I wonder how many friendships are ended because of it, how many marriages are dissolved, how many churches have split over it, or the families destroyed because it has found a home there. The name of this destroyer is assumption. We’ve all been guilty of it and will be again. Webster’s Dictionary defines assumption “as believing something to be true for argument’s sake”. And that’s usually what happens, a big argument!
There’s no doubt that assumptions can be destroyers. In fact, assuming almost ruined the nation of Israel. In Joshua 22, after conquering Canaan, the tribes are headed back to their land that was given to them. They are finished fighting for a while. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh had chosen to receive their land east of the Jordan River, while the other ten and a half tribes had land west of the river. As the tribes of the east prepare to cross the Jordan to their new homes, they do something that almost brings an end to God’s people.
?In Joshua 22:10 the Bible tells us that the eastern tribes built an “altar of imposing size” by the Jordan River. It doesn’t take long for the western tribes to notice and the downward spiral of assumption begins. The following steps show how assumptions can ruin a relationship and then how to restore it.
• Step One: Assumption (Joshua 22:11, 16)
In Joshua 22:11, the western tribes notice the altar, and in verse sixteen, we read what their assumption was, “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord?” The western tribes assumed that the eastern tribes had already chosen to disobey the Lord.
• Step Two: Attack (Joshua 22:12)
Because of their assumption the western tribes are ready to go to war (verse 12). This is usually our first reaction as well. We assume someone has done or said something with bad intentions and immediately we are angry and ready to attack. “Well, I guess Sister So-and-So hates me. I can’t believe she said that! The next time she asks me to sub for her Sunday school class, I will just be too busy.” And so we attack and allow an assumption to come between a relationship.
• Step Three: Assess (Joshua 22:13-18)
Thankfully, Phineas, son of the high priest Eliezar, stops the planned attack and shows how a true follower of God reacts. He gathers an elder from each of the western tribes and heads over to talk with the other tribes about the altar. Phineas is showing us a perfect model of how Jesus said to deal with a dispute among believers. In Matthew 18:15, 16, Jesus says,
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
When our feelings get hurt, it is hard to remember to keep our head and give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
• Step Four: Acquiesce (Joshua 22:19-20)
To me this is the hardest step to follow. The western tribes are willing to give up something that is rightfully theirs to keep Israel unified and under God’s protection. They offer their land. Notice verse nineteen, “But now if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us.” They think that maybe the reason the eastern tribes have done this “awful” thing is because they are not happy with their land inheritance. I wonder how many relationships could be restored if someone was willing to acquiesce and give up something they value to save fellowship.
• Step Five: Afraid (Joshua 22:21-29)
Finally the eastern tribes get a chance to speak. Phineas and his group have presented what they have assumed about Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh, and they have offered to give up some land to keep the eastern tribes on the straight and narrow. But what do we find out now? The eastern tribes were afraid. They built the altar because they were afraid that the descendents of the other 10 and a half tribes would forget that those tribes east of the Jordan River were Israelites too. Building a huge altar was probably not the best idea, but their intentions were good. They were not planning on worshipping God or offering sacrifices at this altar; it was merely a reminder of their birthright. My list of stupid things I’ve done because I was afraid is quite lengthy. We must remember that anger is a symptom of fear, so sometimes when people get angry with us they are actually afraid of something. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume they hate you, your family, or the church.
• Step Six: Acceptance (Joshua 22:30-34)
After the eastern tribes explain the true meaning of the altar, you can almost hear the collective gasp of relief from the western tribes. Their fellow Israelites have not decided to disobey God. So they return to the western side of the Jordan and report to the rest of the people of Israel that everything is fine. They had assumed incorrectly, “And the report was good in the eyes of the people of Israel (33a).”
Hopefully the next time you or I start to assume something about a person’s motivations, we will remember this story from the book of Joshua. The people of Israel stopped a war and reunited a people just by talking it out, instead of assuming. As God’s people, we also need to talk more and assume less.
By Chelli Guthrie
Chelli and her husband, Luke, work with the Abell St. church of Christ in Wharton, Texas. Luke is the assistant minister and she teaches the Jr. High class on Sunday mornings and teach the Children’s Bible Hour program on Sunday nights. She is a stay-at-home mom to their three kids: Grace Evelyn, Sophia Elizabeth, and Levi Matthew.