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Inductive Bible Study on Joshua 22 – Free Series for Small Groups or Personal Study

Discussion Questions

  • In what way had the two and a half tribes kept the commandment of the Lord?
  • What were they going to do now?
  • What reminders did Joshua give them before sending them away?
  • Where did they get all the stuff in verse 8?
  • What did they do on their way back?
  • How did the rest of Israel react?
  • Why did the rest of the Israelites get so upset about this altar?
  • How did they solve this issue?
  • Do you think they solved it the right way or was there a better way?
  • What principles we can learn from this disagreement?
  • What principles can we learn about avoiding conflict and making peace?
  • Can you think of any other biblical examples of people’s harsh or careless words bringing about conflict?
  • Are there any lessons we can learn about communication?
  • What is the difference between no communication, communication, and good communication? Which kind do you see here?
  • Based on what we learn here, how can you improve your communication with others, especially family and spouse?


On keeping promises:

Numbers 30:2 – When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.

Psalm 89:34 – I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered.

On good communication:

Psalm 37:30 – The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.

Proverbs 15:1 – A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 12:18 – The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 25:11 – Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given.

Matthew 12:37 – For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

Ephesians 4:29 – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Psalm 141:3 – Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.

Romans 12:18 – If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. The two and a half tribes faithfully fulfilled their commitments. – We have seen in the past chapters that this conquest was not a quick one. It took a long time. These tribes’ families were waiting for them. They hadn’t had time to build their homes, plow their fields, or sow their crops. It certainly would have been a temptation for them to make up their minds and go back when the conquest was partially done. But they stayed until the very end. Who took initiative for them to leave? Even here it is Joshua who summons them and tells them they can go. They did not take initiative to leave on their own. Neither did they go to Joshua and ask permission to return home. They patiently stayed until they end. From them we learn both the importance of perseverance and keeping one’s commitments even if it takes a long time.

2. Joshua faithfully kept his word to them. – These tribes were a great resource. In addition to help fighting battles they could have helped the Israelites build their cities, plow their field, and sow their crops. But Joshua knows that they have the same work to do in their land. Some leaders might have shown bias to the majority group and asked those “outsider” tribes to stay longer in order to help the majority tribes. But Joshua was fair-minded. He treated the “different” tribes justly and without bias. He had given his word that they could return when the mission was accomplished and now it was time.

Application: If we are ever in a position of leadership, we may have to judge between different parties. Parents judge between children. Teachers judge between students. Bosses judge between employees. We should be just and fair and not favor one party over another.

3. He reminded them to put the Lord first. It would be a challenge for them to continue serving the Lord as they were apart from the rest of the congregation. – In verse 2 we learn that they had been faithful. Joshua says that they “have kept all that Moses…commanded you.” This is high praise. But Joshua warns them to continue to be “very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you…”

One of the recurring lessons we have learned in Joshua is that one victory doesn’t guarantee another. Often the Israelites obeyed God and did really well only to become careless and rely on their own wisdom and fail the next time. Do you remember any examples? Joshua doesn’t want this to happen. The past is not a guarantee of the future. Temptation, sin, and Satan were still lurking seeking to turn their hearts away from the Lord. Thus the tribes still had a lot of work to do. What verbs do you note in verse 5? What do these show us about walking with the Lord? What key elements of spiritual discipline do we see here?

4. Through presumption comes nothing but strife. – The Israelites assumed that they were building the altar to “rebel against the Lord” when they were not doing it for that reason. (See 22:28-29 for the reasons for building the altar.) The Israelites saw the altar and they guessed the reason it was built. It seems they thought that the two and half tribes built this altar to establish their own place of worship to the LORD. The tabernacle was supposed to be the center of worship and the center for offerings and sacrifices.

Hundreds of years later the Northern Kingdom of Israel set up their own place of worship in Samaria and the result was that the pure teaching of the Lord became corrupted with sinful practices. It seems that the majority tribes were afraid the minority tribes were abandoning the rest of the nation by splitting off and doing their own thing and establishing their own religion. Indeed this would have been dire.

But they were wrong. They had assumed that this was the reason for the altar when it wasn’t. The whole nation mustered to war to deal with this threat, which wasn’t even a threat. Their presumption was very dangerous. Not only did it waste the time of the majority tribes, time that could have been spent doing something constructive, but it also threatened an unnecessary civil war.

Application: We must be careful not to presume to know facts which we don’t. In Proverbs 13:10 we learn that through presumption comes nothing but strife.

5. Be careful about judging others’ motivations. – The majority tribes made a judgment about the motivations of the western tribes. They were not given the benefit of the doubt. Neither did they delay judgment until finding out more information. Instead they jumped to conclusions. We see that they believed the worst about the western tribes’ motivations, believing that they were rebelling against the Lord. Judging others is a quick way to start arguments and stir up resentment.

Application: We must be careful not to judge others’ motivations. We cannot see people’s thoughts or their hearts. Therefore it is foolish to pretend that we do. Can you think of any ways in which believers judge others’ motivations? Are there any biblical examples of people who wrongly judged others’ motivations? Here are some ways we may tend to judge others’ motivations:

  • That brother is serving up front because he wants to get recognized.
  • He is showing off.
  • She is fat because she is lazy.
  • She is late because she doesn’t value other people’s time.

Whenever we claim to know the why of what other people do, we have to be careful that we don’t falsely judge their motivations. Since we can’t see people’s hearts, it is better to leave their motivations in between them and God.

6. They did realize that the sin of some affected the whole group (18, 20). – Although their understanding of the situation was wrong, the eastern tribes did have the right attitude. We see in verses 18 and 20 that they were concerned the sins of a few would effect the group. Because of this, they wanted to stop this sin before it grew. It was an admirable viewpoint. Sin should not be tolerated. It is dangerous. The sins of a few do affect many. We saw this with the example of Achan’s sin and the defeat of the Israelites at Ai in Joshua 7.

Application: We should not tolerate sin. As Barney Fife on the “Andy Griffith Show” always used to say, “We have to nip it in the bud!” Sin is like a bacteria which spreads exponentially. The only way to stop it is to do so very early. Is there a sin in your life or your family you need to stop? Don’t tolerate it. Don’t wait. Don’t let it go and deal with it later. Deal with it now before it grows.

7. It would have been better to start this discussion by asking questions seeking to understand rather than making unfounded accusations. – The heart of the majority tribes was in the right place. But the method of dealing with it could be improved. How do you think they should have started this conversation? I believe that the best way they could have started the conversation was by asking a question instead of making an accusation. A simple question would have sufficed, “Why did you build this altar?”

Instead of making judgments and tossing around accusations, it would have been wiser to listen and seek to understand. From this passage we can learn a very important lesson about communication. And that is: Seek to understand, not to argue or debate.

In the church there are unfortunately many divisions. Believers disagree on many issues. Some of these might be irreconcilable, but many can be solved. Reconcilable differences are often left to fester because this basic principle is not followed. Many believers are quick to argue with others. They delight in sharing their opinions. Arguments start about many things such as teaching methods, gospel sharing methods, church music, worship, youth programs, Sunday School programs, church finances, missions, etc. Each person is convinced they are right. Each person may appeal to various Scriptures to prove their point.

Points are argued aggressively. Many times the debating parties do not listen at all. While the other person is talking they are instead thinking of how to phrase their next point of contention. It happens not only in the church or fellowship, but also in marriages and families. How many of these problems could be solved if the two sides started off by asking questions and seeking to understand the other side’s viewpoint? And even if some of the problems could not be solved, if the two sides did this what difference would it make in their relationship after the conflict? At the very least many relationships could be saved and brothers and sisters would still be friends and better understand each other. So, think about yourself. Are you a person who seeks to argue and debate or who seeks to listen and understand? If you are fall into the first group, how will you change?

8. From this passage we learn the importance of clear and complete communication. – Not all of the aspects of the communication between the two groups was right. As we have seen, the majority tribes started off with accusations and assumptions. That was the mistake. But the success was that they did talk about the problems. Instead of starting off directly attacking the other tribes, they first sent representatives to talk it through. And after talking it through, they realized that their assumptions were way off. The problem was finally solved without further conflict.

Think about how people in your culture may have dealt with this conflict. In some cultures, problems are swept under the rug. In fear of breaking the relationship, friends or family members choose to remain silent. As a result, incorrect assumptions live on, slowly fraying at and destroying the relationship. Many other arguments or misunderstandings may have started springing up from this one that wasn’t dealt with. Good communication is the best method to deal with problems. But even imperfect communication is generally better than none at all.

Application: Next time you have a conflict with your spouse, don’t just ignore it. Don’t just retreat on to your side of the bed and shut your mouth and keep silent while replaying all of your hurt feelings in your mind. Take initiative to talk with your spouse. Open your mouth. Speak. Graciously say how you feel. Seek to understand how the other person feels. And solve the problem right then and right there without delay. The same principle holds true for every kind of relationship including parents/children, friends, co-workers, etc.

9. Talk first before taking action and the conversation should be solution oriented. – Do not fight with others for the purpose of fighting. Do not argue with no solution or goal or purpose in mind. Do not attack others out of spite or anger. If you must argue, then be solution oriented. Do not just keep going on and on about how you feel or how upset you are. What is the solution? How can the problem be solved? Is it necessary to make a compromise? What solution would be acceptable to both sides?

10. The two and a half tribes built a memorial so that they wouldn’t forget who they were, where they came from, and what God had done for the them. – People have short memories. It is very easy to forget God’s good blessings on our lives. The western tribes wisely took precautions to make sure that their descendants would never forget what the Lord had done for them or where they had come from. It not only helped them in their relationship with the Lord, but also preserved the unity of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Application: Maybe we need to take some steps to make sure that we don’t forget what the Lord has done for us. What kind of modern day “memorials” can you set up to ensure you remember God’s work in your own life.

11. Their gracious answer was accepted and the problem was solved without further negative consequences. – In Proverbs 15:1 we learn that a gentle answer turns away wrath. The two and a half tribes could have become very angry. They could have said, “How dare you judge our motives? You don’t understand us at all. You are just seeking an excuse to fight with us. If you don’t know us any better than that, we will not even tell you why we built this altar!”

A prideful person would have responded in anger and in result escalated the situation to the point of civil war. But these tribes wisely took the humble route. Instead of arguing and getting angry, they graciously explained themselves and put out the fire before it spread.

Application: Are you the kind of person who quickly puts out the fires of conflict? Or does your quick temper fan the flames? Words are important. Once spoken they cannot be put back. Many a war have been started unnecessarily by prideful and haughty words. Many a relationship have been broken by hasty and unkind words which were later regretted, but could not be taken back. We must think before we speak and follow the command of Paul in Romans 12:18 to be a peacemaker. It takes two people to argue so make up your mind you won’t be one of the two.

Joshua Bible Study E-book: If this Joshua Bible study guide is helpful for you, get the whole updated Joshua study in one convenient e-book.

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