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).