Joshua 22: Why We Desperately Need Altars Today

Have you ever heard the story of the giant altar that saved Israel from civil war?


Neither had I. Until today. Why, oh why does no one preach on this?!? Seriously! This story is up there with Zelophehad’s Daughters and the stories of the Inclusive God in Numbers. I loved it!

And we have so much to learn from it. Here’s the basic plot.

Three of the tribes are blessed to return to the other side of the Jordan where their inheritance lies. On the way, they build a “giant altar.” The rest of Israel hears of it and thinks they are performing unlawful sacrifices on it so they come out to make war on them. The tribes explain that the altar is to remind the children of the rest of the tribes that those east of the Jordan River still have a share of the inheritance. Everyone goes home happy.

What an amazing story! Here is why we need it and (more importantly) why we need to bring back the art of altar making.

We Create Artificial Boundaries

We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, “What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the Lord.”

Though the original boundary was to be the Jordan, things changed. Now the land to the east is included as well. But someday, there will come a generation who will forget. And they will need a reminder of what God did and said.

We aren’t any different.

Who are we excluding? What boundary have we set up that was never supposed to be there? 

The fear here is geographical differences. But what other differences do we let divide us? Race? Culture? Music style? Theological? Political?

Who am I excluding? Who was I always supposed to be in community with but have completely forgotten about?

We Prevent People From Worshipping

So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord.

Lord have mercy! I hope this is never true of me! I hope I never prevent someone from worshipping the Lord, intentionally or unintentionally.

If I say to someone “you have no portion with the LORD,” or the modern day equivalent, “You are not welcome here,” I am being intentional. And a huge jerk.

If I participate in a system that entire groups of people feel like they have no place in, even though I may not harbor any ill will toward them, I am being unintentional.

Either way, I am preventing people from worshipping the LORD.

We Need To Remember

Altars help us remember. 

Israel can look at that stone (appropriately named “Witness”) and remember that the tribes in the east are every bit as much a part of God’s people as they are. There is no question. Whether or not they like that fact has nothing to do with it. Whether or not they understand why is not important.

It just is. This is why we desperately need altars today.

Who have I forgotten about?

Who have you forgotten about?

Who have we forgotten about?

Who ought to be included in our churches and homes? Who ought to be welcomed as the brothers and sisters they are?

What altars are out there that we need to look upon once again?

3 responses

  1. Isn’t it crazy that we, PEOPLE, are exclusive, but our God is amazingly inclusive. Got to go now. I’ve got build a giant altar before work.

  2. Personally, I think we’ve set up walls to protect our altars, rather than to share them with others. We have plenty of reminders for ourselves, but our walls prevent us from sharing those reminders with others.

    Beautiful post, Ben.

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