THEME: Responding Rightly to God’s Commands
This week’s lessons remind us of the need to live for God in all the circumstances of life.
The third thing I want you to notice about this is that the eastern tribes immediately recognized the justice of the cause. They didn’t say, as many people might say in our time, “Well, brothers, that’s just your opinion. You think there should be one altar, and we think there should be two altars.” They didn’t do that. Instead, they replied at great length, “If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the Lord, do not spare us this day.” And again: “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.” You see, by responding in this way and not in the way that so many people respond today when the commands and requirements of God are made known, these people demonstrated that rather than being schismatic unbelievers, they were actually one with the rest of the tribes.
That was the test, you see. If you’re indifferent toward God’s commands and say, “Well, you know, that’s just what you think,” or “That’s just what Paul says,” or “That’s in the Old Testament; it doesn’t apply today,” it’s very questionable whether God has actually done a work of grace in your heart. It’s possible that He’s done it, but you’re still such a babe in spiritual things that you don’t understand the issues clearly. However, rather than take this approach, what you should say in these cases is, “Yes, yes, if that’s what God says, then what I’m doing is certainly wrong.” In taking God’s commands seriously, you indicate that you really are one with God’s people, and that God’s Spirit dwells within you. The eastern tribes were not departing from the Lord, and their response shows they really were one with the other tribes.
The story has a happy ending. When this sort of thing happens in the church today, it doesn’t always have a happy ending, as we know. But it did in this situation. The tribes that had gone down to the Jordan explained what it was that they had done, and that the western tribes had simply misunderstood. First of all, those on the east were greatly shocked that what they had done could be interpreted that way. You have to pick that up from the language. When this great challenge to them was made, they responded by saying that God knows what their intentions were in building the altar, and they now want all Israel to know it too.
They said, “As we left you, and went down here towards the Jordan, and were about to cross it, the distance that we had travelled and the natural barrier that we were about to cross weighed upon us. And we said, ‘What’s going to happen when we who have fought together with our brothers in the west die, and the land passes to our descendants and their descendants, and they no longer remember how we fought alongside the tribes to the west? What if in that period, years from now when those who remember the fighting and who fought side by side are gone, the descendants of those in the west say to the descendants of us who are living in the east that we live on the far side of the Jordan, and that’s not God’s land? What if they tell us that we have no part with them, and that they are the true Israel?’ We don’t want that to happen. This is our heritage, and we want to remember that we are all worshippers of the one true God, Jehovah.”
So they said, “What we’re going to do is build a memorial—not an altar where you offer sacrifices and offerings. That happens at Shiloh, where the tabernacle of the Lord is. We want a memorial here, so that when our people come here in future generations, and stand at the Jordan, and look across, they’ll say, ‘That is a memorial of the fact that we are part of the people who live on the other side.’ And your descendants can do likewise.” And when the delegation from the west under the command of Phinehas heard that, they said, “Oh, we’re so glad that that’s all it is. Today we know that the Lord is with us because you have not acted unfaithfully towards the Lord in this matter.” And then the delegation went home, reported it, and all Israel was satisfied.
What was the eastern tribes’ reaction to the charge that they had been unfaithful to the Lord?
What explanation did they give for why they had put up what was actually a memorial?
Have you ever been involved in a situation within the church where a great deal of trouble occurred because of a misunderstanding? What steps were taken to reconcile those involved? What could have been done earlier to avoid the problem in the first place?