My name is Solomon Keal. I am a minister for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Swedenborgian Christian denomination. These are some of my thoughts about the Lord, the symbolic meanings in the Bible, life after death, faith, charity, usefulness, loving the Lord and one's neighbor, the 2nd Coming, Swedenborg's Writings, and other theological stuff.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Different Ways

In Joshua chapter 22, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh traveled back across the Jordan river to the East side, where they had chosen to inherit their land.  This was a different choice than the rest of the tribes had made and it worried many of the western tribes.   As these three eastern tribes traveled back to their chosen home, they built an altar at the Jordan.  When the other tribes heard this, their worry turned to alarm.  Were they now going to turn away from the Lord and worship other gods on this new altar?  The western tribes, led by Phinehas the son of the high priest, chased after the eastern tribes and confronted them at the Jordan, ready to do battle with their fellow tribes-people, and to seek to prevent evil from being done.  After being confronted, the eastern tribes explained that, far from turning away from the Lord, their altar was built to be a witness and a reminder that the western and eastern tribes were still one people, despite being divided by the river Jordan and living in different lands.  The eastern tribes were faithful to the Lord.  The western tribes were satisfied with this answer and, in the end, the evil of unjustified warfare was prevented through this reconciliation.  

Sometimes we too can look at our “fellow tribes-people” and worry about their choices.  We can see them choosing to live in different spiritual states and worshipping in different ways.  We can worry that they might be turning away from the Lord.  But often times—especially when we are looking at externals (the east side of the Jordan)—we can make false assumptions about other people’s intentions, like the western tribes did.   We can assume that other people are not following the Lord, when in fact they might be,  but in different ways and in different lands.  Hopefully in the various confrontations we may engage in, we can seek for understanding and avoid warfare.  If we can remember what unites us: love to the Lord and love to our neighbor, which is the altar of love built out of the whole stones of truths from the Word, then we can be reminded that even though we differ in our choices, tastes, perspectives and opinions, we can still all be one people.  “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.’” (Joshua 22:31).  


  1. Was just studying this passage and I came to this conclusion based on Deuteronomy 12.
    It was clear that they saw this altar as not one that YHWH had caused to be built by revelation, it was not in a place where YHWH had recorded His name. Thus it was a sacrilegious altar. The main altar of YHWH was that which accompanied the Tabernacle at the central sanctuary. Others could be built where YHWH revealed Himself and commanded it. These came within the definition of ‘the altar of YHWH our God’. But not this one where there was no suggestion of YHWH having spoken.

    Note the stress on rebellion. They were rebelling against God because they were disobeying His command about building altars where He had not given a revelation, and they were rebelling against their brothers because they were setting up a rival altar to that of the central sanctuary and thus breaching the covenant unity.

  2. That is certainly what the western tribes believed. But it wasn't true. It wasn't an altar of sacrifice, it was an altar of witness. The eastern tribes weren't disobeying, or rebelling, they were remaining faithful to the Lord (see Joshua 22:26-29). The western tribes were jumping to false conclusions. This so often happens with us too. We often make false assumptions about our neighbor's intentions—assuming the worst–and then we find that we were mistaken. This story is a great reminder of that.