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23 — 29 July 2007

Issue No. 27

Biblical GRADUATE school of theology

BGST This Week

The Israelites had just conquered the Promised Land of Canaan, west of the Jordan River.  Now the fighting men of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh (RGM) were returning to their chosen land in Gilead, east of the Jordan.  But near the river, they paused to build “An imposing altar….near the Jordan on the Israelite side” (Jos 22:10-11).  And that was how the trouble began.

For “when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar …. near the Jordan on the Israelite side …. the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them” (Jos 22:11-12).  There are several interesting thinking points in this passage:


a. The Israelites had merely heard about the altar, and mustered troops for war?

Yes!  Apparently no one was sent out to check the truth of the matter.  Should a nation march out to fight a war on mere hearsay?   Worse still, hadn’t the RGM just returned home after fighting shoulder to shoulder beside the Nine Israelite Tribes (NIT), to conquer the Promised Land for them?  And yet, here, acting on hearsay was the large ANT descending on Gilead to slaughter their erstwhile comrades-in-arms, their blood relatives?  Amazing isn’t it?   But while we may shake our heads at the Israelites, how often have we heard gossip, or read a newspaper report, and, without checking the truth of the matter, acted on the false or inaccurate information, or passed it on?


b. Who informed them about the altar? 

The Canaanites had practically been wiped out during the conquest of Canaan, and why should the Canaanite survivors report an Israelite altar to Israelites?  It is almost certain that Israelites had reported the new altar.  But Israelites must have known that an imposing altar had two main uses.  Firstly, as a memorial regarding some important event.  No important event involving the RGM and that spot has been recorded.  Secondly, the altar could be used for burnt sacrifices and various offerings. So, did the Israelite informants check if there were burn marks, remains of animal sacrifices, congealed blood or other evidence of offerings on or around the altar?  Incredibly, they did not! 


c. Why was the Army of the Nine Tribes (ANT) called up for war just because an altar had been built?

The priest leading the ANT asked the RGM, “How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the LORD and build yourself an altar in rebellion against Him?  He also asked: “Was not the sin of Peor enough for us?”   This referred to the time when many Israelites had indulged in sexual immorality with Moabite women at Shittim in defiance of God’s prohibition, and under their influence had worshipped the Baal of Peor.  God sent a plague which killed 24,000 Israelites.


The RGM caught the point and answered: “If we have built our own altar to turn away from the LORD and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offering on it, may the LORD call us to account.”  The NIT had jumped to the wrong conclusion that this was why the RGM had built the altar.


Their other wrong presumption was that the RGM had turned to other gods.  So the RGM repeatedly mentioned God’s name (“the LORD”) no less than 13 times in their reply.  This wise reply left the NIT in no doubt that the RGM were still worshipping the God of Israel.


d. Where had the altar been built?

Yes, “on the Israelite side” of the Jordan. Didn’t it occur to the NIT that if the RGM were worshipping the gods of Gilead, the altar would have been built on the Gilead side of the Jordan?  What was the level of clear thinking in the NIT at that time?


The choice of the priest Phinehas (Jos 22:13) to lead the ANT is also interesting. Choosing a priest indicates that the punitive expedition was seen as a religious matter.  But wasn’t Phinehas the priest who in his zeal for God drove a spear through the bodies of Zimri and the Moabitess Cozbi, after Zimri had brought her into his tent in the sight of the whole assembly of Israel? (Numbers 25:6-9)  Did the NIT choose Phinehas expecting him to deal with the RGM similarly?


Did Phinehas perform as expected?  Fortunately, he sought clarification first.  This wise move averted a terrible and needless bloodbath.


The NIT made many mistakes, but were the RGM blameless?  If they had sent messengers to Shiloh to explain why they had set up the altar, would all the misunderstanding have arisen? Non-communication and misunderstanding make a deadly pair, as Jos 22 shows.


(Mickey Chiang)

THINKING POINTS: An Altar Alters Everything (Joshua 22)


When I first entered the desert, about twelve miles from the Nile—I had one of the brethren for guide, a man who knew the country well—we came to where an old monk lived at the foot of a mountain. And there, a thing very rare in those parts, was a well. He had an ox, whose sole business it was to draw up the water by turning a wheel: for the well was said to be a thousand or more feet deep. He had a garden too, full of many sorts of vegetables: a thing against nature in the desert, where everything is so parched and burnt by the rays of the sun that it seldom gives root or seed, and then but scant. But the labour that the saint shared with his ox, and his own industry, were to profit: for the constant watering gave such richness to the sand

that we saw the herbs growing in the garden, green and lavish. On these the ox lived, together with his master: and from this plenty the good man provided a feast for us as well. I saw then what you men of Gaul will hardly believe, the pot of vegetables that he was preparing for our meal boiling without any fire under it: so great is the heat of the sun that it would cook a Gallic meal as well as any cooks you please.

After supper, as evening drew on, he invited us to a palm tree, the fruit of which he sometimes used; it was about two miles away. For these trees indeed exist  in the desert, though no many: and whether it was the sill of the men of old time, or the nature of the soil, begat them, I know not: or else God foreseeing that the desert would some day be inhabited by the saints, prepared them for His servants. For the most part, those who live in these remote solitudes live on the fruit of these trees, since no other succeeds in growing here. We came then to this tree, led by our kindly host, and there stumbled upon a lion. At sight of him, my guide and I quaked, but the saintly old man went unfalteringly on, and we followed him timorously enough. The wild beast—you would say it was at the command of God—modestly withdrew a little way and sat down, while the old man plucked the fruit from the lower branches. He held out his hand, full of dates; and up the creature ran and took them as frankly as any tame animal about the house: and when it had finished eating, it went away. We stood, watching and trembling; reflecting as well we might, what valour of faith was in him, and what poverty of spirit in us.


 (This is one of  many stories of  “the mutual charities between saints and beasts from the end of the fourth to the end of the twelfth century”. Translated from the Latin by Helen Waddell in Beasts and Saints, Eerdmans Publishing, 1996)


Weekly Highlights

An Invitation

Peter Lim, his wife, Siew Hong and daughter, Hui Yim are leaving for Indonesia as missionaries on 1 August.  They are happy to invite everyone to their commissioning at the  8am worship service of Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, at 77 Prinsep Street on Sunday; 29 July 2007. Peter can be contacted at 96563226; email:  plslim@starhub.net.sg


Library News:

BGST library lockers are available for rental. New applications based on a needs priority basis are now open and successful applicants  will be informed upon approval. Rental charge is $10.00 per semester and is payable at the time rentalcontract is approved. Please check with the library for more details.


Courses Starting Next Week:

Old Testament Foundations II (OT102, 3 credits), starting Aug 2 (Thu), 7.30-9.45pm. Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite



Our speaker for 25 July will be Mr Richard Ang. Next Wednesday, 1 August, visiting lecturer, Dr Douglas Milne will address us.


Newly admitted students


Mr Koh Eu Beng worships at the Trinity Methodist Church and his ministry includes Youth work (Assoc Lay Leader) and Small Group (Assistant Leader). He is a Director in Marketing and a graduate of the Michigan Tech University in the U.S. (B.S. EE).


Mr Lee Khian Guan Gladwin is a graduate of the Nanyang Technological University. His interest is in Youth work and is now serving as a member of the Pastoral Team at Wesley Methodist Church.


Mr Lim Wei-En has been working with young people for many years and is now a full-time Youth Worker at The Bible Church. He holds a B.A. (Hons.) in Social Science from the National University of Singapore.


Mr Yeo Hwee Khoen is a System Consultant, a Cell Group Leader and worships at the Mt. Carmel BP Church. He holds a Bachelor of Engineering and a Master of Technology from the National University of Singapore.


Mr Tham Kuan Meng Eugene is a member of Eternal Life Baptist Church and he leads the ministry for children, youth and young adults. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from the National University of Singapore and has experience serving in the Air Force.



Mr Leong Wai Yin David is our alumnus (M.Div). He is an active member at the Zion BP Church (Bishan) serving as a Deacon, Worship Leader, Song Leader and Sunday School Teacher. He is a National University of Singapore graduate and his occupation involves marketing and leasing commercial properties.


A gentle tale for your reading pleasure