side of the Jordan. They agreed that they ought not to rebel against God and worship in an unauthorized way. The two and a half tribes respected God’s knowledge of all things. They knew the principle taught in Jeremiah.
They knew not to be like the wicked people around them.
The two and a half tribes recognized God’s authority over their lives. They understood His teaching on this.
The two and a half tribes offered a reasonable explanation for their actions. They wanted a memorial for their children to remember that they were part of Israel too. Their answer was consistent with the principles taught by Paul and Peter.
1 Peter 3:15
If we are ever going to have peace in the religious world today we must recognize God’s written word, the Bible, as the only authority for religious practices.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
We also must do this respecting God’s knowledge, recognizing God’s authority, and presenting reasonable truths.
In Joshua 22, we learn about fairness.
When Phinehas heard their statement he was pleased with it. He concluded that they had not transgressed God’s will. He concluded that fellowship still existed among them. He concluded that God would not punish them for their actions.
So he returned to the rest of Israel and told them the story. They, in turn, received the information and accepted it. Thus there was peace in Israel. They called that altar “Ed” or “witness” as a testimony that both sides acknowledged Yahweh as God.
We learn that in order to be fair with those with whom we have a falling out, we need to hear the other side of the story. Phinehas did what the law prescribed
Nicodemus also said something similar.
So did James.
We learn that Phinehas discerned between the secular and the religious. It was not the two and a half tribes intention to use the altar in a religious way for worship. It was merely a secular altar to memorialize the nations unity.
We must make the same distinctions in worship today. For example, musical instruments are fine to use for secular purposes. However, such would be wrong to use for religious purposes as they are unauthorized for the church.
Only singing is acceptable to God.
We learn that fellowship rests upon issues related to salvation. Phinehas and the rest of Israel were very concerned that the Lord would punish them and that they would be lost as a result of the two and a half tribes' efforts at worship. He concluded that they had not trespassed against God and so fellowship could remain. Moreover, they didn’t go to battle against their faithful brethren.
We need to judiciously consider avoiding battle against the faithful.
In considering lessons from Joshua 22, if we ever have a problem with a fellow Christian, let’s remember fellowship, falling out, fact finding, and fairness.