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A PROPOSAL OF COMPROMISE
The children of Israel being now east of the Jordan River, the land there appealed to the tribes of Reuben and Gad particularly because they had great possessions of livestock and the land appeared to be for raising them (v.1). They came therefore to Moses to petition him to allow them to settle in that land (vs.2-5). Long before this Lot thought he could trust the sight of his eyes (Genesis 13:10-11), so that he did not need to think of the Lord's guidance, but his own choice led him into deep trouble. Abram depended on the Lord to lead him and was preserved.
But we do not easily learn by the experiences of others though we may be well acquainted with them. Moses answered them very strongly. Though he was not to go over the Jordan himself, but would die, he was concerned about the nation God had used him to lead out of Egypt. He wanted no part-way measures.
Moses asked them would they settle down where it seems comfortable for them when the other tribes go to war across the Jordan (v.6). This would tend to discourage the children of Israel (v.7). It was really the same thing that Israel had done when the spies had brought back the report of the land nearly 40 years before. They refused to go into the land of Canaan.
Moses reminds them that the Lord's anger was aroused against Israel then, declaring that none of those of Israel over 20 years of age at the time would ever enter the land, except Caleb and Joshua, who had fully followed the Lord (vs.10-11).
Now all of these had died, as the Lord had said, but Moses tells the men that they, a new generation, had arisen, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord. For if now they will not go over Jordan, God would once again leave Israel to wander in the wilderness, and the men of Reuben and Gad would be responsible for Israel's destruction (vs.14-15).
To apply this occasion to ourselves today, it is all too obvious that there are many believers who appreciate the gospel and the elementary truths of Christianity, yet have not the exercise of soul to understand and value their inheritance in heavenly places.
A PROMISE TO FIGHT IN CANAAN BEFORE SETTLING DOWN
When Moses strongly reproved Reuben and Gad for wanting to settle on the east side of Jordan, these tribes expressed themselves before Moses as being willing to have their men go over Jordan to help their brethren to defeat the inhabitants of Canaan before coming back to settle in Gilead. They said they would first build sheep folds for their flocks and cities for their women and children to remain in while the men went over Jordan to battle (vs.16-17). Only when the other tribes had received their inheritance would they return to Gilead (v.19).
Moses responded favorably to this, telling them that if they would keep their promise in having all their armed men go over Jordan to fight with the rest of Israel till all were established in the land, then they would be blameless, and could return to settle in Gilead (vs.20-22). Yet he warned them that if they did not carry out their promise they had sinned against the Lord and they could be sure their sin would find them out. God would deal with them in righteous government. But Moses gave them permission to build in Gilead as they had requested (vs.21-24).
When these two tribes confirmed this promise, Moses commanded Eleazar and Joshua concerning this, that if the armed men of Gad and Reuben would fight in Canaan until the other tribes were established, then Gad and Reuben could settle in Gilead (vs.28-29). If they did not do so, then they would be required to have a possession in Canaan (v.30), which would require their fighting for that possession. Moses knew that he himself would not enter the land, so it was necessary for Eleazar and Joshua to be fully informed of this.
LAND ALLOTTED TO THE TWO AND A HALF TRIBES
In verse 33 one half of the tribe of Manasseh is included with the tribes of Gad and Reuben when we are told of Moses giving to them the country east of the Jordan.
Before crossing the Jordan there was time enough given them to build cities for their families. Gad built nine fortified cities (vs.34-36); Reuben built six cities; some of Manesseh conquered the area of Gilead from the Amorites, so were given this as their inheritance; others took the small surrounding towns while others still took Kenah and its villages.
However, although Moses made a concession in allowing these two and a half tribes their portion east of Jordan, there is still a serious lesson for us to learn in this whole history. They were strongly influenced by the sight of their eyes and actually settled down on the wrong side of Jordan. It is a picture of true believers being content to settle down without the spiritual exercise of learning the truth of death with Christ (as the crossing of the Jordan teaches), and therefore not enjoying the truth of being now "blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). How many there are in this condition today!
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 32". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19