Sunday, April 22, 2018 0 comments

Elisha predicts Ben-hadad’s death and Hazael’s kingship

7 And Elisha came to Damascus; and Ben-hadad the king of Syria was sick; and it was told him, saying, The man of God is come hither.
8 And the king said unto Hazael, Take a present in thine hand, and go, meet the man of God, and inquire of the Lord by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?
9 So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of every good thing of Damascus, forty camels’ burden, and came and stood before him, and said, Thy son Ben-hadad king of Syria hath sent me to thee, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?
10 And Elisha said unto him, Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath shewed me that he shall surely die.
11 And he settled his countenance steadfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept.
12 And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.
13 And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The Lord hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria.
14 So he departed from Elisha, and came to his master; who said to him, What said Elisha to thee? And he answered, He told me that thou shouldest surely recover.
15 And it came to pass on the morrow, that he took a thick cloth, and dipped it in water, and spread it on his face, so that he died: and Hazael reigned in his stead. (2 Kings 8:7-15)

This is a pretty shocking story. Anyone with any acquaintance with the story of MacBeth can recognize a certain core element here. Did Elisha incite Hazael to assassinate Beh-hadad by telling him he would be king?

If we compare this story with that of David, who was anointed at an early age, we see that, no. Also, merely saying the thing will be so does not say anything about the means by which the event will come about.

There is also something odd in verses 10-11 that requires some examination. Something is going on under the surface here.

10 And Elisha said unto him, Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath shewed me that he shall surely die.
11 And he settled his countenance steadfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept.

Why the double speak from Elisha? Why does Elisha say Hazael should say one thing—Thou mayest certainly recover”—when the truth is different? Also, why the difference in certainty levels in the statements—“thou mayest certainly recover” versus “he shall surely die?

Also, who’s got a settled countenance and who got ashamed? Was it all Elisha? Or was it Hazael?

I think it was Hazael, because the text says the man of God wept, which distinguishes his actions from the other’s. 

So why would Hazael be ashamed?

I think that Hazael came to Elisha on that mission having already determined to assassinate Ben-hadad and that Elisha’s words about what would happen revealed that Elisha knew from God what Hazael intended. So the answer was, yes Ben-hadad will recover, but he will surely die. Because Hazael was contemplating murder, Elisha’s knowledge made Hazael ashamed.

Further, Elisha tells Hazael that he knows Hazael will do much evil to Israel. (Clearly the Lord had showed Elisha what was coming and it was very painful for Elisha to know about it and know who was going to be responsible for it.) Perhaps Elisha hoped going to Damascus and telling Hazael about it would change things, but it seems to have not helped.

This story shows that God knows all that is in man’s heart and may reveal it to others to share, as a warning and to reveal His power. It also shows us some of the burden a prophet may carry of knowing ahead of time painful things that are going to occur. Elisha had to depend on the Lord for hope.

Friday, April 20, 2018 0 comments

The Samaritan’s First Aid

In the parable of the good Samaritan, I wondered about some of the things the Samaritan did for the wounded man.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:33-34)

Why put oil and wine in the wounds? Wine would have some alcohol in it, and so would be an antiseptic and disinfect it. The oil would keep the skin soft and prevent any forming scabs from cracking prematurely and reopening the wound. Antibiotic ointment today is made up of a petroleum jelly with antibiotics in it, and the jelly does about the same thing as the oil.

So, it seems the parable had some solid practices of wound treatment in it, and this makes me wonder if this represented the first aid knowledge of that time or if this shows Jesus knew something about wound care that others didn’t and put that in the parable too.

Others have observed how the parable could be read as an analogy for the way Christ saves us, so this makes me think about what spiritual care might be analogous to pouring oil and wine into wounds. Perhaps they correspond with the way Christ purifies us from our sins and begins the process of healing with the Spirit, helping us to keep a soft heart.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 0 comments

A prophecy in puzzling context

In 1 Nephi 22, Nephi describes different ways the righteous will be saved and the wicked destroyed in the last days. As part of the section, there is a series of verses I’ve wondered about each time I’ve read them:

19 For behold, the righteous shall not perish; for the time surely must come that all they who fight against Zion shall be cut off.
20 And the Lord will surely prepare a way for his people, unto the fulfilling of the words of Moses, which he spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that all those who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people.
21 And now I, Nephi, declare unto you, that this prophet of whom Moses spake was the Holy One of Israel; wherefore, he shall execute judgment in righteousness. (1 Nephi 22:19-21)

Nephi is quoting a prophecy Moses gave in Deuteronomy 18:15:
The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;
…which is re-iterated in Acts 3:22-23:

22 For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.
23 And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.

In those contexts of Moses and Peter, it makes sense that it would be talking about Christ raised up from among the people because Christ did grow up to maturity among the Israelite people. However, it is puzzling to see Nephi quote the scripture about a prophet raised up among the people, say it is the Holy One of Israel (Christ), and apply it to a context of the last days. because once Christ ascended, He can’t grow up among the people again.

The only way this scripture works is if we say it is about prophets raised up among the Latter-day Saints, prophets who speak the words of God according to the promise, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). Also, note that the prophet is raised up by the Lord, not by the will of man, which nicely describes the seniority system in the quorum of the twelve apostles.

The next question that comes up then is, “Why then did Nephi want to underline that the prophet was the Holy One of Israel?” I think there are several reasons. 1) There are people who would love to think that they are the prophet that would be raised up, so pointing to Christ immediately stops that self-aggrandizing impulse. 2) Nephi is speaking about future things that technically fall in the responsibility of the apostle John to write about, so he might worry he’s saying too much and might feel he has to conceal or veil some things. 3) Since Nephi was answering a question about literal-versus-figurative for his brothers, creating this paradox is a good way to show how it is literal about prophets, but figurative about it being the Holy One of Israel in the latter-day context (since Christ can’t be physically born and grow up again). We really are in the best position to understand his meaning because we see how a prophet is raised up among the apostles.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018 0 comments

Iniquity leads to danger

There are these verses as Mormon describes how Nephites lost some ground:

8 And now it came to pass that the armies of the Lamanites, on the west sea, south, while in the absence of Moroni on account of some intrigue amongst the Nephites, which caused dissensions amongst them, had gained some ground over the Nephites, yea, insomuch that they had obtained possession of a number of their cities in that part of the land.
9 And thus because of iniquity amongst themselves, yea, because of dissensions and intrigue among themselves they were placed in the most dangerous circumstances. (Alma 53:8-9)

Now, this may seem like the most obvious principle, but it is worth pointing out, just in case we need to be bonked on the head – sin puts people in danger.

We can see that because the Nephites allowed dissension instead of keeping unified, and because they engaged in intrigue and deception instead of plain-dealing, they allowed the Lamanites too close, and then Nephite lands got taken over.

Maybe they thought they could be secret buddies with the Lamanites and still retain independence, but that was obviously not so. You let the Lamanites close, and they take over. Or they threaten you next. And suddenly…you’re in danger.

Once again, iniquity puts you in perilous circumstances. It puts you in danger.

Monday, April 9, 2018 0 comments

She did steal away the hearts of many

  Here are Alma’s words to his son Corianton to rebuke him for immorality:

3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted. (Alma 39:3-4)

These are not pleasant verses to think about, but there is something important that I wanted to point out that I noticed recently. It stuck me as particularly curious that Alma says of Isabel, “she did steal away the hearts of many.”

Our idea of a harlot is someone who exchanges sex for money, but there is something odd about this harlot, as described by Alma. He says she stole many hearts. Prostitution doesn’t seem like the kind of thing where hearts are stolen; it seems like it would be more of a non-committal thing, not engaging the heart.  So, there are three possible conclusions from this— either 1) prostitution steals hearts men never expected to give away, or 2) Isabel was a different type of harlot than we usually think of, one unique to that culture and its surrounding areas, or 3) Isabel took things much further than usual and created a one-sided emotional intimacy, stealing the hearts of many, but never giving her own.

“Stealing away the hearts of many”—there’s a cold-bloodedness in that which is scary. Like the theft was calculated and targeted. It’s dishonest, since the hearts she stole were not free to be given. That means her machinations broke up homes and ultimately caused misery wherever she went. If she was doing it to amuse herself, stealing only one heart didn’t satisfy her; she kept going, stealing more and more.  It’s also probable that she was emotionally needy and/or had been abused and was trying to collect all those hearts to make up for a lack of love in her childhood.

Whatever the reason Isabel stole hearts, it made her dangerous. But she probably didn’t look dangerous at all.  She probably was beautiful and very charming. But that was what drew men in.

Alma said Corianton had forsaken the ministry and gone after Isabel into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites. I doubt Corianton would have gone off after some woman he only met once. There’s a relationship implied here. Perhaps Corianton tried to help Isabel and Isabel was just toying with him, and he deceived himself that he was just concerned about her until carnal desire took over. Then, by the time she left, he was in so deep that he felt like he couldn’t just let her go.

Another observation I have is that Satan used Isabel to distract Corianton from the ministry. The work of saving souls can be hard and thankless. There can be a lot of rejection involved. Love, or the appearance of it, can be very tempting to one who has suffered a lot of rejection. So can freely-given respect and admiration.  Alma notes in some earlier verses that Corianton had boasted in his own strength; Corianton probably felt deprived of respect and was trying to meet his own emotional needs.

Going back to Alma’s observation that Isabel stole away the hearts of many, it is interesting to ponder how Alma knew she had done this. Maybe Alma had to hear confessions from men who had sinned with Isabel. Maybe he himself was targeted and he resisted. At any rate, Alma knew Isabel had wide appeal, and he finished his observation with “but this was no excuse for thee, my son.” Corianton’s sin was understandable, but not excusable. He had a ministry to tend to, and he had neglected it.

How can knowing this help us today? 

First, there are people who want to steal hearts. Not just women, but men also. There are pick-up artists who hone their interpersonal skills and their approach with the goal of hooking people with charm and flirtation for their own gratification, and they sell instruction on how to do this. They may not be put off by finding out their target is married. Sooner or later, any of us may find ourselves in their cross-hairs.

Second, we may come in contact with others who have such an emotional need for love that they will try to get it anyway they can, even by stealing hearts. It is important to remember to keep proper emotional boundaries.  Be cautious and protect yourself. Remember your covenants.

Sunday, March 25, 2018 0 comments

The Law as a type of things to come (Christ)

Here is Abinadi talking to Noah’s wicked priests about the Law of Moses.

29 And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God;
30 Therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him.
31 But behold, I say unto you, that all these things were types of things to come. (Mosiah 13:29-31)

I think what Abinadi says here is that the gift of the Law of Moses itself was a type of Christ.

A law given to Israel
A Messiah given to Israel and all who would believe
A law of performances and ordinances
Christ’s example consists of all the things we must do. We have to become like Him.
Which they were to observe strictly from day to day
Israel observed Christ keeping the law from day to day during His life, and we are to observe Christ’s higher law just as strictly from day to day.
We can also read the gospels and observe what He did.
To keep them in remembrance of their God and their duty toward him
Christ instituted the sacrament to remind us of His sacrifice and our duty, and we are to remember Him always.

Just because we don’t live the Law of Moses doesn’t mean the higher law Christ gave isn’t as much a type of Christ as the Law of Moses. The higher law can also be thought of as a type of Christ too. 1) It was given, 2) it is a law of ordinances, though not so many, 3) it is strict, especially if you see the Beattitudes as part of it, 4) it keeps us remembering Christ and God and our duty.

Friday, March 23, 2018 2 comments

When Jesus commands Nephi to come forth

At Christ’s appearance to the Nephites, after the multitude has all touched and seen the wounds in the risen Christ’s hands and feet, there is this incident that happens:

And it came to pass that he [Christ] spake unto Nephi (for Nephi was among the multitude) and he commanded him that he should come forth. (3 Nephi 11:18)

This caught my eye recently and my imagination started working on it, visualizing it. Nephi was not up at the front of the crowd; he’s out in the middle, and Jesus spotted him and told him to come forth.

Now, imagine you were Nephi. This is sort of like being pointed out in the crowd at stake conference when you’re sitting in the back. What do you suppose is going through Nephi’s head as he comes up to meet the Savior? He’s already personally seen the wounds in His hands and feet as part of the great witness experience. And now he’s been singled out. What for?

I wonder if he was searching his memory frantically, wondering if there was anything he’d done wrong in his ministry. If he had, and the Savior decided to comment on it, Nephi had to be spiritually ready to take it and learn from it.

I love what Nephi does when he finally reaches Jesus.

And Nephi arose and went forth, and bowed himself before the Lord and did kiss his feet. (3 Nephi 11:19)

That gesture was Nephi’s way of demonstrating that he was ready for whatever Christ chose to say to him, ready for instruction, for reproof, for assignment, for anything. It showed his humility and submission as a servant of God. He’d followed spiritual promptings so often before that he was ready.

Another thing I love about this incident is that even though Nephi was mixed among the crowd of believers, the Lord was able to pick him out. He knew him. And as we can see from what happens next, he knew Nephi’s faithfulness because he gave him power to baptize.

That bestowal of power to baptize must have been a reaffirmation because Nephi had been baptizing people to repentance before, so he wasn’t without authority. There may have been disputations about the way to baptize and so this stuff had to be laid out plainly for everyone. If Nephi had had to work among people who questioned his authority and methods, Jesus’s singling him out and giving him power would be reassuring.

I hope that if I or any of us were ever singled out by Christ or our leaders, that we could be as humble and ready for whatever is asked of us.

Thursday, March 22, 2018 0 comments

Nephi’s Ministry in 3 Nephi 7 as a Parallel of Christ’s

15 And it came to pass that Nephi—having been visited by angels and also the voice of the Lord, therefore having seen angels, and being eye-witness, and having had power given unto him that he might know concerning the ministry of Christ, and also being eye-witness to their quick return from righteousness unto their wickedness and abominations;
16 Therefore, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds—went forth among them in that same year, and began to testify, boldly, repentance and remission of sins through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.
17 And he did minister many things unto them; and all of them cannot be written, and a part of them would not suffice, therefore they are not written in this book. And Nephi did minister with power and with great authority.
18 And it came to pass that they were angry with him, even because he had greater power than they, for it were not possible that they could disbelieve his words, for so great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily.
19 And in the name of Jesus did he cast out devils and unclean spirits; and even his brother did he raise from the dead, after he had been stoned and suffered death by the people.
20 And the people saw it, and did witness of it, and were angry with him because of his power; and he did also do many more miracles, in the sight of the people, in the name of Jesus.
21 And it came to pass that the thirty and first year did pass away, and there were but few who were converted unto the Lord; but as many as were converted did truly signify unto the people that they had been visited by the power and Spirit of God, which was in Jesus Christ, in whom they believed.
22 And as many as had devils cast out from them, and were healed of their sicknesses and their infirmities, did truly manifest unto the people that they had been wrought upon by the Spirit of God, and had been healed; and they did show forth signs also and did do some miracles among the people.
23 Thus passed away the thirty and second year also. And Nephi did cry unto the people in the commencement of the thirty and third year; and he did preach unto them repentance and remission of sins.
24 Now I would have you to remember also, that there were none who were brought unto repentance who were not baptized with water.
25 Therefore, there were ordained of Nephi, men unto this ministry, that all such as should come unto them should be baptized with water, and this as a witness and a testimony before God, and unto the people, that they had repented and received a remission of their sins.
26 And there were many in the commencement of this year that were baptized unto repentance; and thus the more part of the year did pass away. (3 Nephi 7:15-26, emphasis added)
In 3 Nephi 7, during the awful disunity among the Nephites, when the government was destroyed and society broke up into tribes, the bright spot is the prophet Nephi and his ministry.

It struck me that there were many ways that Nephi’s ministry paralleled that of Jesus Christ half a world away. You can notice the timing—Nephi started in the 30th year after the sign of Christ’s birth and continued on right to the sign of Christ’s death. Verse 15 tells us Nephi had power given him that he might know of the ministry of Christ, which means that either in dreams or open visions he saw it happening and likely did his best to follow the example he was given.

Although Mormon doesn’t go into detail about the things Nephi said in his ministry, besides his testimony and preaching faith in Christ and repentance of sins, we are told his words were very powerful and he had great authority given to him. He did many miracles, such as casting out devils and unclean spirits, and raising someone (his brother) from the dead. He had angels minister to him daily.

He converted but few at the beginning, but their conversions were real, and then he ordained others to preach and baptize, and then we are told many were baptized unto repentance. It sounds as though he was re-forming the church organization that had been previously broken up and that he was making significant headway in improving how things were. It is really sad we don’t have more about him because I’m sure that point-for-point his ministry would have followed Christ’s.

There was a time in the 90th year of the reign of judges (corresponding to about 2 B.C.) when there were Nephites who wondered why Jesus would not show himself to the Nephites as well as those in Jerusalem. They worried about being kept in ignorance just because they couldn’t witness with their eyes that the prophecies of Christ were coming true (see Helaman 16:18-20). The ministry of Nephi seems to have been the Lord’s answer to that concern, meant to show the Nephites what the ministry of Christ was like, so as to leave them without excuse. The result was that the humble and repentant were visited by the power and spirit of God, and were blessed for their belief in Christ—they were healed, and did show signs and did some miracles, while others were angry that Nephi had more power than they did.

In the larger perspective, Nephi’s ministry was a very serious thing—it was the last call to repentance the people would have before the great destruction that would occur at the time of Christ’s death. Rejecting such a powerful witness brings very serious consequences.

But for those who believed and repented, all the great things they saw and heard and did and felt during Nephi’s ministry were only a preliminary blessing to what they would receive when Christ visited them after His resurrection.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018 0 comments

One of Mormon’s observations on the Nephite records

In the middle of telling us what the Nephites did to deal with the Gadianton robbers and telling about the passage of time, we get this bit from Mormon about the Nephite records and history:

8 And there had many things transpired which, in the eyes of some, would be great and marvelous; nevertheless, they cannot all be written in this book; yea, this book cannot contain even a hundredth part of what was done among so many people in the space of twenty and five years;
9 But behold there are records which do contain all the proceedings of this people; and a shorter but true account was given by Nephi.
10 Therefore I have made my record of these things according to the record of Nephi, which was engraven on the plates which were called the plates of Nephi. (3 Nephi 5:8-10)

I find it interesting that among all the records Mormon notes a “shorted but true” account given by Nephi. That makes me think there were records of the same events that had been romanticized and distorted and twisted and elaborated upon. Mormon probably compared the different accounts and trusted Nephi’s account because of his righteousness. Prophets tend to see historical events through the perspective of “how is this increasing or decreasing society’s ability to repent, make good choices, and come closer to Christ?”

It is interesting to see that Mormon comments that some would find things that transpired and were recorded to be “great and marvelous,” but he doesn’t go into detail about who exactly that would be. Would righteous people find those things great and marvelous, but there just wasn’t the room on the plates for them? Or would the world find those things great and marvelous, but they weren’t worth noting because Mormon had to stick to the spiritual things?

Either way, I suppose these verses tell us why Mormon sticks to condensing using the plates of Nephi instead of the plethora of other records available. It is always fascinating to see what he interjects about the records he’s working with throughout the text. It is as though he feels someone (or a group of someones) looking over his shoulder who wonder why he makes the choices he does, and he feels he has to explain his methodology or why the alternatives aren’t attractive.

I can’t help but be grateful for the hard work he did. When I try to imagine what it would be like to condense a library of history books down into one book, especially while on the run from one’s enemies, I’m pretty awed.  But then, someday I will have to condense the events of my journals down into a condensed history of my life, so perhaps I should be more alert and thinking about how he does what he does.
Thursday, March 15, 2018 0 comments

Religious Misunderstandings Ironed Out in Joshua 22

1 Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh,
2 And said unto them, Ye have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you:
3 Ye have not left your brethren these many days unto this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord your God.
4 And now the Lord your God hath given rest unto your brethren, as he promised them: therefore now return ye, and get you unto your tents, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side Jordan.
5 But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.
6 So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their tents.
7 Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given possession in Bashan: but unto the other half thereof gave Joshua among their brethren on this side Jordan westward. And when Joshua sent them away also unto their tents, then he blessed them,
8 And he spake unto them, saying, Return with much riches unto your tents, and with very much cattle, with silver, and with gold, and with brass, and with iron, and with very much raiment: divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.
9 And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go unto the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, whereof they were possessed, according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses.
10 And when they came unto the borders of Jordan, that are in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by Jordan, a great altar to see to.
11 And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of Canaan, in the borders of Jordan, at the passage of the children of Israel.
12 And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them.
13 And the children of Israel sent unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest,
14 And with him ten princes, of each chief house a prince throughout all the tribes of Israel; and each one was an head of the house of their fathers among the thousands of Israel.
15 And they came unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, unto the land of Gilead, and they spake with them, saying,
16 Thus saith the whole congregation of the Lord, What trespass is this that ye have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the Lord, in that ye have builded you an altar, that ye might rebel this day against the Lord?
17 Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us, from which we are not cleansed until this day, although there was a plague in the congregation of the Lord,
18 But that ye must turn away this day from following the Lord? and it will be, seeing ye rebel to day against the Lord, that to morrow he will be wroth with the whole congregation of Israel.
19 Notwithstanding, if the land of your possession be unclean, then pass ye over unto the land of the possession of the Lord, wherein the Lord’s tabernacle dwelleth, and take possession among us: but rebel not against the Lord, nor rebel against us, in building you an altar beside the altar of the Lord our God.
20 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 perished not alone in his iniquity.
21 Then the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh answered, and said unto the heads of the thousands of Israel,
22 The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the Lord, (save us not this day,)
23 That we have built us an altar to turn from following the Lord, or if to offer thereon burnt offering or meat offering, or if to offer peace offerings thereon, let the Lord himself require it;
24 And if we have not rather done it for fear of this thing, saying, In time to come your children might speak unto our children, saying, What have ye to do with the Lord God of Israel?
25 For the Lord hath made Jordan a border between us and you, ye children of Reuben and children of Gad; ye have no part in the Lord: so shall your children make our children cease from fearing the Lord.
26 Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:
27 But that it may be a witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the Lord before him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, Ye have no part in the Lord.
28 Therefore said we, that it shall be, when they should so say to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say again, Behold the pattern of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between us and you.
29 God forbid that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn this day from following the Lord, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the Lord our God that is before his tabernacle.
30 And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation and heads of the thousands of Israel which were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the children of Manasseh spake, it pleased them.
31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the children of Manasseh, This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, because ye have not committed this trespass against the Lord: now ye have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.
32 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the princes, returned from the children of Reuben, and from the children of Gad, out of the land of Gilead, unto the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought them word again.
33 And the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel blessed God, and did not intend to go up against them in battle, to destroy the land wherein the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.
34 And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God. (Joshua 22)
This is an interesting story with details that are best understood with reference to earlier stories in the Old Testament.

The chapter starts as the children of Israel have finished conquering the land of Canaan (or as much as they could conquer). Joshua lets the Reubenites, Gadites, and half of Manasseh go to their possessions on the east side of the Jordan river. (They had actually been the first ones to obtain inheritance, but on condition that they would continue to fight alongside the rest of the tribes until everyone had obtained land of inheritance.)

V1-8 is Joshua’s dismissal of these tribes with a charge that they remember to keep the commandments and love the Lord.
-Take diligent heed to the commandment and the law
-love the Lord
-walk in His ways
-keep the commandments
-cleave to Him
-serve Him with all heart and soul

I have to wonder if Joshua was worried these tribes would forget God on the margins of the land.

V9-10  The 2 ½ tribes build an altar by Jordan, and it is said to be a very great altar, perhaps very large, visible all over.

V11  Rumor of the great altar is spread all around, and it causes consternation and worry and indignation. Why? Because in Leviticus 17:8-9 is a commandments that those who don’t bring their sacrifices to the Tabernacle’s altar are to be cut off (excommunicated). The tribes on the west side of Jordan jump to the conclusion that the 2 ½ tribes on the east side built this altar for sacrifice in opposition to the commandment. They worry this altar is a sign of idolatry starting in the eastern tribes.

V 12-14  The news of the big altar at Jordan in defiance of the commandments causes the western 9 ½ tribes to get ready for battle. To them, this altar, if built by one man, wouldn’t have been permitted by the man’s neighbors, if they were righteous. Therefore, it was built by the whole people on the east, therefore that whole group must be corrupted and require an army to invade and put things right.  To make sure the evil is stamped out, they send Phineas, the son of Eleazar the priest.

Here’s some quick background on Phineas.  Phineas is the same guy who speared two idolaters in their tent for committing ritual prostitution with the Moabites (see Numbers 25:1-15). Phineas was commended for his zeal in that act, and so he is sent to make sure that no idolater escapes punishment.

Also with Phineas are sent 10 princes of the western tribes to talk with the eastern tribes, according to the commandment in Deut. 13:12-15, to inquire diligently and see if the whole place is given to idolatry and find out if the rumors are true or not. (If the rumors are true, then the army gets called in to destroy the people.) It is a fact-finding expedition before the boom is lowered.

V16-20  The fact-finding expedition lays out the accusations—that the eastern tribes have rebelled against God by building an altar. They express the general worries that the eastern tribes will bring a plague on the rest of Israel just like Peor and Achan did in their idolatry and greed, which caused others to die too. (Achan was a fellow who took spoils from the conquest of Jericho and hid them in his tent in defiance of the command that the spoil was to be consecrated to the Lord. Because of his disobedience, Israel lost badly in their next military engagement, and he had to be detected by lot.(Joshua 7))

It is notable that they temper the accusations against the 2 ½ tribes with the supposition that maybe the eastern tribes have built the big altar in an effort to sanctify their land (maybe they thought their land was unclean), but princes say if the eastern tribes think that, they can come back and live on the west side of Jordan so they can be in a holy land too. This shows the western tribes were trying to think about what honest, good motives the eastern tribes might have had for building that big altar. This would go a long way toward softening the confrontation. People always want to be thought of as doing what’s right, and expressing some sense of trying to understand others as having good motives helps keep peace.

V22-29 The eastern tribes are very strong in denial of idolatry. They call upon God to punish them if their hearts are wrong and they ask to die that day if they are false to God. This is very serious stuff.

Instead, they say they have built the altar to try to prevent future problems. They worry that the western tribes’ descendants would someday exclude the eastern tribes’ descendants from worshipping the God of Israel at the Tabernacle and thereby turn the easterners from following the Lord. Their solution was to build a big altar in the exact pattern of the Tabernacle’s altar of sacrifice to show both sides that the eastern tribes worshipped the same God, that they knew what was done in the temple, they knew how it looked, and their knowledge was their license to participate. The altar was not for sacrifice, but to look at.

V30-34 Phineas and the 10 other princes are pleased with the explanation, and they go back to tell everyone else. Phineas’s declaration is notable too:

“This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, because ye have not committed this trespass against the Lord: now ye have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.” (v31)

In what way had the eastern tribes saved Israel from God?
1)    They had given a good explanation that saved everyone from a fratricidal war. Yay for peace!
2)    They had brought up an important issue—the dangers of disunity in the future that might arise from barriers of geography, in this case the river Jordan—and taken steps to avoid it, such that descendants of Israel would remember to not exclude some marginal groups, thinking they were unfaithful. Excluding the faithful with hasty judgments has eternal consequences and Israel didn’t want to make that mistake.

In what way did Phineas see that the Lord was among them?

He realized that the eastern tribes had acted to try to increase unity and faithfulness. Efforts to do that are inspired by God. Further, by trying to find out what was going on, the fact-finding group got to learn of those unification efforts, and thereby they learned how God was working among the margins to increase unity, as well as in the center.

Seeing it this way—as efforts to unify and prevent future error—is what pleased all the rest of Israel when they heard it. Efforts to unify in righteousness always please the faithful.

So what do we learn from this story?

--It is important to find out the facts before lowering the boom with punishment.
--For those who are tasked with confronting those who appear to have transgressed commandments, it is important to share how things look and also try to imagine how it might have been thought a good thing. Imputing good motives to people helps keep relationships constructive.
--Anticipating future problems and putting in place solutions to mitigate them is helpful.
--It would be wise to avoid thinking that members outside or far from major member population centers are any less faithful than those at the center.
--Willingness to explain one’s actions to others helps keep the peace. Sometimes we may think we don’t need to explain, but people want to understand and people be understood.
--Efforts to increase unity among the righteous are inspired by God.

I think this is a helpful story because today our church isn’t just a little area. It is a global church and we are spread out all over, speaking so many different languages. More than ever it is important to avoid making prideful assumptions that put down other members. The Lord wants us to be unified in faithfulness and righteousness in spite of the distances between congregations and language barriers, and His Spirit works to increase that unity. We strive for unity in doctrine, unity in worship, unity in faith, unity in good works.