The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had fulfilled their promise to help the rest of the tribes conquer the land west of the Jordan (Numbers 32:20-22). After seven long years of separation from their wives and families, they could go home to the east side of the Jordan. They had a solemn charge:
Only be careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Joshua 22:5)Yet, on the way back, they built an altar on the west side of the Jordan, provoking the rest of the sons of Israel to want to go up against them for war, misconstruing that this altar was a rival altar of sacrifice contrary to Mosaic Law (Leviticus 17:8-9)! Thankfully, wisdom prevailed and instead of acting on their own misconceptions, they sent a contingent led by Phinehas, the priest, to clarify the situation.
Through discussion, they learned that it was not rebellion but an altar to remind the future generations that these tribes, separated by the Jordan River, were indeed part of one unified Israel. Thus, it was called Witness.
Have you ever had someone do something that you quickly misinterpreted and then reacted in anger or hurt based on that misinterpretation? Or have you ever done or said something that has been misinterpreted only to have someone react in anger or hurt? Either way, I am sure it caused conflict.
One time, I led a mock "underground believers" Bible study where the women were to come to a dark and deserted house at a specified time. They were to give a password and be admitted by a silent person with a flashlight to the deep, dark basement of the house. Other things were going to happen in quick successive order, and we all needed to be in place in the basement by a certain time. One of the girls had not shown up, and I knew that once the "program" started, we would not be able to hear her knock on the front door. Not wanting her to waste a trip in the dark, I went ahead and called her and left a message with her roommate that we were leaving the original location and would not hear her knock. So, I apologized for that and told her roommate that if she had not left yet, she probably should not come.
A little while later, I had one of the guys in our ministry, who lived in the same residence hall with this woman, come up to me, very angry, and yell at me because I had kicked Theresa out of my Bible study. I was shocked. After I had calmed him down, he told me how Theresa had told him that I had left a message telling her to not come to my Bible study. I was horrified that Theresa would think this, and I was able to clear up the misinterpretation of my actions but only after she had told her whole dorm floor that I had kicked her out of my study. Oh dear!
This is a case where clarification rather than confrontation would have led to unity rather than conflict! What a mess!
Thankfully, this is not what happened in Joshua 22! Instead of going forth in war toward their brothers, the other tribes sent a delegation to clarify the situation and bring reconciliation where there could have been disunity.
Next time you have a situation that could lead to conflict. Make sure you listen to the other person and clarify rather than jump to a conclusion that may lead to conflict.
Lord, thank You for this example of unity. Help us to be at peace with all people around us by listening to one another. We ask this in Jesus' name, Amen.