After the Israelites entered into the promised land, they had some work to do. It wasn’t just handed over to them. There were other nations occupying this land. Battle after battle they saw God’s hand helping them. Beginning with the miraculous fall of Jericho, Israel went on through the land, conquering. Once the dust was settled and the land was distributed to the tribes, something big happened.
“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 (Joshua 22:11-12).
Wait a minute. These three tribes were building an altar to the Lord. That’s okay, isn’t it? They saw God’s hand in giving them the promised land. Surely they could build an altar to God to give Him offerings. Right?
Here is why the rest of the tribes wanted to stop them:
Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the Lord chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you (Deuteronomy 12:13-14).
Before the nations went into the promised land God gave them specific instructions on where to make sacrifices. In Joshua 18:1 we see that this place was already established in Shiloh, which was a city of Ephraim.
When you read through the rest of the chapter you see that Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh feared that the river separating them from the rest of the nation would become a border. They feared their descendants’ relationship with God would be questioned by the rest of the Israelites. They wanted to create a matching altar as a “witness” among the tribes that were separated by the river.
The rest of Israel didn’t know this. The tribes of Israel feared that these three tribes were not going to worship God in the way that He commanded them. This is the key. God gave Israel specific instructions on how to worship Him. The same thing applies today. We can’t choose how to worship God. God’s true followers worship in “spirit and truth.” What is the truth? How can we know if we are worshiping in spirit and truth? Read through the pages of your Bible. If the days you worship God on are not in the pages of your Bible you must align yourself with God’s commands. God is not honored by convenient acts of worship. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” This is how we love God. This is how we honor Him. We can’t establish our own “altars.” We must worship God in “spirit and in TRUTH.”