“And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of Canaan, in the borders of Jordan, at the passage of the children of Israel. And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them.” – Joshua 22:11-12
And so all of the children of Israel prepare to go up to make war against their own brethren, because of “hearsay“. Only there’s a problem, what they were told wasn’t true, it was just that, “hearsay“. Rumors, lies, gossip, speculation, hearsay.
You see the children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had aided the Israelite’s valiantly in recent battles against the enemy. They had been brothers in the Lord as well as brothers in arms. Yet now, as soon as they had returned home the Israelite’s receive “hearsay” that they have erected an alter of their own. Immediately the rumors start flying. They are sacrificing to idols, as was done in Peor! They are blaspheming God who instructed that His temple, alter, and sacrifices be done a certain way, by certain people, in a certain place.
Note that where only verses before there was humble appreciation, brotherhood, and camaraderie, now there are accusations of malice and declarations of war, all because of “hearsay“. I have seen this scenario play out so many times. The brethren turned against each other because of the lies of the enemy and the “hearsay” of those controlled by him.
“An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire. A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends. A violent man enticeth his neighbour, and leadeth him into the way that is not good. He shutteth his eyes to devise froward things: moving his lips he bringeth evil to pass.” – Proverbs 16:27-30
At this point in the story, things could have gone one of two ways. The Isrealites could have clung to their unjust grudge, set their hearts to war and their weapons against their brethren, and road in and wiped them all out. Or they could choose not to believe the “hearsay” and simply go speak to their brethren themselves. Thank God they chose to do the latter, for if they had done the former the innocent blood of their brothers would have been upon them, even as Able’s was upon Cane’s, and in like manner, God would have turned against them.
“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” – Matthew 18:15
At this point Phinehas (the same righteous priest that stayed God’s anger and wrath at Peor) goes to visit his faithful brethren and ask them personally what exactly is going on. To his great relief, (and I think to the shame of those who had listened to the “hearsay“) he discovers that they have neither strayed nor betrayed. The alter was not build for idol sacrifices, nor to steal Glory from God or His Temple, but was simply a replica of the Lord’s alter built as a manorial and monument to remind their children for generations to come in the mist of this distant land, that they serve and are loyal to the God of Israel, and to Him alone.
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” – Matthew 5:21-24
“Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the Lord. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:16-18
“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” – Mark 12:28-33