I read about a lady who decided to take her lunch break in the café across the street from her workplace. She bought a small cellophane pack of cookies and a newspaper on her way. After finding a booth, she ordered a cup of coffee and settled down to read her paper in solitude.
Before long, she became aware of someone across from her. She peered from behind her paper to see an elderly man smiling at her and opening up "her" package of cookies! He nodded at here and popped one into his mouth. The nerve! she thought. So she reached across the table, pulled the cookies to her side, ate one to send him a message, and returned to her reading.
She soon heard the cellophane rattle again as her unwelcome neighbor ate another cookie and smiled at her. How dare he repeat this crime! She stretched across the table, snatched the pack of cookies, and ate another with more zeal just to make her point.
She tried to focus on the national events in her newspaper, but horrors, he was at it again. She could take no more! She retrieved the nearly empty cookie wrapper and firmly crunched the last cookie. The elderly man smiled, stood up, and walked away. The woman mumbled to herself about people with a lot of nerve and about a wasted lunch hour. She got up, tucked the paper under her arm, and took her check for the coffee to the cashier.
She thought about complaining to the café manager. As she reached in her purse for her wallet, the rattling of the cellophane on her package of cookies silenced her. To her embarrassment, she realized that she had been eating the man's cookies! She assumed that he had been eating her cookies, and was angry over a simple misunderstanding.
This has always been a problem with mankind, and it was a problem with the nation of Israel too. In our passage this evening, we will see that even after all their great victories they found themselves in a situation that almost led to a civil war among themselves because of assumption and misunderstanding. We can avoid most misunderstandings if we simply take the time to honestly seek the truth.
I. Changes Often Lead To Misunderstanding
A. Words of encouragement for a new beginning v1-8
1. After the major battles had been won and the land had been divided, Joshua had some words of encouragement that he wanted to impart to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh before they returned home.
a. It had been over 7 years since they had left their homes and loves ones to fulfill their promise to fight the Canaanites.
b. Remember these 2 ½ tribes did not take their inheritance in the land with the other tribes, but instead asked to remain east of the Jordan River.
2. Joshua's words of encouragement.
a. First, Joshua commends them for keeping their promise (vv.1-3).
b. Second, Joshua discharged them from their service (v.4).
c. Third, Joshua admonishes them to be diligent in worship and obedience to God (v.5).
d. Finally, Joshua blesses them and reminds them to share their spoils with those who had remained behind protecting their families while they were gone (vv.6-8).
B. Lessons we can learn.
1. First, there is the lesson of being true to your word and being totally obedient to God
Jas 5:12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.
1Jo 2:5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
2. Second, there's a lesson when about being committed to that which God has called you to do.
a. Commitment is a dirty word to some folks.
b. They want to enjoy the benefits of a life for God without making a commitment.
c. Others make a commitment, but quit along the way…giving up before they finish the task.
1Co 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
d. These tribes had spent over 7 years of their lives at the task that they had promised to do, and they didn't stop until that task was finished.
3. Third, there is a lesson about sharing in the blessings of service.
a. While not everyone got to go and fight, they all received the spoils of the war.
b. In church life, not everyone can be involved in every ministry, but we all can rejoice in the blessings.
c. Every one of us supplies a necessary part to the whole.
d. We are all a part of this local body of Christ, and we share the blessings of God.
Eph 4:16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
C. What happened? v9-10
1. Leaving Shiloh, the armies of the Eastern tribes headed excitedly for home.
2. As they approached the Jordan River their minds were probably flooded with memories of the miraculous things that God had done for them.
a. The miraculous crossing of the Jordan River seven years before.
b. The remarkable victory over nearby Jericho, and of the other triumphs shared with their brothers from whom they had so recently separated.
c. They also took to heart the charge that Joshua had given them in v5.
3. They decided to build a huge altar, one that could be seen from a great distance that would bare witness to the generations to come.
4. They knew that the true basis of their unity was their common worship centered in the sacrifices at the altar.
5. Often what we intend as good, somehow turns into something else.
II. The Misunderstanding v11-20
A. Two Deadly Words "heard say" v11
1. The other tribes became greatly offended at the actions of the 2 ½ tribes.
2. Many people get offended by what they hear, because they assume the worst!
3. That is our nature…we naturally assume that what we hear and our assumptions about it are true.
Pr 18:13 He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. Jas 1:19-20 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
B. The tribes were ready to go to war with their brethren, because of what they assumed to be true. v12
1. First, the tribes of Reuben and Gad and half tribe of Manasseh were guilty of unwise actions.
a. Without explanation they had erected a huge altar, where the Israelites had crossed over Jordan on dry ground, without explanation to the other tribes.
b. It looked like they were putting up an altar in competition with the memorial the Lord had erected there to commemorate the crossing of Jordan.
1Th 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
2. The second mistake was on the part of the other tribes who hastily jumped to conclusions about the altar without first investigating.
3. In fact, they became very belligerent about it, and gathered their warriors back to Shiloh to go to war against the two and a half tribes.
C. The Delegation from Shiloh v13-20
1. The delegation charged them with turning away and rebelling against God.
2. They reminded them of God's judgment of those who previously had followed Baal.
De 4:3 Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you.
3. They also reminded them of the judgment against Achan.
III. The Resolution of the Conflict v21-30
A. It began with taking the time to get the facts.
1. A little investigation will put an end to much misunderstanding.
2. It was true then for Israel, and it is still true today for us!
3. We make to many assumptions based on what we have heard and not what we actually know.'
4. If someone doesn't care enough about the truth to seek it out, then they ought to keep quiet!
5. If they hadn't taken the time to investigate the actions of the 2 ½ tribes, there would have been a bloody civil war!
6. It seems they, like us, were more eager to fight among themselves, than to do battle against the real enemy!
B. Listen to the other side of the story. v21-29
1. The accused tribes made it clear that they weren't setting up a rival religion.
2. Because the altar they built wasn't for sacrifices, but rather, they were putting up a witness that would remind the tribes west of the Jordan that Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh were still a part of the Jewish nation.
3. The altar was a "replica" of the Lord's altar, but the altar wasn't for sacrifice, it was intended to be a memorial that would testify to the future generations that the Eastern Tribes were indeed a part of the nation of Israel
4. Note that the response of the 2 ½ tribes to the charges wasn't given in anger but instead their answer was given in sincerity.
Pr 15:1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
5. The Eastern Tribes weren't trying to hide anything, nor were they trying to lie to cover up what they had done.
6. They were open and honest about what they had done and their intentions behind it.
7. While building an altar probably wasn't the smartest thing that they could have done, their intentions in doing so were honorable.
C. Settle the issue and put to rest v30-34
1. The answer that the Eastern Tribes gave to the leaders of Israel was acceptable, and they were reassured that there was no evil intentions in the Western Tribes action.
2. Then the leaders returned to the other side of Jordan and informed the Western Tribes that the rumors where false and thus they put an end to any further misunderstandings.
3. In response to the news the 9 ½ tribes on the west of the Jordan were glad and praised God.
4. The Eastern Tribes called the altar "Ed" meaning that it was a witness between the tribes on both sides of the Jordan that the Lord is the true God.
IV. The Application for Today.
Note: The best way to do this is to invite the one who is telling the rumor to go with you to talk with the person.
What's in a person's heart will ultimately be revealed in how they respond to the truth. If someone is truly seeking what is right and what is best for the body of believers then they will rejoice when a problem has been resolved. But if their intentions are not right to begin with, then they will never be happy with the answers they receive and will look for other reasons to bring discord among the brethren.