When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community—the heads of the clans of the Israelites—heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased. And Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, said to Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, “Today we know that the LORD is with us, because you have not been unfaithful to the LORD in this matter. Now you have rescued the Israelites from the LORD’s hand.” Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the leaders returned to Canaan from their meeting with the Reubenites and Gadites in Gilead and reported to the Israelites. They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived. And the Reubenites and the Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us—that the LORD is God. – Joshua 22:30-34
Adolph Harstad writes:
The theme of the presence of the LORD among His covenant nation appears again in this antepenultimate chapter of Joshua. Phinehas declared, “Today we know that in our midst is the LORD, since you did not unfaithfully do against the LORD this unfaithfulness.” The LORD is present in His grace with His covenant people through His means of grace: His ark; His tabernacle; His altar, where atonement takes place; and His sacred institutions, particularly circumcision and Passover.
This passage reaffirms the message of 22:13-20, namely, that the LORD has but one sacred altar for sacrifice, and that altar is located at His tabernacle – the means of His indwelling presence with his people. The altar constructed by the Transjordan tribes is simply a replica of that one altar and is not for sacrifice. It is to be an enduring witness and reminder for the people to go to the one sacrificial altar and is not for sacrifice. It is to be an enduring witness and reminder for the people to go to the one sacrificial altar of the LORD at His sanctuary and to participate in the sacrifices of “the divine service of the LORD” there.
Hence the theme of this passage is “reconciliation and unity around he one altar of the LORD.” Later in Israel’s history the central role of the one altar will be solidified when the portable tabernacle (now at Shiloh) shall be incorporated into the immovable Jerusalem temple in the reign of Solomon. Yet even that altar would not be permanent. It would be destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C., then rebuilt and then destroyed again by the romans in A.D. 70.
The only efficacious sacrificial altar that shall endure to all eternity is he cross of Jesus Christ. His cross was the altar upon which He offered the one all sufficient sacrifice that atoned for the sins of the whole world.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 61
Q. 61. What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.