Sunday Sermons

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The Alternative



The Altar

Joshua 22



22:1-9  After the years of the conquest, Joshua summoned to Shiloh the military contingent from the two and a half Trans-Jordan tribes.  This group had crossed the Jordan some seven years earlier 40,000 strong and had served God faithfully.  They had indeed honored the word that they had given to Moses about fighting with their brethren.  They had obeyed every command that Joshua had issued during the conquest.  It was now time for these soldiers to return home.  Joshua did have a parting admonition for these men.  First, that they would continue to love God with all their heart, and such love would manifest itself in careful and dedicated obedience to His laws (22:5).  Secondly, that they would share the spoils of battle with their brethren who had been tending their livestock and protecting their families while they were gone (22:8).   “But why should those who had not endured any of the pain and peril of the conflict enjoy any of the spoils?  Possibly many of the men who remained behind would have preferred to go to war, but who then would have raised the crops and protected the women and children?  The principle was firmly established that honors and rewards do not only go to those who carry arms but also to those who stay home to perform the commonplace duties” (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 365).


22:9-11  The two and one half tribes decided to build an imposing altar by the Jordan River as they left for home.  The purpose for this altar was to be a witness to their right to the original altar at the tabernacle (22:23-27).  As they left Canaan these tribes were worried that the Israelites occupying the land of Canaan would forget about them and that they and their brethren would permanently drift apart.  Even though they were just across the Jordan, this river and the valley in which it lies is no ordinary geological feature.  “Mountains on each side rise to heights above 2,000 feet and the Jordan Valley nestled in between is in effect a great trench 5 to 13 miles wide.  During a part of the year the intense heat greatly discourages travelers” (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 365).


22:12  The tribes in Canaan immediately considered this altar an act of apostasy, for such a second altar for sacrifice was a violation of the Law (Leviticus 17:8-9).   Carefully note the wonderful attitudes that are present.  First, “They thought the holiness of God was being threatened.  So these men, who were sick of war said, ‘The holiness of God demands no compromise.’  I would to God that the church of the twentieth century would learn this lesson.  The holiness of the God who exists demands that there be no compromise in the area of truth” [1].  Secondly, zeal is tempered with knowledge.  A delegation, headed by Phinehas (who was noted for his righteous zeal for the Lord (Numbers 25:6-18) is sent to investigate this matter.  Before war, they will appeal to their brethren.  “The zeal of the Israelites for the honor of God and the purity of His worship might have ended in terrible disaster had they not obeyed God’s command to always investigate carefully before taking action (Deuteronomy 13:14)” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume III, Editor Frank E. Gaebelein p. 356).


·        Even though this generation had spent the last five years in constant warfare they were still willing to fight when truth was on the line.

·        They understood that God is no respecter of persons and that sin among God’s people is not to be tolerated.

·        They love God more than their own brethren who had fought side by side with them.

·        They were willing to go to war over one doctrinal deviation concerning an item of worship.

·        Many today would say that such an altar is no big deal and even it if were used for sacrifice it would be a good thing, that is, a closer place to worship.

·        Many feel that the more “choices” there are in religion the more spiritual the religion, but this text says the opposite.


22:15-20  The delegation rebukes these tribes, reminds them of a past apostasy, and points out that rebellion contaminates the entire nation (22:18).  Consider the wonderful attitude in verse 19.  These tribes were willing to share their land in Canaan with the two and one half tribes.  If the land east of the Jordan was not hallowed by God’s presence, the Western tribes would make room for them.  This was a generous and loving offer.  I am impressed that we have people who are zealous for the truth, and yet very loving at the same time.  “It is rather a sign of health that Israel is so stirred by even the appearance of unfaithfulness” (Dale Ralph Davis p. 171).


22:17  “We have not cleansed ourselves to this day”:  This statement reveals that the consequences of the sin committed in Numbers 25 continued to haunt Israel.  The nation had to struggle continually against idolatry among her own people (Joshua 24:23).  These men certainly did not downplay sin or its consequences.  This generation, who had seen their parent’s constant rebellion and the immorality among the Canaanites probably understood the insidious nature of evil, and how it can affect anyone, even “good people”.  


·        Notice the value of immediate communication.  Tragedy was averted because both sides were willing to talk.

·        Repentance and reconciliation was offered before war.

·        Even sacrifices “in the name of the Lord” and to the Lord on an unauthorized altar would have been sinful.  Thus, is it naïve to believe that all worship offered to God, even offered when in the right spirit, is acceptable?  Worship first must be within the bounds of what has been commanded or authorized.


22:20   The unfaithfulness of these tribes would affect the entire nation.  How often do we view our own sins in a similar light?   Do we seriously believe that our sins or lack of faithfulness will hinder God’s work or the effectiveness of the local congregation? 


·        These men understood that sin affects the entire community.

·        The account of Achan in chapter seven is emphasized.  Achan sinned and yet his entire family perished with him. (22:20).

·        The “sin of Peor” had initially resulted in the death of 24,000 Israelites.

·        Often we hear individuals today argue, “How does my lifestyle threaten you?”  The answer is, “It threatens me, my family and all my descendants in many ways”. 


1.     My family and friends will be financially impacted as we are forced to pick up part of the tab for covering the physical, emotional, and psychological affects of your choices in yourself, others and society.

2.     One’s immoral lifestyle will be a temptation to others.

3.     One’s immoral lifestyle undermines morality in the nation.

4.     One’s immoral choices bring the nation I love closer to God’s judgment (Jeremiah 18:1ff).


“How the church needs to recover such a passionate piety, such an infatuation for the true worship of God, such an anxiety when covenant people appear to wander from the path.  The church then should hold members under vigilant…discipline.  But of the problem in our day is that many erroneously assume that the church is a democracy; that, therefore, pluralism (even in essential doctrines) is to be expected, allowed, and welcomed, for, after all, who are we to judge others or bring them under discipline?” (Dale Ralph Davis p. 171).  In like manner, Christians need to be just as vigilant concerning sin in the local church (Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1ff; Titus 1:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).


22:21-29  Here is the explanation given by the two and one half tribes.   First, they know that such an altar for sacrifice would be a sin (22:21-23).  Secondly, the purpose of the altar was not for sacrifice, but for a witness (22:24-29), as a reminder to the future generations on the west side of the Jordan that their descendants had a right to worship God at His altar in Canaan.   Let us be impressed with what concerned these Israelites.   What they really wanted to pass on to their children was the right to worship the one true God!  Is that our main concern as parents?   “Yet, alas!  How much more anxious are thousands to entail upon their descendants ample worldly possessions, even at the hazard of all their better interests, than to perpetuate among them those invaluable means of grace which take hold on eternal life!”(Dale Ralph Davis p. 173).


·        Joshua had been afraid that the barrier created by the Jordan River might lead the Tribes on the Eastern side into apostasy (22:5).  And the tribes themselves were afraid that such a barrier might exclude their descendants from being viewed as the people of God in the future.  Neither fear was unfounded.

·        It is quite possible that in the future the tribes west of the Jordan would conclude that the true people of God are only those who reside in Canaan proper.

·        I am impressed that such men were very concerned about the spiritual future of their children and grandchildren.


22:31-34  The Israelites were pleased when they realized that war would not be necessary.  This demonstrates that they were not motivated by a vengeful spirit but rather were motivated by a desire for truth.  In conclusion notice the ingredients of unity.  1.  A desire to be faithful to the same standard of truth.  2.  A desire to be part of God’s people.  3. Open conversation.  4.  Zeal for God’s honor.  5.  Unity is only possible when both sides will not compromise God’s standards. 


Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017


[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History, p. 175.