Day 24

An Altar of Witness

from the Joshua reading plan


Joshua 22:1-34, Psalm 7:8-10, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22


We moved recently, so I suppose that I could use that as an excuse for the sparseness of our walls. As an artist, I expected that I’d have plenty of artwork to hang about the rooms and hallways, but the walls are still mostly empty. I think I enjoy the simplicity, like the simple possibilities of a blank canvas. Whether we’ve been intentional or not, our walls and bookshelves, our cupboards and our dashboards, quickly become a curation of the things we’ve given our lives to. It might be the pursuit of peace, of comfort, of distraction, or of excitement, but we’re all busy building ebenezers.

When Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh crossed over the border into their homeland with the spoils of war, they were not about to allow the clutter of victory to distract them from their true priorities. They took very seriously the exhortation of Joshua: “Only carefully obey the command and instruction that Moses the LORD’s servant gave you: to love the LORD your God, walk in all his ways, keep his commands, be loyal to him, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul” (Joshua 22:5). In their zeal, they erected an ebenezer, an altar of witness as a reminder for future generations. Israel mistakenly took offense at Reuben, Gad, Manasseh, believing that they had built an altar of idolatry.

The three tribes established on the other side of the Jordan might have been offended by the allegations presented by their fellow Israelites. Instead, they received the rebuke of their brothers and dispelled their concerns. They offered an explanation for why they built the altar, out of concern for continued unity between future generations of the tribes (Joshua 22:26–29). Their explanation was accepted, and the conflict resolved peaceably. God’s people blessed Him and celebrated His presence among them (vv.30,33). And the altar erected by Reubenites and Gadites was named for its intended purpose: “It is a witness between us that the LORD is God” (v.34).

This altar of witness is also for us, that we would not forget who our God is, that we would not turn from true worship to idolatry. The zeal of Israel for the glory of God and the preservation of true worship is to be the defining pursuit of our lives. Whether our walls are bare or crowded, we are called to be zealously intentional like the Israelites. May every corner of our lives be marked by the ebenezers of this truth: He is our God, and Him we will serve.

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