And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size.  (Joshua 22:10)

And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.  (Joshua 22:12)

It is not unusual for conflict to arise out of misunderstandings.  Two people can look at the same event and interpret it in two very different ways.  It is this difference that can lead to conflict and possibly disastrous results.  A clear example of this is found in Joshua chapter 22.  

When the Israelites had finished conquering Canaan, two and a half tribes returned to their inheritance across on the east side of the Jordan river.  Originally, the promised land of Canaan consisted of only the land west of the Jordan.  However, after conquering the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan, their land was given to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half of the tribe of Manasseh  (Deuteronomy 2:24-3:20).

All was well until the two and a half tribes built an altar by the Jordan river.  When the western tribes heard this, they became incensed and gathered for war.  Why?  Because they thought the two and a half tribes were rebelling against God, a perception shaped by their prior experiences and which led to deep concerns.

From this we can see how powerful our interpretation of events is in how we respond to situations in life.  The western tribes were willing to go to war because of what the building of the altar meant to them.  Just like them, as humans beings, we also seek to find meaning in others’ actions or words.  And, as sinful human beings, our interpretations are often wrong.  We build stories to explain why people do what they do.  And our stories tell as much or more about ourselves than they do about the other person.   

So, before you go to “war” with someone, first separate the facts from your story.  Then think about why you are interpreting events this way.  What desires, fears, or concerns lay behind your story?  Consider if there are other possible explanations that might make sense of your situation.

In our next post, we will look at how the Israelites resolved their conflict.

Jim Murray and his wife Jean are members. Jim has served as an Elder and currently serves as a Life Group leader and member of Peacemaking Team.

Read the 2nd post in this series here: