Having been commissioned by Joshua to return home, the Eastern tribes depart for their land East of the Jordan.
- Before they cross the Jordan, they build an altar of “imposing size” (vs. 10).
When they do, a couple of things occur:
- (1) An accusation comes from the Western tribes.
- (2) An explanation comes from the Eastern tribes.
1) ACCUSATION – APOSTASY
It is hard not to notice what, admittedly, may have no significance at all.
- The Western tribes are gathered in the hill country – presumably Shiloh (vs. 12).
- The Eastern tribes are in the flood plains of the Jordan River valley.
- How did the Western tribes know about the memorial?
The text says, “the people of Israel heard it said” (vs. 11).
- It says again, “the people of Israel heard of it” (vs. 12).
- We will see later that they only heard the “what” and not the “why”.
- They sound like Southern Baptists.
The western tribes response to what they heard was to gather at Shiloh “to make war against them” (vs. 12).
- Before they did so however, they sent a delegation to make their intentions known.
This is wise action and has a NT parallel.
- Matthew 18:15–17 (ESV) — 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
The delegation makes the following accusations concerning the altar:
- It is a “breach of faith” (vs. 16)
- It is a “turning away” (vs. 16)
- It is “rebellion against the Lord” (vs. 16)
- It is a to turn from “following the Lord” (vs. 18)
Breach of Faith:
What it means:
- The TWOT says it refers to “the breaking or violation of religious law as a conscious act of treachery”.
- Interestingly, it “does not describe the sins of unbelievers but of…covenant peoples, those who ‘break faith’ with their suzerain” – TWOT.
- So it is covenant unfaithfulness.
- The Eastern tribes were being accused of breaking covenant with God.
The phrase “breach of faith” is mentioned only 7 times in the OT (ESV).
- The most striking examples are:
- 1 Chron. 10:13 tells us that “Saul died for his breach of faith”.
- 1 Chron. 9:1 tells us that “Judah was taken into exile in Babylon because of their breach of faith”.
What’s worse, if the “breach of faith” is true –
- They did so after having just participated in receiving the grace of God in the form of the Conquest.
- They did so after having just been blessed by Joshua.
- Given this and the “breach of faith” it is no wonder the Western tribes wanted to attack.
To further make their point, the Western tribes cited the “sin at Peor” (vs. 17).
- Numbers 25:3–5 (ESV) — 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. 4 And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”
- Numbers 31:16 (ESV) — 16 Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.
- Deuteronomy 4:3 (ESV) — 3 Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor.
Evidently, the Baal worship at Peor was brought up because it demonstrated the seriousness of covenant unfaithfulness – of breaching the faith.
- 1) It is clearly something that evokes God’s wrath.
- 2) But is also illustrates a further problem.
A further problem:
The people of Israel knew that when a “breach of faith” occurred in the body of Israel, trouble came to all.
- This corporate responsibility was clearly a huge concern for the Western tribes.
They brought it up 4 times.
- (1) At Peor, “a plague came upon the congregation” (Deut. 13:16).
And at the Jordan –
- (2) A “breach of faith” would incite God to be “angry with the whole congregation of Israel” (vs. 18).
- (3) In fact, the actions of the Eastern tribes would also “make us rebels” (vs. 19).
- (4) And as with Achan, where the “wrath fell upon the congregation of Israel” (vs. 20), the same would happen because of the altar.
As we saw last week, sin was/is not personal.
- The individual is in union with the body.
- The sin of the individual or tribe corrupts the entire body.
- “Because [we] are united to Christ, [we] are also united to the Father, to the Holy Spirit and to the other members of the body of Christ; [our] core identity is that of a Trinitarian-ecclesial self” – John Jefferson Davis.
This was not a witchhunt.
- The Western tribes were right and justified with their concern.
- They body is to be discerning and judgmental of is members.
- As Paul says, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Cor. 5:12).
The Eastern tribes understood the seriousness of these accusations and responded.
2) EXPLANATION – UNITY
They “answer to the heads of the families of Israel” (vs. 21).
- The first thing they do is point all eyes to God.
- “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God the Lord!” (vs. 20).
- The Hebrew is “El, Elohim, Yhwh! El, Elohim, Yhwh!”.
David Howard says of this string of proper nouns –
“The piling up of the terms for God here, and their repetition, is unique in the Old Testament, and it indicates the agitated state of mind of the Transjordan tribes and their eagerness to have their position vindicated. They affirmed as forcefully as possible their loyalty to this God” – David Howard.
They continue by stating that God “knows” they are innocent (vs. 22).
- They confidently state that the body of Israel will also know they are innocent.
This is both because:
- (1) God will serve “as their witness to vindicate them” – David Howard.
- (2) Their own coming explanation.
And then, understanding both:
- The severity of a “breach of faith”
- The connectedness of the body
BTW – Importantly, this shows they share theology with the Western tribes – they believe the same things!
They boldly proclaim that, if they are guilty:
- “do not spare us today” (vs. 22)
- “may the Lord himself take vengeance” (vs. 23)
- They have signed on to the covenant and accepted its terms.
Then they give their explanation for building the memorial of “imposing size” (vs. 10).
Because the Jordan River separated them and created a division between them… (vs. 25).
- They feared that, over time, future generations would not consider them part of Yahweh’s people (vs. 24).
- That they “have no portion in the Lord” (vs. 27)
So to avoid this problem they built the memorial.
- It was to serve as a witness to all of Israel that they “do perform the service of the Lord” (vs. 27)
- And for emphasis, they built it on the Western side of the Jordan.
- The Western tribes would see it and remember.
So, the altar was not to be used for “burnt offering, nor for sacrifice” (vs. 26) as suspected.
- Only the altar at the tabernacle could be used for such purposes.
- The altar was only a “replica of the true altar” – David Howard.
- As a replica, it was a reminder that the Eastern Tribes were participants in the “true altar”.
- It was a symbol of the unity of all the tribes of Israel under Yahweh.
And in using “witness”, they were using covenant language – Woudstra.
- They were confirming their participation in the covenants with Yahweh along with their brothers and sisters – Woudstra.
- In their words, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God” (vs. 34).
Last week we saw how the Eastern tribes told Moses they wanted to stay put.
- They had received their inheritance and didn’t want to cross the Jordan.
- Now, having spent the last 5+ years in fellowship with, and fighting with the rest of the tribes, they have come full circle.
- They now FEAR the very thing they wanted before – to be left alone to have what was theirs.
- They came to value the fellowship of the body in communion with God.
- So much so that they memorialized it with a stone memorial.
3) A LESSON FOR THE CHURCH
Both sides understood the “importance of doctrine and truth” – Francis Schaeffer.
- This is what caused the conflict.
- “The western tribes argued that unity cannot exist with apostasy (vv. 13–20), while the eastern tribes feared that fidelity cannot exist without unity (vv. 21–29)” – Dale Davis.
- The elect have to be diligent on both fronts.
Both sides were also “acting in love” of Yahweh and the body of Israel – Francis Schaeffer.
- The East by building the memorial to signify the unity of the body and their love of Yahweh.
- The West by confronting perceived apostasy – covenant unfaithfulness – against the body and Yahweh.
- And by sending the delegation to establish this fact before acting.
Both of their actions demonstrate, at least at this time, the lengths each would go to advocate unity and fight apostasy.
- These seem like mutually exclusive goals, but they both point to and converge on God.
- They actually go together.
Paul also had to confront issues of apostasy and unity in the church at Corinth.
- In 1 Corinthians 5 he addressed sexual immorality and church discipline.
- He had harsh words in confronting apostasy in the body.
- 1 Corinthians 5:5 (ESV) — 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
- Because “…a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (vs. 6)
- This is a brutal thing for a church body to hear and do.
But in 2 Corinthians 7, one can see that in love he was hoping for restoration of unity and truth:
- 2 Corinthians 7:8–10 (ESV) — 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Given the fact that Christ died for the Church, rose for the Church and sent the Spirit for the Church…
- We should be equally as diligent as the Eastern and Western tribes in –
- (1) Fighting covenant unfaithfulness – Apostasy
- (2) Striving for covenant unity – Union of the Body