(1)        The Altar of Witness            
The primary and most important condition for continued settlement in the land for the nation of Israel was the command of God given through Moses long before they entered the land; “But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”” . Moses had urged them to remember how God had led them through the desert for forty years to test their faithfulness to Him, and to teach them that they, and all mankind, could find true spiritual sustenance only from the Word of God. He continued to warn them that after they had conquered the land they were not to forget their God. After they had settled in their inheritance and enjoyed peace from their enemies, it would be easy for them become proud in their successes and forget the Lord their God. Some of Moses’ final words were; “If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.” . Moses had also given specific directions in regards to the location where they should worship God and present their sacrifices, and that to such location (“One place of worship”) all Israel should gather .
“Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their homes.” After reminding them of God’s command, Joshua then releases the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh to return to their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan River. The record states that they left the Israelites at Shiloh and returned to their own land, and as they came to Geliloth (Gilgal NIV Study Bible) they “built and imposing altar” , which almost caused the first civil war in the nation forcing the rest of the Israelites to send a delegation to inquire of the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh as to the reason for this altar. They were reminded of a previous act of idol worship in which God had to severely punish His people and that “Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the LORD! And are you now turning away from the LORD? “‘If you rebel against the LORD today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel.” , and they were invited to rejoin the rest of the nation “If the land you possess is defiled…” .
In their defence they gave their reason for the altar; “…it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the LORD at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings….” so that future generations would not disown them from being a part of the Israelite community. It was not their intent to rebel against the Lord.
There is a warning here for all God’s people – BEWARE OF SUBSTITUTIONS!  In the Church today we often experience human reasoning and planning, and no matter how innocent and plausible the decision or action may seem to the present community of believers, for future generations it could be completely misinterpreted as doctrine. We must be very careful how we “add to” or “subtract” from God’s explicit commands. The intent of the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh was simple and sincere, but the appearance of the altar was enough to bring a suspicion of a violation to God’s command, and too often what begins as a “witness” becomes an act of worship to later generations. This was the case of the bronze serpent that Moses was commanded to make, it was a source of life and healing to the people in the desert but later became a god to them in the land . The altar of witness to the Israelites soon became an altar of worship to false gods as we see their demise in later years where it is recorded “But they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers and prostituted themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them.” <1  Chron. 5:23-26> and the northern kingdom of Israel, as it was then known, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh were the first to be taken captive by the Assyrian armies, their history coming to a tragic conclusion as the people passed into oblivion.

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