|PART TIME CHRISTIANS IN A FULL
Series: Conquest and Chaos - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 18, 2017
In January we started at the beginning - Genesis 1:1. We’ve been looking at God at work in the lives of real people living in real places in real time as real examples for us of what living life with the living God looks like. God and His work of redemption and what that looks like for us.
This morning we’re coming to the end of the book of Joshua. Which means that we’ve made a huge leap forward in time from where we were two Sundays ago - with Moses - we’ve skipped past Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and most of Joshua - to where we are today at Joshua 22.
To help us grab some back story on what we’ve skipped we have a short video.
Video: Joshua (1)
That chart is available in the Foyer next to today’s Message Notes.
Overall the book of Joshua is Israel conquering and dividing the Promised Land which is a real life demonstration of two pretty basic takeaways: First: God always comes through on His promises. God is always worthy of our trust. Second takeaway: Trust self and get creamed. Trust God and get victory.
Which is pretty basic for life. Isn’t it?
What we’re looking at in the next few Sundays is what those takeaways look like in real time. In other words - as those who live in the victory and promises of Jesus - what can we learn from God’s people back then about what it means to stay obediently living by faith in God today.
Let’s jump into the text. Joshua 22 - verses 1 to 9 give us Joshua’s Warning.
Verse 1: At that time Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded you. You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, 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. Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and to cling to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.
Now to the 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 brothers in the land west of the Jordan. And when Joshua sent them away to their homes and blessed them, he said to them, “Go back to your tents with much wealth and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, and iron, and with much clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.”
So the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home, parting from the people of Israel at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, their own land of which they had possessed themselves by command of the Lord through Moses.
Looking at the map. Before God’s people entered the Promised Land - what was west of the Jordan River - Israel had already taken out the kingdoms of Sihon and Og and the Midianites on the east side of the Jordan River.
While the people of Israel were camped on the east side of the river waiting for God to take them into the Promised Land - the tribes of Reuben and Gad saw that the land on the east side of the river was good for grazing livestock and they had a pretty comfortable lifestyle going for them there - so they came to Moses and asked if they could stay on the east side of the river.
Moses - without consulting God - strikes this deal with the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and later the half tribe of Manasseh. Half because 1/2 the tribe stays on the east side of the river and the other 1/2 settles... west of the river. Moses strikes this deal with the tribes: Fight with us now - while we conquer the Promised Land - and after we’re victorious then you can come back and live on the east side of the river. (Numbers 32)
So Gods’ people went out and conquered the Promised Land in two separate campaigns. First there was the southern campaign which was in the… south. Then there was the northern campaign which was in the… north. And the warriors of these 2½ tribes fought alongside their brothers - faithfully - with great bravery - dedication - commitment - sacrifice. They 100% plus fulfilled their part of the deal.
So in Joshua 22 “at that time” - according to Moses’ instructions - these warriors are commended by Joshua for a job well done. They’re cut lose to return to their families and lands east of the Jordan.
We need to be careful. What Joshua tells them is not just about going back to tents and land and possessions.
Do your remember when Lot and Abraham ran into a conflict over where to graze their flocks? We looked at this back in Genesis. Abraham told Lot, “You choose whatever land you want. Whatever is left over is where I’ll take my flocks and graze them.”
Lot looks at the Jordan River valley with all its water and prime grazing land and Lot says, “I’ll take that.” It’s like winning the lottery (pun intended). Abraham gets the leftovers.
Lot’s choice is based on selfish - not Godly - but self-focused motivation. Which we know ultimately doesn’t work out so well for Lot. Right?
The same choice here. Same motivation. Self not God. Same consequences in the balance.
God includes Reuben, Gad, and 1/2 Manasseh in the same thing He promises the other 9½ tribes - the whole Promised Land is theirs. But Reuben, Gad, and 1/2 Manasseh choose what is less than God’s choice for them. Why? East side of the river looks like the better part of the deal for us.
In verse 4 Joshua says that God has given “rest” to your brothers. This is the sixth time the word “rest” is used in Joshua. Each time it refers to the tribes on the west of the Jordan - not the east. That’s huge.
The war was over. Gods’ promised victory is won. But we know more battles will be fought. “Rest” isn’t just about the ending of hostilities.
Rest - in a deeper - more lasting - at the core of who we are - spiritual sense - rest comes when - despite our circumstances - when we learn to choose to trust in God - to leave our lives in His hands. Rest like that only comes from God.
The land - the wilderness to the east - is your possession - a concession to the choice you made. Moses - not God - gave it to you. An allowance that God permitted. But it really wasn’t the best that God had for you.
On the west side of the river God gave them houses and cities - meaning stability. Instead you possess tents. Tents have no foundation. They’re transitory - restless. What life is like when we’re trusting ourselves and not God.
There’s a huge warning in that.
There are two significant events in the Old Testament that get referred to over and over and over and over again. The first is the deliverance from Egypt and the passing through the Red Sea. When God’s people ceased being slaves and became a nation. The second significant event is the crossing of the Jordan. When God’s people ceased being wanderers and became possessors of God’s promises.
Crossing through the Jordan - for God’s people - signifies that whatever was east of the Jordan has been left behind - slavery in Egypt - the wilderness wandering and the sin that led to it. What’s on the west side of the Jordan is what it means to dwell with God - to experience God’s salvation - forgiveness - healing - His presence in a new land and a new life.
The eastern 2½ tribes had experienced that. They’d crossed the Jordan with their brothers. They’d been circumcised - consecrated to God. They’d seen God’s provision first hand. Experienced His presence. Watched Him bring victory. All of what we saw in the video. But now they’ve chosen to separate themselves - to move back closer to the issues and influence of godless peoples and what lay in the east.
Which is a danger for us. We can experience God’s victory. We can see God do amazing things in our lives. We can know His presence with us. We desire the blessings west of the Jordan but we struggle to cross the river. We struggle to let go of what we know. Where we’ve been. Where we’re comfortable. We can choose to turn back from totally trusting God.
Joshua’s dismissal includes this sobering thought: There is no rest east of the river - only tents.
In verse 5 Joshua warns them: “Be very careful…” “Be very careful to observe the commands and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and to cling to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
“Be careful” is the Hebrew word “shamar.” Meaning “keep your guard up.” There is real and present danger here. Take intentional steps to keep focused on God - to stay 100% committed to God. Or, you’re going to be in serious serious trouble.
Same commandment Jesus highlighted when He was asked which commandment was the greatest. Which applies to us today. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37).
Keep your guard up. Obey God. Cling to God. Serve God with all that you are.
Verse 10 brings us to The Altar.
Verse 10: And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size. And the people of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel.” And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.
Someplace west of the Jordan River the 2½ tribes decide to build an altar. “Imposing size” means it was big enough to be seen on both sides of the river. Meaning if it was built somewhere along the squiggly orange line they could still see it east of the river.
Shiloh - verse 12 - by the time the land had been divided among the tribes - Shiloh had become the religious and political center of the nation. Shiloh was where the Tent of Meeting was. The ark of the covenant was there. Shiloh is the place where God’s people went to worship God.
If a group of Creeksiders decided to put up a building across Bear Creek as a place to worship God - with comfy green teal colored chairs - a killer sound system - better AC - the whole works - that would raise some questions. Yes?
Point being - where they’d built this huge altar was on the west side of the river but it wasn’t at Shiloh and the nation is up in arms about it.
Which brings us to verse 13 and The Concern. Why is building an altar a reason to go to war and people to get dead?
Verse 13: Then the people of Israel sent to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and 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. And they came to the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them...
To their credit - rather than charging down the hill and wiping out everyone - in response to this altar being built a delegation is sent down from Shiloh: Phinehas - son of the priest Eleazar - and representatives of the other 9½ tribes - and everyone else who wanted to come along.
Verse 16: “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord? Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the Lord, that you too must turn away this day from following the Lord? And if you too rebel against the Lord today then tomorrow He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel.
The sin at Peor goes back to when Israel got into fornication with the women of Moab - participating in their fertility rites and sexual immorality - they began making sacrifices to the Moabite gods - specifically the Baal of Peor. God sent a plague that wiped out about 24,000 Israelites. (Numbers 25:1-9)
The deeper issues of that sin was something that the people of Joshua’s day were still struggling with.
Verse 19: But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the Lord or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God. Did not Achan the 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.’”
There’s a real spiritual concern here. “What is this altar business? Have Reuben, Gad, and 1/2 Manasseh gone off the deep end spiritually - like some did at Peor or like Achan did? If they have we need to deal with this quickly and effectively otherwise - verse 18 - the whole nation is in trouble.”
People say, “What I do in private is my own thing.” But it isn’t. Sin is never solo. Our personal sin always effects other people. The degree of our own individual commitment - or lack of commitment - to Christ and His Church has an effect on all of us - on our family.
Porn is an example of lust and mental fornication - sin. Aside from how porn messes us up mentally and emotionally and spiritually and how porn effects how we deal with our relationships with other people and God - all those “actors” are part of a multi-billion dollar international industry that abducts and enslaves small children and women and men - that traffics and abuses and destroys and discards them. Cliquing on porn just contributes to that whether you pay for it or not.
Peor’s sin was public and Achan’s sin was private - all that got thousands dead. Sin is never solo.
This altar is a serious concern for the nation and for the tribes east of the Jordan River.
An accusation is made - verse 16. You’ve acted unfaithfully towards God. You’ve turned away from God - deliberately rebelled against Him.
Notice also - the accusations come with an offer - verse 19. “If you’re struggling spiritually - because of what it’s like east of the Jordan - we can make space for you on the western side of the river. Join us. Come back.”
If the delegation doesn’t come back to Shiloh with a sufficient answer there’s a nation ready to go to war to deal decisively with the sin. But with all that, the nation is concerned about their brother’s spiritual condition.
The purpose of the delegation is to express concern and to ask questions and to make an offer of doing whatever it takes to help.
It is way too easy for us to make war - when we think other people have gone over the cliff spiritually or otherwise - way too easy to point out - to gossip - to criticize - to point fingers - instead of expressing concern or asking questions or offering to help.
Sin is never solo. Healing doesn’t happen in isolation. We need each other if we’re to be God’s people.
Verse 20 brings us to The Answer.
Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the Lord, do not spare us today for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the Lord Himself take vengeance.
Verse 24: No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, [You all on the east side of the river] ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord.
Verse 24: The reason they built the altar was out of… fear. “We took this great step of faith and consecration and dedication to the One Mighty God and out of great fear for the spiritual welfare of children.”
God put this boundary - the Jordan River - between you all and us. We’re concerned about what your children may tell out children and that future generations of west siders that may cause the spiritual death of future east siders.
Sounds great. But let’s think...
Verse 26: “Therefore - because of our great concern for the spiritual welfare of our children - and because you and God might mess all that up - Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in His presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”’ And we thought, ‘If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, “Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.”’ Far 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, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle!”
God uses Jeremiah to warn His people: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Sin is deceptive. While all this sounds good - the concern for their children - all the words about how great God is - at the core is the selfish motive of wanting the familiar grazing land of Gilead - the choice to stay on the eastern side of the river where its comfortable.
No matter how we may try to justify our actions - even dressing them up in spiritual platitudes - choices about giving and serving - what we choose to expose ourselves to and participate in - the attitudes we harbor in our hearts - the thoughts we entertain - no matter how private - no matter how we choose to justify all that - we need to be reminded that sin is deceptive. And without God in control of our hearts we’re easily deceived.
The whole nation of Israel is ready to go to war over this. It’s that serious a spiritual danger.
Verse 30 is The Epilogue.
Verse 30: When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes. And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the Lord. Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the Lord.”
Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the chiefs, returned from the people of Reuben and the people of Gad in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the people of Israel, and brought back word to them. 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.”
Apparently testimonial monuments are okay. Alternate altars are not. The answer given was enough to satisfy the delegation that heads home.
The sad reality is that they were right. Generations were at stake. Manasseh was divided. There was ongoing fear and division and the seeds of coming spiritual disaster. The 2½ tribes were the first to slide into apostasy and rebellion against God. They were the first to get hauled off by Israel’s enemies. Their choice to stay east of the river was the beginning of all that. What might have been avoided if the delegation hadn’t settled for the face value easy answer. We’ll never know.
Processing all that…
(Cartoon) “Good Grief! One hundred and eighty four to nothing. I don’t understand it… How can we lose when we’re so sincere?!”
Sincerity is no substitute for faith.
A few years back I was having some issues with our computer. I was at the point of trying the ultimate fix which involves the use of a hammer. Ever been there?
At the time I had bought an external hard drive and copied everything from the computer’s hard drive on to this external hard drive - documents - the program files - the Windows operating system - everything. My theory - which at the time seemed so amazingly brilliant that I even impressed myself - my theory was that if the hard drive on the computer ever crashed then all I had to do was transfer everything from the external hard drive back onto the computer’s hard drive and away I would go as if nothing had gone wrong. Which of course didn’t work.
It doesn’t take Bill Gates to understand that one computer with two conflicting operating systems is in serious trouble.
When we try to live in the promises and blessings of God - with one foot planted on the west bank of the Jordan - and yet we’re trying to keep our other foot planted on the east bank of the Jordan - hanging on to our version of following God - it doesn’t matter how sincere we may be - doing all kinds of things for God - building altars - whatever - sincerity is no substitute for faith.
No matter what we may convince ourselves we may be doing for God if we haven’t crossed the river - listened to Joshua’s warning to keep our guard up - obeying and clinging and serving God with all that we are - we’re in serious, serious trouble. And potentially so are those around us.
Two takeaway questions:
First - a question: What keeps you on the east side of the river? What keeps you looking backwards to where you’ve been - hanging on to what’s keeping you from God’s best for you? Is it really worth hanging on to?
Second: What keeps you from crossing? The best way to cross the river is to… cross the river. That just comes down to a basic choice to cross. Given all that God’s offers you just do it. Choose to cross.
God is always worthy of our trust. Trust self and get creamed. Trust God and get victory.
1. Joshua video: https://thebibleproject.com/
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.