By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Joshua 22.1-34
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the book of Joshua in conjunction with this article.
Facing the Charge of Sin
As I was looking into Joshua this week for thoughts for an article, I found myself returning to the events of chapter twenty-two. It seems so intriguing to me how God’s people of so long ago handled accusations of sin, endured the difficult deliberation process, and produced harmonious living and harmony within God’s Law (Torah). Call me a dreamer, but one of the things I long for is the ability to not only see disagreements harmoniously resolved into peaceful living, but to experience it. Not everyone has the church experience that I have, but during my brief life I have seen so many difficulties turn into discord instead of harmony, so when I find a chapter like Joshua 22, my heart yearns for not just the agree-to-disagree coexistence but actually experiencing understanding and harmony.
Sin among the Clans
Chapter twenty-two records the 9 ½ tribes (clans) on the West side of the Jordan learning about the altar built by the 2 ½ tribes East of the Jordan.1 We, as 21st century believers, may have difficulty ascertaining why this is such a big deal. But if we go back to Exodus and Leviticus, we learn some information that helps us see the supposed infraction (sin) of the Eastern clans.
Exodus 20.24-25 provides details on how to build an altar. The altar was to be made of all natural rock, no human was to shape or restructure the face of any stone. We also see that the altar was intended for burnt offerings and peace offerings. Based upon the Western Clans reaction, we are almost forced to assume that the altar had this all natural appearance, which on the surface indicated that the Eastern Clans might be offering sacrifices.
Leviticus, the Third Book of Moses, provides specific details where sacrificial events were to transpire. Over and again we can see that the location for offering was at (by, in, unto) “the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.”2 Some of those references apply to the burnt offerings3 and some to the peace offerings.4 From these Leviticus references and the passage in Exodus, we can see that to the Clans West of Jordan, the Eastern Clans appeared to be building their own worship facility which would have been in violation of Torah.
Sin among the Churches
Joshua 22 reveals many lessons that apply for 21st century churches. Perhaps the first lesson is that brethren will experience misinterpretations and misunderstandings; and that they should be worked through. But behind the potential misinterpretation is the possibility of actual transgression, which, it seems, Torah5 says should be addressed. If so, it is interesting that Jesus updates this concept in Matthew 18.15-20. Another lesson we can learn from Joshua 22 is that appearances do not always reveal motive. It is only after the Western side converses with the Eastern that motive is revealed: the great altar6 was established as a witness7 to the efforts of the Eastern Clans in supporting the Western. However, it is possible that the incident of altar building provides us with an ever greater lesson, that being: what is permissible within Covenant and Torah?
While it is true that believers live under the New Covenant established by the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice, it is also true that “things written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”8 The hope mentioned should not be limited to the hope of eternal life (although it most certainly applies) but we should also see that we come to have hope because we see how the faithful of old applied God’s righteous Torah under Covenant.
Is it possible that we as modern believers fail to understand the importance of God’s covenants? Not because we want to, but perhaps because it has not been shown as relevant to understanding the New Covenant. While covenant is not the focus of this article, the essential truth is that the New Covenant is preceded by several covenants which operate as the foundation and superstructure for supporting the New. It is from Jehovah’s covenants with Adam9, Noah10, Abraham11, Israel12, David13 and the promise of a new covenant14 that we are able to partake of Jehovah’s New Covenant with humanity.
For our consideration, it seems acceptable that Joshua 22 offers 21st century believers and churches a case study that has the potential to reveal (in-part or in-whole) how those who lived under covenant processed and applied covenant directives as boundaries for behavior – not only how they understood sin, but how they understood liberty. Joshua 22 reveals that Torah did not prohibit the building of an altar for witnessing; to the contrary Torah prohibits non-Tabernacle locations for sacrificial offerings.
During the events of Joshua 22, the Tabernacle was located in Shiloh15, and since Torah limited offerings to the Tabernacle, the Western Clans rightly assumed the Eastern Clans were sinning. But when the Eastern Clans revealed their motive, the Western Clans accepted the argument. The questions remaining are: what does this mean? and how can this help us as 21st century believers?
This article is intentionally limited to asking questions about Joshua 22 because it seems profitable to do so. This author is uncertain of the end result because one week’s study is hardly sufficient to provide a “hard” answer. However, it was never intended that this article resolve any particular problem, or point fingers or lay blame. To the contrary, this article most likely induces more questions and further study; but perhaps that is acceptable because it serves as only a brief examination of one event. Yet it may help shed some light on how we can and should resolve conflict and disagreement today. May the Lord continue to bless us in our study and application of His revealed Truth.
- Joshua 22.11-12
- “the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” KJV e-Sword word search, Leviticus 1.3, 5; Le. 3.2; Le. 4.4, 7, 18; Le. 8.3, 4, 31, 33, 35; Le. 10.7; Le. 12.6; Le. 14.11, 23; Le. 15.14, 29; Le. 16.7, Le. 17.4, 5, 6, 9; and Le. 19.21.
- Burnt offerings – Leviticus 1.1-17
- Peace offerings – Leviticus 3.1-17
- Addressing sin of an Israelite – Leviticus 19.17
- The great altar – Joshua 22.10
- The altar was a witness – Joshua 12.27-28
- Romans 15.4
- Adam – Genesis 3.9-24
- Noah – Genesis 6.8-9.17
- Abraham – Genesis 15.1-18; 17.1-27
- Israel – Exodus 19.1-24.8
- David – II Samuel 7.1-17
- New Covenant – Jeremiah 31.31-34
- The Tabernacle at Shiloh – Leviticus 18.1, cf. 21.2, 22.9, 12