SynopsisBy the time we get to Numbers 32, the Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land—what will become Israel. They are on the East side of the Jordan river, and, as far as most of the Israelites are concerned, the land that will be theirs is all of the land on the West side of the Jordan. (At any point, if you get confused while you’re reading this, I’ve included a map, below.)
But, before they’ve crossed the Jordan, the Reubenites and the Gadites take a look around, at the lands on the East side—the lands that were formerly populated by the nations of Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon—and realize that these lands would be very good for flocks and herds. Since they have a lot of flocks and herds, they go to Moses and ask him for permission to take these lands, instead of crossing over the Jordan. Their exact words, in verse 5: “‘If we have found favor in your eyes,’ they said, ‘let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.’” However, this makes Moses angry:
Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, “Shall your countrymen go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from going over into the land the LORD has given them? This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to look over the land. After they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and viewed the land, they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the LORD had given them. The LORD’s anger was aroused that day and he swore this oath: ‘Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of the men twenty years old or more who came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the LORD wholeheartedly.’ The LORD’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the desert forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone.
“And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the LORD even more angry with Israel. If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the desert, and you will be the cause of their destruction.”
So they come back to Moses, and tell him that they are prepared to go with Israel into the Promised Land, to bring the other Israelites to their place. They will leave their women and children in fortified cities, and then go with Israel into the Promised Land, and not return home until all of the Israelites have received their inheritance.
Moses agrees to this. As long as they live up to their word, and go with the rest of Israel into the Promised Land, and don’t return back to this land until the LORD has driven all of His enemies out of the land, then they may have this land as their inheritance.
The Gadites and Reubenites agree to this, and then Moses orders Eleazar the priest that this is what is to happen. (Since Moses won’t be crossing into the Promised Land with the Israelites, he can’t carry this out, so Eleazar—and Joshua, I guess—will be the ones responsible for seeing that the promise is kept. And, again, the Gadites and Reubenites agree to this. So Moses gives the land to them. Actually, he gives the land to the Gadites, the Reubenites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. (Again, see the map below, for reference.)
The end of the chapter, verses 34–42, recount the nations that they had to subdue, and the lands they overtook, to take over the land East of the Jordan.
Although the Israelites have not yet fully entered the Promised Land, as of this chapter, the map below shows how the division of the land is going to end up. It might help you to picture what is happening.
(click for a larger version)
The lands labeled Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben, on the East side of the Jordan river, are the ones we’re talking about in this chapter.
Incidentally, to give credit whre it is due, this map is part of a map I got from, of all places, the Official Scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I found lots of other Bible maps, too, but for some reason, the one that suited my needs best came from a Mormon website!
ThoughtsWhen I read this passage, I’m really not sure if this was a misunderstanding, or if Moses talked the Gadites and Reubenites into entering the Promised Land with the rest of the Israelites. I can read it either way; they always intended to help the rest of the tribes get their land, they just wanted to take over this land, first; or they had never intended to go with the rest of Israel, and because of Moses’ speech, they were shamed into helping their brothers.
Because there is so much back and forth happening, with them agreeing over and over again to help their brothers get their land, I’m now leaning toward assuming that Moses talked them into it. I’m guessing that the way they phrased it, or their attitude, or something they said which wasn’t recorded here, indicated to Moses that he had to take a hard stance with them.
Until now I’ve always read this chapter as being a misunderstanding, but as I was typing out this blog entry, it occurred to me that Moses was actually there, having the conversation with them, whereas all I have is what’s written here in the text, so if he felt he had to be so firm with them, there was probably a good reason for it.