You ever been the victim of a rumor—a particularly juicy bit of gossip that gets passed around the office, your church, or within your extended family? Only trouble is, it’s not true. Undoubtedly it caused you a great deal of anguish, and probably someone else some embarrassment when the truth was discovered…that is, if the thing got resolved at all! One thing about rumors is that, too often, once the seeds have been scattered to the wind, they can’t be harnessed again.
Joshua 22 provides a graphic description of the potential for the devastation caused by a rumor. By this time in Israel’s history, enough of Canaan had been conquered that the services of the 2½ tribes—Reuben, Gad, half of the tribe of Manasseh—were no longer needed militarily. So, since they had already received their land allotment on the east side of the Jordan river, they were released to return to their families. On the way home, at the Jordan riverbank, they set up a huge altar that could easily be seen by anyone in the vicinity. Well, someone saw it, and word got back to the leaders of Israel.
“This means war!!”
All sorts of conclusions were drawn—none of them favorable to the 2½ offending tribes, either. Fact is, this was a crisis in the making. Civil war now looms on the horizon. So a delegation is sent ahead of the military forces to explain the charges against them. It’s quite a list (see 22:15-20), putting the 2½ tribes in the company of the likes of Achan and those guilty of “the iniquity of Peor.”
Then a strange thing happens—the truth comes out! The “altar” was never intended as a place of sacrifice, was not set up to displace the altar of the Lord, and had only a symbolic religious significance. Its function was to remind all of Israel—on both sides of the Jordan—that they were all brothers who served the same God, that they had “part” with one another (22:27-29). Fortunately for the 2½ tribes, the delegation accepted the explanation, civil war was averted, and the relationship was restored.
Lots of lessons here, but let’s consider but one. Should we not be careful about jumping to conclusions, especially where our Christian brethren are concerned? Before passing on a “violation,” we owe it to our brother in Christ to give him an opportunity to explain. Maybe things aren’t as they seem. Prudence compels us to avoid assumptions. Both sides in this near fiasco assumed too much. The 2½ tribes assumed the others would understand the altar’s significance. The others assumed that an altar erected by the Jordan was a sure sign of apostasy. Assumptions can destroy friendships, fracture families, split churches….
Let’s be careful.