Title: Putting “Self” on the Altar
Scripture: Joshua 22:23 NLT


In the Bible an altar represents different things.

It represented sacrificing to God by giving Him the best of the sheep in your flock.

It represented worshipping God and putting Him above all else in life. 

It represented humility, acknowledging your need of God and your total dependence on Him. 

But it’s also possible to build an altar “for ourselves.”

By doing so, we can rob God of His rightful place in our lives and begin to put ourselves first. 

In other words, we build an altar to self-interest, self-promotion, self-preservation, self-aggrandizement, and self-exaltation. 

That’s why Jesus sets the following standard for discipleship, and it’s a high standard: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24 NKJV).

Your “cross” has only one purpose, and that’s for “self” to die on. 

Paul writes: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13 NKJV)

Note the words: “put to death.” 

Your flesh, or your ego and carnal nature, will not willingly roll over and die; it must be crucified each day. 

And the power to do this can only be accessed by spending time in prayer with God and renewing your mind constantly with the Word of God. 

So today, the choice is yours, to build an altar to the Lord you must put “self” on the alltar. 

Are you ready to do that? 

Let’s examine this further by going to God’s Word and see what it has to say on this matter…

10 But while they were still in Canaan, and when they came to a place called Geliloth[a] near the Jordan River, the men of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh stopped to build a large and imposing altar.

11 The rest of Israel heard that the people of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had built an altar at Geliloth at the edge of the land of Canaan, on the west side of the Jordan River. 12 So the whole community of Israel gathered at Shiloh and prepared to go to war against them. 13 First, however, they sent a delegation led by Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to talk with the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 14 In this delegation were ten leaders of Israel, one from each of the ten tribes, and each the head of his family within the clans of Israel.

15 When they arrived in the land of Gilead, they said to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 16 “The whole community of the Lord demands to know why you are betraying the God of Israel. How could you turn away from the Lord and build an altar for yourselves in rebellion against him? 17 Was our sin at Peor not enough? To this day we are not fully cleansed of it, even after the plague that struck the entire community of the Lord. 

Reflection: (Joshua 22:17)

For the story of how Israel turned away from God and began to worship Baal at Peor (see Numbers 25:1-18).

18 And yet today you are turning away from following the Lord. If you rebel against the Lord today, he will be angry with all of us tomorrow.

19 “If you need the altar because the land you possess is defiled, then join us in the Lord’s land, where the Tabernacle of the Lord is situated, and share our land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar other than the one true altar of the Lord our God. 20 Didn’t divine anger fall on the entire community of Israel when Achan, a member of the clan of Zerah, sinned by stealing the things set apart for the Lord[b]? He was not the only one who died because of his sin.”

Reflection: (Joshua 22:20)

For the story of Achan, a man who allowed greed to get the best of him (see Joshua 7).

21 Then the people of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh answered the heads of the clans of Israel: 22 “The Lord, the Mighty One, is God! The Lord, the Mighty One, is God! He knows the truth, and may Israel know it, too! We have not built the altar in treacherous rebellion against the Lord. If we have done so, do not spare our lives this day. 23 If we have built an altar for ourselves to turn away from the Lord or to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings, may the Lord himself punish us.

24 “The truth is, we have built this altar because we fear that in the future your descendants will say to ours, ‘What right do you have to worship the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has placed the Jordan River as a barrier between our people and you people of Reuben and Gad. You have no claim to the Lord.’ So your descendants may prevent our descendants from worshiping the Lord.

26 “So we decided to build the altar, not for burnt offerings or sacrifices, 27 but as a memorial. It will remind our descendants and your descendants that we, too, have the right to worship the Lord at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices, and peace offerings. Then your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no claim to the Lord.’

28 “If they say this, our descendants can reply, ‘Look at this copy of the Lord’s altar that our ancestors made. It is not for burnt offerings or sacrifices; it is a reminder of the relationship both of us have with the Lord.’ 

Reflection: (Joshua 22:26-28)

The tribes were concerned that, without some visible sign of unity between the people on the two sides of the Jordan, future generations might see conflict between them. 

The altar, patterned after the altar of the Lord, was to remind these people that they all worshipped the same God. 

Often we need to be reminded of the faith of our fathers. 

What actions demonstrate to your children your reliance on God and remind them of what He has done? 

Take the time to establish family traditions that will help your children remember

29 Far be it from us to rebel against the Lord or turn away from him by building our own altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings, or sacrifices. Only the altar of the Lord our God that stands in front of the Tabernacle may be used for that purpose.”

30 When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community—the heads of the clans of Israel—heard this from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, they were satisfied. 31 Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, replied to them, “Today we know the Lord is among us because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord as we thought. Instead, you have rescued Israel from being destroyed by the hand of the Lord.”

32 Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the other leaders left the tribes of Reuben and Gad in Gilead and returned to the land of Canaan to tell the Israelites what had happened. 33 And all the Israelites were satisfied and praised God and spoke no more of war against Reuben and Gad.

Reflection: (Joshua 22:33)

Both the eastern and western tribes were relieved that the crisis had been averted, and they joyfully praised God to renew their affirmation of national unity in faithfulness to God.

34 The people of Reuben and Gad named the altar “Witness,”[c] for they said, “It is a witness between us and them that the Lord is our God, too.”

Reflection: (Joshua 22:11-34)

When the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar near the Jordan River, the rest of Israel feared that these tribes were starting their own religion and rebelling against God. 

But before beginning an all out war, Phinehas led a delegation to learn the truth, following the principle taught in Deuteronomy 13:12-18. 

He was prepared to negotiate rather than fight if a battle was not necessary. 

When he learned that the altar was for a memorial rather than for pagan sacrifice, war was averted and unity restored. 

As nations and as individuals, we would benefit from a similar approach to resolving conflicts. 

Assuming the worst about the intentions of others only brings trouble. 

Israel averted the threat of civil war by asking  before assaulting. 

Beware of reacting before you hear the whole story.