Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the LORD, do not spare us this day. If we have built our own altar to turn away from the LORD and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the LORD himself call us to account. “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? The LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the LORD.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the LORD. “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the LORD at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the LORD.’ “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the LORD’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’ “Far be it from us to rebel against the LORD and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle.” – Joshua 22:21-29
Adolph Harstad writes:
The offering of sacrifice exclusively at the LORD’s one and only altar at the place where He dwells points to the unique person fo the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, who shall be the new temple. On the cross he shall offer the one and only all-availing sacrifice to atone for the sins of the whole world. Henceforth His church shall only gather in His name and around His word and sacraments to receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Hence Christ Himself, present though His means of grace, shall be the exclusive location for all “divine service of the LORD” in the NT era.
The eastern tribes state that [they had acted out of fear], and their fear, expressed in 22:24-25, is well founded. The laws and promises of the Pentateuch had spoken of the land of Canaan – the land west of the Jordan – as the land of inheritance from the LORD. Israelites who were not informed about the subsequent rightful allotment by the LORD through Mosses and Joshua of the eastern lands to the eastern tribes might conclude that those tribes were not part of the LORD’s covenant nation. The altar, they now say, is to be a witness to coming generations that the Jordan is not a barrier that excludes God’s people on the other side from being part of the one body of believers that is Israel. They too are living on land inheritance from the LORD, and they have the rights and privileges of participating in His worship.
The intentions behind the altar are quite the opposite of all the suspicions. The altar stands for covenant unity, not division; for firm devotion and rightful worship of the LORD, not backsliding or idolatry.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 60
Q. 60. How is the sabbath to be sanctified?
A. The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.