Joshua 22

Joshua 22,
Thursday, April 26, 2018

Just as the book opened with charging the shock troops of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh to lead the way across the Jordan, the bracket is closed, by sending them home.  They made their deal with Moses, wide pastureland claims east of the Jordan, north of Edom through Moab and Ammon and Gilead, the full length of the river.
It was a moral affirmation at the outset, that even though their lands had already been won from Sihon and Og, the 2.5 tribes would lead the fight for the other tribes’ claim.  They have done their duty, and are now blessed, paid, and send ‘home’ to the Transjordan.  It’s a ‘happily ever after ending at Shiloh as the tribes depart.
Just before they re-cross the Jordan toward the east, the 2.5 tribes stop to build a big pile of stones altar, like the ones built in front of the Tent of the Ark of the Covenant at several stops along the way.  They built it big, and built it on the frontier between Canaan and Gilead regions, on the west side of the Jordan.
We have trouble making the leap to verse 12, and all the rest of the tribes gathering back to Shiloh to make war against the 2.5 because of the ‘treachery’ of the altar.  Was it an American Revolution of 1776 or an Upper Canada Rebellion of 1832?  How is this different from the other ancient shrines, 10,000 years old, some reclaimed like Bethel or Schechem or Gilgal or Shiloh, as subordinate to Jerusalem?
It might read differently in Solomon’s time, when the Temple was new after a long tradition of a mobile ‘god in a box’ visiting different altar sites.  It might be read differently in Josiah’s time with the northern shrines fallen to Assyria, or in Second Temple times.  When is a new religious centre just another cathedral, and when is it the start of a Reformation and Wars of Religion?
Phineas is sent with 10 senior warriors as a diplomatic mission to try to avert civil war.  The 2.5 tribes defence themselves, that this pile of stones is purely symbolic, a sort of Disneyland teaching aid for their descendants to claim roots, like European architecture for government sites in North America.  They promise to keep sacrificing only at certified altars, thus keeping the tithes flowing to Jerusalem.
Hotter parallels might be the Chinese corporations buying Nexus in Calgary and Aecon in Toronto, claiming their form of corporation with state ownership is flattering imitation, while we suspect a threat to our long-term sovereignty.  Another might be federal-provincial talk about a pipeline from Alberta to the Atlantic or Pacific, balancing collective goods and risks.  More modest would be the increasing congregationalism in our communion, and the risk of division. 
Then Joshua summoned
the Reubenites,
 the Gadites, 
and the half-tribe of Manasseh,
 2and said to them, 
‘You have observed all that Moses
the servant of the Lord
commanded you, 
and have obeyed me
in all that I have commanded you;
 3you have not forsaken your kindred
 these many days, 
down to this day,
 but have been careful
 to keep the charge
of the Lord your God.
 4And now the Lord your God
has given rest to your kindred, 
as he promised them; 
therefore turn and go to your tents
 in the land where your possession lies, 
which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you
on the other side of the Jordan.
 5Take good care
 to observe the commandment and instruction
that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, 
to love the Lord your God, 
to walk in all his ways, 
to keep his commandments,
 and to hold fast to him, 
and to serve him
with all your heart
and with all your soul.’
 6So Joshua blessed them
and sent them away,
 and they went to their tents.
7 Now to one half of the tribe of Manasseh
Moses had given a possession in Bashan; 
but to the other half Joshua had given a possession
beside their fellow-Israelites in the land west of the Jordan. 
And when Joshua sent them away to their tents
and blessed them,
 8he said to them,
 ‘Go back to your tents
with much wealth,
 and with very much livestock,
 with silver, gold, bronze, and iron, 
and with a great quantity of clothing;
 divide the spoil of your enemies
with your kindred.’
 9So the Reubenites
 and the Gadites
and the half-tribe of Manasseh
returned home,
 parting from the Israelites at Shiloh, 
which is in the land of Canaan, 
to go to the land of Gilead, 
their own land
of which they had taken possession
by command of the Lord through Moses.
10 When they came to the region near the Jordan
that lies in the land of Canaan,
 the Reubenites
 and the Gadites
and the half-tribe of Manasseh
built there an altar
by the Jordan,
 an altar of great size. 
11The Israelites heard
 that the Reubenites
and the Gadites
and the half-tribe of Manasseh
had built an altar
at the frontier of the land of Canaan, 
in the region near the Jordan,
 on the side that belongs to the Israelites.
 12And when the people of Israel heard of it, 
he whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh,
 to make war against them.
13 Then the Israelites sent the priest Phinehas son of Eleazar
to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 
in the land of Gilead,
 14and with him ten chiefs, 
one from each of the tribal families of Israel,
 every one of them the head of a family
among the clans of Israel.
15They came to the Reubenites, 
the Gadites, 
and the half-tribe of Manasseh
 in the land of Gilead,
 and they said to them,
 16‘Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord,
 “What is this treachery
that you have committed against the God of Israel
 in turning away today
from following the Lord,
 by building yourselves an altar today
 in rebellion against the Lord?
 17Have we not had enough
 of the sin at Peor
from which even yet
we have not cleansed ourselves,
 and for which a plague came
 upon the congregation of the Lord,
 18that you must turn away today
from following the Lord! 
If you rebel against the Lord
 he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel
 19But now, 
if your land is unclean,
 cross over into the Lord’s land
where the Lord’s tabernacle now stands,
 and take for yourselves a possession among us;
 only do not rebel against the Lord,
 or rebel against us
 by building yourselves an altar
other than the altar of the Lord our God.
 20Did not Achan son of Zerah
 break faith in the matter of the devoted things, 
and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? 
And he did not perish alone for his iniquity!” ’
21 Then the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh
said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, 
22‘The Lord, God of gods! 
The Lord, God of gods! 
He knows; 
and let Israel itself know! 
If it was in rebellion
or in breach of faith towards the Lord, 
do not spare us today
23for building an altar
 to turn away from following the Lord;
 or if we did so
 to offer burnt-offerings or grain-offerings
or offerings of well-being on it, 
may the Lord himself take vengeance.
We did it from fear
that in time to come
 your children might say to our children,
 “What have you to do
with the Lord, the God of Israel? 
25For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary
 between us and you,
 you Reubenites and Gadites; 
you have no portion in the Lord.” 
So your children might make our children
cease to worship the Lord.
 26Therefore we said, 
“Let us now build an altar,
 not for burnt-offering, 
nor for sacrifice,
 27but to be a witness between us and you, 
and between the generations after us, 
that we do perform
the service of the Lord
in his presence
with our burnt-offerings
and sacrifices
and offerings of well-being; 
so that your children
may never say to our children
 in time to come,
 ‘You have no portion in the Lord.’ ”
 28And we thought, 
If this should be said to us
or to our descendants in time to come,
 we could say,
 “Look at this copy of the altar of the Lord,
 which our ancestors made, 
not for burnt-offerings, nor for sacrifice,
 but to be a witness between us and you.”
 29Far be it from us
that we should rebel against the Lord, 
and turn away this day
 from following the Lord
 by building an altar
 for burnt-offering, 
 or sacrifice, 
other than the altar of the Lord our God
that stands before his tabernacle!’
30 When the priest Phinehas
 and the chiefs of the congregation,
 the heads of the families of Israel
 who were with him, 
heard the words
that the Reubenites
and the Gadites
and the Manassites spoke,
 they were satisfied. 
31The priest Phinehas son of Eleazar
said to the Reubenites
and the Gadites
and the Manassites,
 ‘Today we know
 that the Lord is among us, 
because you have not committed this treachery
 against the Lord;
 now you have saved the Israelites
from the hand of the Lord.’
32 Then the priest Phinehas son of Eleazar
and the chiefs
returned from the Reubenites
and the Gadites
in the land of Gilead
 to the land of Canaan,
 to the Israelites, 
and brought back word to them.
 33The report pleased the Israelites;
 and the Israelites blessed God
 and spoke no more of making war against them,
 to destroy the land
where the Reubenites
and the Gadites
were settled.
 34The Reubenites
 and the Gadites
called the altar Witness;
 ‘For’, said they,
 ‘it is a witness
 between us
that the Lord is God.’