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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 32

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



The tribes of Reuben and Gad, after the conquest of the promised land east of the Jordan, presented what seemed to Moses and Eleazar a selfish and schismatic petition for its immediate allotment to them alone, contravening the command to divide the land by lot, (Numbers 26:55,) apparently distrusting the conquest of Canaan, evincing little national feeling, and establishing a mischievous precedent in the case of future conquests. After an earnest remonstrance on the part of Moses, showing the bad effects of such a procedure in disintegrating and weakening the nation on the eve of its great conflict with the Canaanites, a compromise is agreed upon by which the two tribes obtain their request without diminishing the military power of Israel. Moses also insists that the half tribe of Manasseh should also have a portion of the land in the conquest of which they had been peculiarly zealous and active. Knobel, to gratify his critical sense, cuts this chapter into pieces, assigning the fragments respectively to the Elohist and to the Jehovist, on the flimsiest possible grounds. See Introduction, pages 216-218.

Verse 1


1. Jazer We first hear of this city in the possession of the Amorites, from whom it was taken by the Israelites after Heshbon, on their way to Bashan. It was in or near to Gilead. It was rebuilt by the tribe of Gad, and was a prominent place in their territory. Joshua 13:25, note. Gilead is a mountainous region east of the Jordan, south of Bashan, north of Moab and Ammon, and west of the Arabian plateau. Its name signifies hard, rocky. It stands in contrast to Bashan, which signifies level, fertile. Gilead shows traces of great fertility even in its present desolation, covered over as it is with hundreds of ruined cities. The modern provinces of Belka and Jebel Ajlun cover ancient Gilead. This region is the paradise of nomads, because of the abundance and richness of its pasturage.

Verse 3

3. Ataroth Hebrew, crowns. There were several cities of this name.

This was probably in the land of Jazer. It has not been identified.

Dibon Joshua 13:17, note. Nimrah occurs only here. Modern research has not yet identified it. There are several places east of the Jordan whose names resemble this.

Heshbon Joshua 13:17, note.

Elealeh The extensive ruins of this place are still to be seen, bearing very nearly their ancient name, El-A’al, signifying the high, about a mile north of Heshbon on the summit of a rounded hill. Shebam is probably the same as Shibmah, Numbers 32:38, and Sibmah, Joshua 13:19, note.

Nebo This town was rebuilt by Reuben. It does not occur in the list of his towns (Joshua 13:15-23) unless it be under another name, as is intimated in Numbers 32:38. Nebo being the name of a heathen god would naturally be changed after its conquest by Israel.

Beon Baal-meon, Numbers 32:38, changed, probably to eliminate the pagan association, to Beth-meon, Jeremiah 48:23. It was Moabite in Ezekiel’s day, and named as one of the cities which are “the glory of the country.” The site is still known. “Taking a sweep on the fine turf to the south-east,” (from Heshbon,) says Tristram, “we passed by the ruins of Ma’in, (Baal-meon,) shapeless and featureless, at which a cursory glance was sufficient.”

Verse 5

5. Bring us not over Jordan The charitable construction of this petition is that these tribes did not wish their allotments on the west side of the Jordan, but that they intended to assist in its conquest. But Moses understood them to desire to settle at once east of the river, and leave the other tribes to conquer Canaan alone.

Verse 7


7. Discourage… the heart… of Israel Jehovah had promised Canaan to courageous and confiding Israel. He had declared that he would drive out their enemies, if they would trust in him. But faith in Jehovah has its human conditions. Israel must stand as a unit and present an unbroken front to the foe.

Verse 8

8. Kadesh-barnea The pivot of Israel’s destiny. Chap. 14, introductory note. The punishment inflicted on the disobedient fathers should deter their sons from repeating their fathers’ sin in not wholly following Jehovah.

Verse 9

9. Valley of Eshcol Says Dr. Ridgaway, in his account of Hebron and its environs, “I had wondered the day before where grew the grapes of Eshcol, as just below Hebron we had seen no vineyards; but now my wonder was at an end; throughout this valley, as far as the eye can see, are extensive vineyards. They are enclosed with stone walls, with watch towers, and the vines generally look to be very old. The main stalk is thick, is cut down very close, and lies on the ground. The best grapes in Southern Palestine are produced in this valley, thus confirming not only by the traditional name, but also by the superior quality of the fruit, the probable site whence the spies bore the specimen grapes and figs; for here, too, the fig tree abounds.” Numbers 13:23, note.

Verse 11

11. From twenty years old Numbers 14:26-35; Numbers 26:64-65, note.

Have not wholly followed me Literally, fulfilled after me, perseveringly followed me with all the heart. A similar charge is brought against Solomon in 1 Kings 11:6. See Numbers 14:24, note.

Verse 12

12. Caleb Joshua 14:6-12, notes.

Kenezite A descendant of Kenaz, who was probably an Edomite. Genesis 36:11; Genesis 36:15. It is quite possible that Caleb was a foreigner by birth; a proselyte, incorporated into the tribe of Judah, into which perhaps he or his ancestors had married. Comp. Genesis 36:20-23, and 1Ch 2:50 ; 1 Chronicles 2:52. The incorporation of whole foreign families supplies us with an easy and natural solution of the difficulty with regard to the great numbers of Israelites at the Exodus. Chap. i, Concluding Note, (2.)

Joshua See Introduction to Notes on Joshua, page 7.

Verse 13

13. Until all… was consumed At the rate of forty-two per day from the hour of Israel’s rejection at Kadesh-barnea. Numbers 14:33-35, notes.

Verse 14

14. An increase A brood of sinners. Like begets like.

Fierce anger Burning of the wrath of Jehovah. Hebrews 12:29, note.

Verse 15

15. If ye turn away If ye draw back behind him, that is, omit the fulfilling of God’s will. Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 10:30, notes.

Verse 16


16. They came near Evidently after retiring from the first audience with Moses and consulting with the people of their tribes.

Sheepfolds It is the custom of the nomads of this region to surround their tents with stone walls about the height of a man, that the flocks may not be scattered in the night, and that the falling of the cobblestones laid on the top, knocked off by the wolf climbing up the wall, might give an alarm.

Cities Captured cities were to be repaired. In Argob, a district east of the Sea of Galilee, Jair took sixty cities.

Verse 17

17. Ready armed But we will equip ourselves hastily. This does not imply that the entire military strength of these two and a half tribes, 110,580 men, would march in the van of Israel, leaving their homes unprotected. It did imply that the flower of their armies would assist in the conquest of Canaan. Joshua (Joshua 4:13) records the number as 40,000, “all mighty men of valour,” as the quota of the two and a half tribes. Joshua 1:14, note.

Because of the inhabitants of the land The Ammonites, Moabites, Idumaeans, and remnant of the Amorites and Midianites.

Verse 18

18. We will not return… until They kept their promise, and fought bravely in the national army during seven years. Joshua 22:2-3, note.

Verse 19

19. This side Jordan According to geographical usage, the land “beyond Jordan” signifies the country to the east of the river. But to prevent mistake in this instance the word eastward is added. The application of the same expression to the land on the west and the east of the Jordan indicates a transition period. Joshua 1:14, note.

Verse 20

20. Go armed before the Lord The ark of the covenant was taken into battle as the symbol and the vehicle of Jehovah’s presence. The expression originated with Moses. This explains why the petitioners used it in Numbers 32:32 and not in Numbers 32:17, where they promise to go before Israel.

Verse 21

21. Go all of you All were pledged to go, if the exigency should require. Joshua did not require all, but only a competent number, (Numbers 32:17, note,) retaining a large majority as a home guard, possibly “lest Israel vaunt themselves.” Judges 7:2.

Verse 22

22. Guiltless before the Lord,… Israel Obedience to God can never bring a man into collision with any righteous human law, or be detrimental to any real good of society. We cannot keep the first table of the law without keeping the second also.

Possession before the Lord With the approval of Jehovah.

Verse 23

23. Be sure your sin will find you out Know ye your sin that it will find you out. The sin here spoken of would be their refusal to aid their brethren in the conquest of Canaan proper the country west of the Jordan should they refuse to co-operate with the other tribes in its reduction. The finding out would consist in the signal punishments with which they would be providentially visited.

Verse 28

28. Eleazar… Joshua… chief fathers The commissioners for the allotment of Canaan. Numbers 34:17-29; Joshua 14:1, note.

Verse 30

30. Possessions… in… Canaan If the tribes of Reuben and Gad persisted in detaching their military power from that of the nation, then they were to be compelled to go over the Jordan with their families, and to be permanently located there as a safeguard against secession.

Verse 33

THE PETITION GRANTED, Numbers 32:33-42.

33. Half the tribe of Manasseh It appears strange that this half tribe is included here for the first time at the close of the negotiations. Moses did not overlook the fact that some of the families of Manasseh had conquered districts in Gilead and Bashan, and, consequently, were entitled to inherit them. Numbers 32:39. Moreover, Eastern Palestine would be too large a portion for two tribes.

Sihon… Og Numbers 21:21-35, notes.

With the cities In Argob, a small territory, Jahr took no less than sixty great cities, “fenced with high walls, gates, and bars, besides unwalled towns a great many.” Deuteronomy 3:4-5; Deuteronomy 3:14. “Such a statement seems all but incredible. It would not stand the arithmetic of Colenso for a moment. But, mysterious, incredible as this seemed on the spot, with my own eyes I have seen that it is literally true. The cities are there to this day.

The private houses built with colossal walls, massive stone doors, low roofs of ponderous blocks of roughly hewn stone, all point to a period far earlier than the Roman age, and probably antecedent to the conquest of the country by the Israelites.” Revelation J.L. Porter.

Verse 34

34. Built Restored and fortified.

Dibon,… Ataroth,… Aroer Joshua 13:16-17, notes.

Verse 35

35. Atroth, Shophan Modern scholars agree in the opinion that but one place is intended by these two names. The Seventy omit it altogether. It has not yet been identified.

Jaazer Numbers 32:1, note. Jogbehah is mentioned again in Judges 8:11. It is supposed that it was not far from the Jordan, and south of Jebel-Jilad.

Verse 36

36. Beth-nimrah See Nimrah, Numbers 32:3, note.

Verse 37

37. Kirjathaim is known only by conjecture.

Verse 38

38. Baal-meon See Beon, Numbers 32:3, note.

Names… changed Numbers 32:3, note.

Shibmah See Shebam, Numbers 32:3, note.

Verse 39

39. Machir was the son of Manasseh by an Aramite or Syrian concubine. 1 Chronicles 7:14, and Genesis 46:20, Seventy.

The Amorite Literally, the highlanders in contrast with the low-landers, the Canaanites. Joshua 3:10, note.

Verse 41

41. Havoth-jair Towns of Jair. Joshua 13:30, note.

Verse 42

42. Nobah An Israelite warrior, probably a Manassite. Jewish tradition says that he was born in Egypt, and was buried during the passage of the Jordan. The site of Kenath has been recovered with tolerable certainty at Kenawat, a ruined town in the southern extremity of the Lejah. “The wall, still in many places almost perfect, follows the top of the cliffs for nearly a mile, and then sweeps round in a zigzag course, enclosing a space about half a mile wide. The general aspect of the city is very striking; temples, palaces, churches, theatres, and massive buildings whose original use we cannot tell are grouped together in picturesque confusion, while beyond the walls, in the glen, on the summits and sides of the wooded peaks, away in the midst of oak forests, are clusters of columns, massive towers, and lofty tombs. Many of the ruins are beautiful and interesting. In no other city of Palestine did I see so many statues as there are here. Unfortunately, they are all mutilated. A colossal head of Ashteroth, sadly broken, lies before a little temple, of which probably it was once the chief idol. The leading streets are wide and regular, and the roads radiating from the gates are unusually wide and spacious.” Rev. J.L. Porter. “It was built in the crevices of a great island of lava which has split, in cooling, into innumerable fissures, through whose labyrinths no enemy could penetrate.

It would indeed have been perhaps impossible for Israel to have overcome a people so strongly entrenched, but for the presence at that time of vast swarms of hornets, a plague common in Palestine, which drove the population into the open ground where they could be attacked.” Geikie. See Joshua 24:12, note.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 32". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/numbers-32.html. 1874-1909.
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