Summary: Sometimes we can make rash judgements that cause conflict among God’s people. How to reconcile such conflicts
Some years ago we as a family had a very enjoyable holiday in the Lake District in England and while we were there we visited a number of the beautiful little villages and towns around that area as well as one or two of the local forests. We didn’t however engage in any serious hill-walking, something for which the Lake District is well-known attracting several thousand ramblers and hill-walkers each year. Although we didn’t get to see it I am told that there is a hill in the lake district called Rash Judgement Point and that it was given that name by William Wordsworth. The story goes that while he and his sister were standing at the top of this hill one day during the harvest season looking down on the lake below, they saw a man in a boat fishing. Angered by this, because the community needed every able-bodied man to be involved in gathering in the harvest, Wordsworth decided to go down the hill and challenge the fisherman for indulging in a leisure activity when he should have been busy at work for the good of the local community. Having called the man to the shore, Wordsworth noticed as he got out of the boat that he was old and bent over. Several fish lay in the boat. The man explained that having worked for years gathering in the crops from the fields he was now unable to do so because of his age and the pains that he suffered. Instead, in order to contribute to the life of the community at harvest time, he got up well before dawn and spent all day fishing the lake for fish to add to the communities resources. Wordsworth had passed judgement upon a man’s actions without first giving the man an opportunity to explain his actions. Having listened to the man’s explanation he felt so convicted about the hasty judgement he had made that he named the hill from which he had first seen the man fishing, Rash Judgement point.
This evening as part of our study in Joshua 22 we are going to see that a section of God’s people jumped to the wrong conclusion about some of their brethren when they misinterpreted their actions and attributed to them motives that were in fact far from what their brethren intended. Such a misunderstanding, such rash judgement had the potential to bring the two parties into conflict and to destroy the unity of the people of God. However as we shall see that potential danger was averted.
Misunderstandings, jumping to the wrong conclusions, attributing sinful and evil motives to someone in relation to something they have done, all of these are, sadly, quite common occurrences in Churches today and have the potential to create division and disunity among the people of God.
As we come to the 22nd chapter of Joshua we enter the final section of the book. The land is now under the control of God’s people. The tribes have each received their allotted portion of land and now they must begin, in the settled environment of Canaan, to live as the people of God in subservience to God and in obedience to his Law. 9 ½ tribes will live on the Eastern side of the Jordan in the land of Canaan itself, while the other two and a half tribes, those of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh would live on the Eastern side of the Jordan which had been given to them as their inheritance. Now that the land was under Israelite control, it was time for the 2 ½ tribes to return home and the narrative of ch22 is very much centred around the events that occurred as these 2 ½ tribes go back to their own land.
And so thinking about these 2 ½ Tribes I want you to notice with me first of all this evening
1) The Commendation These Tribes Received:
Before returning to their own inheritance on the west side of the Jordan river, Joshua summons the men from the tribes of Reuben Gad and Manasseh and commends them for the way in which they had given themselves to the work of the Lord in helping their brethren take possession of the land of Canaan. “you have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. For a long time now, to this very day, you have not deserted your brothers but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you…”
Note those words – the mission the Lord your God gave you.
God had set a specific task before these men. He had called them to undertake a work for him. That task was to go and help their brethren to overthrow the inhabitants of Canaan and gain control of the land that He had promised to give to them. They, the 2 ½ tribes had already secured their own inheritance, but there was still work for them to be done. We see them being called to this work in Numbers 32/20ff where having made request to settle on the West side of the Jordan, Moses, God’s spokesman answers them by saying “If you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle, and if all of you will go armed over the Jordan before the Lord until he has driven his enemies out before him, then, when the land is subdued before the Lord you may return and be free from your obligation to the Lord and to Israel. And this land (that is the land on the west side) shall be your possession before the Lord. But if you fail to do this ( that is if you fail to go over and fight with and for your brothers, if you fail to undertake this work to which god is now calling you) you will be sinning against the Lord…” And when Joshua took over the reigns of leadership after Moses’ death and was preparing to lead the people into Canaan he made a point of reminding the 2 ½ tribes of their responsibility before God in this matter – Josh 1/12ff “To the Reubenites, Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you … all your fighting men, fully armed, must cross over ahead of your brothers. You are to help your brothers until the Lord gives them rest…and until they too take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving them. After that you may go back and occupy your own land.” This was their God given task, the work to which God had called them. It was a difficult, demanding and dangerous task which, although they didn’t realise it at the time, would take some seven years to complete, and was thus a task that was going to demand perseverance and stickability on their part down through those years. A task too that involved a considerable amount of self-sacrifice for these men since they would have to leave their wives, children and wider family circle behind while they engaged in this work that God had called them to undertake. But despite the demands, despite the difficulties, despite the dangers, despite the self-sacrifice, they had given themselves to the work, and they had persevered in the work and they had seen the job through to its conclusion. There may have been times when they felt like packing their bags and going home. Times when they got homesick and wanted to go back to their families. Times, like for example when they suffered a defeat at Ai, when they became despondent, when as we saw in ch 7 their hearts melted with fear, and no doubt the temptation was strong to simply leave their brethren to fend for themselves; times when they might have thought to themselves, “We’re out of here.” But they didn’t. They put the welfare of their brethren and their concern for and commitment to the work of the Lord before personal comfort and personal interests. Joshua says “you have not deserted your brothers but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you.” They had complied with God’s call to service and now they were commended by God’s servant for the service they had rendered.