Joshua 22:21-30 (NIV) 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 theLORD, 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 theLORD 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.
On verses 21-30: Here the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh explain to the other tribes of Israel the reason why they built this huge altar. It wasn’t because they were worshiping another god as the other tribes of Israel had feared. Much the opposite, it was to reaffirm their commitment to worshiping the same Lord as the rest of the Israelites, despite living on the other side of the Jordan River. Their hope was that the altar would serve as a sign to all the Israelites on both sides of the river (“as a witness between us and you and the generations that follow” (v27)) that they were all one nation worshiping the same God. The delegation representing the other Israelite tribes is pleased with this response (v30).
What can we learn from this? This huge altar was to serve as a sign that united tribes who were separated by a river. It reminds me of this truth: when we were separated from God not by a rushing river, but by an ocean called our sin, God erected a sign on our side of that ocean to unite us and Him. That sign is the cross where Jesus died.
Like an altar, the cross was where a lamb – Jesus Christ the lamb of God – was sacrificed to atone for our sin. Just as the altar by the Jordan River was a sign from those on the other side saying “we’re together in this”, so the cross is the sign God placed on this side of heaven to let us know that we are not alone, that God loves us and is with us.
Heavenly Father, thank You for erecting a sign on this side of heaven to unite us with You, that is the cross. Thank You for the cross, where all my sins were paid for, where forgiveness is made possible, and where sinners like us can be united with You. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!