Was the altar in Joshua 22 good, evil, neutral, or ambiguous?

In Joshua 22:10-34, the eastern tribes constructed an altar which they said reminded them of their unity with the other tribes.   Was this a good thing, a bad thing, or what?   Comments welcome.

(Thanks, Jim Peet, for the idea)

The altar was a good thing
69% (9 votes)
The altar was a bad thing
8% (1 vote)
The altar was neither a good nor bad idea/project
15% (2 votes)
I am unclear about this
8% (1 vote)
0% (0 votes)
Total votes: 13
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There are 5 Comments

Jim's picture

  • The view that the altar was evil

    • You have to believe that the leaders of the 2½ tribes were lying in Joshua 22:21-29
    • You have to believe that Phinehas and the leaders with him were deceived : Joshua 22:3-34
    • You have to believe that Joshua himself was deceived because he was still living
    • You have to see the event of chapter 22 as the nascent seed of apostasy
    • Observation # 1: There is no associated castigation by God re this event
    • Observation # 2: As far as I know this altar of witness was never used for idolatrous worship. In my mind this is telling! 
    • You  have to view other memorials as likewise evil - eg "And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever" (Joshua 4:7)
    • The lesson application is: There is right worship (the Western slope) and there is wrong worship (the Eastern altar of witness)
    • Chapter 22 is about militancy. The Western tribes were right to prepare for war, and to NOT follow through was compromise (This will preach by the way!)
  • Another view (neutral)
    • There is a logistical issue for the Eastern  2½ tribes ... they are separated from the West via the Jordan
    • You believe that the leaders of the 2½ tribes were speaking truth in Joshua 22:21-29
    • You accept that Phinehas and the leaders with him were spiritual and wise men : Joshua 22:3-34
    • Ditto Joshua
    • You view the narrative as the dangers of jumping to conclusions. The Western tribes prepared for war without hearing the issue out:  "the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered together at Shiloh to go to war against them"
    • Chapter 22 is about seeking truth and peace with brethren. 

I suggest that many approach this chapter with their own "lens" and project a view into the text that is not warranted. 


AndyBern's picture

This passage is part of my reading for today. Jim's observations (#1 an #2) also occurred to me to convince me building the altar was not an evil thing. However, even if the altar eventually became a stumbling block to Israel, that does not mean it was wrong to build it. Remember even the bronze snake in Numbers 21 was evilly misused (2 Kings 18:4).

However, did the altar fulfill its purpose (Joshua 22:26-28)? Would there have been a separation between the tribes if the altar was not built? I don't think we can say. My opinion is undecided between good and neutral.

(I would also say it was good for the tribes to prepare for war, but it was better not to follow through with hostilities after hearing the purpose for which the altar was built.)

Andrew Bernhardt

Ed Vasicek's picture

God nowhere commanded an altar like this.  I think their motives may have been good, but, at bare minimum, they should have consulted with the high priests first.  The potential for abuse was great; whether theologically wrong, there does not seem to be much sense (other than good intentions) in this entire episode.  This is proved by the disturbance it caused.  Or, put into a KJV  questionable translation, it had the "appearance of evil" (I Thessalonians 5:22). 

A well-intended project executed foolishly is wrong, IMO.



"The Midrash Detective"

Jim's picture

Indeed 1 Thess 5:22 in the KJV is a questionable translation!

  • And much abused. 1 example. My first pastor said that when he went to a restaurant and ordered a coke, that he would ask to be served in bottle (of coke) because coke in a glass could possibly be confused with whiskey! 
  • We would rather leave a sister alone in the rain with a flat tire than give her a ride because ... you know that ride could look like a date!
  • Greek is very helpful ... "ἀπὸ παντὸς εἴδους [form] πονηροῦ ἀπέχεσθε." ESV, NKJV, NASB much better: "Abstain from every form of evil" (ESV)
  • ​Many many many have been buffaloed by this verse
Jim's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
[This] well-intended project executed foolishly is wrong, IMO.

The problem you have Ed is .... ​:

  • You are (we are) 3300 years after the event
  • The people closest (you have a high priest who investigated it ... and Joshua was still alive) to the event concluded that it was not sinful
  • Without something like:
    • Some castigation by the Lord OR 
    • Some follow-on example that this altar of witness was abused
    • What evidence to we have that it was evil
  • It would be like going back to the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) and concluding they were wrong! 
  • You basically have a binary choice with Joshua 22:
    • A: Is the message that the militancy of the Western tribes was correct AND the application is be militant (but then the W tribes relented so they sinned in NOT following through)
    • B: is the message investigate thoroughly before you go to war AND the application is don't prejudge your brother before you hear out the facts
    • Militant fundamentalism goes into this with a particular lens and takes choice A
  • This by the way has application to the recurring discussion above beverage alcohol on S/I. The A group goes the the view that any one drink will bring you down, alter the mind, ruin your marriage, cause you to abuse women and children
  • Group B says .. .hold on ... let's closely examine the facts and have a nuanced response. There is little nuance in fundamentalism. Hammer 'em with your view!