In this chapter, we read of a proposal made by the tribes of Reuben and Gad. Instead of sharing in the division of the Promised Land on the west side of the Jordan River, they petitioned that the portion of land which Israel had recently conquered from the hands of Sihon and Og might be allotted to them as their tribal inheritance. Many Scripture passages speak of this land (known as Bashan and Gilead) as places which were famously suitable for raising cattle; and therefore, these tribes hoped that they could obtain these areas of land for themselves, since they had large stocks of cattle. But the Reubenites’ and Gadites’ proposal showed disregard to the land of Canaan, distrust of the Lord’s promise, and unwillingness to encounter the difficulties and dangers of conquering and driving out the inhabitants of that land; and so Moses reproved them. Alas! Even down to the present day, so many people seek their own things more than the things of Jesus; and they are led by worldly interests to take up their residence just short of the heavenly Promised Land.
This request could have potentially caused bad consequences. The rest of the Israelites might have taken improper hints from it. They might have suggested that they were few enough already to deal with the Canaanites, and how unequal the battles would be if they were to drop two whole tribes before they even crossed the Jordan River! Moses reminded the Reubenites and Gadites of the fatal consequences of the unbelief and faintheartedness of their fathers nearly 40 years earlier, when they were just about ready to enter Canaan – as this generation was doing now.
It is probable that the petitioners withdrew and considered how to answer the severe reproof which Moses had given them. And after some consultation, they returned with a promise that their men of war would leave their families and flocks behind them in this land, and cross the Jordan to assist their brethren in the conquest of Canaan. Instead of objecting that their brethren were able to contend with the Canaanites without their help (especially since they were sure of God’s fighting for them), the Reubenites and the Gadites engaged themselves to stand by them and help them. Herein we learn that we ought to consider the interests of others as well as our own; the law of love requires us to labor, venture, and suffer for each other as the need arises.
Moses granted the request of the Reubenites and the Gadites, but he warned them of the danger of breaking their word. He told them that if they failed to keep their promise, they were not only sinning against their brethren, but also against the Lord. And “be sure,” he said, that “your sin will find you out.” Sin will surely find out the sinner – sooner or later. It is in our best interest to find our sins out now, so that we may repent of them and forsake them before they find us out to our ruin! The Reubenites and Gadites unanimously agreed to the provisos and conditions of Moses’ grant, and they gave this solemn promise: “Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth” (verse 25). Their brethren had all contributed their assistance to the conquest of the land which they desired for a possession; and therefore, they acknowledged themselves to be obliged, in justice, to help their brethren in the conquest of that which was to be their possession. If we have received kindness, we ought to return it – even if it was not agreed upon when we received it. Moses settled this matter with Eleazar and Joshua (who was to be his successor), knowing that he himself would not live to see it perfected.
In verse 33, we have the first mention of half of the tribe of Manasseh coming in with Reuben and Gad for a share in this land on the east side of the Jordan River. They had probably not joined with them in the petition; but when the land came to be divided between Reuben and Gad, it proved to be too much for them. And so this half-tribe had a lot among them – perhaps at their own re-quest, or by Divine allowance, or because they had signalized themselves in the conquest of this country; for the children of Machir, who were a stout and warlike family, had taken Gilead and dispossessed the Amorites (verse 39). And since they were distinguished for their courage and bravery, it was good for the common safety to put them in this frontier-country. Concerning the settlement of these tribes, they built the cities – that is, they repaired them; either because they were damaged in the war, or because the Amorites had allowed them to fall into decay. They also changed the names of these cities, for the former names were probably references to idols or idolatry; and therefore, it was well that they should be forgotten.
As we conclude our study of the request of the Reubenites and Gadites, we see the dangers of a love of worldly ease and settlement, and how it hinders our pilgrimage-state in this world as we pursue our goal to the heavenly Canaan. Our Lord Jesus has secured for us a better country in our heavenly inheritance. Why, then, would we wish to spend all our time chasing the things of time and sense?
Precious Redeemer! We pray that You would so endear Yourself to our view, that we may esteem it our chief happiness to endure affliction, if necessary, with the peo-ple of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. May we esteem our inheritance in the heavenly Promised Land as greater than all the riches and pleasures of this world. Amen.
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