False assumptions. As the Eastern tribes head home they build an altar. The Western tribes assume this means they want a rival religion, so they assemble for war against their brothers. The rest of the chapter is working out their differences. This chapter and this message is about overcoming divisions.
Henry Winkler said, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” Slowly eating away the foundation … Here’s a poem that speaks well about false assumptions. “The Cookie Thief” (by Valerie Cox):
“A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shops.
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.
She was engrossed in her book but happened to see,
That the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be.
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.
So she munched the cookies and watched the clock,
As the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”
With each cookie she took, he took one too,
When only one was left, she wondered what he would do.
With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half, as he ate the other,
She snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother.
This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude,
Why he didn’t even show any gratitude!
She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.
She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat,
Then she sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise,
There was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.
If mine are here, she moaned in despair,
The others were his, and he tried to share.
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.”
A false assumption is when you apply the wrong explanation to something you see. A man was on a subway with his children. The other passengers were agitated because the man’s children were out of control, loud, disruptive. Finally one bold woman scolded the man for allowing his children to be so rude. “Ma’am, I apologize” he said. “We are returning from the hospital where their mother just died. I guess they don’t know how to act. And neither do I.” We usually don’t know why people do what they do. We assume. And our assumptions get us in trouble, cause divisions, misunderstanding. Year’s ago in the Nooksack Church Pastor Alan Shore was surprised when one of the ladies got up and left right in the middle of the sermon. As a pastor, I know what it’s like to wonder what motivates people.... Alan wondered what he said… Later Alan found out Eva suddenly remembered she forgot to turn on the oven for her roast. The stories we make up in our mind are so often more sinister, more critical, than is reality. Maybe because it’s so much fun.
The eastern tribes return home and on the way they build an altar. The western tribes falsely assume their brothers are setting up a rival religion and so they prepare for war. There is trouble in the family.
False assumptions are the worst! If you are acting in a surprising way sometimes I falsely assume something about you, and sometimes I falsely assume it is me. It turns out you didn’t show up because you were sick, and here I was imagining I had offended you. Turns out the message wasn’t passed on to you. Turns out something came up that was unavoidable. False assumptions. What do we do?
The story ends well when the eastern tribes explain the altar is not a rival altar, but it is a reminder they are one people under one God. Both sides make mistakes. The eastern tribes should have communicated what they were doing, and the western tribes should have asked. The eastern tribes had a noble reason to build an altar as a reminder of God’s sovereignty over the whole nation, east and west, but one problem I see is that God never directed the building of this altar. Without even asking, the western tribes were ready to go to war. And when the Western tribes send a delegation to the Eastern tribes to sort through the altar issue, the western tribes go to the eastern tribes accusing them of betrayal ~ where is the humility of the western tribes? They falsely assume the eastern tribes are aligning themselves against the western tribes: READ Josh 22:16. How could you?
The truth: we don’t know what us really going on inside another person. The man’s wife just died and the children are out of control… You don’t know how you would act if you were in the same place. You don’t know the whole story in someone’s life. How often we assume people are not Christians because they don’t appear to be doing things right, but how do we really know? We need to walk with humility…
Sometimes in my role as a pastor people will let me in to their background, a dark past, abuse from parents, spouse is so common but they don’t want others to know… How hard when others dismiss the people, assume different motives, and I am helpless to clarify things because it is not my story to tell, Years ago, for example, in a different time and place, one woman in the church confided she had two abortions years earlier and that explained her guilt, not wanting to get close to people, mistrust, outsiders could only see in her a distant person, sometimes weeping in inappropriate situations. And those are only the situations where I am honored to be let in on people’s thinking.
Communication is a key to understanding. What a dilemma when we don’t even realize we are falsely assuming… The Western tribes at least went to talk to their brothers of the Eastern Tribes even though they still had false assumptions. At least the Eastern tribes had the courage to set the record straight. READ Josh. 22:24-28. Communicate, communicate, communicate. I am convinced that in a marriage communication is more important than love. Listening more to understand rather than to be understood. And if it is none of your business accept the fact that you don’t know everything.
Here’s the good thing about the western tribes: while they accused the Eastern tribes of rebellion against God, at least they listened in order to really hear. To the credit of the Western tribes, as soon as the issue was clarified, they immediately changed their tune and rejoiced because they were still one family. READ Josh. 22:32-33.
Principles to help overcome the tension that arises from false assumptions:
Accept that you may not understand. So what if there are mysteries and you don’t get other people.
Talk it out when appropriate. Maybe it’s none of your business. Or maybe it is… In the case of Josh. 22, they are brothers and it is each others business. Put yourself in the other person’s sandals. Listen to understand, not to be understood. Keep an open door to others.
Be ready to abandon your assumptions. The Western tribes quickly abandoned the assumption they created of why the eastern tribe built and altar. Assume you don’t understand or know everything, listen, listen, listen, and when new information or motives come to light, be prepared to abandon your false assumptions.
When I was in college in photography, I volunteered in a daycare so I could photograph the children. Early on I took a photo of a little girl. She looked so sad because the front of her hair was shaved and big old incision from ear to ear adorned her head from a recent brain surgery. I felt so sorry for her. A few weeks later I took a photo of the same girl, same location, and when I later put the two photos side by side, in the second photo the girl was happy and smiling. I laughed because I instantly realized the girl was miserable looking in the first photo not because of her surgery, she was afraid because I was a stranger. Two weeks later she was used to me…. Be prepared to abandon false assumptions.
We must be careful about making assumptions. Especially matters of faith. That’s what the false assumption is about in Josh. 22 ~ one side assuming the other is not following God. I affirm wholeheartedly there is only one true God and only one Lord, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. But we are sinners, Jesus is a forgiving God, and we often simply do not know what their relationship is with Christ.
Making judgements about who’s right and who’s wrong in their Christian faith is not only misleading, but it seems contrary to what Jesus did on earth. In Luke 13, when people asked Jesus about the fate of others, twice Jesus said, “Never you mind. Just live a right life before God.” Peter asked Jesus about what would happen to John, and Jesus replied, “It’s none of your business. What about you?”
When there is trouble in the family may the bottom line goal be peace. I always want a win win solution if at all possible… When we follow God on this earth, there is no such thing as “they lived happily ever after.” The question is not if there will be tension and misunderstanding; the question is what do we do about it when it comes. Communicate. If it’s none of your business let it go. Seek to avoid false assumptions. Be prepared to let go of false assumptions when new understanding emerges. God is pleased when his people are unified. Trouble in the family is the worst, yet when relationships are restored, the depth and renewal is sweeter than ever and God is glorified. Joshua 22 ends with words of hope: READ Josh. 22:34.