Joshua 22:3-4 For a long time now—to this very day—you have not deserted your brothers but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you. Now that the Lord your God has given your brothers rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan.” [Numbers 32 reveals that Moses’ first choice for the eastern tribes would have been for them to settle with the rest of the Israelites west of the Jordan. Still, they kept their promise to help their brothers.]
Quick context: This is Joshua speaking to the the Reubenites, Gadites and half tribe of Mannaseh (eastern tribes) whose homes were opposite the rest of the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan. The Lord instructed these eastern tribes to help their brothers and sisters cross the Jordan River and settle them in the land of Canaan. They’d completed the task and now Joshua was releasing these tribes to return home.
For a long time now
I appreciate Joshua’s notation of time here. He didn’t give months or dates, just hey, this has been a long one! I wonder how long you’ve been bearing someone else’s burdens, helping them across their Jordan? Has guiding them into the place of God’s will felt like a seemingly indefinite journey? Maybe you’ve had to give up some of your own comforts and familiar surroundings to accomplish this? Take encouragement from this passage: The Lord hasn’t lost track of time! He knew it had been a long time for the eastern tribes and the author of Joshua details this. Also, for some New Testament encouragement, the Lord will not forget your labor of love (Heb 6:10).
Sometimes it’s about what you don’t do
Joshua’s wording is telling here. “You have not deserted your brothers…” I don’t know if you’ve ever been abandoned, left or deserted by someone you loved or depended on, but the pain of abandonment has to be one of the deepest of the human experiences. So it encourages me that all the way back in the Old Testament God delighted in seeing his people not desert one another.
Commitment to one another is important to God. Praise Him for this.
For the eastern tribes to have left the other Israelite tribes would have gone against the very mission God gave them. Practically speaking sometimes not deserting simply means showing up. Just hanging in there. Being present. You don’t necessarily have to whip out the life-changing “word”, have the extravagant dinner ready, come up with the Bible study lesson, look stylish while you’re helping out… Sometimes serving someone is as simple as not going anywhere.
When you’re free to go
Joshua says “Now…return to your homes”. God’s assignments don’t typically last our entire lives. The Lord puts start and end times on our missions. It’s not our responsibility to co-dependently carry someone forever. Once the people we’re ministering to, encouraging, guiding are settled in the place the Lord has for them we can be released (when the Lord says so, of course.) When it was time for the eastern tribes to return home they hadn’t deserted a soul because they’d left their brothers and sisters in the Lord’s rest. That’s not abandonment, that’s freedom.