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Joshua 22: Conflict Resolution Among God's People Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 April 2008

The Churchís problem with conflict is not so much that we have it, but that we do not know how to resolve it faithfully, or biblically.  If you look at the history of the Church, you will see conflict arising over and over again.  Of course, this should make sense to us.  After all, every Church that has ever existed has been made up of sinners (yes, sinners being redeemed and made into the image of Christ, but sinners nonetheless).  We bring to the table a glorious mixture of personalities and strengths, but we bring our pride and our weaknesses as well.  Some of us in the Church have been following the Lord for years and some of us have been following the Lord for not that long.  Some of us have been taught the Bible well and some of us are just beginning the great journey of learning Godís Word.  We have different perspectives, different personal interests, different personal preferences, and different experiences.  Add to that the fact that we all get tired, cranky, and not very patient at times, and you end up with a situation that is probably going to lead to some occasional conflict.  So then, the issue is not eliminating conflict altogether (for that will never happen on this side of glory), but faithfully resolving it according to the Word of God.

To be sure, even before the history of the Church began 2000 years ago, there is a history of conflict among Godís people.  The Old Testament is full of stories that deal with disagreements between the people of Israel.  Joshua 22 contains one of those stories.  The chapter begins with Joshua sending the two and a half tribes who had already inherited land on the east of the Jordan back to their homes.  They had fought faithfully beside their brothers in Canaan.  They had kept their promise to them and to the Lord.  Thus, God is keeping His promise to them to give them rest and to allow them to return to their homes.  Joshua encourages them to keep following the Lord and blesses them with their portion of the spoils of Canaan.  Everything seems great.  Yet, before they can even get back across the Jordan, a serious conflict arises.  Look at verses 10-12.  Wow, one minute the western tribes are sending them out with a blessing and now they are gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.  What changed?  The eastern tribes decided to build an altar on the edge of the Jordan.  This is all we are told at this point, but it is obvious that the conflict is great.  As we continue to move through the rest of this chapter, I want us to ask this question: what lessons can we learn about conflict and resolving conflict from this episode?

First, we should fight for obedience among Godís people.

Why were the western tribes ready to go to war over the building of this altar?  We find their explanation in verses 13-20.  Look at those with me.  The western tribes could only see two possibilities for the building of the ark.  First, they had simply built it to worship other gods.  The reference to the sin at Peor in verse 17 implies this.  In Numbers 25 we are told that the people of Israel began to worship Baal at Peor.  Before the situation was resolved, 24,000 Israelites were killed by a plague.  Interestingly, it was actually Phinehas who acted for the Lord in that circumstance as well.  He remembers well the terrible cost of worshipping other gods.  Thus, he cannot believe that the eastern tribes would build an altar for such (see also Deuteronomy 13:12-15).  The other possibility is that they built the altar to worship Yahweh.  Yet, the problem with this is that they had specifically been told not to sacrifice on another altar (besides the one at the tent of meeting) in Leviticus 17:8-9.  This is why Phinehas speaks of them building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God as rebellion (see v. 19).  Likewise, Phinehas reminds them of the terrible consequences for Achanís sin.  He wants them to realize that their apparent rebellion will not only cost them but the rest of Israel as well.  For these reasons they have come to stop them even if it means war.

The call to obedience is clear in the book of Joshua.  We see in this episode that Israel was taking that call very seriously at this point.  Joshua had said to the eastern tribes: Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to the love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul (v. 5).  Israel knew what disobedience meant and they were determined to follow the Lord.  In fact, they were so determined that they were willing to go to war with their brothers to secure obedience to God.  They took devotion to God seriously.  Likewise, we will see in a minute from the speech of the eastern tribes that they agreed with such a stance (see v. 22-23).  Over the next couple of weeks as we bring our study of the book of Joshua to a close, we will see his repeated call for Israel to obey the Lord.  This was critical to Joshua (and to the people of Israel at least at this point).

We need to learn the importance of fighting for obedience to the Lord.  We cannot afford to let disobedience to go unchecked.  Granted, our fight is not a fight of flesh and blood, but is a fight nonetheless.  There will be times when conflict is absolutely necessary.  There will be times when Godís name is being dishonored by His people through unrepentant, public sin.  When those times come, we must be committed to fight in the ways that He has prescribed (see Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5).  It is so easy to grow lax in this fight.  We donít want to offend people.  We donít want to disrupt peace.  So we settle for living with sin (to keep men happy) and refuse to honor God by fighting for holiness.  May we learn from Israel that there is a time to fight for obedience among Godís people.

Second, we should begin the fight with confrontation and clarification.

Once we have determined to fight for holiness, how do we begin the battle?  The western tribes do not come out with guns a blazing.  Rather, as we have just read, they go to the eastern tribes to state their concerns and to try to figure out why they have built the altar.  They answer them in verses 22-29.  Look at those verses with me.  The eastern tribes begin by agreeing with them that if they have built the altar for either of the two reasons that they suppose, then God should judge them.  Yet, they state another reason for building the altar.  They did not build it to worship other gods or for sacrifices to Yahweh.  Rather, they built it as a witness for future generations.  They wanted the Israelites on both sides of the Jordan to remember that all the tribes were to follow Yahweh.  Thus, they did not build it to disobey God, but to encourage future obedience to Him.

So then, what would have happened if the western tribes did not seek clarification?  According to verse 12, it would have been all out war.  The western tribes would have assumed the worst and they would have gone to war over a misunderstanding.  This is why confrontation and clarification are so vital to the process.  In Jesusí instructions to His followers, He tells them to first go one to one to confront and clarify before any other action is taken.  Unfortunately, the people of God struggle to heed such instructions.  We would rather talk about the situation with other people (gossip) or assume the worst, feed our anger, and even begin dividing into camps.  This is precisely what Jesus was instructing us to avoid.  Yet, Churches split over misunderstandings and miscommunication.  We must be faithful to Godís plan for dealing with conflict.  We must begin with confrontation and clarification and only move on from there if more action is necessary (as Jesus goes on to teach).  I should note as well, that many today would simply have encouraged the western tribes to let it go, forget about it and move on.  The problem with this action is that it leads to possibly compromising on Godís commandments.  Likewise, even if the situation is identical to the one in Joshua 22 (the accused party did not actually sin), the people would still be left to assume the worst or at least not know.  Why not just do what they did and what Jesus commands us to do, namely confront in love and seek clarification.  May we never run the risk of compromising Godís name through inaction or destroying fellowship among His people over simple misunderstandings.

Third, we should rejoice and move forward at the resolution of the conflict.

Notice how Phinehas and the other representatives respond to the eastern tribesí explanation.  Look at verses 30-31.  They rejoice in the fact that they were not disobeying.  They rejoice that war is not necessary in this instance.  They rejoice that judgment has been averted.  Not only this, but they go back to inform the rest of the people.  Look at verses 32-34.  The people of Israel rejoiced as well and notice that they spoke no more of making war against them.  The conflict was over.  There was no reason to keep threatening war.  They had confronted and sought clarification and they received good news.  Thus, they could move forward.

In the same way, when we face conflict and move through the steps that Jesus outlines in Matthew 18 and that conflict is resolved, then we should rejoice for we have gained our brother.  When someone confesses their sin and repents, then we are called to forgive them and move forward.  We are not supposed to keep thinking about it, or hang it over their head unnecessarily.  Rather, we rejoice that they have decided to follow after the Lord in their repentance and we rejoice that the gospel makes it clear that when we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9).  Our response to the resolution of conflict should be similar to Israelís response.

Of course you may be thinking to yourself, ĎYeah, but how do we rejoice and move forward when the sin against us is difficult to forget?í  Or maybe if you are honest you find yourself feeling a little like Jonah thinking: ĎLord, if I confront them, then they will repent and then I will have to forgive them and I just donít want to forgive them for what they did.í  The answer to both of these scenarios is found in Jesusí parable that follows His instructions concerning Church discipline.  He reminds us there when we struggle to forgive that we must remember that we have been forgiven by Christ.  The greatest motivation that we have to fight for holiness, to confront others, to clarify the situation, and to forgive those who have sinned against us, is the gospel.  For through the gospel, we are told of Jesusí obedience and His call to us to be holy.  Through the gospel we are unified around the call to fight for each otherís sanctification and the purity of Christís Bride, the Church.  And through the gospel we know that our terrible sins against almighty God (which are greater than any sin committed against us) have been forgiven.  Brothers and sisters, conflict will continue to come among Godís people.  When it does, may we seek to faithfully resolve it through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 22 April 2008 )

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