Today’s reading: Joshua 22-24.
Christian church life should be, and often is, overflowing with the tender care of one person for another. Unfortunately, conflict sometimes ruins the harmony. Disagreements and misunderstandings are bound to happen, but they don’t have to end in warfare. As the Israelites go their separate ways after settling all the land, a major dispute threatens to lead to infighting among the tribes. However, wisdom prevails and the conflict is avoided.
The warriors from the tribes that live east of the Jordan head home after helping their brothers defeat their enemies. After they cross the river into their homeland, they build an altar to God on their side of the river. The other tribes hear about it and soon the rumors are flying.
And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them. So the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead–to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. With him they sent ten of the chief men, one for each of the tribes of Israel, each the head of a family division among the Israelite clans. Joshua 22:11-14
Did you catch the transition in the action of the angry tribes? They were planning to go to war, but instead they sent a delegation of leading men to go talk to their brothers across the Jordan. Look at their next steps to see a way to defuse church conflict before it explodes:
- They didn’t rely on second hand information and rumors, but went to the source to hear for themselves.
- They chose a group of trusted leaders to investigate the situation.
- They stated their concerns, but then let their brothers explain their point of view.
- There was mutual respect.
In short, they curtailed gossiping, put wise leadership in charge rather than hotheads, made sure dialogue occurred, and sought unity. Not every situation will end so well. Sometimes there are real problems rather than rumored problems, but many times the rumors are the real source of conflict. In this case the eastern tribes were rumored to be starting their own religion and abandoning the tabernacle with its offerings. After dialogue the leaders learned that they were mistaken. The altar across the river was only a memorial to remind future generations of Israelites that they all served the same LORD. It was a witness to all that the eastern tribes should not be cut off from the sanctuary. When the leaders heard and understood what the eastern tribes intended, they were satisfied and the conflict ended.
Joshua’s life also ended about 30 years after the Israelites entered the Promised Land. The Bible comments in telling fashion, “Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel.” Joshua’s generation remained faithful to the LORD but the coming generations would not. Why do you think it is so hard for the grandchildren of strong believers to share their forefathers’ faith? (Hint: listen to Bruce Wilkinson’s story about the three chairs)
Image by ILRI on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0