From Numbers 31-32
The people of Israel are about to invade the promised land. But the tribes of Reuben and Gad want to stay behind east of the Jordan river. The reason they give is because they have a lot of livestock and the lands on this side are better. Moses fears they don’t want to fight with their brothers and knows their inaction will discourage the people as had happened before. They reach a compromise. In the gospel Jesus warns us strongly against leading others into sin.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
The previous generation has died in the wilderness. The new generation of Israel have now come to the boundaries of what will become their land. All the have to do is take it for themselves. In today’s passage there is a slight hiccup.
32 Now the people of Reuben and the people of Gad had a very great number of livestock. And they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock.
2 So the people of Gad and the people of Reuben came and said to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the chiefs of the congregation,
3 “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, 4 the land that the LORD struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.”
5 And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.” (Num 32.1-5)
The tribes have battled their way to this point. Around them lies conquered lands, ripe for the taking.
The tribes of Reuben and Gad have lots of livestock. Cattle needs open fields and lots of grass to feed on. So the tribes of Reuben and Gad want to have this land for themselves. But they have not yet crossed the Jordan and it’s not part of the land the LORD promised them.
Or is there more? They say, ‘Do not take us across the Jordan’.
6 But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? 7 Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the LORD has given them? (Num 32.6-7)
If Reuben and Gad don’t come with the rest of the people when they cross and when they eventually fight. What will others think? By not crossing the Jordan and fighting, they will discourage the heart of all the others.
The way we behave around others can influence them powerfully. For good or bad.
8 Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. 9 For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel from going into the land that the LORD had given them.
10 And the LORD’s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, 11 ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, 12 none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the LORD.’ 13 And the LORD’s anger was kindled 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.
14 And behold, you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the LORD against Israel! 15 For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.” (Num 32.8-15)
Moses reminds them of their father and what happened when they did not follow the LORD. Moses sent out spies to check out the land (Num 13). Caleb with Joshua gave them a positive report and encouraged them to go in. But most of the spies fearful of the descendants of Anak urged people not to continue in.
They discouraged the heart of the people.
In response the LORD made them wander in the desert for forty years so that unbelieving and fearful generation could die. Now after that has happened will they make the same mistake again?
16 Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones,
17 but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place.
And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land.
18 We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. 19 For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” (Num 32.16-19)
The tribes of Reuben and Gad promise they will fight in Canaan for the inheritance of their countrymen. Unlike the previous generation, they are unafraid. Having just seen the defeat of the giant Rephaim in the Transjordan, they have no reason to fear. (Barry, J.D. et al., 2012. Faithlife Study Bible, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)
Why didn’t they make this offer before hand? Temptation to take an easy way out.
Perhaps they were hoping Moses would let them off the hook and offered only this when he rebuked them. They ask for their women and children to remain behind with their livestock.
20 So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the LORD for the war, 21 and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the LORD, until he has driven out his enemies from before him 22 and the land is subdued before the LORD; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the LORD and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the LORD.
23 But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out.
24 Build cities for your little ones and folds for your sheep, and do what you have promised.”
25 And the people of Gad and the people of Reuben said to Moses, “Your servants will do as my lord commands. 26 Our little ones, our wives, our livestock, and all our cattle shall remain there in the cities of Gilead, 27 but your servants will pass over, every man who is armed for war, before the LORD to battle, as my lord orders.” (Num 32.20-27)
Moses accepts their offer and warns them again of the consequences if they do not go through with it. Only after the land is subdued are they allowed to return to their new lands. Free of obligation.
God’s people are obligated to walk with their brothers and sisters in taking hold of what God has promised.
The people of Israel go in and take the land. After a time the tribes of Reuben and Gad, believing their oath is fulfilled return to these lands. Again, not without hiccup (Josh 22.10-34).
According to the book of Judges there are many inhabitants still remaining. These become a stumbling block to the people and they fall into sin and idolatry. Temptations to sin come from inside the community and outside.
In the gospel Jesus warned us not to lead others into sin. There are greater punishments for that.
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mk 9.42-50)
Be at peace with one another. Be mindful of the influence you have over your brothers and sisters.
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