The Internal Witness of the Spirit versus the External Witness of the Altar (Joshua 22)

Joshua 22 is a sad story about the eastern tribes and their fear that one day the main group of covenant people living on the West side of the Jordan would refuse to welcome and honor their physical and spiritual kin on the East side of the Jordan and so they build an altar. Unfortunately one group misunderstands the intentions of the others and prepares to war against them in order to keep the people of God pure, but with a bit of wisdom they send the priests to hold discussions and to turn their brothers’ hearts back to God.  Thankfully, what results is not a war, but a declaration of a common faith which can be pointed to in the rock altar constructed on the Eastern shore.

Though there are a number of great lessons to learn from a text like this: don’t jump to hasty conclusions, dialogue with others to understand their actions, war isn’t the best way to maintain purity in a people, etc…there is an even greater spiritual truth one must walk away with.  Everyone who worships the Lord in their heart, with their soul and in the fullness of their mind is a disciple, a brother and sister in the faith.  These disciples don’t point to a rock altar that is a replica of something in the tabernacle, rather they point to the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb, emblazoned on their hearts by the witness of the Spirit.

A simple appeal by any brother or sister to the cross and empty tomb serves to suffice and bind one person to another in the worshipping family of God.  We don’t need external objects like rock altars, silver crucifixes, or wordy confessions (though all of these may serve a purpose) to determine who the true worshippers are, we simply need the evidence and testimony of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to bind us into a single body all bowing before the throne of God.  Thus the internal witness of the Holy Spirit far surpasses anything the external witness of a stone altar could ever provide.

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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