“Now the children of Israel heard someone say, “Behold the children of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar.” When the children of Israel heard it, the whole congregation of Israel gathered to go to war against them.” Joshua 22:11,12
Why would the other tribes of Israel be ready to go to war against those other 2 ½ tribes who had built an altar? First of all, in Deuteronomy 12:10-14, the Israelites were commanded not to set up an altar for sacrifice just anywhere they chose. This altar led the nation of Israel to the brink of civil war. It was interpreted as being an act of treachery or rebellion against Shiloh…the place that had been established for sacrifices.
The accused admit they had built the altar, but, they say, it was not to be used for animal sacrifice nor grain offerings, but rather, it was built merely as a memorial (a reminder), a testimony to their connection with the other ten tribes. They say, “Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn from following the Lord this day….” (Joshua 22:29) Their explanation is received and war is averted.
Before we let go of this biblical account though, there are important lessons to be learned. First, it is of the utmost importance that one pays heed to the commandments of the Lord. The 2 ½ tribes had no business building the altar. Secondly, the altar, which they named “Witness”, would never have blood shed upon it. Yet…the altar at Shiloh is a bloodstained altar.
In Hebrews 9:22 we read that without the shedding of blood there is no remission (forgiveness) of sin. Thus these 2 ½ tribes built a useless altar. Without the shedding of blood there is no symbol of sins being forgiven.
All of the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to a specific time and place when Christ would take upon Himself the sins of the world, and through the shedding of His blood, make atonement for those who would place their faith in Him. They would be the true church who would be justified by His blood and saved from wrath through Him. (Romans 5:9)
The bloodless altar. A church that does not recognize the atonement that Christ has made for their sin, is actually worshiping at a bloodless altar as well. That’s a very dangerous place to be with regards to one’s relationship with God. To want a religion without Christ (a bloodless Christ); a feel good religion which does not demand repentance and atonement for sin, is to distance oneself from the power of Christianity. Such actions have dire eternal consequences.