The charge above is the words in Joshua 22:25 which motivated the tribes that settled in Gilead to build an altar to the Lord God. These tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh) were afraid that their decedents would not be welcomed to worship God with the rest of Israel because they chose to settle outside the Land of Canaan. So, they built an altar. And the other tribes, the ones in Canaan were furious and surprised by this…and so it was time to talk it out. Charged of sinning against the Lord, the leaders of the accused tribes responded:
22:24 “The truth is, we have built this altar because we fear that in the future your descendants will say to ours, ‘What right do you have to worship the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has placed the Jordan River as a barrier between our people and you people of Reuben and Gad. You have no claim to the Lord.’ So your descendants may prevent our descendants from worshiping the Lord.
Now, let’s look at this altar…
From the “Canaan” perspective it seems like a dumb idea, one that would anger God and cause division among the people. It wasn’t necessary at all and was considered a betrayal of God. The whole people of Israel was to gather for their offerings and sacrifices in the land of Canaan, and this action was a break in that fellowship.
From the “Gilead" perspective it seemed like a necessary reminder that God had approved these tribes and their desire to settle in this area. They were full participants in the nation of Israel and had full access to God, yet the fear of this access being severed caused them to be creative in preserving their special relationship with God. Thus, they built their own altar as a symbol of their claim to the Lord; especially if some time in the future they face disapproval.
For the tribes in Gilead, the allotment of land on the other side of the Jordan river was a distinctive part of their “witness” or story. And they acted accordingly to not just remember it, but preserve it for future generations both in and out of the tribes.
I have heard the idea that Christianity has tribes, and that we must learn to fellowship and love each other and our distinctive witness to the goodness of God. I think that some tribes in our Christian people seem to find some sort of pleasure in telling others that they “Have No Claim to the Lord.” Yet, a student of church history cannot only be aware of the ways God worked in the different tribes, but can also appreciate their distinctive witness to the Lord’s goodness.
I currently reside in the land of Churches of Christ, and I really like my tribe, but I am also aware that my tribe doesn’t make up the entirety of the people of God. We have a particular witness, and we have a contribution to make to the larger people. However, I pray that we will not be a tribe that charges others with “no claim” and we will work with each of our sister tribes to seek understanding and come to see their “strange altars” as their unique story. We might disagree with he altar, but may we never cut off people from worship of the Lord, the Lord is fully capable of doing that without our help!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.