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FAITHFULNESS OF GOD’S PEOPLE

Joshua 22:1-22:34
Key Verse: 22:29

Joshua chapters 22-24 are Joshua’s farewell to the Eastern tribes (22) and his farewell to all Israel (23-24). In chapter 22, after Joshua’s farewell, the faithfulness of the Eastern tribes was misapprehended and then proved true. Faithfulness or loyalty is the most important character to the people of God. The dividing of the land among the twelve tribes of Israel ended with the words in 21:45, “Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; everyone was fulfilled.” The LORD God is faithful and keeps his promises. God’s people are to be faithful. In this study we can think about what it means to be faithful to God.

First, Joshua’s farewell to eastern tribes (1-8). Look at verses 1-3. “Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh and said to them, ‘You have done all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded, 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.” What a commendation! They have done all the work from Moses, obeyed everything from Joshua, not deserted their brothers and carried out God’s given mission. They were truly great. Then Joshua said, “Now that the LORD your God has given your brothers rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan.” Undoubtedly they longed for this direction, “return to your homes…” Joshua also must have been happy and more than willing to send them home. As what they did was great, Joshua wanted to send them in the best way. What did he say as his farewell to them? Look at verse 5. “But be careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.” He could have said many other things, but he said these.

First of all comes “love the LORD your God.” Human beings are made to love someone or something. It is good that human beings can love each other. However, we wander and are misled, dissatisfied and enslaved until we love God, the right object of love. Right before entering the promised land, Moses said to the Israelites, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God…” (Dt 6:4,5) Loving God is a core of the Bible teaching. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God…This is the first and greatest commandment” (Mt 22:37). Joshua wanted the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh to be truly happy and live a blessed life by loving the LORD their God. Loving God is not a monthly or yearly event, but daily practice. It is like waling. It is to walk in all his ways, declining our ways or the ways of the world time and again. Those who love God obey his commands. To love God we need to hold fast to him. As for sinful human beings, loving God is not natural. Our hearts are easily distracted or loosened. We should hold fast to him as we put a belt around our waist and tighten it to wear clothes. Loving God definitely also consists ofserving him. Luke 1:74,75 says, “to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” Serving God is the purpose of our life and the privilege of God’s people. Joshua wanted them to love the LORD God and serve him with all their hearts and all their souls in the promised land.

Then all the material blessings will come. Look at verses 7 and 8. “When Joshua sent them home, he blessed them, saying, ‘Return to your homes with your great wealth—with large herds of livestock, with silver, gold, bronze and iron, and a great quantity of clothing—and divide with your brothers the plunder from your enemies.” We are reminded of Jesus’ words of promise, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33).

In this part we see the life of faithful people of God. It is to love God and serve him and God provides all the necessary things for them.

Second, faithfulness of western tribes (9-20). With Joshua’s farewell instructions and blessing, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land. When they came to Gelioth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, they built an imposing altar there by the Jordan. And when the Israelites heard this, they were shocked and the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh. This gathering of the assembly was not for human battle but for God’s honour. They were ready to fight for any battle, even with their brothers who they thought were deserting the LORD. They were not ambiguous about on which side they had to stand. To them their brotherhood was important. But if their brotherhood was excluding God and against him, the brotherhood meant nothing to them. It was the expression of their faithfulness to God.

The western tribes sent their representatives, Phinehas and then of chief men to the eastern bribes. When the delegates came to Gilead, they said to them, “The whole assembly of the LORD says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the LORD and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the LORD! And are you turning away from the LORD?’” To the Israelites, breaking faith with the God of Israel was incomprehensible. Turning away from the LORD and building an altar in rebellion against him was inconceivable. They remembered their past sin of Peor, the sin of being seduced by Moabite women which were enough to them, and they were horrified at the possibility of committing such a sin again. They questioned repeatedly, “How could you turn away from the LORD?...Are you now turning away from the LORD?” To the faithful people of God, to break faith with the LORD and turn away from him is a most dreadful thing. They asked, “Are you turning away from the LORD?” in the hope that their brothers may turn back to the LORD.”

The Israelites continued to say, “If you rebel against the LORD today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel. If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the LORD’s land, where the LORD’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the LORD or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the LORD our God. When Achan son of Zerah acted unfaithfully regarding the devoted things, did not wrath come upon the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.’’ The Israelites had community spirit. They knew how God works. The LORD God is the God of each individual and also the God of the community of his people. They knew that God would be angry with the whole community when a part of the community rebels against him. And they were willing to share even their land as long as the eastern tribes would not rebel against the LORD. The altar of the LORD was sufficient to them. They remembered the sin of Achan who coveted the Babylonian leather jacket and hid it in the ground along with silver and gold and caused Israel to be defeated at the battle with Ai, where about thirty six Israelites were killed. The faithful people of God have a sense of community and a community spirit, which can prevent God’s fellow people from sinning and with which they can share the blessings of God together. The LORD God can punish a whole community or bless the whole community of God. In this individualistic society we need a community spirit, bearing the sins of others as if they are mine and praying for the whole community.

Third, faithfulness of eastern tribes (21-34). Then how did Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh reply to the heartfelt plea of the heads of the clans of Israel? Look at verses 22-24. “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows. And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the LORD, do not spare us this day. If we have built our own altar to turn away from the LORD and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the LORD himself call us to account.” Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh were appealing back for their innocence before God that their building the altar was not their rebellion or disobedience to the LORD, and they were not turning away from the LORD. They said, “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD!” Here there is a six-fold emphasis. And they said, “He knows! This is the most powerful and reliable appealing as the faithful people of God. This is the invincible fortress of defence. They could speak aloud and emphatically because they did it before God without any doubt and had this assurance, “He knows!” Now they wanted to let Israel know it.

Look at verse 24. “No! we did it for fear that someday your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the LOD, the God of Israel? The LORD made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the LORD.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the LORD.” The faithful people of God have a sense of history and think of their descendants and want to hand down their faith heritage to them. Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Israel worried most that their descendants would not fear the LORD affected by the incorrect teaching of God’s history. They wanted to do everything they could do to protect their descendants from the possible false history education. They eagerly wished that their descendants might also fear the LORD and share in the LORD as the community of the LORD.

They continued to speak in their defence. Look at verses 26-27. “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifice.’ On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the LORD at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the LORD.’” They really cared about their descendants and wanted to assure that their future generations would also share in the LORD, which is the best blessing.

Look at verse 28. “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the LORD’s altar, which our fathers built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but a witness between us and you.’” Their love for their descendants was true and long, and they were willing to labour out of love for them. They built the replica of the LORD’s altar as the visible evidence that there would be no dispute and refutation about their descendants belonging to the community of God’s people. They made all possible efforts so that their descendants would be secured as the people of God’s community. They wanted to make the best environment for their future generation to fear the LORD and share in the LORD their God and serve him.

Finally they said in verse 29. “Far be it from us to rebel against the LORD and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle.” As faithful people of God, to rebel against the LORD and turn away from him by building an altar for themselves would be the last thing they could do. In the speech of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh for their defence, they spoke the LORD more than 10 times: “The Mighty One, God, the LORD!” “The Mighty One, God, the LORD!” “in rebellion or disobedience to the LORD,” “turning away from the LORD,” “the LORD himself call us to account,” “no share in the LORD,” “stop fearing the LORD,” “we will worship the LORD at his sanctuary,” “no share in the LORD,” “Look at the replica of the LORD’s altar,” “other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle.” Their defence for their faith was full of the confession of faith in the LORD. Their faithfulness to the LORD was true. It was clear that they wanted to have the altar of the LORD only in their hearts and lives and in the lives of their descendants. The replica of the altar of the LROD was the visible expression of their faithfulness to the LORD, not rebelling against the LORD God and turning away from him, and it was their deep concern for their descendants.

The LORD our God is a faithful God. Nature testifies this. And the history of God testifies to the faithfulness of the LROD God. His faithfulness reaches to the skies (Ps 36:5). Hebrew 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever.” He who began a good work in each of us will carry it on to completion (Ph 1:6). How beautiful it is to remain faithful people, faithful to the LORD and faithful to one another. May we ask for this blessing!

When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community heard what Reuben, Gad and Menassheh had to say, they were pleased. And Phinehas said, “Today we know that the LORD is with us, because you have not acted unfaithfully toward the LORD in this matter. Now you have rescued the Israelites from the LORD’s hand.” Phinehas and the leaders of the community were so happy to see the faithfulness of the Transjordan tribes and confessed that this was the evidence of the LORD’s being with the whole community of Israel.

Those who were sent returned to Canaan and reported to the Israelites. The people were glad to hear the report and praised God with no more thought of going to war. And the Reubenites and Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between US that the LORD is God.

In this study we thought of Joshua’s farewell to the eastern tribes, and the faithfulness of the western tribes and the faithfulness of eastern tribes. To them the LORD is the most important. May we be his faithful people in this generation loving the LORD our God and holding fast him and having a sense of God’s community and being concerned about our descendants and our future generations.

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