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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 32

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-42


In this chapter we have the account of the allotment of the territory conquered by Israel on the east of the Jordan to the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh.

Numbers 32:1. Jazer (see on Numbers 21:32).

Gilead, “a mountainous region east of the Jordan; bounded on the north by Bashan, on the east by the Arabian plateau, and on the south by Moab and Ammon (Genesis 31:21; Deuteronomy 3:12-17.)”—Bibl. Dict.

A place for cattle; a district of “rich pasture land, with shady forests, and copious streams.”—Ibid.

Numbers 32:3. Ataroth, &c. (see on Numbers 32:34-38).

Numbers 32:8-13 (see chaps. 13 and 14).

Numbers 32:8. Kadesh-barnea (see on Numbers 13:26).

Numbers 32:9. Eshcol (see on Numbers 13:23).

Numbers 32:17. Go ready armed. Keil and Del.: “Equip ourselves hastily.”

Numbers 32:23. Be sure your sin will find you out. “Lit.: ‘Know ye of your sin that it will find you out.’ ”—speaker’s Comm.

Numbers 32:28. Moses commanded Eleazar, &c. (comp. Numbers 34:17-29).

Numbers 32:33. And unto half the tribe of Manasseh. “The participation of this half tribe in the possession is accounted for in Numbers 32:39”—O. v. Gerlach (see also Joshua 17:1). At this time Moses only gave to the two tribes and a half a general promise of this country. The determination of their respective allotments, and the taking possession of them, was not effected until some time afterwards.

Numbers 32:34-36. Places restored and fortified by the Gadites.

Numbers 32:34. Dibon (see on Numbers 21:30).

Ataroth—“crowns,” probably identical with the ruins Attarus, on Jebel Attarus, and seven miles north-west of Dibon.

Aroer—“ruins,” now in ruins and called Arâir, upon the very edge of the precipitous north bank of the ravine through which the Arnon flows. Not to be confounded with “Aroer that is before Rabbah” (Joshua 13:25).

Numbers 32:35. Atroth, Shophan. This should be written Atroth Shophan; Shophan being added to distinguish it from the Ataroth of the preceding verse. The situation has not been identified.

Jaaser, or Jazer (see on Numbers 21:32).

Jogbehah, now in ruins and called Jebeiha, seven miles north-west of Jazer.

Numbers 32:36. Beth-nimrah—“house of sweet water;” in Numbers 32:3 contracted into Nimrah; situated five miles north of Libias; now in ruins and called Nahr Nimrin, where the waters of the Wady Shoaib enter the Jordan.

Beth-haran, the same as Beth-aram, which should be Beth-haram (Joshua 13:27). Herod Antipas named it Libias, in honour of Livia, the wife of Augustus Cæsar. It is now in ruins, and is called Ramch; situated not far from the mouth of the Wady Hesbân.

Numbers 32:37-38. Places restored and fortified by the Reubenites.

Numbers 32:37. Heshbon (see on Numbers 21:25).

Elealeh, now called El-A’al, a little more than a mile north-east of Heshbon.

Kirjathaim, was probably situated three miles south of Heshbon, where the ruins of et-Teym are now found.

Numbers 32:38. Nebo, a town on or near Pisgah, in the mountains of Abarim (see Numbers 21:20). “A ruined village of the name Neba has been mentioned by travellers as still existing in those parts, and from the latest account seems to be on the most elevated of the crests” of Pisgah, “due west of Baal-meon, and three miles south-west of Heshbon.”—Speaker’s Comm.

Baal-meon, called Beon in Numbers 32:3; Beth-Baal-meon in Joshua 13:17, and Beth-meon in Jeremiah 48:23, was probably about two miles south-east of Heshbon, where the ruins of Myun are now found.

Shibmah, more correctly Sibmah (Isaiah 16:8), probably four miles east of Heshbon, and now marked by the ruins es-Sameh. “All the places built by the Reubenites were but a short distance from Heshbon, and surrounded this capital.… The insertion of the words their names being changed, before Shibmah, is an indication that the latter place did not receive any other name. Moreover, the new names which the builders gave to these towns did not continue in use long, but were soon pressed out by the old ones again.”—Keil and Del.

And gave other names, &c. Margin: “Heb., ‘they called by names the names of the cities.’ ” “A roundabout way of saying, they called the towns by (other, or new) names.”—Ibid.

Numbers 32:39. Machir the son of Manasseh (comp. Genesis 1:23).

Went. Rather “had gone.” “The imperfects in Numbers 32:39 are to be understood in the sense of pluperfects.”—Keil and Del.

Gilead. “More strictly part of north Gilead” (comp. Deuteronomy 3:13).

Numbers 32:41. Jair the son of Manasseh. “Jair was the grandson of a daughter of Machir the son of Manasseh, and therefore a great-grandson of Manasseh on the mother’s side. His father, Segub, was the son of Hezron of the tribe of Judah, who had married a daughter of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 2:21-22); so that Jair, or rather Segub, had gone over with his descendants unto the maternal tribe, contrary to the ordinary rule, and probably because Machir had portioned his daughter with a rich dowry like an heiress.”—Keil and Del.

Took the small towns (comp. Deuteronomy 3:14).

Havoth jair—villages of Jair.

Numbers 32:42. Nobah. This is the only mention of him in the Scriptures.

Kenath Now “Kenawât, a ruined town at the southern extremity of the Lejah, about 20 miles north of Bŭsrah.”—Bibl. Dict.


(Numbers 32:1-5)

This request exhibits—

I. Mean selfishness.

It is marked by an utter absence of regard for the interests of others. These two tribes think and plan, and petition solely for themselves. In the competitions of business and of professional and social life there is often very much of mean selfishness, and that even amongst persons who are avowedly Christians. But selfishness is utterly opposed to the spirit of Jesus Christ; and “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” (a)

II. Predominant worldliness.

“Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle,” &c. (Numbers 32:1). The one consideration which actuated them was this, “The country is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle.” They had no care for the unity and prosperity of the nation. Their patriotism utterly succumbed to the force of their worldliness. They had no solicitude as to the relation of the coveted country to the institutions of national worship. Religion was not sufficiently strong in them to bear up against their eagerness for worldly gain. They resembled Lot in this respect, that they had so keen an eye for worldly gain as to be almost blind to every other consideration (comp. Genesis 13:10-13). In this day there are many, who regard themselves as Christians, who resemble the Reubenites and Gadites,—many who are chiefly influenced by temporal and worldly considerations in

(1) the selection and conduct of their business;
(2) the formation of matrimonial alliances; and
(3) the determination of their residence. Temporal gain, social surroundings, salubrity of atmosphere, and similar things, are often deeply considered, while sacred and spiritual things are well-nigh overlooked. (b)

III. Disregard of the interests and rights of their brethren.

They manifest no concern for the settlement of their brethren of the other tribes in suitable inheritances; and silently they ignore their equal claim to the country which they sought for themselves. The brethren whom the Reubenites and Gadites thus disregard had shared with them all the toils, hardships, and dangers of the battles by which the land they sought for themselves had been secured; but in their selfishness the two tribes pay no heed to this fact. The tendency of selfishness is to produce disregard of the claims of others, which is often most unjust. (c)

IV. Disparagement of their Divine calling and destiny.

“Let this land be given unto thy servants,” &c. (Numbers 32:5). Contrast their, “Bring us not over Jordan,” with the fervent prayer of Moses, “O Lord God, I pray Thee, let me go over,” &c. (Deuteronomy 3:25). If they did not actually despise the glorious destiny which had been the hope of their ancestors for ages previous, yet they grievously depreciated it. What vast numbers practically despise their exalted spiritual calling in the Gospel for the passing and perishing things of this world!

V. Want of faith in the Divine promise.

It is not improbable that they had their doubts as to their taking the good land beyond Jordan, and therefore sought to secure for themselves what the nation had already conquered. Such unbelief is a grievous dishonour to God.


Mark the folly of this request of the Reubenites and Gadites. The country which they desired had very grave disadvantages. It was most exposed to the attacks of their enemies; and it was very difficult of united and successful defence, because the Jordan to some extent cut them off from the great bulk of their nation. Their position very speedily gave rise to misunderstanding between them and their brethren on the other side of Jordan. Their association with heathen neighbours led them into idolatry; and they were the first of the Israelites that were carried into captivity (1 Chronicles 5:25-26). How foolish did Lot’s choice of Sodom prove! (Genesis 14:12; Genesis 19:15-26). He who renounces spiritual and eternal advantages for material and temporal prosperity makes a fool’s choice. “For what is a man profited?” &c. (Matthew 16:26). A selfish policy is generally a self-defeating policy. (d)


(a) What amazing selfishness visibly appears in the general conduct of mankind, and how little are they, amidst all the culture of education and humanity, all the restraints of law, and all the illuminations, injunctions, and threatenings of religion, disposed to act agreeably to the dictates of truth, righteousness, and benevolence towards each other! A little prosperity, a little power, a very humble office, or some other trifling object of ambition, will at any time make those who have been for life bosom friends. vehement and irreconcilable enemies. In the common bargains between men, again, how rarely is it the design to exchange an equivalent for that which is received, although the only possible rule of honesty; and how generally to make what is called a good, and what is in reality a fraudulent, bargain. How many persons obtain their whole living, and spend their whole lives, in this kind of fraud! What pains are taken to conceal or belie the state of the markets! of our own circumstances, our real intentions, or our ability to fulfil the engagements into which we enter! What base deceptions are practised in cases of bankruptcy; and what frauds perpetrated in order to attain legally the character and immunities of a bankrupt! How difficult has it been even to make a law which can at all secure to creditors an equitable share in the actual remains of a bankrupt’s property! How strange would these observations appear in a world of honest, virtuous beings. Timothy Dwight, D.D.

I warn every aspirant for wealth against the infernal canker of selfishness. It will eat out of the heart with the fire of hell, or bake it harder than a stone. The heart of avaricious old age stands like a bare rock in a bleak wilderness, and there is no rod of authority, no incantation of pleasure, which can draw from it one crystal drop to quench the raging thirst for satisfaction.—H. W. Beecher.

(b) There are business men in our city today who have schemed for a future which, if analysed, would disclose nothing but a careful regard for personal and domestic comfort. I can give you the brief programme of such men; it runs after this fashion—Country, Garden, Quietness, Out-door amusements. I thought I could have mentioned a fifth object of pursuit, but I believe this exhausts the whole scheme. Now it is for them to say whether they will persist in urging this re quest. They are at perfect liberty to leave the City, to abandon the poor, to get away from all that is fœtid, noisome, and otherwise offensive; but let them beware lest, in reaching the supposed heaven, they find that they have gone in the wrong direction, and that where they expected heaven to begin they find that they have only reached the outward edge of earth. Men who make arrangements exclusively with a view to physical comfort never ask the questions which are the chief Inquiries of souls that truly live. They do not say, What kind of preaching shall we have in the locality to which we propose to move? What scholastic advantages will he available? What libraries will be accessible? No! What they want is Country Garden, Quickness Out door amusements—and they get them; but the fruit which they had coveted so eagerly turns to ashes in their mouths—Joseph Parker, D.D.

Another illustration on this point appears on p. 166

(c) You would he indignant if you saw a strong man walk into a theatre or lecture-room, and calmly choosing the best place, take his feeble neighbour by the shoulder, and turn him out of it into the back seats or the streets. You would be equally indignant if you saw a stout fellow thrust, himself up to a table where some hungry children were being fed, and reach his arm over their heads and take their bread from them. But you are not the least indignant if, when a man has stoutness of thought and swiftness of capacity and, instead of being long-around only, has the much greater gift of being long-headed—you think it perfectly just that he should use his intellect to take the bread out of the mouths of all the other men in the town who are of the same trade with him; or use his breadth and sweep of sight to gather some branch of the commerce of the country into one great cobweb of which he is himself to he the central spider, making every thread vibrate with the points of his claws and commanding every avenue with the facets of his eyes. You see no injustice in this.—John Ruskin, M.A.

(d) It is a singular thing this: That men by grasping lose; that by scraping they got nothing; that by having great bunches of keys to lock up seven-fold doors they can’t find what they have locked away—there must be some way inside from the back, some way spirits get into it—at all events the thing goes. God has many ways of turning selfish man’s very success to failure and disappointment. The darkness, the mildew, the locust, the frost, the lightning, the winds, are His servants. Thou shalt carry much seed into the field and shalt gather but little in, for the locusts shall consume it. “Ye have sown much and bring in little; ye cat but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm. He that earneth wages, earneth wages to put into a bag with holes.” “Ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver your bread again by weight, and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied.” How God mocks the bad man! How He can turn the wicked man’s very success into failure and how out of selfish ambition He can bring the scorpion whose sting is death.—Joseph Parker, D.D.


(Numbers 32:6-15)

In this rebuke Moses indicates—

I. The injustice of their proposal.

“Moses said unto the children of Gad and the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?” Their request, or proposal, was unjust towards their brethren. Why should they have as their inheritance that country which all had assisted to conquer, and leave their brethren to conquer other possessions for themselves without their aid? But did Moses misinterpret their request as regards their intentions in this matter? Some think that he did, and that the Reubenites and Gadites intended to aid their brethren in the conquest of Canaan. This view of their conduct does not commend itself to our judgment; for, “when Moses reproved them, the speakers did not reply that they had not cherished the intention attributed to them, but simply restricted themselves to the promise of co-operation in the conquest of Canaan.” It is probable that, from “the rapid and easy defeat of the two mighty kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og,” they had come to the conclusion “that the remaining ten tribes were quite strong enough to conquer the land of Canaan on the west of Jordan.” Whatever view may be taken of their request in this respect, they cannot be acquitted of a want of brotherly feeling, and of interest in the welfare of the nation as a whole: and, therefore, they deserved the rebuke which Moses addressed to them.
Selfishness gravitates towards injustice. (a)

II. The tendency of their proposal to dishearten their brethren.

“Wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord hath given them?” Their request was calculated to produce discouragement, because if it were granted it would be likely to—

1. Reduce their numbers. They would have fewer soldiers with which to conquer the land.

2. Engender dissatisfaction. The ten tribes would feel that they had reason for dissatisfaction and complaint.

In entering upon any course of public action, we are morally bound to consider what its probable effect will be on the community at large. “None of us liveth to himself.” (b)

III. The wickedness of their proposal.

“And, behold, ye are risen up in your fathers’ stead, an increase of sinful men,” &c. Their request was a sin against God, inasmuch as it involved—

1. Unbelief of His word. They doubted His promise to give them the good land.

2. Depreciation of His goodness. They practically disparaged the inheritance to which God had called them. (See the preceding homily, in which these points are noticed.) (c)

IV. The tendency of their proposal to call down the wrath of God.

1. The cause of His anger. “Ye are risen up in your fathers’ steal, an increase of sinful men, to augment yet the fierce anger of the Lord.” With awful intensity His wrath ever burns against sin. It is the “abominable thing which He hates.” (d)

2. The expression of His anger. “For if ye turn away from after Him, He will yet again leave them in the wilderness; and ye shall destroy all this people.” If the unworthy desires of the Reubenites and Gadites had spread to the other tribes, it would have been most just that God should exclude them from Canaan. The expressions of the Divine wrath are ever perfectly just and right.

3. The subjects of His anger. “All this people.” The sad consequences of sin are not confined to the actual transgressors. One member of a family sins, and all the members suffer by reason of that sin. In the nation, one class or party pursues an evil course, and all classes or parties suffer loss or pain. An argument against sin. (e)

V. The solemn example by which Moses enforced his rebuke. (Numbers 32:8-13.)

See our exposition of chapters 13, 14.


(a) For an illustration on Injustice see p. 550.

(b) Illustrations on this point appear on pp. 428, 485.

(c) Illustrations on this point may be found on p. 252.

(d) God Himself, we have always understood, hates sin with a most authentic, celestial, and eternal hatred. A hatred, a hostility, inexorable, unappeasable, which blasts the scoundrel, and all scoundrels ultimately, into black annihilation and disappearance from the sum of things. The path of it is the path of a flaming sword: he that has eyes may see it, walking inexorable, divinely beautiful and divinely terrible, through the chaotic gulf of human history, and everywhere burning, as with unquenchable fire, the false and the deadworthy from the true and lifeworthy; making all human history, and the biography of every man, a God’s Cosmos in the place of a Devil’s Chaos. So it is in the end; even so to every man who is a man, and not a mutinous beast, and has eyes to see.—Thos. Carlyle.

Other illustrations on the Wrath of God appear on pp. 220, 221.

(e) Sages of old contended that no sin was ever committed whose consequences rested on the head of the sinner alone; that no man could do ill and his fellows not suffer. They illustrated it thus:—“A vessel sailing from Joppa, carried a passenger, who, beneath his berth, cut a hole through the ship’s side. When the men of the watch expostulated with him, ‘What doest thou, O miserable man?’ the offender calmly replied, ‘What matters it to you? The hole I have made lies under my own berth.’ ”

The ancient parable is worthy of the utmost consideration. No man perishes alone in his iniquity; no man can guess the full consequences of his transgression.—C. H. Spurgeon


(Numbers 32:16-27)

Our subject has three main branches—

I. The amended proposal made.

“And they came near unto him, and said, we will build,” &c. (Numbers 32:16-19). The chief terms of the proposal are these—

1. That they should provide at once for the safe settlement of their families and their flocks and herds. “We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones, and our little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land.” A reasonable proposal: for it was their duty to look to the safety of their wives and little ones and possessions; and when this was done, they would be more free to go forth to the conquest of the land.

2. That they would assist their brethren in the onquest of Canaan. “We ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel until we have brought them unto their place.” They would take their full share in the hardships and dangers which were to be encountered in taking the country.

3. That they would not leave their brethren until that conquest was completely effected. “We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.” They would not return unto their homes until their brethren ceased to require their services.

4. That they would not seek for any inheritance with their brethren on the other side of the Jordan. “We will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan, or forward; because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward.” They would not seek for any additional territory as compensation for helping their brethren in their wars, but would be content with the inheritance for which they were now asking.

Such are the chief terms of the amended proposal of the Reubenites and the Gadites; and they are manifestly reasonable and equitable.

II. The amended proposal accepted.

“And Moses said unto them, if ye will do this,” &c. (Numbers 32:20-24).

1. Moses re-affirms the chief terms of their proposal. He “said unto them, if ye will do this thing, if ye will go armed before the Lord to war, and will go all of you armed over Jordan,” &c. (Numbers 32:20-22). In this way he would impress them with the importance of the engagements they were making, and the solemnity of the obligations incurred by them.

2. He accepts their proposal as righteous. “Then afterwards ye shall return, and be guiltless before the Lord, and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the Lord. Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep: and do that which hath proceeded out of your mouth.”

3. He warns them that if they fail to faithfully fulfil its terms punishment will overtake them. “But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out.” “The guilt will haunt you at heels, as a bloodhound, and the punishment will overtake you.” Their sin would certainly bring its own punishment. (a)

III. The amended proposal confirmed.

“And the children of God and the children of Reuben spake unto Moses, saying, Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth. Our little ones,” &c. (Numbers 32:25-27). And the proposal thus ratified was faithfully fulfilled (Joshua 4:12-13).


i. The duty of manifesting a practical regard for the rights and interests of others. “We are members one of another.” “The members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer,” &c. (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). It behoves us not merely to cultivate kind feelings towards others, but also to render practical help in the toils and trials of life. (b)

ii. The importance of faithfully fulfilling the engagements into which we enter. Our covenants we should always keep. Our promises should always be translated into performances. (c)

iii. The delusiveness of the notion that any one can sin and escape the punishment of sin. The penalty follows the transgression as an inevitable consequence. (d)


(a) A vessel was going from Bassorah to Bagdad, the author of Persian Stories relates, with several passengers on board. In the course of the voyage the sailors, by way of a joke, put a man in irons, as he lay asleep, and he became a subject of diversion to the whole party till they drew near to the capital. But when the sailors wanted to let him loose the key was nowhere to be found, and after a long and fruitless search they were compelled to send for a blacksmith to knock off the fetters. When, however, the blacksmith came, he refused to do what they wanted till he had authority of the magistrate, for he thought the man might be some criminal whom the officers of justice had laid hold of, and that his friends wished to favour his escape. To the magistrate they accordingly went, who sent down one of his attendants to see into it. But the officer, when he had beard their story, and had taken the evidence of some of the most respectable among the passengers, shook his head, and with a look of solemnity said it was much too serious a case for him to decide. So they repaired in a body to the magistrate, and carried the poor captive with them. So strange a procession was sure to attract notice, and a crowd soon collected about them, each curious to know the prisoner’s offence, and to catch a sight of him; till at length one man, springing forward, seized the captive by the throat and exclaimed,” Here is the villain I have been looking for these two years ever since he robbed and murdered my poor brother!” Nor would he quit his hold till they came before the magistrate, and the murder being clearly proved, the man who had been confined in joke only was given up to death, as punishment for the blood he had shed.—The Sunday School Teacher.

Another illustration on this point is given on p. 90.

(b) “Two,” says Solomon, “are better than one; for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him who is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” The cobbler could not paint the picture, but he could tell Apelles that the shoe latchet was not quite right, and the painter thought it well to take his hint. Two neighbours, one blind and the other lame, were called to a place at a great distance. What was to be done? The blind man could not see, and the lame man could not walk. Why, the blind man carried the lame one; the blind one assisted by his legs, the other by his eyes. Say to no one, then, “I can do without you;” but be ready to help those who ask your aid, and then, when it is needed, you may ask theirs. Mankind are so much indebted to one another, that they owe mutual attention.—Anon.

Man is not himself his own work; he is precisely the most wonderful piece of God’s workmanship extant. In this best piece not only he is bound to take delight, but cannot, in a right state of thought, take delight, in anything else, otherwise than through himself. Through himself, however, as the sun of creation, not as the creation. In himself, as the light of the world; not as being the world. Let him stand in his due relation to other creatures, and to inanimate things—know them all and love them, as made for him, and he for them; and he becomes himself the greatest and holiest of them. But let him cast off this relation, despise and forget the less creation round him, and instead of being the light of the world, he is as a sun in space—a fiery ball, spotted with storm.

All the diseases of mind leading to fatalest ruin consist primarily in this isolation. They are the concentration of man upon himself; whether his heavenly interests or his worldly interests, matters not; it is the being his own interests which makes the regard of them so mortal. Every form of asceticism on one side, of sensualism on the other, is an isolation of his soul or of his body; the fixing his thoughts upon them alone: while every healthy state of nations and of individual minds consists in the unselfish presence of the human spirit everywhere, energizing over all things; speaking and living through all things—John Ruskin, M.A.

(c) When Justice North, afterwards the Lord Keeper Guildford, during one of his circuits, visited the Duke of Beaufort, at his princely seat at Badminton, the Lord Arthur, then a child about five years old, was very angry with the judge (he said) for hanging men. The judge replied, “that if they were not hung, they would kill and steal.” “No,” said the little boy, “you should make them promise upon their honour they would not do so, and then they would not.” How delicate must the noble principle have been in the breast of this infant noble, and how rich a soil wherein to plant and to cherish it.—Biblical Museum.

I have somewhere met with an anecdote of Lord Chatham, who had promised that his son should be present at the pulling down of a garden wall. The wall was, however, taken down during his absence, through forgetfulness; but, feeling the importance of his word being held sacred, Lord Chatham ordered the workmen to rebuild it, that his son might witness its demolition, according to his father’s promise.—F. F. Trench.

(d) Illustrations on this topic are given on pp. 89, 225, 318, 374.


(Numbers 32:20-23)

Old Testament histories are New Testament instructions. “Whatsoever things were written aforetime,” &c. (Romans 15:4). They teach that human nature is the same in all ages; that God’s government is the same, &c.

I. A truth to be confirmed—that those who would share in the inheritance must engage in the conflict.

In this warfare not to fight is to perish. To obtain the possession we must “go armed before the Lord to war.” Life is a scene of conflict between the seed of the Serpent, &c.

1. This is opposed to the thoughtless impiety of the worldling; who, intent upon present objects, has no sympathy with the claims of Truth, the designs of God, or the conflicts of the Church.

They forget that in the great struggle always going on between truth and error, holiness and sin, Christ and Belial, heaven and hell, every man must take a part—for Christ against Satan, or for Satan against Christ. The moment that the life of faith begins, the fight of faith begins. We cannot put off our armour till we put on our shroud. It was a striking saying of a celebrated captain: “There’s the enemy; if you don’t kill them, they will kill you.”
They forget that this war, like that against Canaan, is divinely appointed. Six times in this connection it is stated that it was “before the Lord” they were to “go armed to war.” The conflict was begun at His command; and not to end but with His permission.
Reuben and Gad are fitting types of worldly men. They had a fine eye for worldly gain. They would willingly engage with the warriors up to the point of securing their inheritance, and then fall back. Every unconverted man is a Reubenite at heart. For the world all eagerness, &c.

2. This is opposed to the sinister and selfish designs of the hypocrite; who is always pursuing some secondary object. We are to guard against “all the deceits of the world.” Calvin, speaking of the Reubenites, thinks there was “much amiss in the principle they went upon, preferring their own ease to the Church’s good, and having no such regard to the honour of God and the Covenant of Promise, as they ought to have had.” Their request seemed to arise from contempt of the good land, or doubt of God’s power to bring them through. It argued a culpable neglect of their brethren. But the men of Reuben, like other hypocrites, had other ends. No man acts on a single motive. Reuben had lost his birthright, and could not claim a first inheritance. Manasseh, though the elder, was always eclipsed and overshadowed by Ephraim, the recognised head of ten tribes. And Gad had a blot on his escutcheon, being descended from Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid. Each of these, therefore, had a reason for wishing an inheritance on that side the Jordan.

3. As opposed to the baseness of the Antinomian; who is all for privilege, and nothing for obligation.

II. A warning to be applied—that sin brings punishment; and that those who think to sin with impunity, under a dispensation of mercy, will find themselves fearfully disappointed. “Be sure your sin will find you out.”

No impression seems more common than the hope of escape; but none more fallacious. Some think they can stop a a certain point; others that they can skilfully conceal their transgression; or that they can repent in time. Sinning on a plan.
But the certain connexion between crime and punishment is part of the public creed of all nations. Hence the tendency to convert calamities into judgments. We look for and record any token of retributive justice, by which the consequences of men’s actions are brought home to themselves.

1. In the way of natural consequence. The law that regulates the succession of the seasons is not more certain than that which regulates the just recompense of reward that follows sin. God who gives to every seed its own body, makes the harvest of guilt answerable to the seed time. The interval may be long, but the result is certain. The man who is undutiful to his parents, may be visited by the equal undutifulness of his own child. Jacob, who deceived Isaac, was himself deceived by Laban and Leah, and by his own sons. Agag, who made mothers childless, was slam by Samuel, and his mother made childless.

2. In the way of Providential dispensation. God sees sin wherever it exists: He is angry with the wicked. For sin He drowned one world, &c.

See it in guilty nations. The Jews crucified our Lord: they were crucified by the Romans in the siege, &c. The Roman emperors persecuted the Christians: they themselves came to untimely deaths. Spain founded the Inquisition: she has been sunk to the level of a third-rate power. France persecuted the Huguenots: she has been a hot-bed of revolutions.
See it in guilty men. Cain, Joseph’s brethren, Gehazi, Achan, David.

3. In, the way of final retribution.

III. A personal application to be made.

Samuel Thodey.


(Numbers 32:23)

The fear of punishment, if not the best, is certainly the most common preservative from sin. Under the Mosaic dispensation, it was the principal motive with which the Divine commands were enforced. Nor did St. Paul think it wrong to “persuade men by the terrors of the Lord.” Consider—

I. In what manner we have sinned against the Lord.

It would be useless to attempt an enumeration of all the sins we have committed.

1. We shall confine ourselves to that view of them which the context suggests. The sin against which Moses cautioned the two tribes was unfaithfulness to their engagements: and a preferring of their present ease to the executing of the work which God had assigned them. Now, we promised to renounce the world, &c., but how have we kept the covenant which we solemnly entered into? &c.

2. But the sin referred to in the text will scarcely bear any comparison with ours. The Israelites were to maintain a warfare with men; we with the devil (Ephesians 6:11-12). They were to fight for an earthly portion; we, an heavenly (1 Corinthians 9:25). They might have urged that their aid was unnecessary when God was engaged; and that after all the prize was an inadequate reward for such fatigue and danger. But can we hope to conquer without exerting our own powers? Or can we say that the prize held out to us is not worth the contest? If our engagements be more solemn, our work more noble, and our reward more glorious than theirs our sin in disregarding all must be proportionably greater. Yet who amongst us must not confess that he has forgotten all his vows? Then we may say to all, “Ye have sinned against the Lord.”

II. What assurance we have that our sin shall find us out.

1. Sin may be said to find us out when it brings down the Divine judgments upon us. Conscience, stupefied or seared, often forgets to execute its office; nor speaks till God, by His providence or grace, awaken it. Sometimes years elapse before it reproves our iniquities (Genesis 42:21-22). Sometimes it testifies to our face as soon as our sin is committed (Matthew 26:74-75; Matthew 27:3-4). Whenever it thus condemns us, our sins may be said to find us out. But the expression in the text imports rather the visitation of God for sin. There is a punishment annexed to every violation of God’s law (Ezekiel 18:4). And sin then finds us out effectually when it brings that punishment upon us.

2. That it will find us out, we have the fullest possible assurance.

(1) The perfections of God’s nature absolutely preclude all hope of impunity. If He be omnipresent He must see; if omniscient, remember; if holy, hate; and if just, punish the violations of His law. If He be possessed of veracity and power, He must execute the judgments He has denounced

(2) The declarations of His Word abundantly confirm this awful truth (Psalms 21:8; Proverbs 11:21; Isaiah 3:11; Romans 2:6; Romans 2:9). Sin leaves a track which can never be effaced; and evil, however slow-paced, will surely overtake it (Psalms 140:11; Proverbs 13:21). However scoffers may exult in their security, their ruin is fast approaching (Deuteronomy 29:19-20; 2 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 3:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

(3) The remarkable instances of sin being detected and punished in this world afford strong additional testimony (Joshua 7:14-18; 2 Samuel 12:9-12; 2 Kings 5:26-27). How much more then shall the most hidden things be brought to light hereafter!

(4) The appointment of a day of final retribution puts the matter beyond a possibility of doubt (Ecclesiastes 12:14). We may, then, say to every sinner, “Be sure your sin,” &c.

i. How earnest should we be in searching out our own sins! (Psalms 50:21; Luke 13:3.)

ii. How thankful should we be that a way of escape is provided for us! The Man Christ Jesus is an hiding place from the impending storm. Every perfection of Deity is pledged to save a believing penitent (1 John 1:9). We are confirmed in this hope by the most positive declarations of Scripture (Isaiah 44:22; Micah 7:18-19; Hebrews 8:12). We have most authentic and astonishing instances of sin forgiven (2 Samuel 12:13; Luke 7:47; Luke 23:43). Let this blessed assurance encourage us to take refuge under the Saviour’s wings (Matthew 23:37).—C. Simeon, M.A.


(Numbers 32:23)

“Be sure your sin will find you out.”
The text teaches the solemn and admonitory truth that sin carries with it its own punishment, which will eventually seize upon the sinner. This truth is confirmed by—

I. The germinal character of human actions.

Every action of life resembles a seed, which brings forth fruit after its kind. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;” &c. (a)

II. The exercise of memory.

In the exercise of its retentive function, memory holds all the sins we have ever committed; and in the exercise of its reproductive function, it may at any moment bring them forth, an awful procession, in clear and terrible aspects. Memory is “the bane of the wicked;” for it torments them by vividly appalling representations of their evil deeds. In this way the sin overtakes and smites the sinner. (b)

III. The operations of conscience.

The awakening of conscience to a sense of its guilt is the kindling of a hell within the breast from which there is no escape, except through the Cross of Christ. Guilt made Macbeth, the noble and brave soldier, cry out:—

“How is’t with me when every noise appals me!”

“The wicked flee when no man pursueth.” “The sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them: and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth.” “Terrors take hold on him as waters.”

“That pang where more than madness lies!
The worm that will not sleep, and never dies.
Thought of the gloomy day and ghastly night,
That dreads the darkness, and yet loathes the light:
That winds around, and tears the quivering heart,
Ah! wherefore not consume it and depart?”

Byron. (c)

IV. The power of habit.

“Habit,” says Sir W. Hamilton, “is formed by the frequent repetition of the same action, or passion, and this repetition is called consuetude, or custom.”

“All habits gather by unseen degrees,
As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.”


“Habit is at first like a spider’s web; if neglected, it becomes a thread of twine; next, a cord or rope, and eventually a cable; and then who can break it?” “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.” “His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins.” (d)


i. Warning against sin. Let the certainty of its punishment deter you from the commission of sin.

ii. Motive to trust in Christ. Through Him we may obtain forgiveness of sin, cleansing from its stains, and freedom from its power.


(a) This topic is illustrated on pp. 89, 265, 481.

(b) I knew a man who said, that in falling twenty feet, when he expected to die, the thoughts of a lifetime seemed to pass through his mind. He thought of his business, of his wife, of his children, and of that eternity to which he was going. A life seemed to pass through his mind and nothing was lost. So it will be when memory summons the acts of a life at the last tribunal. Nothing is lost. Thoughts once impressed, but apparently lost, will come out again. A life is written on our memory, as with invisible ink. It is apparently lost to our frail sight while here; but, in the judgment light, it will be seen enveloped around us, and will be unroll d till every line and letter is made visible. I knew a sailor once, who said, that when in a storm, on the giddy mast, while trying to furl a sail, and could not, he cursed God. It passed out of his mind for twenty years; but then, in a season of excitement, he said, “Now I remember it. I am lost.”—H. W. Beecher.

Let a man try to forget any dreadful thing, of which he hates the remembrance, and the more he tries to forget it, the more surely he remembers it, the more he bodies it forth, and every thrust he makes at it causes it to glare up anew, reveals some new horror in it. Doubtless, this peculiarity in our mental constitution is destined to play a most terrific part in the punishment of men’s sins in eternity; for there can be nothing so dreadful as the remembrance of sin, and nothing which men will strive with more intense earnestness to hide from and forget, than the recollection of their sins; and yet every effort they make at such forgetfulness only gives to such sins a more terrible reality, and makes them blaze up in a more lurid light to the conscience. Oh, if they could but be forgotten! But the more intense is the earnestness of this wish, the more impossible becomes the forgetfulness, the more terribly the dreaded evil stands out. There are cases, even in this life, in which men would give ten thousand worlds, if they possessed them, could they only forget; but how much more in eternity! The man that has committed a secret midnight murder, how often, think you, though perhaps not a human being suspects it, would he give the riches of the material universe, if he had them at command could he but forget that one moment’s crime! But it is linked to his very constitution; and every time he tries to cut the chain, he does but rattle and rouse the crime out of its grave into a new existence.—G. B. Cheever, D.D.

Will no remorse, will no decay,

O Memory, soothe thee into peace?

When life is ebbing fast away,

Will not thy hungry vultures cease?

Ah, no! as weeds from fading free,
Noxious and rank, yet verdantly

Twine round a ruined tower;

So to the heart, untamed, will cling
The memory of an evil thing

In life’s departing hour:

Green is the weed when grey the wall,
And thistles rise while turrets fall.
Yet open Memory’s book again—

Turn o’er the lovelier pages now,

And find that balm for present pain

Which past enjoyment can bestow:

Delusion all, and void of power!
For e’en in thought’s serenest hour,

When past delights are felt,

And Memory shines on scenes of woe,
’Tis like the moonbeam on the snow,

That gilds, but cannot melt;

That throws a mocking lustre o’er,
But leaves it cheerless as before.

J. A. Heraud.

(c) My dream was lengthened after life;

O, then began the tempest to my soul!
I passed, methought, the melancholy flood,
With that grim ferryman which poets write of
Unto the kingdom of perpetual night.
The first that there did greet my stranger soul,
Was my great father-in-law, renowned Warwick,
Who cried aloud—What scourge for perjury

Can this dark monarchy afford false Clarence?

And so he vanished: Then came wand’ ring by
A shadow like an angel, with bright hair
Dabbled in blood; and he shrieked out aloud,

Clarence is come,—false, fleeting, perjured Clarence

That stabb’d me in the field by Tewkesbury;
Seize on him, furies, take him to your torments!

With that, methought, a legion of foul fiends
Environed me, and howled in mine ears
Such hideous cries, that, with the very noise,
I trembling waked, and, for a season after,
Could not believe but that I was in hell;
Such terrible impression made my dream.

I have done these things

That now give evidence against my soul.

Shakespeare, Richard III. i. 4.

My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
Perjury, perjury, in the high’st degree;
Murder, stern murder, in the driest degree;
All several sins all used in each degree,
Throng to the bar crying all—Guilty! guilty!
I shall despair. There is no creature loves me,
And, if I die, no soul will pity me—
Nay, wherefore should they? since that I myself
Find in myself no pity to myself.
Methought the souls of all that I had murder’d
Came to my tent; and every one did threat
Tomorrow’s vengeance on the head of Richard.

Ibid. Numbers 32:3.

(d) Here is a young man who says, “I cannot see why they make such a fuss about the intoxicating cup. Why, it is exhilarating. It makes me feel well. I can talk better, think better, feel better. I cannot see why people have such a prejudice against it.” A few years pass on, and he wakes up, and finds himself in the clutches of an evil habit which he tries to break, but cannot; and he cries out, “O Lord God, help me!” It seems as though God would not hear his prayer, and in agony of body and soul he cries out, “It biteth like a serpent, and it stingeth like an adder.” How bright it was at the start! how black it was at the last!—T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.


(Numbers 32:23)

“Be sure your sin will find you out.”
Men, when they commit sin, wish to think that they are done with the thing for ever. Few succeed in convincing themselves of this huge error; but some do think that the Most High doth not regard, and will never call them to account. Others think that the day of God’s dealing with them will not come till by some means, not sanctioned by Scripture, not approved by sound reason, they will make all right. In many ways sinners practise deceit on themselves and harden themselves in iniquity. Men are not done with sin when they have committed it. After sin comes a dread account. “Be sure your sin will find you out.”

I. God certainly shows His purpose to punish sin by the way He causes woe to come on some sinners here.

The drunkard, the glutton, and the cheat, the liar and the lewd, are not the only examples. Most frauds are exposed. Nearly all murders are brought to light. Men may plot very secretly, and think their crimes are hid. But Providence calls on stones and beams of timber, on tracks and pieces of paper, to be witnesses of the crime. Then all that class of sins which are not punishable by human laws, God often punishes with a loss of respect, esteem, or confidence. After twenty-four years of concealment, Joseph’s brethren are brought to feel and say that God had found out their iniquity. Ibycus, a famous Grecian poet, was going to Corinth. Robbers attacked and murdered him. As he was falling and dying, he looked around to see if there were no witnesses or avengers. All he could see was a flock of cranes high in the air. He called on them to avenge his blood. You may think that was an idle call. The robbers thought so. They got their prey, and came to Corinth. They went to the open theatre. As they sat there, they looked up and saw above them a flight of cranes, and one scoffingly said, “Lo, there are the avengers of Ibycus.” The words were heard by some one near them. Already fears of the poet’s safety began to be common. The gang, on being questioned, betrayed themselves, and The Cranes of Ibycus became a proverb, like that we have in English, Murder will out.

II. Men might be sure that their sin will find them out by the sore judgments which God sometimes sends on men for their sins.

On this matter we should exercise candour, caution, and charity, and not call that an angry judgment which is but a dark doing of love. Still there are on earth sore and marked judgments. Look at the history of Achan, of Korah, &c. Of thirty Roman Emperors, Proconsuls, and high officials, who distinguished themselves by their zeal and rage against the early Christians, it is recorded that one became speedily deranged after an act of great cruelty; one was slain by his own son; one became blind; the eyes of one started out of his head; one was drowned; one was strangled; one died in a miserable captivity; one fell dead in a manner that will not bear to be told: one died of so loathsome a disease that several of his physicians were put to death, because they could not abide the stench that filled his room; two committed suicide; a third attempted it, but had to call for help to finish the bloody work; five were assassinated by their own servants or people; five others died the most horrible deaths, having many and strange diseases; and eight were killed in battle, or after being taken prisoners. Men have more to do with sin than to commit it.

III. One may escape detection and strange judgments, and still his sins may find him out in the fears, and clam ours, and remorse of conscience.

Remorse is remorseless. Like fire, it burns all around it. No man can protect himself against his sins flashing him in the face at any moment. The Bible, preaching, singing, praying, a marriage, a trial in court, the sight of the man he has injured, or one that looks like him, or anything may arouse his conscience into fury at the most inconvenient time.

IV. But even if one escape all these things, yet if he dies unpardoned his sins will find him out in the next world.

Luke 12:2; 1 Timothy 5:24; Ecclesiastes 10:20.

Why do not men admit the force of these truths, and act accordingly? The reasons are very clear.

1. Some think their sins will not find them out because. God has not yet called them to account (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Such men forget that with the Lord one day is “as a thousand years,” &c. (2 Peter 3:8-10).

2. In this world sinners often forget their sins, and think God has also forgotten them (Psalms 10:11). But God forgets nothing.

3. Some think their sin will not find them out because they doubt whether God is holy and just, and whether He takes notice of human actions (Psalms 94:5; Psalms 94:7). But that is practical atheism (Proverbs 15:3; Ecclesiastes 12:14).

4. Some think their sin will not find them out because God is merciful. But mercy slighted and rejected can save no man. All the cooling fountains can do no good to him who does not drink them.

O sinner, “be sure your sin will find you out.” You may now live in ease and in error. You may now harden your heart in pride. But you must meet your sins at God’s tribunal. Remember that. O be wise, be wise unto salvation.—W. S. Plumer, D.D.


(Numbers 32:28-42)

In these verses there are several things which require a brief notice.

I. The arrangements made by Moses for carrying out the agreement into which he had entered with the Reubenites and Gadites.

1. His command to Eleazar and Joshua. “Moses commanded Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun,” &c. (Numbers 32:28-30). Knowing that before the engagements could be fulfilled he would “be gathered unto his people,” he charges the authorities of the nation to carry them out.

2. His grant of the land to the two and a half tribes. “Moses gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben,” &c. Thus he provides as carefully and completely as possible for the fulfilment of the agreement into which, as the head of the nation, he had entered. Learn from the conduct of Moses—

i. That men drawing near to the close of life should provide for the fulfilment of the engagements which they have made. It behoves them “to set their house in order,” &c. (comp. 2 Kings 20:1). (a)

ii. That men should not enter into engagements for the fulfilment of which they are unable to make provision.

II. The renewal of the promise of the Reubenites and Gadites.

“And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben answered,” &c. Here are two considerations—

1. The engagement which they renew. They pledge themselves, for the third time, to do the will of Jehovah by aiding their brethren in the conquest of Canaan. “As the Lord hath said unto thy servants, so will we do,” &c.

2. The object which they had in view in renewing the engagement. “That the possession of our inheritance on this side Jordan may be ours.”

III. The bestowment upon the half tribe of Manasseh of northern Gilead and Bashan.

“And Moses gave Gilead unto Machir the son of Manasseh,” &c. (Numbers 32:40-42). This half tribe of Manasseh had not asked for their inheritance east of the Jordan. Wherefore, then, was it assigned to them there? Of the three tribes “who had elected to remain on that side of the Jordan, Reuben and Gad had chosen their lot because the country was suitable to their pastoral possessions and tendencies. But Machir, Jair, and Nobah, the sons of Manasseh, were no shepherds. They were pure warriors, who had taken the most prominent part in the conquest of those provinces which up to that time had been conquered, and whose deeds are constantly referred to (Numbers 32:39; Deuteronomy 3:13-15) with credit and renown. ‘Jair the son of Manasseh took all the tract of Argob … sixty great cities’ (Deuteronomy 3:14; Deuteronomy 4:0). ‘Nobah took Kenath, and the daughter towns thereof, and called it after his own name’ (Numbers 32:42). ‘Because Machir was a man of war, therefore he had Gilead and Bashan’ (Joshua 17:1). The district which these ancient warriors conquered was among the most difficult, if not the most difficult, in the whole country. It embraced the hills of Gilead, with their inaccessible heights and impassable ravines, and the almost impregnable tract of Argob, which derives its modern name of Lejah from the secure ‘asylum’ it affords to those who take refuge within its natural fortifications” (Bibl. Dict). Thus their inheritance may have been assigned to them there—

1. As an acknowledgment of their bravery. The words of Numbers 32:39 suggest this, “The children of Machir, the son of Manasseh, had gone to Gilead, and taken it, and dispossessed the Amorite which was in it. And Moses gave Gilead,” &c.

2. As a precaution for the common safety. The occupation of this frontier country by these bold and valiant warriors would tend to promote the security of the nation. Moses might have had this in view in settling them there.

IV. The alteration of the names of the places.

“Nebo and Baal-meon (their names being changed), and Shibmah; and gave other names unto the cities which they builded.” The alteration of the names of the towns arose probably from—

1. A desire not to mention the names of the heathen deities after which some of them were called. Nebo and Baal are such names. The Israelites were commanded not to utter the name of false gods (Exodus 23:13; Joshua 23:7).

2. A desire to perpetuate their own names. “Nobah took Kenath, and called it Nobah, after his own name.” “They call their lands after their own names” (Psalms 49:11). Deep is the desire of men to be remembered on the earth when they have passed away from it for ever. (b)


(a) Illustrations on the Fulfilment of promises appear on p. 554.

In connection with the important subject of preparation for death—for we have all to die, and the sooner we distinctly understand what it requires to do so honourably and safely, the better,—allow me to mention, first, a wise and equitable arrangement of your temporal affairs. “Have you made your will?” There is an admirable tract with this title. I wish it were better known, and more generally read. He who has property that will survive him, and a family possessing indisputable claims on his remembrance, ought not to give sleep to his eyes nor slumber to his eyelids, till he has made such a testamentary disposition of his estate as shall be to the honour of his Christian character, and save his family from contention, litigation, and strife, in the event of his removal.—Thos. Ruffles D.D., LL.D.

But not that way do all men make their departure. Men ought to have their worldly affairs settled, so that the executors and administrators will not be confounded; and so that what they have honestly earned be not scattered among those who have no right to it. If the sudden announcement should be made to you to-night what would be the state of your families? Have you done all that you can to fit them for heaven? Could you feel, “Whatever I, as father or mother, could do, I have done. They will remember how I prayed for them and talked with them; and when they look at my picture, they will say: ‘That was a Christian parent. I want to go in the same way, and gain the same heaven’ ”? The keys of this organ are twelve feet from the organ-pipes; but every time those keys are touched the pipes resound. So these parents are now exercising influences which will respond far on in the eternity of their children. If they play an anthem now, it will be an anthem then. If they play a dirge now, it will be a dirge for ever.—T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.

(b) Various are the contrivances of vain men to have their names written on earth, and to procure, after their deaths, an imaginary immorality, for themselves and their families, in the memory and conversation of posterity; which is not often obtained; and, it obtained, is of no value; when, with less trouble, they might have had their names written in heaven, and have secured to themselves a blessed immortality, in the glorious kingdom of their Redeemer.—Bp. Home.

“Some sink outright.

O’er them and o’er their names the billows close,
Tomorrow knows not they were ever born.
Others a short memorial leave behind;
Like a flag floating when the bark’s engulfed,
It floats a moment, and is seen no more.
One Cæsar lives; a thousand are forgot.”


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 32". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/numbers-32.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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