Numbers 32 – The Tribes Settling East of the Jordan
A. The request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad.
1. (1-5) The request to settle on the east side of the Jordan River.
Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of livestock; and when they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that indeed the region was a place for livestock, the children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Shebam, Nebo, and Beon, the country which the Lord defeated before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” Therefore they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession. Do not take us over the Jordan.”
a. If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession: Israel had conquered the Moabites and the Midianites, and the ideal grazing lands on the east side of the Jordan River were laid out before them. The tribal leaders of Reuben and Gad were content with these lands and asked to be given them as their tribal inheritance.
b. Do not take us over the Jordan: For some 400 years, the tribes of Israel longed to go over the Jordan into the Promised Land. Now, it seemed, that these two tribes were content to come short of crossing the Jordan and seem to be satisfied with settling for less.
i. “That any Israelite tribe should consider settling outside the land promised to Abraham showed a disturbing indifference to the divine word, the word on which Israel’s existence entirely depended.” (Wenham)
2. (6-7) Moses reacts to the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad.
And Moses said to the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben: “Shall your brethren go to war while you sit here? Now why will you discourage the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord has given them?
a. Why will you discourage the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord has given them? Moses feared that the attitude of the tribes of Reuben and Gad would keep the other tribes from going into the Promised Land. Their attitude said, “We’ve fought enough and suffered enough already. Let’s just settle down where we’re at.”
i. Moses’ fear had a foundation. If you want to press on with the things of the Lord and go deeper and further with Him, there is a sure way to discourage that desire – start hanging around believers who are content with where they are, and who don’t want to press on with the Lord. Complacency is contagious.
b. Shall your brethren go to war while you sit here? Moses wanted them to know that there was a battle to fight and that they were all in it together. Just because these tribes were content with where they were at did not relieve them of the responsibility to keep the battle going.
3. (8-15) Moses fears they are following in the footsteps of the previous generation of unbelief, the generation which perished in the wilderness.
“Thus your fathers did when I sent them away from Kadesh Barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, so that they did not go into the land which the Lord had given them. So the Lord’s anger was aroused on that day, and He swore an oath, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and above, shall see the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they have not wholly followed Me, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh, the Kenizzite, and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the Lord.’ So the Lord’s anger was aroused against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone. And look! You have risen in your father’s place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel. For if you turn away from following Him, He will once again leave them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all these people.”
a. They discouraged the heart of the children of Israel: Moses reminded the leaders of the tribe of Reuben and Gad why Israel failed to enter the Promised Land some 38 years before.
i. It is a terrible thing to be used of the devil to discourage other believers to walking deeper and further with the Lord. We should ask God to guard us from ever discouraging the heart of another child of God.
b. Because they have not wholly followed Me: This is why the discouragement of the ten unfaithful spies worked on the men of that generation. If they had wholly followed the Lord, the discouraging report would not have unduly influenced them.
i. What made Joshua and Caleb different was that they wholly followed the Lord. They did not bend to the discouraging report of the ten unfaithful spies.
ii. When we have not wholly followed the Lord, we are much more likely to be influenced by the carnal and the discouraging around us.
c. If you turn away from following Him, He will once again leave them in the wilderness: Perhaps this generation figured they had a free ticket to the Promised Land, no matter what, because the “dues” had already been paid by the generation of unbelief. No way! They can perish just like the previous generation if they walk in the same unbelief!
d. You will destroy all these people: It was as if Moses said, “Your discouragement of the nation would mean that you have destroyed them, just as the ten unfaithful spies destroyed the previous generation.”
i. Moses perhaps felt that the tribes of Reuben or Gad made a bad choice for themselves; that is, they hurt themselves by settling on the lands east of the Jordan River. But Moses did not confront them with that issue. If a child of God is content to settle for less in their Christian life, there is little or nothing one can do. But when their complacency begins to affect their brothers and sisters, it must be confronted. This was the basis of Moses’ confrontation.
B. The issue of the eastern tribes is settled.
1. (16-19) The tribal leaders of Reuben and Gad offer to send their troops to help conquer the land west of the Jordan River.
Then they came near to him and said: “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we ourselves will be armed, ready to go before the children of Israel until we have brought them to their place; and our little ones will dwell in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until every one of the children of Israel has received his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has fallen to us on this eastern side of the Jordan.”
a. We ourselves will be armed, ready to go before the children of Israel until we have brought them to their place: This effectively answered the issue of discouragement. None of the tribes would envy Reuben or Gad, resting in ease, while the rest of them are battling for their lands. The men of Reuben and Gad would fight right beside them.
2. (20-24) Moses receives their offer – providing they fulfill it.
Then Moses said to them: “If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves before the Lord for the war, and all your armed men cross over the Jordan before the Lord until He has driven out His enemies from before Him, and the land is subdued before the Lord, then afterward you may return and be blameless before the Lord and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the Lord. But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out. Build cities for your little ones and folds for your sheep, and do what has proceeded out of your mouth.”
a. If you do this thing: If they do as they said, then they would be blameless before the Lord and before Israel. But if they did not, they would surely be guilty.
b. But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out: And if they failed to do as they said, they could be sure that your sin will find you out. While it is true that any sin may find us out, the sin specifically spoken of here is the sin of doing nothing!
i. If the tribes of Reuben and Gad did nothing – if they stayed at home while their brothers were battling for life and death to take possession of the Promised Land – then their sin of doing nothing would surely find them out.
ii. Sometimes, doing nothing is a great sin – and it is a sin that will certainly become evident, and will find us out.
3. (25-27) The tribal leaders of Reuben and Gad agree.
And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben spoke to Moses, saying: “Your servants will do as my lord commands. Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our livestock will be there in the cities of Gilead; but your servants will cross over, every man armed for war, before the Lord to battle, just as my lord says.”
4. (28-42) The agreement is settled, and cities are given to the tribes settling on the lands east of the Jordan River.
So Moses gave command concerning them to Eleazar the priest, to Joshua the son of Nun, and to the chief fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel. And Moses said to them: “If the children of Gad and the children of Reuben cross over the Jordan with you, every man armed for battle before the Lord, and the land is subdued before you, then you shall give them the land of Gilead as a possession. But if they do not cross over armed with you, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.” Then the children of Gad and the children of Reuben answered, saying: “As the Lord has said to your servants, so we will do. We will cross over armed before the Lord into the land of Canaan, but the possession of our inheritance shall remain with us on this side of the Jordan.” So Moses gave to the children of Gad, to the children of Reuben, and to half the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land with its cities within the borders, the cities of the surrounding country. And the children of Gad built Dibon and Ataroth and Aroer, Atroth and Shophan and Jazer and Jogbehah, Beth Nimrah and Beth Haran, fortified cities, and folds for sheep. And the children of Reuben built Heshbon and Elealeh and Kirjathaim, Nebo and Baal Meon (their names being changed) and Shibmah; and they gave other names to the cities which they built. And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead and took it, and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it. So Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he dwelt in it. Also Jair the son of Manasseh went and took its small towns, and called them Havoth Jair. Then Nobah went and took Kenath and its villages, and he called it Nobah, after his own name.
a. So Moses gave to the children of Gad, to the children of Reuben, and to half the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph: Numbers 32:33 introduces another tribe – actually, half the tribe of Manasseh – who were likewise content to settle on the lands east of the Jordan River. So, in total, two and one-half tribes never took possession of land west of the Jordan River.