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MOSES REPROVES THE REUBENITES
Numbers 32:6-7. And Moses said unto the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here? And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord hath given them?
ACTIONS are good or evil according to the motives from which they proceed: but, as these are known only to God, it must often happen that our conduct is either viewed in too favourable a light, or subjected to unmerited censure. Our inability to dive into the hearts of men should certainly incline us at all times to lean rather to the side of charity, and to hope and believe all things of a favourable nature, as far as circumstances will admit. This consideration however is not to operate so far as to blind our eyes to what is manifestly evil, or to keep us from reproving those who act amiss. Magistrates in particular must proceed with firmness in suppressing wickedness of every kind, and by timely interference must stop the contagion of bad example. Thus did Moses, when the Reubenites and Gadites presented a request to him, which he deemed injurious to all the other tribes. They asked to have the land on the east side of Jordan for their portion, instead of any part of the land of Canaan: and Moses, conceiving their request to proceed from improper and unjustifiable motives, expostulated with them, and reproved them with great severity. Let us consider,
The grounds of his jealousy—
There was ample reason for the fears he entertained respecting them—
[Their request seemed to be dictated by selfishness, worldliness, and unbelief. As soon as Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og the king of Bashan were subdued, and their fertile territories were seized, these two tribes requested to have the exclusive possession of their land, under a pretence that it was pre-eminently suited to them, on account of the number of their flocks and herds. As for their brethren belonging to the other ten tribes, let them go and fight their way among the Canaanites, and get possession of whatever they could: but the land which was already subdued, and which was of the richest quality, they desired to have allotted to themselves without any further trouble.
This land was not within the precincts of Canaan: moreover, it would be far removed from the ordinances of religion and from the house of God: but they did not seem to regard either of these considerations in comparison of an ample, easy, and immediate settlement.
The inhabitants of the promised land were exceeding numerous and warlike; and could never be dispossessed without many sanguinary contests. Perhaps, after all, the victory over them might be dearly purchased, or possibly might never be attained: hence also might arise the willingness of the suitors to forego their share in what was uncertain, if they might be permitted to possess what was already gained.
Such was the construction which Moses put upon the conduct of these two tribes, and such was the ground of those reproofs which he administered.]
And is there not ground for similar fears whenever a similar conduct obtains?
[If a minister at this day see his hearers selfish, mindful of their own comforts, but inattentive to the wants and miseries of others, has he not reason to fear concerning them? When it is eminently characteristic of the true Christian to “mind, not his own things, but the things of others [Note: Philippians 2:4.],” and there is a manifest failure in this respect amongst his people, ought he not to be “jealous over them with a godly jealousy,” and to warn them of their self-deceit?
Again, if he observe any professors of religion to have become worldly; if he find them so intent on their present interests, as to be comparatively indifferent about the ordinances of religion, and the ultimate possession of the heavenly land; if he see them studious of their present ease, and averse to spiritual conflicts, must he not of necessity “stand in doubt of” such persons? Does not love itself require him to “change his voice towards them,” and to adopt the language of admonition and reproof?
Once more, if he see them yielding to unbelief, and resting satisfied with a present portion, through desponding apprehensions respecting the attainment of a better inheritance, does it become him to be silent? Ought he not to exert himself in every way to repress such a spirit, and to stimulate his people to a more becoming conduct? Must he wait for open and notorious transgressions before he opens his lips in expostulations and reproofs? No surely: the example of Moses in the text, and of St. Paul on various occasions [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:2; Galatians 4:19-20.], shews, what are the emotions which every such instance should produce, and what methods every faithful minister should adopt to counteract such evils.]
Whilst we justify Moses on reviewing the grounds of his jealousy, we shall find reason to congratulate him on,
The effects of it—
From himself it produced a faithful remonstrance—
[It is but too common to express our fears and jealousies to others, and to conceal them from the person who is the subject of them. But Moses abhorred any such concealment: he felt the importance of suggesting all his fears to those who were most interested in being made acquainted with them; and he accordingly addressed himself to the people themselves.
He set before them the pernicious tendency of their example, which was calculated to discourage all the children of Israel: he also reminded them of the similar conduct of their fathers, which had involved them all in one common ruin; and assured them, that they would bring a similar destruction on the present generation, if they persisted in such unreasonable desires [Note: ver. 6–15.].
Thus he acted like a true friend, and a faithful servant of the Lord. It was thus that St. Paul also acted towards Peter, when by a temporizing and timid policy he was endangering the liberty of the Christian Church: and thus also are we to act, agreeably to that precept, “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and shalt not suffer sin upon him [Note: Leviticus 19:17.].”]
From them it called forth a satisfactory explanation—
[They did not, on the one hand, either acknowledge, or deny, the fault imputed to them; nor on the other hand, did they take the slightest offence at it. But for the satisfaction of Moses they voluntarily engaged to accompany their brethren in arms, and even to go before them to the battle; and to continue with them till the whole land should be subdued, and every tribe should be in possession of its destined inheritance. This was fair and equitable: and Moses readily acquiesced in the proposal. He warned them however, that, if they should ever recede from their purpose, and violate their engagement, “their sin should surely find them out,” and be visited upon them.
Thus were matters settled to the satisfaction of all parties: the jealousy of Moses evinced his concern for their welfare; and, if it did not give birth to the proposal which was made, it certainly confirmed the people in their determination to execute it with boldness and fidelity. A similar instance of jealousy towards these very tribes occurred, when they were returning to their families after the conquest of Canaan [Note: Joshua 22:11-33.]. On that occasion indeed they were evidently blameless, notwithstanding the appearances were, as in the present case, very much against them. But the issue in both was happy: and we learn from both to admonish with candour, and to receive admonitions with humble gratitude; being more intent on satisfying the minds of those who are offended, than on lowering our accusers by any recriminations.]
This subject will naturally furnish us with some important hints:—
Maintain on all occasions a jealousy over yourselves—
[The heart is justly said to be “deceitful above all things:” and “Satan can easily transform himself into an angel of light.” Even the Apostles themselves on some occasions “knew not what spirit they were of:” they supposed themselves actuated by pure and holy zeal, when they were influenced by nothing but pride and revenge. It is highly probable that these two tribes took credit to themselves for far more disinterestedness than they possessed; and that Moses saw more of their real disposition, than they themselves were aware of. This appears from the solemn charge which Moses gave them, even after he had acceded to their proposal. And we are sure that this is frequently the case amongst ourselves: under the idea of a prudential regard for our families and our property, we are very apt to indulge a worldly and selfish spirit; and to be unconscious of evils which are but too visible to others. Let us remember this: we see it in others; let us guard against it in ourselves — — —]
Be ready to assign the reasons of your conduct to others—
[It may easily happen that our conduct may appear to others in a more unfavourable light than it ought; and if they knew our real views, they would form a different judgment respecting it. Now then we should not be angry with them because they express their doubts respecting any particular action; but should be ready to satisfy their minds, precisely as we would, if they inquired into the grounds of our faith [Note: 1 Peter 3:15.]. The Apostle Peter, when called to an account by all the other Apostles for “going to uncircumcised Gentiles and eating with them,” thought it no degradation to assign his reasons to them, but was glad of an opportunity of removing their misapprehensions [Note: Acts 11:2-4.]. Though they seemed to have been somewhat hasty in condemning him, he was not angry with them: he knew the purity of their motives, and felt a pleasure in declaring to them the designs of God towards the Gentile world. Happy would it be for us, if there were in all of us such a mind as this. But, alas! the quick sensibility which is manifested by us when any fault is pointed out; our extreme backwardness to acknowledge it, and our proneness to condemn our monitors rather than ourselves, render the duly of admonishing one another extremely difficult. Let us however cultivate a better spirit, and “esteem it a kindness, if the righteous smite and reprove us:” let us receive their admonitions “as an excellent oil, which shall not break our head [Note: Psalms 141:5.],” but rather heal the wounds which our own misconduct may have occasioned.]
Endeavour so to walk, that your actions may carry their own evidence along with them—
[In some circumstances our actions must of necessity be open to misconstruction. St. Paul in circumcising Timothy and not Titus, and in “becoming all things to all men,” must appear to many to be guilty of inconsistency. But his general spirit would bear such ample testimony to the integrity of his mind, that all candid persons must at least withhold their censures, even when they could not discern the exact propriety of his conduct. Where there was real danger of his laying a stumbling-block before others, he invariably leaned to the safer side, and would deny himself in things that were most innocent, rather than by indulgence ensnare the consciences of others [Note: 1 Corinthians 8:13.]. Thus should we endeavour to act. We should “abstain from all appearance of evil.” We should be careful that our “good may not be evil spoken of [Note: Romans 14:16.].” In a word, we should “be circumspect in all things;” and “so make our light to shine before men, that all who behold it may be constrained to glorify our Father which is in heaven.”]
THE CERTAINTY THAT SIN WILL FIND US OUT
Numbers 32:23. Behold, ye have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out.
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, though so well acquainted with the liberal spirit of the Gospel, think it wrong to “persuade men by the terrors of the Lord.” The words before us therefore may, not improperly, be addressed to us [Note: The tribes of Reuben and Gad had solicited permission to have the land of Jazer and of Gilead for their portion, instead of any inheritance in the land of Canaan. Upon their promising to fight in conjunction with the other tribes until the whole of Canaan should be subdued, Moses acceded to their proposal; but warned them withal, that, if they receded from their engagement, they should assuredly meet with a due recompence from God.].
We may take occasion from them to consider,
In what manner we have sinned against the Lord—
It would be endless to attempt an enumeration of all the sins we have committed. 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 at our baptism to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil [Note: See the Church Catechism.]. These promises then made for us, we have renewed at our confirmation and at the Lord’s table: but how have we kept the covenant which we have thus solemnly entered into? Have we not maintained that friendship with the world which is enmity with God [Note: James 4:4.]? Have we not rather sought to please than to mortify our carnal appetites [Note: Titus 3:3.]? Has not the god of this world led us captive at his will [Note: Ephesians 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:26.]? And is not such a life one continued violation of our baptismal engagements?]
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 [Note: Ephesians 6:12.]. They were to fight for an earthly portion; we, an heavenly [Note: 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? Do we suppose that God will subdue our enemies without our concurrence? Or can we say that the prize held forth 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? Behold then, we may say to all, “Ye have sinned against the Lord.”]
Nor are we to suppose that our sin will always pass unnoticed—
What assurance we have that our sin shall find us out—
Sin may be said to find us out when it brings down the divine judgments upon us—
[Conscience, stupified 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 [Note: Genesis 42:21-22.]: sometimes it testifies to our face as soon as our sin is committed [Note: 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 [Note: Ezekiel 18:4.]; and sin then finds us out effectually when it brings that punishment upon us.]
That it will find us out, we have the fullest possible assurance—
[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.
The declarations of hit Word abundantly confirm this awful truth [Note: Isaiah 3:11; Romans 2:9; Psalms 21:8; Proverbs 11:21.]. Sin leaves a track which can never be effaced; and evil, however slow-paced, will surely overtake it [Note: Proverbs 13:21; Psalms 140:11.]. However scoffers may exult in their security, their ruin is fast approaching [Note: 2 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 3:4; 2Pe 3:9 and Deuteronomy 29:19-20.].
The remarkable instances of sin being detected and punished in this world afford a strong additional testimony. David and Gehazi, though so studious to conceal their guilt, had their iniquity marked in the punishment inflicted for it [Note: 2 Samuel 12:9-12; 2 Kings 5:26-27.]. When, according to human calculations, it was above two millions to one that Achan would escape, the lot fell on him by an infallible direction [Note: Joshua 7:14-18.]. How much more then shall the most hidden things be brought to light hereafter!
The appointment of a day of final retribution puts the matter beyond a possibility of doubt. For what end can there be such a period fixed, but that the actions of men may be judged? And for what end can they be judged, but that every man may receive according to his deeds [Note: Ecclesiastes 12:14.]? We may then emphatically say to every sinner, “Be sure your sin,” &c.]
How earnest should we be in searching out our own sins!
[We think little of evils which have been committed by us long ago, and imagine that they are effaced from God’s memory as well as from our own: but every action, word, and thought, is noted in the book of his remembrance. He sees the transactions of former years as if they had this moment passed. All our iniquities are viewed by him in one accumulated mass; nor does he abhor them less than in the very instant they were committed. Let us not then pass them over, or palliate them, as youthful follies. Let us remember how exactly the Lord’s threatenings were executed on the Israelites in the wilderness [Note: Numbers 32:10-13.]; and endeavour to avert his judgments while space for repentance is allowed us. Let us mourn over our innumerable violations of our baptismal covenant Let us lament our solicitude about a present portion, our aversion to fight the Lord’s battles, and our indifference about the heavenly Canaan. We must repent of these things, or lie under the guilt of them for ever [Note: Psalms 50:21; Luke 13:3.].]
How thankful should we be that a way of escape is provided for us!
[It is not sin lamented, but sin unrepented of, which will find us out. There is a city of refuge provided for those who will flee to it [Note: Hebrews 6:18.]. The man, Christ Jesus, is an hiding-place from the impending storm [Note: Isaiah 32:2.]. If we flee to him, we may be sure that sin shall NOT find us out. Every perfection of the Deity is pledged to save a believing penitent [Note: 1 John 1:9.]. We are confirmed in this hope by the most positive declarations of Scripture [Note: Isaiah 44:22; Micah 7:19; Hebrews 8:12.]. We have most authentic and astonishing instances of sin forgiven [Note: 2 Samuel 12:13; Luke 7:47; Luke 23:43.]; and the day of judgment is appointed no less for the complete justification of believers than for the condemnation of unbelievers [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10.]. Let this blessed assurance then dwell richly on our minds. Let it encourage us to take refuge under the Saviour’s wings [Note: Matthew 23:37.]. Let an holy confidence inspire those who have committed their souls to him [Note: 2 Timothy 1:12.]. And let all rejoice and glory in him as able to save them to the uttermost [Note: Hebrews 7:25.].]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Numbers 32". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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