Reconciliation - Joshua Style
Reconciliation – Joshua Style
A pastor I Know preached on Grace for 3 years. So I don’t feel so bad preaching once again on the topic of reconciliation. Just as that pastor’s church needed to hear about living by grace alone, God has led me to share with you “Reconciliation – Joshua style.”
So, let’s see what Joshua chapter 22 can teach us today about how reconciliation is linked to telling people of truth and love.
Someone once said that perception is nine-tenths reality. What you perceive to be real you conclude as just that. Right? There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement, but there’s also a problem. The problem is that remaining tenth. Often we don’t have the whole picture when we think we do.
Bob Bugh relates the following story: “When I was in my early twenties, I was discipled for a time by Robert Hendricks, the oldest son of Howard Hendricks. One day Bob said, “Let’s go out to lunch.” We went to a place I’d never seen. As we were sitting around, Bob said, “Look around, Rob. Do you notice anything different or unusual about this place?”
I looked around, and I didn’t see anything unusual or different and told Bob that. He said, “Well, look more closely. Look at the people.”
We were in a restaurant bar in Dallas, and I started to look at the people. Finally it clicked. And I said, “Bob, we are in a gay bar.”
He smiled and said, “You got it.” Then he proceeded to tell me how every week he and his brother, Bill, would go into this bar, sit at that particular table, and use the writings of Henry David Thoreau as a springboard to engage individuals in a conversation about God and the gospel. He had an evangelistic ministry in this gay bar.
If you were trailing Bob and me that particular day, based on your perceptions, you would conclude that we were gay—especially Bob because he went there every week.” Now, do you see the problem with perception?
Now, think about this in terms of what’s happened with the murder of Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer died of head wounds in the prison where he was serving a 957-year term for killing 17 individuals. We look at the murder of Dahmer, the mass murderer, and our perception is that he got his due.
But, you may not realize that earlier that year Dahmer gave his life to Jesus Christ. He was baptized in a prison whirlpool and was meeting every week with a Wisconsin pastor by the name of Roy Radcliff.
Our perception of Dahmer is that he’s this despicable sinner. And that’s true. But it’s only 9/10 true. That’s not the whole story. If these reports are accurate, Jeff will spend eternity in heaven with us. Perceptions are not always reality.
And this is exactly what Israel discovers in Joshua, chapter 22.
Turn with me now to the book of Joshua in the Old Testament as we examine Harmony and Disharmony among the Tribes of Israel
Let me begin at Joshua 22:1: “Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh and said to them, ‘You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. For a long time now—to this very day—you have not deserted your brothers but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you.’” Let’s stop there for the time being to find out what the mission was.
Way back in Numbers 32, when Israel was marching through the wilderness of Gilead, these two-and-a-half tribes—the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh—came to Moses and said, “Moses, wait a minute. Moses, when it comes to settling the promised land, let us settle this land east of the Jordan River. After all, God has allowed us to defeat the people who lived here in this land, and we like the land. Someone needs to occupy it, so let us do just that.”
Moses said they could, under one condition—that the soldiers of the two-and-a-half tribes continue to fight against the enemies of Israel with the rest of the tribes. The soldiers of those tribes did that faithfully. That’s what Joshua means here in verse 2 when he says, “You have done all that Moses commanded.” You have fought, literally speaking, the good fight. “You have not forsaken your brothers,” Joshua says in verse 3, “but have kept the commands of the Lord your God.”
Let’s look at verses 4 and 5: “Now that the Lord your God has given your brothers rest as he promised. ...” I picture Joshua with a lump in his throat, thinking about these soldiers who have fought for so long with him—seven years. Now Joshua says, “Return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him, and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”
Let me suggest that this was the first Promise Keepers meeting! Here Joshua calls these tough and seasoned soldiers to a rigorous love for and obedience to God. If you want to be the man or woman God wants you to be, let me encourage you this morning to underscore the six simple terms, we find here in verse five: to keep, to love, to walk, to obey, to hold fast, to serve. Let me read verse 5 for you again: “Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep)his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul." Once again, these six simple terms are: to observe, to love to walk, to obey, to cling to Him, to serve Him
God’s men go hard after God. These infinitives are terms of intensity. They emphasize a relationship with God that’s characterized by a passion for God. That’s what Joshua wanted from these men, and that’s what God wants from us. That’s what it means to be a Promise Keeper: we keep God’s commands, we love God, we walk with God, we obey God, we hold fast to God, we serve God. Our biblical mandate for a God-focused life. The Bible says it, ; I believe it. Are we people of the Book? Then our lives will exemplify observing the commandments, loving God, walking with God, obeying God, clinging to God, and serving God. Now let’s return to our passage.
In verses 6 through 8, Joshua blesses these hard-working soldiers. In verse 9, they leave and head back across the Jordan River to settle the east side of the Jordan. Then in verse 10, it says, “When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan. But when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.”
Wait a minute! Stop the press! In verse 6, Joshua had just blessed these dudes, and now in verse 12, he wants to blow them away. Why? What’s going on here? We can be like this too, can’t we? One minute we’re getting along with our neighbor, then our dog gets into their garbage or our children fight with theirs over possession of a toy, or we misspeak inadvertently and the war is on.
Fortunately, some cool heads prevail in this Bible passage and, in verses 13 through 14, a delegation is sent on behalf of the nine-and-a-half tribes to begin negotiations towards reconciliation. Let’s pick up what this delegation says, beginning in verse 15:
“When they [this delegation headed by Phinehas] went to Gilead—to Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh—they said to them, ‘The whole assembly of the Lord says, ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the Lord and build yourself an altar of rebellion against him now?’”
Why were these nine-and-a-half tribes ready to blow away the two-and-a-half? Because they saw this imposing altar as “an altar of rebellion.” That’s what it’s called in verse 16. Now travel down to verse 19 for their next step towards reconciliation.
“If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the Lord’s land,” they go on, “where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar for yourselves other than the altar of the Lord our God.” Building a second altar amounted to rebellion, and the nine-and-a-half tribes were convinced that the two-and-a-half had lapsed into apostasy. They had forsaken their faith. That is what an apostate is: a traitor to the faith. Why is this a problem? Well, hold your place and go back to Deuteronomy chapter 12 for a moment.
We need to look at several passages in the Pentateuch as we travel through the book of Joshua to get a sense of the history behind some of the things that are happening here in Joshua 22. Notice Deuteronomy 12:10. Everyone got it? It says “But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety” Here Moses is speaking about the day that has come in Joshua 22. Let’s read: “But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name [early on that was the tabernacle; then it became the temple]. There you are to bring everything I command you.” Then he lists the different offerings and gifts.
Then in verse 13, it says, “Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.” Did you hear that? DO NOT SACRIFICE BURNT OFFERINGS ANYWHERE YOU PLEASE.
But why did God demand this? Because God knows our tendency to idolatry. So to maintain both purity on the one hand and unity on the other—and purity and unity feed each other—God knows that he needs to do something with these diverse twelve tribes. So he stipulates that their worship will be centralized in one place, in one location, in a location he will choose. That will keep them from lapsing into idolatry and apostasy. According to Deuteronomy 12, there’s to be only one altar, not two or three.
II. Principles of Conflict Resolution
Let’s go back to Joshua 22. In light of verses 15 through 20 and what the nine-and-a-half tribes say, let me talk about what this illustrates in terms of handling conflict constructively. Let’s just assume that some day you might experience conflict. If that’s the case, follow what’s going on here. Notice that when the nine-and-a half tribes had a problem with the two-and-a-half, who did they go to? They went to the two-and-a-half. They didn’t go to anyone else. And before they attacked them, what did they do? They talked to them.
If I have a problem with Ron, my responsibility is to go to Ron, not to Karn, about my problem with Ron. If I go to Karn about my problem with Ron, that’s triangling, and triangling can allow the Devil a foothold. Now this isn’t to say we don’t get the input of others in difficult situations. But I think this does illustrate or imply that we need to be careful about gossip. In this hypothetical case (since I don’t have a problem with Ron YET) gossip is sharing a problem with someone who may not be a part of the problem or the solution. Before I get myself in hot water with this illustration, let’s get back to our text. When the nine-and-a-half had a problem with the two-and-a half, what did they do? They went to the two-and-a-half. Let me encourage you to do the same.
Matthew 18:15 outlines the same thing. Please turn to it with me. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” That’s what the nine-and-a-half do here. And if they hadn’t taken the time to talk to them, you know what they would have done? They would have wiped them out. And isn’t that often what we do? I encourage you to read the rest of this Matthew 18 passage as it gives godly steps to reconciliation in the church we won’t be looking at right now. Lets get back to Joshua 22.
Look at how the two-and-a-half tribes respond. Let’s pick it up in verse 21: “Then Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: ‘The mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows! And let Israel know if there has been rebellion or disobedience to the Lord, do not spare us this day. 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.
“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? The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between you, 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.
“That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at his sanctuary.”
So why did the two and a half tribes build this second altar? To make sure the nine-and-a-half leave a light on. They didn’t build it as a place of worship but as a reminder to these nine-and-a-half tribes that there better not come a time when they say, “Sorry, you dudes east of the Jordan. There ain’t no room at the inn anymore.”
Now think about what this says in terms of perceptions. The tribes west of the Jordan added two plus two, as we often do, and what did they get? They got five. What they perceived wasn’t complete reality. Someone fails to say hello to you, they fail to call you, they don’t send you a Christmas card, and you conclude either they’re unfriendly or they don’t like you. What are you doing? You are judging!
Someone goes into a gay bar; someone builds an altar. People, let’s give one another some slack. Let’s distinguish between our perceptions and reality and understand that sometimes – no, not just sometimes - often there’s a difference. Go to the person as Matthew 18:15 puts it. The New Living Translation says it well. "If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.”
Let me make another point about conflict resolution, this time in terms of what the two-and-a-half tribes say in verses 21 through 27: when they are confronted by the nine-and-a-half. They don’t get defensive. They don’t lash back. They don’t wilt in inferiority. They don’t have a pity party.
Let me encourage you to do likewise, to follow their good lead. Let me encourage you to treat criticism as a friend, not an enemy. If you do, not only will you grow spiritually and learn from it, but you’ll be a breath of fresh air to the people around you. Remember Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Another verse in Proverbs 27 (the 17th verse) says: “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”
II. How to Make a Happy Ending
As we would expect then, this very fragile political situation in Joshua 22 ends happily. Let’s pick it up in verse 30: “When Phinehas, the priest, and the leaders of the community—the heads of the clans of the Israelites—heard what Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased. And Phinehas, son of Eleazar, the priest, said to Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, ‘Today we know that the Lord is with us because you have not acted unfaithfully toward the Lord in this matter.” In verse 23 comes the happy conclusion. “And all the Israelites were satisfied and praised God and spoke no more of war against Reuben and Gad.” Their satisfactory conclusion brought honor to God and closure.
Why did this potentially explosive situation turn out so well? Yes, the nine-and-a-half tribes were direct, and, yes, the two-and-a-half tribes weren’t defensive. But I think there are a couple of other things here that are more fundamental, more critical to the issue. I think this chapter is not only a warning against apostasy, but since it ends like a Disney movie it becomes also a model for unity. Let me suggest that the remarkable unity here in Joshua 22 is the result of two fundamental commitments. If we’re going to be people, the people of God who are characterized by the unity of God, then these two fundamental commitments must mark us as well.
First, we must have a mutual commitment to the truth. As I read this chapter, I am so impressed by how all twelve tribes take these infinitive verbs in verse 5 so very seriously: to keep God’s commands, to love God, to walk with God, to obey God, to hold fast to Scripture. Do you? Are you a person intent on keeping, loving, walking, obeying, holding fast, and serving God with all your heart?
u I was dismayed recently when I read what one politician said. This particular politician announced himself as a Conservative candidate for the Parliament. While he was announcing this, he wanted to quickly divorce himself from the religious right. So he said, “I do not refer to them as the ‘religious right’ or the ‘Christian right’ because they do not articulate religious values or Christian values.” That’s a relatively strong statement. Then he went on to say that they advocate intolerance.
This politician was talking about us. Can I say what others have said? Tolerance is the final virtue of a decadent society. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying we should be petty, harsh, narrow-minded evangelicals. But I am saying that to be a Christian is to believe that God has spoken in words that can be understood and must be obeyed. If that means I’m intolerant to sin, so be it.
I’m not going to be lots of things, but if there’s one thing I want to be, it’s a broker of the truth. Will you join me in that? Let’s be men and women who are brokers of truth in this relativistic culture. Why? Because a mutual commitment to the truth goes a long way to promoting unity and harmony and minimizing conflict within the body of Christ. That has a spill-over effect in our community as well. Truth is a basis for, and truth gives birth to, harmony.
But, there’s a second commitment, a second reason this difficult situation with the twelve tribes turned out so well: a mutual commitment to love on the part of all of these tribes. People who elevate truth above love don’t understand truth. In 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul says, “The goal of our instruction is love.” The goal of our truth, the goal of our command is love. Remember John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
In the middle of verse 19, notice what they say: “If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us.” What a generous offer. What an expression of love. The land had already been divided. But if you don’t like this land, have some of ours. I think we see love on the part of the two-and-a-half tribes in verses 22 and 23 when they say, “Hey, if we’re in sin, then God destroy us because we don’t want to defile his name nor do we want to hurt you.” That’s love.
These tribes had their differences. This situation was complicated, complex, and difficult. Yet, in spite of their differences, in spite of the misunderstanding, there was a mutual commitment to love.
Friends, love is not the absence of problems, the absence of differences. It’s a commitment. Commitment to seek one another’s highest good. Romans 12:3 tells us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Then in the same chapter at verse 16 we are urged to be of the same mind …. Not wise in our own opinions. Think of others, not self. That is love.
If I can paraphrase Romans 12:10, “Love is honoring and preferring one another.” Let’s be people who honor and prefer one another. It’s listening to one another. It’s going out of our way for one another. It’s being patient with one another, and it’s forgiving one another over and over – 70 times 7. That’s Joshua 22.
Conclusion: Truth and Love
That’s what should and must characterize our relationships in the body of Christ: a mutual commitment to truth and love. Let’s be brokers of truth, and let’s be brokers of love. That’s how we build unity. It’s a commitment to both righteousness and relationships.
Be careful about this. Do not elevate truth above love or love above truth, go hard after both, notice the happy result in verse 31. “This day we perceive that the Lord is among us ….”
Phinehas says, “Today we know that the Lord is with us.” When we are committed to both truth and love, unity is the happy result. As this verse points out, this God-given unity manifests the presence of God. So when you and I have these twin commitments, to be brokers of truth and brokers of love, what is the result? We manifest the presence of God to our neighbors. We will be able to say we know the Lord is with us because we’re unified. The community of Cut Knife will be able to say, “We know the Lord is with them because they’re unified.” Truth plus love equals unity. Be dispensers of truth and love because reconciliation comes as a result of truth and love. This leads to the unity that God desires in the body of Christ.