9 So the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land, which they had acquired in accordance with the command of the LORD through Moses.
10 When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan. 11 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, 12 the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.
13 So the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 14 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.
15 When they went to Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh—they said to them: 16 “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? 17 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! 18 And are you now turning away from the LORD ? ‘If you rebel against the LORD today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel. 19 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. 20 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.’ “
21 Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: 22 “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. 23 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.
24 “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? 25 The LORD has 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.
26 “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ 27 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.’
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 as a witness between us and you.’
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.”
30 When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community—the heads of the clans of the Israelites—heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased. 31 And Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, said to Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, “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.”
32 Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the leaders returned to Canaan from their meeting with the Reubenites and Gadites in Gilead and reported to the Israelites. 33 They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived.
34 And the Reubenites and the Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us that the LORD is God.
A Witness Between Us
This is a long passage, but one worth delving into. When first entering the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad wanted to be given territory outside of that area. They were allowed to do this, as long as they entered the Promised Land first as a kind of advance military force. They did so, and were given their inheritance outside of Canaan, an area called Gilead.
In this account, we find the Reubenites and Gadites returning to their promised territory outside of Canaan, and on the way, they build an altar in-between themselves and the rest of Israel. Now the Israelites view the altar as a kind of WALL between them, as if they are breaking themselves off from the rest of the people and from God. But the heads of Reuben and Gad clarify what they have done, and why. They build the altar not as a replacement for the tabernacle, but as a reminder to Israel and Reuben and Gad that even though they are separated in many ways, culturally and geographically, they are always one people for all generations. It is a monument to their unity with Israel. The rest of Israel understands, and is very pleased with this action.
How does this apply to us? As Christians, we take offense very easily. Maybe we’ve been hurt or betrayed in some way, or we had a disagreement with a person or a group on a fundamental issue, or just some unspoken and largely imperceptible kind of falling out. And when this happens, we are so ready to draw lines between ourselves and others, so ready to break off all relationship, so ready to judge a person’s total character and motivations…
But we need more witnesses between us, reminders of the things that unify us as Christians to serve as the concrete and mortar of our relationships – that we are all fallen, and that we all make mistakes. That it is Jesus Christ that is the Lord of all of us, and that we have the same Heavenly Father and the same wonderful Holy Spirit. Of past friendship and relationship you had with someone. Of a kindness you once received from someone whom you now don’t get along with. If we keep these reminders between us, when there are differences of opinion and confusion as to motivation, we can always look at these reminders and remember that the things which unify us are far stronger than those which divide. And hopefully, like Israel and Reuben, this will bring us back from the brink of division.
1. What are the main causes of the rifts between you and others?
2.Is there someone with whom you have a rift right now in your life?
3. In terms of this person, what similarities do you share with this person? What positive traits do they possess? Have you ever been blessed by anything they have done previously?
4. Take some time to pray about it – do you feel that God is calling you to remember and restore a relationship with another Believer in your life? What do you think is the first step for you?