Man's ear close to a cactus

Controlled Listening

There is a group of people that has astounded me with their ability to listen well before responding calmly to serious accusations.

This happened not once, but twice!

These examples of amazing self-control can be found in Numbers 32 and Joshua 22, and the accused in both cases are the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

Numbers 32: Claiming the Land

In the first instance, these tribes asked to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan after conquering the people of the area, because the land was good for their large collections of livestock.

Moses automatically assumed the worst, and accused them of not wanting to go with the rest of the tribes to fight for the land God had promised them. This would certainly discourage the rest of the Israelites. Moses was sure that God would punish Israel for refusing to enter the land . . . again!! (Read his thoughts in verses 6-15.)

“The LORD was angry with Israel and made them wander in the wilderness for forty years until the entire generation that sinned in the LORD’s sight had died. But here you are, a brood of sinners, doing exactly the same thing! You are making the LORD even angrier with Israel. If you turn away from him like this and he abandons them again in the wilderness, you will be responsible for destroying this entire nation!” (Numbers 32:13-15 NLT).

The accused tribes listened to the entire accusation before responding.

They didn’t interrupt.

They didn’t jump in to say, “No, it’s not like that!!”

They waited for Moses to finish before replying.

“But they approached Moses and said, ‘We simply want to build pens for our livestock and fortified towns for our wives and children. Then we will arm ourselves and lead our fellow Israelites into battle until we have brought them safely to their land. Meanwhile, our families will stay in the fortified towns we build here, so they will be safe from any attacks by the local people. We will not return to our homes until all the people of Israel have received their portions of land. But we do not claim any of the land on the other side of the Jordan. We would rather live here on the east side and accept this as our grant of land'” (Number 32:16-19).

They did not respond to the accusation with an equal accusation.

There was no “How dare you accuse us of abandoning our brothers?”

They didn’t ask, “How could you call us a “brood of sinners??” or “Why on earth would you doubt our intentions??”

They simply replied to the main question: “How will Israel conquer the land God has promised us without you by our side?”

Moses is appeased by their answer, and instructs Joshua that if they keep their promise, they must be given the land they’ve requested on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

Joshua 22: Promises Kept

Jumping ahead to Joshua 22, we see that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh have kept their word, and in return Joshua has kept his.

“Then Joshua called together the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. He told them, ‘You have done as Moses, the servant of the LORD, commanded you, and you have obeyed every order I have given you. During all this time you have not deserted the other tribes. You have been careful to obey the commands of the LORD your God right up to the present day. And now the LORD your God has given the other tribes rest, as he promised them. So go back home to the land that Moses, the servant of the LORD, gave you as your possession on the east side of the Jordan River. But be very careful to obey all the commands and the instructions that Moses gave to you. Love the LORD your God, walk in all his ways, obey his commands, hold firmly to him, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul.’ So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went home” (Joshua 22:1-6).

Celebration time!! How long had they been away? I’m sure they were thrilled to return to their families!

But on the way home, shazam–another misunderstanding.

They built an altar before they crossed the Jordan River. All of Israel knew that there was only one altar to use to sacrifice to the Lord, and it wasn’t this one!

Didn’t Joshua just say, “You have been careful to obey the commands of the LORD your God right up to the present day?” What was going on?? Did they have a change of heart so soon? They weren’t even home yet! How could they go wrong and rebel against God so quickly?? God would surely punish all of Israel for this!! Things needed to be made right, and quickly.

“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. So the whole community of Israel gathered at Shiloh and prepared to go to war against them (Joshua 22:11-12).

Oh, dear. But before acting in anger, they sent a delegation to ask what what going on.

“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. When they arrived in the land of Gilead, they said to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, ‘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? 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. 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. ‘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'” (Joshua 22:14-19).

What else could they possibly assume about the intentions behind the building of this new altar?

Again:

The accused tribes listened to the entire accusation before responding.

They didn’t interrupt.

They didn’t jump in to say, “No, it’s not like that!!”

They waited for the accusers to finish before replying (although I wonder if they were thinking, “Oh, brother, here we go again.”).

Then the people of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh answered the heads of the clans of Israel: ‘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. 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. 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? 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. So we decided to build the altar, not for burnt offerings or sacrifices, 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.” 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.” 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” (Joshua 22:21-29).

Again:

They did not respond to the accusation with an equal accusation.

There was no “How dare you accuse us of abandoning God?”

They didn’t ask, “Why on earth would you doubt our intentions??”

They simply replied to the main question: “Why did you build this altar when we were commanded not to do such a thing?”

The leaders were satisfied, and everyone went home.

What can we learn?

  1. Listening requires self-control, patience, and focus on the main theme behind the accusation. (This is my biggest struggle if there’s a jumble of different topics thrown into the mix. I can’t remember two topics ago, even if they were only two and a half minutes before the present moment! I can easily lose track of finding the theme tying everything together.)
  2. Even when past history is tied into the accusation, keep your focus on the present issue.
  3. Respond calmly and as thorougly as possible, and pray your accuser has the wherewithall to listen back!

Now It’s Your Turn!

For you, what is the hardest part about listening and responding well to an accusation? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


Featured Photo by Severin Candrian on Unsplash

One thought on “Controlled Listening”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s