Expository Sermon on Joshua 22
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 3/19/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch
To watch the worship service, click the link just below:
Please open your Bibles to Joshua chapter 22.
While you’re turning there, just a reminder that this is still another sermon in the series I’m preaching as we “read the Bible through in 2022.” I’ve called the series “Finding God’s Heart,” and pretty much every week that I preach, I’ll be basing the sermon somewhere in that week’s Bible reading range.
If you don’t yet have a copy of the reading plan, I know there are some out in the foyer, or you can find it on our church website. And each week in the bulletin on the announcement page we will list the following week’s readings.
I really encourage you to take part if you’re not already doing so. Some people like to read the exact reading range for each day, and others like to read several days’ passages at once when they have a little more time. That’s the way I do it. And there are so many great audio Bibles to listen to as well.
And it’s surprising what you come up with, if you just settle down and make a habit of reading the Bible. This week’s sermon chapter is an example of this. Joshua 22 is not one of those chapters you will ever see on a flannel board display down in the Beginners class. There are no giants, no miracles, no sheep, no shepherd.
But I think Joshua 22 is a breathtakingly important chapter to study for the tumultuous times we are living in. This morning’s Scripture reading was from Ephesians 4. In fact, before we get into Joshua 22, I’m going to read you the first three verses of Ephesians 4 again:
Ephesians 4:1-6 [NKJV]: [Paul says] I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
In other words, get along as much as possible. When misunderstandings come up, go carefully, be patient, and work toward reconciliation.
That’s a wonderful goal. Too often nowadays, people – even Christians — don’t strive for that. Instead, we dig our war-trenches, and duck down inside them, and take pot shots at our opponents for as long as we can.
But Joshua 22 is a triumphant example of how that Ephesians 4 goal actually worked out in practice. I think that the story in Joshua 22 will show us the “God-hearted” way to reconcile, if we go humbly and carefully.
Of course, people are people, and some of those people are just plain stubborn, so things don’t always work out perfectly. But Joshua 22 shows us the steps to take. If you’re going to be taking down sermon points this morning, get ready to copy five steps to this kind of reconciliation.
First let me set this up with a bit of background. Back in Joshua chapter 1, Joshua had told three of the Israelite tribes that they could claim land on the east side of the Jordan, but that first they had to join the rest of the tribes on the west side of Jordan and help them claim the land there. Then the three tribes could go back to their own land.
By the time Joshua 22 comes along, this task has been completed. The Adventist Bible commentary figures that this process took about six or seven years. And finally Joshua makes good on his promise to the three “helper tribes.” (Actually, there are two and a half tribes. The tribe of Manasseh had split in two, and half went west of the Jordan and half stayed east.)
Joshua 22:1 – 6: Then Joshua called the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, and said to them: “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you. You have not left your brethren these many days, up to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God. And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brethren, as He promised them; now therefore, return and go to your tents and to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan. But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.
Here comes what I would call Sermon Point One. I think this is a crucial first step in being able to thoughtfully resolve serious issues that come up, maybe in your church, maybe in your family, maybe even at work.
So here’s what I think is the first step toward “God-hearted” reconciliation:
Lay down a track record of faithful obedience.
In this case, Joshua is confidently able to assert that these three tribes have been faithful to the Lord. And later, this will give these tribes great credibility as they explained their side of a thorny issue that is come up.
And this is true of any area of disagreement, even if it’s not religious. If you are known as a thoughtful, careful, caring thinker, not prone to pontificating pompously on things you don’t know anything about, you’re in a better position to be listened to. People respect someone who seems to be steady and level-headed.
Recently someone at Kirkland Seventh-day Adventist School asked me if I would give a chapel talk to grades Kindergarten through 8th grade. The older kids came to the gym, and I gave the talk to them, and then the younger kids came a few minutes later, and I repeated the talk, scaling it down to their understanding.
Naturally, when I get these chapel-talk assignments, I approach them very carefully. I always want to make sure that what I say is not only spiritually useful, but interesting. I was tossing some ideas around in my mind, but hadn’t come up with anything, until this past Tuesday when I was at the church.
I noticed a large object just outside the north wing door, and went to see what it was. It turned out to be a child’s car seat. Evidently somebody no longer needed this item, and decided to donate it to the clothing bank in case a parent could find it useful.
As I carried it in, I thought, “Hey, maybe this is something I can take to the chapel talk and bring a spiritual concept out of it.” So I set it on a table and tried to figure out how it worked. And I was totally baffled. I have never been a parent (or grandparent), and have never had to operate one of these devices. There were buttons and knobs, but even after twisting and pushing them I was still confused.
So I bit the bullet and hunted up a couple of YouTubes on that particular brand of car seat, and everything became clear. I discovered something I hadn’t realized before — there are two parts to a car seat: the upper part which carries the baby, and the lower part which is the base that fastens to the seatbelts. The baby-carrier part clicks firmly into the base, and if everything is adjusted and leveled properly, the baby has an excellent chance of surviving each car ride.
I drew several lessons for the kids from the car seat, but the one I’d like to focus on right here is the connection between the upper part and the base. If Jesus is our Creator, and if He is driving the car, you and I need to allow Him to secure us firmly so that we can go where He is going. The way I put it to the kids was, “Jesus, I want to ride in Your car!”
And the way we do this is to stay close to Him, and follow Him, and obey what His commands are. That’s what those three faithful tribes did, and Joshua expressed his gratitude for that.
And this would be a happily-ever-after story, except for what happens next.
Verses 9 – 12: So the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, which they had obtained according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses. And when they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan—a great, impressive altar. Now the children of Israel heard someone say, “Behold, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar on the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan—on the children of Israel’s side.” And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered together at Shiloh to go to war against them.
So, why was this such a big deal? We’ll find out more in a minute, but the original altar – which this seems to have been a copy of – was located more toward the center of the promised land. And that was the only place where God wanted the people to offer sacrifices.
He didn’t want them offering sacrifices wherever they wanted to, because this would be an easy way for idolatry to slip in. If you brought your sacrifices to the real tabernacle, to within a few yards of the very presence of God over the ark of the covenant, that was worshiping on God’s terms rather than on your own terms.
But let’s lay down Sermon Point Two, and then we’ll watch the details unfold.
What is the second step toward “God-hearted” reconciliation?
First, I need to lay down a track record of faithful obedience. Second, I need to stay sensitive to God’s priorities.
As we’ll see in a minute, the rest of the tribes had good reason to be worried. They had learned through some very serious lessons to conscientiously follow what God said to do.
Last Saturday night Shelley and I popped into the Half-price Books store in Tukwila, just south of the Southcenter Mall. Once I got inside, I did what I always do – made a beeline for the religion section. There I saw a wonderful little King James Bible which had belonged to, and been loved by, some anonymous person. (The page with the person’s name had been carefully cut out of the Bible.)
But as I held the Bible in my left hand with the spine in my palm, it gently fell open. It had that beautiful bend in both the front and the back covers, which showed that this Bible was used to being held in the hand in an open position.
And as I paged through this Bible, I discovered that every two-page spread I turned to had a bit of a red underlining. Not everything was underlined, just specific verses, underlined in red ballpoint pen with a straight edge.
Then I turned to the back of the Bible, and every single blank page after the end of Revelation had been filled with carefully written notes – Bible verses, comments from Christian authors, and all sorts of encouraging material.
I was so entranced by this Bible that I almost bought it (HalfPrice was charging $5 for it). But finally I slipped it back into its slot on the shelf. I decided, This can never be my Bible. Sure, I could keep it as a memento of someone else’s spiritual journey, but I need to keep reaching for my own Bible and making it as real to me as that person did theirs.
Because whoever this Bible’s owner had been, there is a lot of evidence that this person was doing his or her best to stay sensitive to God’s priorities. This wasn’t just a “take-to-church” Bible, though I’m sure this person faithfully did this. This Bible seems to have been something like a sanctuary that they returned to many times for comfort and encouragement.
But now we need to return to Joshua 22, where a crisis is brewing. The west-of-the-Jordan tribes suspect that the east-of-the-Jordan tribes are stumbling into some dangerous apostasy. And they have a right to be concerned, because God Himself had always very hostile to the way pagan gods could damage the hearts of His children.
But watch what happens now, because I think this leads into a third important key to reconciliation.
Verses 13 – 14: Then the children of Israel sent Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest to the children of Reuben, to the children of Gad, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, and with him ten rulers, one ruler each from the chief house of every tribe of Israel; and each one was the head of the house of his father among the divisions of Israel.
Here comes Sermon Point Three. What is a third “God-hearted” key to reconciliation?
First, I need to lay down a track record of faithful obedience. Second, I need to stay sensitive to God’s priorities. Third, I need to involve mature, responsible people.
Of course, Jesus said, in Matthew 18, that we should go to an individual we have differences with first. But this Joshua 22 situation had already gone well beyond that point. This was three tribes – or literally two and a half tribes – who seemed to be to be tumbling down the slope toward idolatry.
To me, this part of the story is deeply interesting. Notice several things. First of all, Joshua doesn’t seem to be involved in this story. He is the nation’s leader. He is the one to whom God has occasionally spoken directly. He is leading with wisdom passed on to him by Moses, to whom God also spoke frequently. But even though this could be potentially a nation-destroying catastrophe, Joshua stays out of it. Who knows what he was doing behind the scenes, but his name does not show up.
And notice something else that’s really interesting. As the west-of-the-Jordan Israelites gather a little delegation of people to go visit the tribes on the east side of Jordan, notice who they don’t take. They don’t take the pundits. They don’t take opinionated people who have no other stake in the game besides talking loudly and emotionally about their opinions.
There were such people back then. Proverbs speaks often about “fools” who simply stir up trouble and are careless with the truth.
Several years ago a man I know got into the habit of forwarding on to me wild-eyed conspiracy theories. Someone would email an inflammatory but unproven story to him, and he would simply forward it on to me and a whole bunch of other people.
One time I emailed him back. I asked him, “Do you know whether this is true or not?” He said, “No, I’m just passing it along.” Which is like bringing additional gasoline-cans to an arsonist’s fire.
The people creating or spreading those crazy ideas were not mature, responsible people, and neither was this gentleman who simply spread those “forwards” to an even wider group.
I’ve been saying that Joshua 22 shows a “God-hearted” way of dealing with conflict. God seems to have followed this principle Himself. In the first couple of chapters of the book of Job, He calls a counsel of a group of beings called “the sons of God.” The Bible doesn’t say who these beings were, or why He had called them together, though this gathering seems to have been in heaven.
In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let Us make man in Our own image.” He doesn’t say, “Let Me make man in My own image.” We’re assuming that the “Us” refers to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, because both were definitely present at creation.
In other words, God Himself reaches out to involve mature, responsible beings to accomplish His purposes. And He urges human beings to be thoughtful and mature as well. He provides reasoning examples and instruction from books like Proverbs. Both the minor and the major prophets are reasonable writings. In Isaiah 1:18, He urges people to “Come now and reason together” with Him, about their sinfulness and how He can deal with it.
So God is a God of mature, responsible reasoning, and He wants us to be that way to, in every area of our life.
And there’s another step in the process of reconciliation. Watch this happen in the next few verses.
Verses 15 – 20: Then they came to the children of Reuben, to the children of Gad, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, to the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them, saying, “Thus says the whole congregation of the LORD: ‘What treachery is this that you have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the LORD, in that you have built for yourselves an altar, that you might rebel this day against the LORD? Is the iniquity of Peor not enough for us, from which we are not cleansed till this day, although there was a plague in the congregation of the LORD, but that you must turn away this day from following the LORD? And it shall be, if you rebel today against the LORD, that tomorrow He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. Nevertheless, if the land of your possession is unclean, then cross over to the land of the possession of the LORD, where the LORD’s tabernacle stands, and take possession among us; but do not rebel against the LORD, nor rebel against us, by building yourselves an altar besides the altar of the LORD our God. Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.’ ”
Now let’s lay down another superbly important key to the reconciliation process. What is the next key we have just seen modeled?
First, lay down a track record of faithful obedience. Second, stay sensitive to God’s priorities. Third, involve mature, responsible people. And fourth, seek the facts first-hand.
Notice very carefully what is happening here. If we’re supposed to seek the facts first-hand, how do we do this? I think the way a lot of people try to seek facts nowadays is to go to places and websites and podcasts where a whole lot of people think pretty much exactly the way they do, and they take refuge in that confirmatory echo-chamber.
That’s what these Israelite leaders could’ve done. They could’ve stayed home, and got together in large groups, and just chewed this matter over amongst themselves, and got more and more emotional about it, and then finally buckled on their swords and helmets and roared over the Jordan to begin their righteous butchery.
But no, these mature, responsible leaders sought the facts, the real facts, first-hand. And the way they did it was to go over and talk to the people who seemed to be causing the problem. They wanted to get the other side of the story. They did approach these people, as we just read, with some passionately-expressed concerns, but at least they came to talk about it.
Is seeking the facts first-hand really a “God-hearted” way of going about this? Of course it is. God did this all the time. Adam and Eve sinned in Eden, and God took the trouble to walk toward them in the garden and talk things over.
In Genesis 5:5 and 6, He carefully examines what’s happening to the pre-flood people. It says: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.”
In the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11, verse 5 says, “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.”
So God Himself has laid down a track record – of coming down when He needs to and getting his facts first-hand.
What’s so fascinating about the speech of the leaders of the west-of-the-Jordan tribes is that they not only get really earnest about the topic, but they even offer an alternative. In Joshua 22:19 they say (I’m paraphrasing), “Look, if this land is not good for you, come on over to our side of the Jordan and we’ll fit you in to our land. But don’t do this wickedness against God.”
Now let’s look at the final “God-hearted” key to reconciliation. It is a true joy to watch this happen. And it must’ve been pure joy for God to see how sensibly and thoughtfully and maturely this all turned out.
First I’m going to tell you what this final reconciliation-key is, and then we’ll watch it in action.
First, lay down a track record of faithful obedience. Second, stay sensitive to God’s priorities. Third, involve mature, responsible people. Fourth, seek the facts first-hand. And fifth, listen.
We’ll see that happen in a few seconds, but first I need to tell you a story of what happened to me. I was with someone who wanted me to watch one of those emotionally-heated political talk shows. I had never heard this particular show before, so I settled down to see what would happen.
The show’s host was interviewing a college professor or some other expert, and began asking him questions. And the interviewee listened to the question, and began to give a thoughtful response.
But two-thirds of the way through his answer, the host cut him off and began to badger him with another question about something else. The guest paused, rearranged his thoughts, and began to answer that question. But the host interrupted him again.
Suddenly I realized what was happening. The host was not interested in seeking facts first-hand. Instead, he was hoping to raise the emotional temperature of the conversation. Facts didn’t seem to mean as much as whipping up controversy. The host had already made up his own mind about the subject, and probably so had the TV viewers. This wasn’t so much a meeting of the minds as it was the Christians versus the Roman Colosseum lions.
Finally, I turned to the person I was watching this with and said, “I can’t watch any more of this. This is not a real discussion. He’s not letting the guest even answer the questions.”
But here in Joshua 22, even though the three eastern tribes’ explanation is long, the representatives of the western tribes listen carefully. Let’s watch what happens.
Verses 21 – 29: Then the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh answered and said to the heads of the divisions of Israel: “The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods, He knows, and let Israel itself know—if it is in rebellion, or if in treachery against the LORD, do not save us this day. If we have built ourselves an altar to turn from following the LORD, or if to offer on it burnt offerings or grain offerings, or if to offer peace offerings on it, let the LORD Himself require an account. But in fact we have done it for fear, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your descendants may speak to our descendants, saying, “What have you to do with the LORD God of Israel? For the LORD has made the Jordan a border between you and us, you children of Reuben and children of Gad. You have no part in the LORD.” So your descendants would make our descendants cease fearing the LORD.’ Therefore we said, ‘Let us now prepare to build ourselves an altar, not for burnt offering nor for sacrifice, but that it may be a witness between you and us and our generations after us, that we may perform the service of the LORD before Him with our burnt offerings, with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your descendants may not say to our descendants in time to come, “You have no part in the LORD.” ’ Therefore we said that it will be, when they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say, ‘Here is the replica of the altar of the LORD which our fathers made, though not for burnt offerings nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between you and us.’ Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn from following the LORD this day, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for grain offerings, or for sacrifices, besides the altar of the LORD our God which is before His tabernacle.”
And now, the west-of-the-Jordan representatives have a choice. They can simply dig in their heels, shake their heads stubbornly, and say “We don’t believe a word you’re saying, because we’ve already made up our minds. Get ready for war.”
But these are mature, responsible people, and they have been listening. They’ve been not only listening to words, but they have been watching body language, and sensing vocal cues. And they respond.
Verses 30 – 34: Now when Phinehas the priest and the rulers of the congregation, the heads of the divisions of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them. Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh, “This day we perceive that the LORD is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the LORD. Now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the LORD.” And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the rulers, returned from the children of Reuben and the children of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought back word to them. So the thing pleased the children of Israel, and the children of Israel blessed God; they spoke no more of going against them in battle, to destroy the land where the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt. The children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar, Witness, “For it is a witness between us that the LORD is God.”
Isn’t that a delightful story? Doesn’t that show just how important it is to follow these five steps toward reconciliation – to lay down your own personal track record of faithful obedience, to stay sensitive to God’s priorities, to gather together mature, responsible people if you need to, to seek the facts first-hand—and maybe most importantly, to listen?
How about it? Would you like to resolve to follow these steps through disagreements you might encounter in the days ahead? If you do that, I believe that you will be reflecting God’s own heart – mirroring the way He Himself works toward reconciliation?
Would you like to do that? Would you raise your hand if that’s your desire?