New Living Translation (NLT)
|12_tribus_de_Israel.svg: Translated by Kordas|
16 “The whole community of the Lord demands to know why you are betraying the God of Israel. How could you turn away from the Lord and build an altar for yourselves in rebellion against him?
28 “If they say this, our descendants can reply, ‘Look at this copy of the Lord’s altar that our ancestors made. It is not for burnt offerings or sacrifices; it is a reminder of the relationship both of us have with the Lord.’
Ok, that's only the soundbites and doesn't give a really clear picture of what was going on, so here's the story. And it's such a classic story of how people can jump to conclusions and go off half cocked. Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh had settled on the west side of the Jordan River instead of the east, with the rest of Israel. Word got over to the east side about how those across the river had built an altar. Since God had prohibited sacrificial offerings anywhere other than where He instructed, everyone in the East got their knickers in a knot, so to speak.
They were so angry that the tribes all gathered at Shiloh to prepare for war. While the rest of the armies were preparing for battle, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, led a group of 12 tribal leaders over to the other side to have a friendly little chat, heavily laced with angry accusations and pleading demands.
They could have just gone and asked "hey, what's up with this?" but instead, they went in assuming the worst. Boy, I bet their faces were red with embarrassment when the western tribes defended themselves with an explanation. It really was a pretty smart thing. They knew that in future generations, those on the East would forget that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh were all serving the same God. After all, they lived in the "wrong side of the tracks"... they had chosen their inheritance outside the borders of the Promised Land. That would surely indicate to future generations that those on the west were heathens. Maybe those on the west would be stereotyped much the way we, today, stereotype those from the inner-cities, or those from the Appalacians or Ozarks, or even those living in trailer parks.
Those who had settled on the west had not built a functional altar for burning sacrifices, which would have been in violation of the covenant made with God. They'd simply built a replica, a symbol to all people that their God was the same God of all the Israelites.
Even though the tribal leaders went in with their preconceived notions of what was going on, at least they went over ahead of the armies. Imagine how devastating that would have been, had tens of thousands of warriors had crossed over and started slaughtering their relatives over a miscommunication!
Jumping to conclusions about the intentions of other people is usually a foolish thing to do. Without asking, we can't possibly know what motivates people to do things. When we go in with the attitude "shoot first, ask questions later", all we do is create a hostile environment where one probably didn't exist in the first place. That's how people get their toes stepped on. It makes enemies out of friends. It makes forgiveness hard to come by. It's much better to ask.