And the report was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled. The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, "For," they said, "it is a witness between us that the LORD is God."
This is the conclusion to a potentially divisive moment in Israel's early history. The tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh had helped their brothers conquer the territory west of the Jordan river. Once this task was done, they returned home, east of Jordan to settle into their allotted territories. But they chose to make a statement on the west bank of the Jordan. There they build a monumental symbolic altar to the Lord, not for sacrifice, but to witness to the true altar that resided with the ark at the tabernacle.
This action was misunderstood by the western tribes. The thing is described as "imposing" (Joshua 22:10). It was large enough to be seen from both sides of the river. The western tribes thought this might be indicative of idolatry, or of at least setting up a rival site for the worship of God, which was contrary to the Law. There was talk of war between the tribes.
But a delegation met with the Reubenites and Gadites, and at that mediation, they quickly realized their mistaken assumptions. The symbolic nature of the altar was quickly understood, and doubts and fears settled, they agreed that the altar thus served a good and important function. It was left standing as a witness to the entire nation of its commitment to the worship of Yahweh.
How much better our lives would be if we would not make rash decisions based on presuming the motives of others! That is the lesson from this story. Had the leaders of the western tribes acted on their presumptions, who knows what that civil war would have done to the nation so early in its history? But God graciously granted peace through the process of just finding out the facts and honoring both parties in deference to the Lord. May God's people learn the same thing from this episode!
- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13