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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 32

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-42



Numbers 32:1

The children of Reuben and the children of Gad. Reuben and Gad had both been camped on the same (southern) side of the tabernacle, but had not apparently been neighbours, since Simeon intervened on the march (see on Numbers 2:10-14). Simeon, however, was at this time enfeebled and disgraced, and was not likely to assert himself in any way. The "great multitude of cattle" belonging to the two tribes probably point to pastoral habits of long standing, since the cattle of the Amorites and Midianites would be equally divided among all. The land of Jazer. Jazer, or Jaazer, probably stood near the northern source of the Wady Hesban, which enters the Jordan not far from its mouth. The "land of Jazer" would seem to mean the Mishor, or plateau, of Heshbon, over which the Israelites had passed on their way to the plains of Moab (see on Deuteronomy 3:10, "all the cities of the Mishor"). The land of Gilead. Gilead as the name of a district only previously occurs in Genesis 37:25. It is used with a considerable latitude of meaning in this and the following books. In its widest sense it stands for the whole territory to the east of Jordan (see on Genesis 37:26, Genesis 37:29), including even the rugged, volcanic districts of Bashan (Deuteronomy 34:1; 1 Chronicles 5:16); but more properly it denoted the lands on both sides the Jabbok, from the Wady Hesban on the south, to the Yermuk and lake of Tiberias on the north, now known as the provinces of Belka and Jebel Ajlun. These lands are by no means uniformly flat, as the name "Mount Gilead" testifies, but include mountains and hills covered with fine open forests of oak (cf. 2 Samuel 18:8, 2 Samuel 18:9) as well as rolling downs and treeless plains. The soil is almost everywhere of great fertility, and the water supply, although very scanty in summer, is sufficient if carefully husbanded. Even now these provinces produce great store of grain, and are depastured by vast flocks of sheep. In Roman times, as the innumerable ruins testify, they were filled with a large and opulent population. Indeed there could be no comparison in point of agricultural and pastoral value between these open and fertile lands and the broken, stony country of Southern Palestine. If they ever enjoy again the blessing of a strong government and continuous peace they will again justify the choice of Reuben and Gad. A place for cattle. מָקוֹם is used here in the broader sense of district (cf. Genesis 1:9), and is equivalent to אֶרֶץ in Genesis 37:4.

Numbers 32:3

Ataroth. As to the nine places here mentioned, see on Numbers 32:34-38. They all lie to the south of Gilead, properly so called, within a comparatively short distance of the route by which the main body of the Israelites had advanced. Probably the cattle which followed the host were still grazing under guard around these places, and it was very natural that tribes which had hitherto lived closely crowded together should not at first contemplate spreading themselves very far afield.

Numbers 32:5

Bring us not over Jordan. The two tribes have been charged on the strength of these words with "shameless selfishness," but there is nothing to justify such an accusation. If they thought at all of the effect of their request upon their brethren, it is quite likely that they intended to do them a kindness by leaving them more room on the other side Jordan; and indeed Canaan proper was all too strait for such a population. Whether they were wise in wishing to stay in the wider and more attractive lands which they had seen is another matter. They knew that the God of Israel had designed to plant his people between Jordan and the sea, and they certainly risked a partial severance from his promises and his protection by remaining where they did. The subsequent history of the trans-Jordanic tribes is a melancholy commentary on the real unwisdom of their choice. Yet it would have been difficult for them to know that they were wrong, except by an instinct of faith which no Israelites perhaps at that time possessed.

Numbers 32:6

Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here. Moses had good cause to feel great anxiety about the entry into Canaan proper. Once already the faith and courage of the people had failed them on the very threshold of the promised land, and a slight discouragement might bring about a similar calamity. Hence he spoke with a degree of sharpness which does not appear to have been deserved.

Numbers 32:7

Discourage. The verb נוֹא, translated "discourage" here and in Numbers 32:9, is of somewhat doubtful meaning. The Septuagint renders it by διαστρέφω, and perhaps the sense is, "Why do ye draw away the heart?" i.e; render it averse from going over.

Numbers 32:8

Thus did your fathers. It is impossible not to see that this mode of address is in striking contrast to that used in the Book of. Deuteronomy (e.g; in Numbers 1:22, Numbers 1:27; Numbers 5:3, Numbers 5:23). At the same time it is obviously the more natural, and the more in accordance with facts, because there was not a man left of all those who had rebelled at Kadesh. At Kadesh-Barnea. This mode of writing the name forms a link between the closing chapters of Numbers (here and in Numbers 34:4) and the two following books. In Deuteronomy it occurs four times, and "Kadesh" twice. In Joshua "Kadesh-Barnea" occurs exclusively. In the later books "Kadesh" only is used, as in Genesis and in the previous chapters of Numbers. The meaning of the combination is uncertain, and the etymology of "Barnea" altogether obscure. It may be an old name attaching to the place before it became known as a sanctuary. The Septuagint has Κάδης τοῦ Βαρνή in one place, as though it were the name of a man.

Numbers 32:9

When they went up, i.e; no doubt the spies, although the word is not expressed. Moses, indeed, in the heat of his displeasure, seemed to charge their "fathers" generally with the wickedness of ten men. No further proof is needed to show that Moses was often disposed to speak unadvisedly with his lips.

Numbers 32:11

That came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward. Here is another instance of the haste and inaccuracy with which Moses spoke. The Divine sentence of exclusion had been pronounced upon all who were numbered at Sinai as being then over twenty (Numbers 14:29).

Numbers 32:12

The Kenezite. See on Numbers 13:6.

Numbers 32:14

An increase of sinful men. תַּרְבּוּת is rendered by the Septuagint συντριμμα, which properly means a contusion or fracture; but it is probably equivalent to "brood," used in a contemptuous sense. The strong language of Moses was not justified by the reality, although it was excused by the appearance, of the case.

Numbers 32:15

He will yet again leave them in the wilderness. Properly speaking, Israel had already emerged from the wilderness; but until they had fairly made good their possession of Canaan, their desert wanderings could not be considered at an end.

Numbers 32:16

Sheep-folds. גִּדְרֹת צֹאן. These were rude enclosures built of loose stones piled on one another, into which the flocks were driven at night for safety.

Numbers 32:17

We ourselves will go ready armed. Rather, "we will equip ourselves in haste." נֵחָלַץ חֻשִׁים. They meant that they would not delay the forward movement of Israel, but would hasten to erect the necessary buildings, and to array themselves for war.

Numbers 32:19

On yonder side Jordan. מֵעֵבֶר לירְדֵּן. Septuagint, ἀπὸ τοῦ πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου. This phrase is here used in what is apparently its more natural sense, as it would be used by one dwelling in the plains of Moab (see on Numbers 22:1, and on next verse). Or forward. וָהָלְאָה. Septuagint, καὶ ἐπέκεινα, i.e; onwards towards the west and south and north, as the tide of conquest might flow. Our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward. It does not appear on what ground they spoke so confidently. They do not seem to have received any Divine intimation that their lot was to be on the east of Jordan, but rather to have been guided by their own preference. If so, they cannot be acquitted of a certain presumptuous willfulness in action, and of a certain want of honesty in speech. The phrase here rendered "on this side Jordan" (מֵעֵבֶר היּרְדֵּז) cannot be distinguished grammatically from that which bears an opposite signification in the preceding verse. In itself it is perfectly ambiguous without some qualifying word or phrase, and it is very difficult to know what the ordinary use of it was in the time of Moses. In later ages, no doubt, it came to mean simply the trans-Jordanic territory, or Peraea, without reference to the position of the speaker. The difficulty here is to decide whether the expression, as further defined by "eastward," would actually have been used at that time and in that place, or whether the expression is due to a writer living on the west of Jordan. All we can say is, that the awkward use of the phrase in two opposite meanings, with words of clearer definition added, points more or less strongly towards a probability that the passage as it stands was written or revised at a later date.

Numbers 32:20

Before the Lord. Perhaps in a quasi-local sense, as the vanguard of the host before the sacred symbols of the Lord's presence (see on Numbers 10:21, and Joshua 6:9). But since the same expression (לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה) is twice used in a much vaguer sense in Numbers 32:22, it is more probable ,that it only means "in the Lord's service, or "beneath his eye."

Numbers 32:23

Be sure your sin will find you out. Or rather, "ye will know your sin" (וּדְעוּ חאָתְכֶם) "which shall find you out" (for מָצָא cf. Genesis 44:16). So in effect the Septuagint: γνώσεσθε τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ὑῶν, ὅταν ὑμᾶς καταλάβῃ τὰ κακά. When they had cause to rue their folly, then they would recognize their sin.

Numbers 32:26

In the cities of Gilead. The name is used here in a vague sense for all the central and southern trans-Jordanic districts.

Numbers 32:28

Moses commanded. See on Numbers 34:17, Numbers 34:18; Joshua 1:13 ff.; Joshua 22:1 ff.

Numbers 32:33

And unto half the tribe of Manasseh. As no mention has been previously made of this tribe in this connection, we are left to conjecture why it should, contrary to all analogy, have been divided at all, and why the one half should have received the remote regions of Northern Gilead and Bashan. That the tribe was divided at all can only be explained by the pre-existence of some schism in its ranks, the probable origin and nature of which are discussed in the notes on verses 39, 41. The enormous increase in the tribal numbers during the wanderings (see on chapter 26:34) may have made the division more advisable, and the adventurous and independent character of the Machirites may have rendered it almost a necessity. They had not apparently preferred any request to Moses, but since the trans-Jordanic territory was to be occupied, Moses probably prevented a grave difficulty by recognizing their claim to the conquests they had made.

Numbers 32:34

The children of Gad built, i.e; no doubt, they put these places in some habitable and defensible state of repair until they should return. Dibon. Now Dhiban, four miles north of Arnon. It is called Dibon-gad in Numbers 33:45, Numbers 33:46, but it is doubtful whether there is any allusion to its present occupation, since "Gad" was a common affix in the languages of Canaan (cf. Joshua 11:17). Dibon was subsequently assigned to Reuben (Joshua 13:9), but was recovered by Moab, and became one of his strongholds (of Isaiah 15:2; Jeremiah 48:18, Jeremiah 48:22) The Moabite stone was found here. Ataroth. Now Attarus, seven miles from Dibon. Aroer. Not the Aroer before Rabbath (Joshua 13:25), but the Aroer by the brink of Arnon (Deuteronomy 2:36; Joshua 13:16).

Numbers 32:35

Atroth, Shophan. Rather, "Atroth-Shophan," another Ataroth, the site of which is unknown. Jaazer. See on Numbers 32:1. Jogbehah. Now perhaps Jebeiha, to the north of Jaazer (cf. Judges 8:11). All these places were only temporarily occupied by the Gadites, and fell to Reuben in the subsequent division.

Numbers 32:36

Beth-nimrah and Beth-haran. Supposed to be the present Nimrun and Beit-haran in the plains of Moab, beside the Jordan, and in the immediate neighbourhood of the Israelitish camp. The latter would seem to have fallen subsequently to Reuben. Fenced cities, and folds for sheep. There should be no stop between these two clauses. All these places were "built" for the double purpose of affording protection to the families and to the flocks of the tribe.

Numbers 32:37

The children of Reuben. Reuben had, at the time of the last census, been greater in number than Gad, and had been his leader on the march. He now begins to take that secondary position which was always to be his. Of the towns which he now occupied, the Moabites recovered many, while the most important of all (Heshbon) had to be surrendered to the Levites. He was indeed compensated with the southern settlements of the Gadites as far as the Wady Hesban, but even so his limits were very straitened as compared with those of Gad and of half Manasseh. Heshbon. Cf. chapter 21:25. In Joshua 21:39; 1 Chronicles 6:81, Heshbon is spoken of as belonging to Gad. This can only be explained on the supposition that the temporary settlements of the two tribes were really intermixed, and that Heshbon, as the old capital of that region, was jointly occupied. In after times it, too, together with Elealeh and Kirjathaim, Nebo, Baal-meon, and Sibmah, all fell into the hands of Moab (Isaiah 15:2, Isaiah 15:4; Isaiah 16:8; Jeremiah 48:22, Jeremiah 48:23).

Numbers 32:38

Baalomeon. Called Been in Numbers 32:3, Beth-meon in Jeremiah 48:23, Beth-Baal-meon in Joshua 13:17. Their names being changed. מוּסבֹּת שֵׁם, "with change of name," dependent on the verb "built." The Septuagint has περικεκυκλωμένας (Symmachus, περιτετευχισμένας), apparently reading שׁוּר for שֵׁם, but without authority. It is possible that the Been of Joshua 13:3 may be an instance of this attempt to change names, many of which were connected with idolatry. The attempt failed, hut both the attempt itself and its failure were very characteristic of the partial and feeble hold which Israel had on this territory. Gave other names to the cities which they builded. Literally, "they called by names the names of the towns;" a round-about expression correctly paraphrased by the A.V.

Numbers 32:39

The children of Machir. The relation of the Beni-Machir to the tribe of Manasseh is obscure, because all the Manassites were descended from Machir. In the absence of any direct information, we can only guess at the nature of the tie which united the Beni-Machir as a family, and kept them distinct from the other Manassite families. It is evident from their history that they formed a sub-tribe powerful enough to have a name of their own in Israel. Went to Gilead. This would seem to refer to the expedition briefly recorded in chapter 21:33. It is mentioned here out of place, in the simple historical style of the Pentateuch, because the gift of Gilead to Machir grew out of its conquest by Machir. The name Gilead is again used in a very vague sense, for the territory actually allotted to Machir was rather in Bashan than in Gilead proper.

Numbers 32:40

And he dwelt therein. This expression does not necessarily look beyond the lifetime of Moses, although it would be more naturally taken as doing so. In Numbers 20:1 יֵּשֶׁב is used of the "abiding" of Israel at Kadesh.

Numbers 32:41

Jair the son of Manasseh. This hero of Manasseh is mentioned here for the first time; in Deuteronomy 3:14 his conquests are somewhat more fully described. His genealogy, which is instructive and suggestive, is given here.

See chart, Genealogy of Jair

It will be seen that Segub, the father of Jair, was a Machirite in the female line only. His father Hezron, according to 1 Chronicles 2:21, married the daughter of Manasseh in his old age, when his elder sons were probably already fathers of families. It may probably be conjectured also that Manasseh, who must have inherited exceptional wealth (cf. Genesis 48:17), and had but one grandson, left a large portion to his grand-daughter, the young wife of Hezron. It was therefore very natural that Segub should have attached himself to the fortunes of his mother's tribe. Is it not also very probable that Machir had other daughters (cf. Genesis 1:23), who also inherited large portions from their grandfather, and whose husbands were willing enough to enter into a family which had apparently brighter prospects than any others? If so, it would account at once for the existence of a large family of Machirites not descended from Gilead, and not on the most friendly terms with the rest of the tribe. It is quite possible that many of the more adventurous spirits amongst the tribe of Judah joined themselves to a family whose reputation and exploits they might naturally claim as their own (see on Joshua 19:34). The small towns thereof, or, "their villages." Septuagint, τὰς ἐπαύλεις αὐτῶν, i.e. the hamlets of the Amorites who dwelt in Argob (Deuteronomy 3:14), the modern district of el Lejja, on the north-western waters of the Yermuk or Hieromax. And called them Havoth-jair. חָוּתֹ יָאִיר. Septuagint, τὰς ἐπαύλεις Ἰαίρ, and so the Targums. The word chavvoth only occurs in this connection, and is supposed by some to be the plural of חַוָּה, "life." There does not, however, seem to be anything except the very doubtful analogy of certain German names in favour of the rendering "Jair's lives." It is more likely the corruption of some more ancient name. There is some discrepancy in subsequent references to the Chavvoth-jair. According to 1 Chronicles 2:22, Jair had twenty-three towns in Gilead; from Judges 10:4 it appears that the sons of the later Jair had thirty cities "in the land of Gilead" which went under the name of Chavvoth-jair; while in Joshua 13:30 "all the Chavvoth-jair which are in Bashan" are reckoned at sixty. The plausible, though not wholly satisfactory, explanation is, that the conquests of Nobah came to be subsequently included in those of his more famous contemporary, and the vague name of Chavvoth-jair extended to all the towns in that part of Gilead, and of Bashan too (see notes on the passages cited).

Numbers 32:42

Nobah. As this chieftain is nowhere else named, we may probably conclude that he was one of the companions of Jair, holding a position more or less subordinate to him. Kenath. The modern Kenawat, on the western slope of the Jebel Hauran, the most easterly point ever occupied by the Israelites. It is apparently the Nobah mentioned in Judges 8:11, but it has reverted (like so many others) to its old name. In spite of the uncertainties which hang over the conquest of this north-eastern territory, there is something very characteristic in the part played by the Machirite leaders. That they acted with an independent vigour bordering on audacity, that they showed great personal prowess, and had great personal authority with the humbler members of their family, and held something like the position of feudal superiors among them, is evident from the way in which they are spoken of. And this is quite in keeping with the character of the Manassites in after times. The "governors" who came at the call of Barak, Gideon, the greatest of the warrior-judges, and probably Jephthah also ("the Gileadite"), as well as the younger Jail maintained the warlike and impetuous character of their race. If "Elijah the Tishbite" was really from this region (although this is extremely doubtful), we should find in him the characteristic daring and self-reliance of Machir transmuted into their spiritual equivalents.


Numbers 32:1-42


In this chapter we have, spiritually, the choice of those who do not (on the one hand) wish to sever themselves from the people of God, nor to desert their brethren, but who are (on the other hand) great]y disinclined to go the whole length to which the word of God would lead them, and are determined to abide in the middle ground between the Church and the world. And this choice is set before us both on its worse side, in that it is at once presumptuous and foolish, albeit not unnatural; and on its better side, as being consistent with a large measure of really good and honest principle. The whole spiritual value of the chapter turns upon the lesson thus taught. Consider, therefore—


(1) they had much cattle,

(2) for which the rolling downs and plateau of that region were admirably adapted, whereas

(3) it would be a difficult matter to transport their scattered flocks and herds across the tangled valley and deep stream of Jordan, and

(4) the straiter limits of Canaan proper seemed unsuited to pastoral wealth.

Even so a multitude of Christians hang back from going all lengths with Christ because

(1) they have much wealth of this world,

(2) for the enjoyment of which a manner of life only partially limited and restrained by strict Christian principle is on the face of it very suitable, while

(3) there is a manifest difficulty about introducing this wealth into a strictly religious life, and

(4) an evident incongruity between the requisite attention to such wealth and the restraints and demands of such a life.

II. THAT THESE TWO TRIBES WERE UNDOUBTEDLY INTENDED, LIKE THE REST, TO FIND THEIR INHERITANCE IN CANAAN PROPER. For this, and not the land beyond Jordan, was the land which the Lord had sworn to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; this was the land of the seven nations, the promised land, of which the land of Jaazer and Gilead formed no integral part, but only as it were a vestibule, an outlier, an annexe. These did indeed belong to the Holy Land, but were distinctly less holy than the rest. Even so it is the will of God that all Christians should press on unto perfection, i.e; to the perfect life of faith and duty spoken of in the New Testament. This is distinctly what God hath called them to, for it is to this that he hath attached his blessings and promises. Nevertheless there is in practice a vast tract of Christian living which is as clearly distinct from this as it is inferior to it; which lies outside of it in the strict sense, but yet in a wide sense is certainly united to it.

III. THAT NATURE ITSELF JUSTIFIED THE DIVINE WISDOM IN CALLING THE PEOPLE INTO CANAAN PROPER. For this Holy Land is separated from all other lands by remarkable geographical features, especially by the deep cleft of Jordan from the children of the east; whereas the trans-Jordanic territory was wholly exposed to a multitude of heathen and hostile neighbours towards the east, and south, and north. Even so it is a matter which needs no discussion that a strict Christian life is by the very laws of human nature fenced from innumerable dangers and assaults to which a half-and-half religion lies completely open. Nothing indeed is more practically helpless, or at least more utterly unsafe, than the Christian life of a half-converted man.

IV. THAT THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL SUPPLIES A MELANCHOLY COMMENTARY ON THE UNWISDOM OF THEIR CHOICE. The very places mentioned as the first settlements of Reuben all fell into the hands of the Moabites, with some of those of Gad. Amidst the uncertainties which overhang their history we can make out that these regions were a continual battle-field, never attained a settled prosperity, and were finally conquered before the rest. Even so all experience sets forth the sad results of such a life as is a compromise between the claims of religion and of the world. It is always and of necessity the first to go; the powers of evil strike upon it first, and with the greatest strength. In the day of temptation, when those who live most near to God can hardly stand, what chance is there (humanly speaking) for the halfhearted and half-converted?

V. THAT THE CHOICE OF REUBEN AND GAD WAS AFTER ALL VERY NATURAL. Unquestionably the open lands which they had seen were then (as they are now) much more fertile and pleasant than the stony limestone ridges of Southern Palestine; and the deep, sullen stream of Jordan was a formidable obstacle. Even so there is to the natural man something very attractive about the comparative freedom of a life which claims the promises of Christ, and yet is not altogether constrained by his demands. To cross the gloomy-looking gulf of an entire conversion, and to be cooped within the apparently uninviting limits of a consecrated life, is repugnant to much that exists in all of us, and that reigns supreme in many of us.

VI. THAT THEIR CHOICE REALLY SHOWED A WANT OF FAITH. For they knew that God had attached his promises to the land beyond Jordan, and they knew that the ark of God was going across, and that the chosen site of God's presence would be on the other side, yet they deliberately risked the danger of being (to some real extent) separated from the presence and promises and protection of their Holy One. Even so when men settle down in a half-and-half Christianity, it is because they have no strong faith in the promises, and no great longing for the presence of God; they do not disbelieve or despise these, but they are in practice less concerned about them than about temporal advantages.

VII. THAT THEIR CHOICE ALSO SHOWED A BLINDNESS TO THEIR ACTUAL DANGERS. Had they foreseen the swarms of enemies to whose assaults they would remain exposed, and realized their comparatively defenseless position, they would surely have petitioned to go over Jordan too. Even so men remain half converted with a light heart because they under-estimate their danger, and over-estimate their strength. Conscious that they intend what is right, they are content to abide far from the succours of Divine grace, at once more exposed to temptation and less able to resist it than more earnest Christians.

VIII. THAT THE TWO TRIBES WHICH ASKED, AND THE HALF TRIBE WHICH SEEMS TO HAVE TAKEN WITHOUT ASKING, OBTAINED THEIR INHERITANCE WHERE THEY WISHED TO HAVE IT; and they were not cast out of the chosen people, nor treated with disdain. Even so a great multitude of Christians remain distinctly and deliberately below the level and outside the pale (so to speak) of the true Christian life as portrayed in the Gospels and Epistles. Their life and conversation is in fact governed half by the gospel, and half by the precepts and fashions of the world. Yet they are Christians, and, however great their danger and unsatisfactory their position, they are not and cannot be separated from the Church of God.

Consider more particularly, as to the petition of the two tribes—

I. THAT IT WAS PARTLY POSITIVE—"let this land be given unto thy servants;" PARTLY NEGATIVE—"bring us not over this Jordan." Here we have the attraction of a life of apparent freedom and enjoyment, the repulsion of a concentrated effort, and of a life apparently limited and uninteresting.

II. THAT THE CONQUESTS ALREADY MADE MIGHT SEEM THE NATURAL CONCLUSION OF THEIR LONG JOURNEYING AND WAITING. Why should they go further and perhaps fare worse? Here we have the secret of much imperfect religious life. Many stop far short of a thorough-going obedience because they have advanced far enough to feel themselves safe from judgment; and at rest from stings of conscience, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven; and they have no mind (because they see no necessity) to go any further in the onward path.

III. THAT THE TWO TRIBES, BECAUSE THEY HAD DETERMINED TO REMAIN WHERE THEY WERE, ASSUMED THAT THEY HAD DIVINE AUTHORITY TO DO SO: "Our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan." Here we have that confidence which Christian people constantly express, that they are not called to "go on unto perfection." Other people have their own vocation, but it is given unto them to lead a life less strict and less devout because business, or society, or their own disposition requires it, i.e; because they choose to.

Consider again, as to Moses' treatment of their petition—

I. THAT HE JUDGED THEM HARSHLY AND UNFAIRLY, AS IF THEY HAD BEEN WILFUL REBELS AGAINST GOD AND COWARDLY BETRAYERS OF THEIR BRETHREN, which was not at all the case. Even so those who have the interests of God's kingdom very much at heart are always tempted to judge too harshly those who show a want of earnestness and of forwardness, and to cast them out as unprincipled; whereas in fact there is often very much to thank God for in their character and conduct.

II. THAT HAVING THUS PUT HIMSELF IN THE WRONG, HE COULD NOT TAKE UP THE TRUE GROUND OF REMONSTRANCE, i.e; the injury they would entail upon themselves. Even so to condemn imperfect Christians altogether is to prevent any effective appeal to their own highest interests and truest ambitions.

III. THAT WHAT MOSES DID EXACT WAS AN ASSURANCE THAT THEY WOULD NOT ABANDON NOR WEAKEN THEIR BRETHREN PRESSING ON. Even so we have a right to require that those who are not willing themselves to go all lengths with Christ shall at least not hinder nor discourage those who are willing and are trying. Here is the crying evil and sin of our degenerate Christianity, that it not only falls short of the gospel standard, but practically sets up a standard of its own, and utterly discourages any attempt to rise above it; and this is certainly that wickedness against God and man which Moses mistakenly charged on the two tribes.

IV. THAT THE EVIDENT POLICY OF MOSES WAS TO UNITE THE TRIBES WHICH REMAINED BEYOND JORDAN BY AS MANY TIES AS POSSIBLE TO THE REST. Even so it is our wisdom to unite all Christian people, especially those who are lukewarm, in common enterprises for good, and in common labours for the Church, so that they may not be more separated from one another than is unavoidable.

Consider again, on the words, "bring us not over this Jordan"—

1. That "this Jordan" is the accepted figure of the narrow stream of death, which divides us from the promised land wherein God dwelleth.

2. That the trans-Jordanic territory represents the less perfect holiness of life here as contrasted with the more perfect holiness of life there.

3. That this saying, therefore, represents the shrinking which so many feel from that death which is the gate of true life, and their desire to remain amid the familiar and congenial scenes of this world.

4. That this saying, although very natural (since this life is sweet, and death awful, and the land beyond unknown), is certainly due to a want of faith (since the kingdom prepared for us is there, not here), and betrays a certain presumption, since as long as we live here we are in danger of separation from God.

5. That we justify the saying on the ground that life here is holy (as indeed it is), not sufficiently remembering that life there is holier, and that we are only here on the march with a view to crossing Jordan and reaching the true rest.

6. That however good may be the land on this side, "Jerusalem," the place which God hath chosen, the center of Israel's life and happiness, is beyond Jordan. "Absent from the body," "present with the Lord."

Consider again, on the words, "be sure your sin will find you out"—

1. That it is indeed true, as the heathen witnessed in many remarkable ways. "Nemesis" is a fact.

2. That it is not what Moses meant to say; rather, "Ye will recognize your sin when it overtakes you."

3. That men fail to recognize their sin at the time; often, that it is a sin at all; generally, how great a sin it is in deed.

4. Then when it overtakes them in its consequences, then they see it in its true light. The awfulness of sin is not due to its awful consequences, but it is manifested by them.

5. That the particular sin against which Moses warned them was the sin of selfishly deserting their brethren, and thereby discouraging and enfeebling them. And this is a sin as great as it is common, the disastrous consequences of which are most sadly evident.

Consider again, with respect to the "cities" which the children of Reuben and Gad "built"—

I. THAT AT THE TIME, AS COMPARED WITH THE TENTS AND BOOTHS OF THE WILDERNESS, THEY SEEMED NO DOUBT TO BE IMPORTANT AND PERMANENT SETTLEMENTS, BUT THEY PROVED TO BE VERY TEMPORARY. Even so there is nothing fixed or abiding in any religious life short of that perfect life unto which we are called. It is not only the "fashion of this world," but "the fashion" of the "religious world," which passeth away, because it is in truth only partly and provisionally Christian.

II. THAT IN AFTER DAYS THEY MOSTLY FELL INTO THE HANDS OF THE CRUEL AND IDOLATROUS MOAB, AND RESUMED THEIR OLD HEATHEN NAMES. Even so a manner of life which is not distinctly Christian, albeit lived by Christians, is for ever slipping back into practical heathenism, and reverting to the evil and sinful conditions from which it seemed to have been rescued.


It was he that settled himself close upon the frontier of Moab, where he could not have peace or prosperity for any length of time. Even so that incapacity to excel in anything which seems to cling to some Christian people like a curse is after all due to their own precipitate unwisdom in placing themselves at a permanent disadvantage for the sake of immediate gain or ease.
Consider once more, with respect to Machir—

I. THAT THEY SEEM TO HAVE ACTED INDEPENDENTLY OF MOSES, AND TO HAVE TAKEN THEIR OWN WAY. Even so there are those in the Church whose great natural abilities and singular daring lead them to act without much reference to the taw of Christ, and yet it is not easy to condemn them, or to refuse their aid.

II. THAT THEY DID LITTLE GOOD TO THEMSELVES BY CONQUESTS SO REMOTE, BUT THEY DID MUCH GOOD IN MANY WAYS TO ISRAEL. Even so these irregular champions of the Church gain little spiritual profit to themselves, but they are often the means of manifold gain unto their brethren at large.


Numbers 32:23


These words, though ultimately true of every sin, are spoken of actions which, going forth from us, perform their mischievous errands, but will come home again, bringing retribution with them. The Eastern proverb is true of crimes as well as curses: "Curses, like chickens, always come home to roost." God urges this truth as one out of many motives for strengthening us against allurements to sin. Sinners indulge vague hopes of impunity; they act as though they said, "The Lord shall not see," &c. (Psalms 94:7). But they cannot escape from sin. Lapse of time will not annihilate sin; careful concealment will not hide it up; mere repentance will not avert all its consequences. Nor will death screen from detection. We cannot escape from our sins—

I. BY LAPSE OF TIME. "Sin is the transgression of the law." It is a disturbing element, like a poison in the blood, or an error in a calculation as to the course of a ship. It is useless to say, "Let bygones be bygones" (cf. Psalms 50:21, Psalms 50:22 and Ecclesiastes 8:11). There is no "statute of limitations" in regard to the debt of sin. Illustrations:—Lot going to live in Sodom, and reaping domestic ruin years afterwards; Adoni-bezek (Judges 1:5-7); Saul's "bloody house" (2 Samuel 21:1).

II. CAREFUL CONCEALMENT. A sin may appear to be safely buried (like a murdered corpse), and grass may grow on the grave; but a resurrection awaits it. No immunity, because no concealment from God. In the law of Moses certain secret sins are mentioned which, through the ignorance or connivance of the judges, might escape punishment (Le Numbers 17:10; Numbers 20:1-6, &c.); but God himself threatens to be the executioner. Conscience may at last make further concealment impossible. (Confessions of murderers.) A sinner should stand in awe of himself and dread the spy within him. Or a strange combination of circumstances may bring the sin to light when detection seemed almost impossible. Illustration:—Dr. Doune finding a nail in a skull dug up in his churchyard. Apply Ecclesiastes 10:20 to the greater danger of sinning against God (Job 20:27; Ecclesiastes 12:14).

III. BY REPENTANCE. The penitent who trusts in Christ is forgiven; but a sin when committed may have put in motion a series of temporal results from which no subsequent repentance may be able wholly to deliver us; e.g; habits of dissipation, or single acts of passion or of falsehood. Illustrations:—Jacob's receiving in the course of his life ,6 the fruit of his doings" after having' wronged Esau and deceived Isaac; David, pardoned, yet followed by the consequences of his sin (2 Samuel 12:10-14). Thus God would make us wary of sin, as of a mad dog, or a poison that may lurk long in the system (Matthew 7:2). God's caution signals against sin.

IV. BY DEATH. After death, in the fullest sense, sin must find the transgressor out. There is a fearful contrast suggested by the benediction in Revelation 14:13 : "Cursed are the dead that die in their sins; for they have no rest from their transgressions, but their guilt follows them." Think of being found out in that world where the prospect is of "eternal sin" (Mark 3:29). The only true salvation is from sin itself, assured to us through repentance and faith (Matthew 1:21; Titus 2:14).—P.


Numbers 32:1-5


This common proverb, so limited in the scope of its application, and so liable to be misused by timid and selfish people, is clearly illustrated in the conduct of these two tribes. Doubtless it is a sound principle to hold a small certainty rather than run the bare chance of a large possibility. But principles are nothing unless we rightly apply them, and the children of Reuben and Gad were forsaking the most certain and enduring of all precious things, and leaning to their own frail understanding. It is a poor exchange to leave the path of Divine providence for that of purblind human prudence.


1. An exaggerated estimate of the importance of temporal possessions. Reuben and Gad had a great multitude of cattle; the lands of Jazer and Gilead were places for cattle; and so the way is straight to the conclusion that these lands were the proper habitation of these tribes. It is the man of the world's view that the place which is good for one's property must be good for oneself, seeing that a man's abundance is in the things he possesses. The thought of the cattle so filled the minds of the two tribes that they could give no weight whatever to any other consideration. How hardly shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of heaven! That faith which is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen finds no room to grow in a heart choked up with the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. At this time, indeed, Reuben and Gad had many cattle, but it by no means followed that they would always have cattle. Job had many cattle, but in a few hours Sabeans and Chaldeans swept them all away. Consider well the thoughts that filled the mind of Lot (Genesis 13:10), as illustrating the foolish, partial, and short-sighted views of the children of Reuben and Gad. The Dead Sea was no great distance from these very lands of Jazer and Gilead.

2. They acted on the presumption that a man is himself the best judge of his own interests. They did not stop to consider that if God had meant this territory for them, he would have indicated his meaning in unmistakable fashion. He had made no sign, and this was in itself a proof that he judged their true home to be on the Canaan side of Jordan. It is the highest wisdom of man to wait, in simplicity and humility, on the indispensable directions of the All-Wise; even as the mariner finds his position by looking heavenward, and by the aid of the compass confidently finds his path across pathless waters. In an unfamiliar place you can gain no knowledge of the points of the compass by the minutest consideration of terrestrial circumstances, but get a glimpse of the sun and know the time of day, and the information is yours at once. The heavens declare the glory of God in this, that they never mislead us; and the God who made them is like them in ministering to the needs of our spirits. We cannot do without him. Instinct, so kind, so all-helpful to the brute, does little or nothing for us. God made us so that he might guide us with his eye. The great bulk of men act as these children of Reuben and Gad acted. The way of God, with all its real advantages, is yet so unpromising to the carnal eye that few there be who find it.

3. Especially they had forgotten that the purposes of God were to be the great rule of life to them. The great multitude of cattle was not theirs, but his. If they had made this proposition with a sense of stewardship in their minds, the proposition might have been not only excusable, but laudable. But the sense of stewardship was the very furthest of all feelings from their hearts. It is a late, a hard, and perhaps always an imperfect discovery, that a man only gains his right position when he manifests the glory of God. The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. These people had not risen to the thought of Canaan as being the very best land simply because it was God's choice. Their minds were not full of Canaan, but of their own cattle. A great deal depends on our conception of heaven. If we think of it as the place and state where God is all in all, where law and life exactly correspond, and Christ is glorified in the perfection of all his people, then heaven is begun already. Caleb and Joshua had been waiting forty years for the promised land, yet in a certain sense it had been theirs all the time. It was not simple habitation that made Canaan a promised land, else the Canaanites would have been as blessed as the true Israel. Rightful possession, honest spiritual inheritance, these constituted the full and abiding enjoyment of Canaan.—Y.

Numbers 32:6-15


I. MOSES APPEALS TO THE SENSE OF SHAME. They had been one nation until now. The suffering of one tribe had been the suffering of all. They had marched in company and fought in company; but now, when Reuben and Gad see what seems the main chance, they say, "We have found what we want, we need go no further." Often the only way of treating selfishness is to make it thoroughly ashamed of itself. If there is no loving sympathy in the heart to be appealed to, we must do our best by appealing to a sense of decency; we must ask the selfish, if they have nothing else to think of, to think a little of their own reputation. It was a very humiliating thing, if only Reuben and Gad had been able to see it, that Moses here made no appeal to high motives. He did not say, "Consider well, for your own sakes, what you propose to do; consider whether you are not seeking a mere present, external, paltry gain, and paving the way for a tremendous loss hereafter." He might so have spoken, but what would the answer have been? "We are ready to take the risk of that." And so he leaves unasked and undetermined the whole question of what Reuben and Gad's own interest might be. That came up again in due time, as it was bound to do (Joshua 22:1-34.). But there was a question bearing on the welfare of Israel which could not be postponed, and Moses sets it before the two tribes in a very direct way, neither repressing his just indignation nor softening his language. If men persist in taking a course which is hurtful to the real welfare of others, they must be whipped out of it by the readiest available means. There are only too many in the world who will do anything they can get others submissively to tolerate. Seemingly having no conscience of their own to speak of, they are dependent on the indignant, unsparing remonstrances of others. These remonstrances have to supply the place of conscience as best they can.

II. HE POINTS OUT A PROBABLE PERIL TO THE NATION. When an army is advancing to the attack, it is a serious thing if a sixth part of the whole shows signs of desertion and of want of interest in the desired victory. From patriots Reuben and Gad had sunk all at once into mere mercenaries. They had gone with the nation only as long as it seemed their interest to go. They could, without the slightest compunction, leave a great gap in the order of the camp round the tabernacle. They did not stop to consider how their desertion would affect the arrangements of the whole camp. Lukewarm, unspiritual, and self-indulgent Christians—if the name may be allowed where such qualities prevail—little think of the continual hindrances and discouragements they bring to struggling brethren. The Christian life is hard enough when there is the outside world to contend with, but how peculiar and how difficult to surmount are the perils that come from false brethren! Note how Moses bases his fear of this peril on an actual experience. If the words of the ten craven-hearted spies drove the whole of Israel into rebellion, and doomed a whole generation to die in the wilderness, then how great a danger was to be feared from the desertion of two whole tribes!

III. HE PLAINLY FIXES THE RISK OF THIS PERIL AND THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT UPON REUBEN AND GAD. It was not open to them to say, "All these gloomy chances that you foreshadow depend on the other tribes. They need not be discouraged. Canaan is just as attractive now as it was before. Our staying here can really make no difference." It is both cowardly and unavailing to try and escape responsibility by insisting on the personal responsibility of others. It is of no use to say that we do not wish others to look on us as leaders. We know that men wilt do it whether we wish it or not, and the very fact of this knowledge fixes on us a responsibility which we cannot escape. God makes use of this very disposition to follow which is: found in human nature for his own gracious purposes. Jesus says, "Follow me." And those who follow him find that some at least become followers of them. If the way in which we are going is a way into which others may be drawn to their ruin, then the way is at once condemned. No amount of individual prosperity, pleasure, and ease can compensate the destruction of others who have perished in a path which they never would have entered but for us. Offences must needs come, but the caution and the appeal remain: "Woe be to him through whom the offence comes." Better for every beast in the herds to perish in Jordan than for the obscurest in all Israel to be prevented from getting into Canaan.—Y.

Numbers 32:16-32


I. REUBEN AND GAD DO NOT RESENT THE LANGUAGE OF MOSES. This is all the more noticeable because the language is so strong and humiliating. They seem to admit that his reproaches, his warnings, and his predictions had been only too clearly justified by their conduct. Learn from this that when there is occasion to express righteous anger, one must not begin to take counsel with the shallow maxims of worldly prudence. There is need in the service of God for great common sense, for far more of it than usually finds exercise, but there is no common sense where courage, straightforwardness, and the manly assertion of all Christian principles are absent. It is a very foolish thing to use strong language just by way of liberating the effervescence of the soul. But when strong language is deserved and the occasion demands the utterance of it, then do not spare. Moses might have said to himself, "This is a very ticklish state of affairs; if I do not humour these people they will certainly act according to their desire, whether I consent or not." Some leaders and so-called skilful managers and tacticians would have humoured Reuben and Gad at such a crisis as this. But it was not for Moses to humour anybody, or trifle with men who were trifling with God. And he had his immediate reward. "They came near unto him" (Numbers 32:16). You can see them almost cringing before Moses, fawning upon him in their eagerness to get their requests. His eye has pierced into their mean hearts, and they know it. They have not one word of defense to offer, not one protest against being so hardly dealt with. Learn then from the example of Moses here, and of Paul on more than one occasion, how to speak out when silence, or, what is worse, delicate picking and choosing of words, involves unfaithfulness to God. We must never be coarse, vindictive, abusive, or spiteful; but if we have a genuine concern for the good of men and the glory of God, he will put as it were his own word into our lips, so controlling language, tone, and features that it will be what his word always is, a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

II. BUT THOUGH THEY DO NOT RESENT THE REBUKE OF MOSES, THEY HOLD TO THEIR ORIGINAL PURPOSE. So confident are they that they call this much-coveted ]and their inheritance. They cannot but feel the probing force of what Moses has said, but they are also quick to notice what he has omitted to say. If they had put their thoughts into speech they would have run somewhat like this: "He has been a shepherd himself, a practical man in flocks and herds, and of course he knows nicely that these lands for which we ask are just the place for our cattle. We shall hold to our choice, though it may involve a little more trouble and delay than we could have wished." Even when men are made to smart under a just, unanswerable rebuke they keep to their darling projects. They do not believe in their hearts, even though Christ says it, that one cannot serve God and mammon. Reuben and Gad mean to try the experiment of living east of Jordan, and yet keeping their place in the unity and the privileges of Israel.

III. THEY PROPOSE A RASH AND DIFFICULT COMPROMISE. The more we consider what they undertook to do, the more also we see their short-sighted policy. Mark their overweening self-confidence. They cannot risk the chance—which was indeed no chance at all, but a Divine certainty—of finding suitable pastures in Canaan, but they are quite willing to risk their families and flocks in fenced cities of the land they had chosen. Yet on their own admission fenced cities were no adequate security. The fighting men among them were going across Jordan to help in conquering a ]and where, as had been reported to their fathers, the cities were walled and very great (Numbers 13:28). There appears in their resolution a curious mixture of reasonable faith and rash self-confidence. They have learned enough to assure them that Canaan will be conquered, and they are quite ready to believe that in some unaccountable way their own dearest possessions will also be safe. Yet they did not really know how long they were to be absent. It seems to have been several years before they were allowed to return, and when they did return it was not with the unmingled self-congratulations which might have been expected. He who would ]earn how disastrous their choice turned out in the end must carefully consider Joshua 22:1-34. Most assuredly, whatever Reuben and Gad gained in pastures they more than lost in their permanent isolation from their brethren.—Y.

Numbers 32:23


"Be sure your sin will find you out."

I. THESE WORDS IMPLY THE POSSIBILITY OF SIN BEING COMMITTED. The particular danger in this instance was of breaking a promise. These words of Moses certainly imply a humiliating estimate of the persons addressed, but it must be admitted that the estimate was justified by past experience. Moses cannot quickly accept the promise, for he knows well how hastily and recklessly it is made. There was no occasion to cast any doubt on the sincerity of their words, or to attribute to them a deliberate purpose of deception. But there was everything in impending circumstances to lead them into a broken promise. The promise itself was hastily made. It was made not for its own sake, but under a kind of compulsion, in order to get hold of a much-coveted possession. The fulfillment of it was beset, as Moses well knew, with difficult conditions, ever tending to increase in difficulty. Moses himself would not be with them across the Jordan, and when he had vanished from the scene, who else was to enforce with equal energy and authority the promise he had extolled? Moreover, the promise had been made on behalf of a heterogeneous crowd. Some of the better sort might be inclined to persevere in keeping it; others might only too readily make it an excuse that their leaders had promised without sufficiently consulting them. The great bulk had already shown themselves to he steeped in selfishness; were they likely then to stick at desertion, if only it could be managed with safety? It is a needful thing, even though it be a painful and humiliating one, to assert, as Moses did here, the weakness of human nature. When we form purposes which in themselves show the corruption and depravity of the human heart, we must not complain if we are dealt with in a humiliating fashion. And in our expectations from others we must ever make ready to meet with broken promises. Recollecting our own infirmities, we shall not be surprised at the many and sad consequences which come from the infirmities of our brethren. We should never fee] insulted when any one gives us a word of caution against effusive and extravagant promises. He is the wisest Christian who, while he promises least in the hearing of his fellow-men, is ever striving to carry out in practice, and to its fullest extent, all that his heart would lead him to perform.

II. THESE WORDS ALSO AFFIRM THE CERTAINTY THAT IF SIN IS COMMITTED THE SINNER WILL AT LAST BE MADE FULLY CONSCIOUS OF HIS SIN. There was much, as we have seen, to lead Reuben and Gad to break their promise. In addition to what has already been mentioned, there was this as a possible consideration—that they might be able to break the promise with impunity. Indeed, from this solemn warning of Moses we may infer that he looked upon some such thought as likely to gain dominion in their minds. When the time of difficulty and sore temptation came they might argue thus: "If we do return, who is to mark our return or hinder it? The other tribes (perhaps hard beset in their conflict with the Canaanites) can do nothing against us. Moses is gone." They may have had it in their thoughts, after making the promise, that it would be enough to cross the river, wish their brethren God-speed, and then return. "They will understand our position, and not be so hard on us as Moses is. If they are willing that we should just go across, and then return, what can there be to make complaint about?" But Moses evidently meant them to keep their promise to the full. To break it was not only unbrotherly and ungrateful to the other tribes who had done so much for them; it was, he says with great emphasis, a sin against God, and in due time it would come back to them revealed as such, with all its dreadful consequences.

1. We have a timely warning to those who are entering the paths of sin. As it is true that God would have those who in their young enthusiasm and devotion propose to enter his service to consider well what it is that he asks, so it is equally true that he would have those who are beginning a life of sin to consider well what the end will be. These are the words of an old and long-observant man, one who had lived unusually near to God. They are spoken out of the fullness of his experience, lie had seen sin revealed in all its enormity, and punished with the utmost severity. There must needs be in this world thousands of undetected crimes, thousands of accused persons acquitted not because they are innocent, but for lack of legal evidence. These failures come from the infirmities of men; but be sure of this, that they are failures only so far as men are concerned; not one evil-doer can escape God, though he may enjoy the pleasures and immunities of sin for a season. Sin may seem not to find men out while they are here, but it will be time enough by and by. Men must not despise the goodness and forbearance and long-suffering of God as if he were heedless of all their doings. The dresser of the vineyard who begged another year's reprieve for the fruitless fig-tree had marked its fruitlessness and anticipated its doom just as much as the man who owned the vineyard. We cannot too often recollect that the eye of God is on every unprofitable tree. The axe is laid to its roots, ready for use, if the use be compelled.

2. We have here a great comfort and stay to the people of God. The foolish, wicked man, making his proud and careless advances, says, "Doth God see?" Our answer, made not so much to him as to our own hearts, is, "God does see." lie sees every sinner in his course, his doom, and the opening of his eyes at last. How many there are in the world whom we feel sure to be wrong! We cannot, try as we may, feel anything else; we cannot but believe them to be villains at heart, veneered and varnished up with a show of religion and goodness to impose on the simpleminded. But to give free utterance to our thoughts would be counted uncharitable and censorious, and assuming to be better than other men. What a comfort then to feel that what we cannot do God will do at last! The wolf will be utterly stripped of all his sheep's clothing, after all his gormandizing and the warm, snug life he has lived so long; he will stand revealed in his true character, and become a gaunt, starving creature with all his opportunities of rapacity gone. "Found out at last" will be written on all those vain pretenders to a good and honourable life who at present fume and bluster and look unspeakably grieved when any of their actions are questioned in the slightest degree. And this, recollect, will be the crown of all other discoveries, that the sin of sinners will be made clear and unquestionable in their own eyes.

3. The practical lesson for you, O sinner, is, that instead of waiting for sin to find you out, you should try with all energy and expedition to find sin out. You know that though the Scriptures are full of references to it, there are, nevertheless, the greatest misapprehensions with respect to it. What a terrible thing it is to mock God by an outward and conventional confession of sin, and then go away to sin as much as before! It is one thing to join the customary crowd in saying, "We have sinned;" quite another to have an individual, searching, agonizing experience such as we find in Psalms 51:1-19. Find out what sin is, its reality, its magnitude, and how it stands behind all secondary causes of misery, almost as a great first cause. Find it out as dwelling deep-seated in your own heart, baneful beyond all imagination, spoiling the present life, and threatening the life to come.

Before passing from the consideration of this request from these two tribes, it is very noticeable that they kept their promise. When the time came for them to return to Jazer and Gilead, Joshua spoke to them in a very complimentary way (Joshua 22:1-34). Did this fulfillment show that the word of Moses had been constantly in their minds? Possibly his word had weight with some, but in all probability the miraculous discovery of Achan's guilt, and his terrible doom, had much more connection with the persistence of Reuben and Gad in keeping their promise. They doubtless saw very clearly that steady and patient obedience was the only way of escaping something like Achan's fate.—Y.

Numbers 32:42


This proceeding on the part of Nobah suggests a good deal of speculation as to the character, purposes, and actual achievements of the man. Concerning the children of Reuben, we are simply told in general terms that they gave names to the cities they builded (Numbers 32:38). Jair, the son of Manasseh, gave to the small towns of Gilead the name of Havoth-Jair, which seems to be a general indication of them as being the property of Jair. Then in the last verse of the chapter we come to a kind of climax as we read that Nobah boldly called by his own name the district he had gained. What did he mean by this? Perhaps it was for the sake of a fancied security. The rigorous, inexorable demands of Moses were going to take him away, he knew not how long, and he may have reckoned that giving' his name to his property before he went would be an excellent plan to guard himself against covetous and unscrupulous neighbours. How suspicious of one another selfish people are! When we busy ourselves laying up treasures on earth instead of in heaven, we have to use all sorts of schemes and devices in order to gain a security which in the end proves to be no security at all. Or Nobah may have been a man full of personal ambition. David tells us, in strains half-pitying, half-despising, of those infatuated, purse-proud grandees who call their lands after their own names (Psalms 49:11). From this we may infer that Nobah was not alone in his folly. Very possibly the name took root and lasted for generations; but even supposing it did, who in after days would trouble himself concerning the man Nobah? Calling a town or a street after a man will do nothing to preserve his memory if the man himself has been nothing more than a plutocrat. But if the man himself, by deeds and character, becomes memorable and glorious, then his birth-place and dwelling-place, however mean they otherwise may be, share in the glory of the man. How many obscure hamlets have thus become dignified in history, and chief among them stand Bethlehem, the little one among the thousands of Judah, and Nazareth, the mean, secluded village in the highlands of Galilee. "This place, dearest to the Christian heart of all on earth except Jerusalem, is not mentioned in the Old Testament, nor even by Josephus, who was himself on every side of it, and names the villages all about it, but seems yet totally ignorant of its existence."—Y.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 32". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/numbers-32.html. 1897.
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