So the whole community of Israel gathered at Shiloh and prepared to go to war against them. First, however, they sent a delegation led by Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to talk with the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. In this delegation were ten leaders of Israel, one from each of the ten tribes, and each the head of his family within the clans of Israel. When they arrived in the land of Gilead, they said to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, “The whole community of the Lord demands to know why you are betraying the God of Israel. How could you turn away from the Lord and build an altar for yourselves in rebellion against him? Was our sin at Peor not enough? To this day we are not fully cleansed of it, even after the plague that struck the entire community of the Lord. And yet today you are turning away from following the Lord. If you rebel against the Lord today, he will be angry with all of us tomorrow. “If you need the altar because the land you possess is defiled, then join us in the Lord’s land, where the Tabernacle of the Lord is situated, and share our land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar other than the one true altar of the Lord our God.” Joshua 22:12-19
The motive of the three tribes in building the altar was not to compete with the altar located in Shiloh where the Ark of the Covenant was placed. Though the motive was misunderstood, there was no clear command from God that they should build an altar for their own worship activities. Joshua in his wisdom did not act hastily but instead he sent a delegation led by Phinehas to investigate and to talk to the leaders of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. The delegation was composed of the leaders of the other ten tribes to determine if there was a violation of God’s command (see Deuteronomy 13). Phinehas asked the leaders of these tribes why they “are betraying the God of Israel. How could you turn away from the Lord and build an altar for yourselves in rebellion against him (v. 16)?” Rebellion before God will not be tolerated. Phinehas cited two instances of rebellion already committed by the Israelites when their men where in Peor engaged in prostitution with Moabite women (see Numbers 25) and Achan’s disobedience when he took the spoils from Jericho after they were commanded not to do so (see Joshua 7). The concern of Phinehas was that if sin will not be addressed at its root immediately it could escalate and will get out of control like what happened in Peor and with Achan. This is a reminder also to each one of us that we should stand guard against the onset of sin for when it is ignored it would lead to our spiritual downfall. Not only that sin affects us individually, it could also affect others. A kind and wise offer was presented by the delegation for the tribes to return “in the Lord’s land, where the Tabernacle of the Lord is situated.” Do not ignore signs of drifting away from God for it will lead to spiritual decline and eventual disaster.
Have a blessed, fruitful, hopeful, joyful, and safe New Year!