So the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. With him they sent ten of the chief men, one from each of the tribes of Israel, each the head of a family division among the Israelite clans. When they went to Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh—they said to them: “The whole assembly of the LORD says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the LORD and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the LORD! And are you now turning away from the LORD? “‘If you rebel against the LORD today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel. If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the LORD’s land, where the LORD’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the LORD or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the LORD our God. When Achan son of Zerah was unfaithful in regard to the devoted things, did not wrath come on the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.’” – Joshua 22:13-20
Adolph Harstad writes:
The presence of Phinehas and leaders from all ten of the Cisjordan tribes shows that the problem involves all aspects of Israel – her spiritual and theological welfare (Phinehas) as well as her political and societal well-being. The establishment of a reengage cultus not ordained by God would endanger the very existence of all Israel as the LORD’s covenant people.
Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, had already proved his faithfulness to the LORD and his courage in maintaining the divine covenant. During Israel’s worship of the Baal of Peor through sexual immorality with Moabite women, Phinehas had driven a spear through an adulterous Israelite named Zimri and his Midianite lover, Cozi, while they were entwined, and that appeased God’s wrath (Numbers 25:14-18). …
This is a highly charged moment in Israel. If the Transjordan tribes are found to be apostate, they can expect to receive the same kind of judgment that Phinehas executed against Zimri and Cozbi. The language of the delegation, with Phinehas as probable spokesman, shows the seriousness of the indictment. The eastern tribes must answer the accusation: “What is this unfaithful act that you have done unfaithfully against the God of Israel, by turning back today from the LORD? They are charged with committing a treacherous act of infidelity, so that they no longer follow the LORD God of Israel. They have allowed he depraved idolatry of Peor to linger and fester in their hearts: “Is too little for us the guilt of Peor, which we have not cleansed ourselves from it to this day?”
Twenty-four thousand Israelites had died in the plague that followed that apostasy, and only the zeal of Phinehas prevented further disaster. Since the LORD deals with His people as one body of believers, the whole community of Israel will feel His wrath if the two and a half tribes have rebelled against Him: “If you yourselves shall rebel today against the LORD, tomorrow toward the whole congregation of Israel He shall be furious!”
Israel had experienced this principle of collective retribution recently, when thirty-six faithful Israelite soldiers died because just one man, Achan, had acted unfaithfully with cherem. Achan “was not the only man who perished because of his guilt” (22:20). A disaster that is national in scope may happen again, because the sin will be charged against the whole people. But this passage implies that this time the anger of God will be even more severe. If the covenant infidelity of one man led to the death of thirty-six, how many will perish because of the treachery of the whole tribes of Reuben and Gad and of half of Manasseh? …
The delegation does not consider the alleged rebellion to be irreconcilable. There is still hope that the eastern tribes have not completely lost their faith and can be restored to the good graces of God. If theological unity based on God’s word can be restored, then all the tribes can be reunited in the worship of the one true God at His one appointed altar. This is clear from their pleading, “But against the LORD do not rebel, and do not make us rebel by building for yourselves an altar apart from the altar of the LORD our God!”
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 59
Q. 59. Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?
A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath.