How can we RESOLVE a CONFLICT AMICABLY? Now the children of Israel heard someone say, "Behold, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar on the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan--on the children of Israel's side." And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered together at Shiloh to go to war against them. (Josh. 22:11-12)
Towards the end of the book of Joshua, we encounter a conflict that surfaced suddenly between the nine and half tribes of Israel situated in the western part of River Jordan and the two and half tribes who were on their way to be situated in the eastern part of River Jordan. As per an earlier agreement with Moses (see Num. 32), the men belonging to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh had crossed over the river to fight alongside with their brothers in order to occupy the Canaanite territory. Now, after seven long years, the major assaults in Canaan had ceased and Joshua had permitted these men to return to their territory east of the Jordan, as originally agreed. He also told them to take with them their share of the spoil from the battles they had fought.
On their way home, these men decided to erect an altar near the banks of the River Jordan. Here we come to the first reason why this conflict had taken place…these men did not make their brothers aware beforehand of their intention to erect this secondary altar. When the other nine and a half tribes heard about it, they were very angry as they feared that it was a rival altar to the one set up by God at Shiloh. God had commanded Israel not to offer burnt offerings or sacrifices at any location except the tabernacle (see Lev. 17:8, 9), and not to worship other gods (Deut. 13:12–15). So, the erection of a second, unauthorized altar would violate the principles of God. Also, it might become an idolatrous altar in time to come and that God would punish the entire nation because of it. The situation carried with it an apparent danger of political disunity and apostasy as well (vv. 16–20).
However, the children of Israel acted with restraint, and before declaring war on the tribes east of the Jordan River, they sent a delegation to find out what exactly was going on. Through this act, they balanced their passion for God’s worship with wisdom and humility, allowing the possibility that the actions of their brothers had been misunderstood.
During the meeting, the men of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh explained that this was not an altar of sacrifice at all, but simply a memorial altar that would testify to future generations that the tribes east of the Jordan were indeed a part of the nation of Israel. The other tribes were pleased by this explanation, and thus a terrible conflict and a grievous war was averted!
For us today, this incident offers us some invaluable lessons about how we can resolve a conflict amicably. Perhaps the most important lesson is the value of talking things over. This was a young nation that came to the brink of civil war over a simple misunderstanding. Instead of rushing into combat and war, both sides made sincere attempts to air their perspectives and talking things over. Due to this wise decision, further hostilities were averted. Similar conflicts can arise today as well. However, when they do, it will be wise for both parties to ask questions and listen to each other rather than jumping into conflicts that create needless disunity.
Let’s remember that the building of the altar was at first misunderstood as a declaration of war, but then it became a witness of peace and unity. Let all our conflicts be resolved amicably in the similar manner as well.
"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom." (James 3:13)