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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 32

 

 

Introduction

F. FUTURE PROSPECTS IN THE LAND (chapters 26-36).

We now come to the final main section of the book. It will commence with the numbering of Israel, a sign that they were making ready for the final push, and is divided up into rededication and preparations for entering the land (chapters 26-32), and warning and encouragement with respect to it (chapters 33-36). The first section concentrates on the mobilisation and dedication of the people of Yahweh, and the punishment of those who by their behaviour hinder that mobilisation and dedication.

In terms of the overall pattern of the book the first section covers the mobilisation of Israel, the appointment of Joshua on whom was the Spirit and the death of Moses For Sin (chapters 26-27), which compares with the earlier murmuring of Israel, the appointment of elders on whom came the Spirit, and the plague on Miriam because of sin (chapters 11-12). This then followed by the dedication of Israel through Feasts, Offerings and Vows and the purifying of Transjordan through vengeance on the Midianites and settlement of the two and a half Tribes (chapters 28-32) which compares with the purification and dedication of Israel in chapters 5-10.

Analysis of the section.

(I). Preparation for Entering the Land (chapters 26-32).

This can be divided up into:

a Numbering of the tribes for possessing the land (Numbers 26:1-51).

b Instructions concerning division of the land (Numbers 26:52-62).

c Vengeance had been brought on those who had refused to enter the land (Numbers 26:63-65).

d Regulation in respect of land to be inherited by women and others (Numbers 27:1-11).

e Provision of a dedicated shepherd for the people of Israel (Numbers 27:12-23).

e Provision of a dedicated people and future worship in the land (Numbers 28-29).

d Regulation in respect of dedicatory vows made by women and others (Numbers 30)

c Vengeance to be obtained on Midian (Numbers 31:1-24).

b Instructions concerning division of the spoils of Midian (Numbers 31:25-54).

a Settlement of the Transjordanian tribes in possessing land (Numbers 32).

(II) Warning and Encouragement of The Younger Generation (chapters 33-36).

a Review of the journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab (Numbers 33:1-49).

b Instruction concerning the successful possession of and dividing up of the land in the future (Numbers 33:50 to Numbers 34:15).

c The Leaders who will divide the land for them are appointed (Numbers 34:16-29).

d Provision of cities for the Levites. (Numbers 35:1-5)

d Provision of cities of refuge and prevention of defilement of the land (Numbers 35:6-34).

c The Leaders of the tribe of Manasseh approach Moses about the possible loss of part of their division of the land as a result of the decision about the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:1-4).

b Instruction concerning women who inherit land so as to maintain the dividing up of the land which they successfully possess (Numbers 36:5-12)

a Final summary of the book and colophon. The journey is over. They are in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Numbers 36:13).

In this section stress is laid on preparation for entering the land.

(I). Overall Preparation for Entering the Land (chapters 26-32).

The preparations include the mobilisation of Israel, instructions as to what to do on entering the land, appointment of a new commander-in-chief in whom is the Spirit, instructions concerning the worship to be offered to Yahweh, a description of the ‘atonement’ for the sin of Baal-peor and purification of the land by the slaughter of the Midianites, and the settling in of the tribes in their land on the east of Jordan, preparatory to their soldiers joining the offensive on Canaan.

Chapter 31. Vengeance on The Midianites For Causing Israel To Sin.

3). Yahweh to be Avenged on Midian (Numbers 31:1-54).

One blot still remained on the horizon. Balaam and the Midianites had plotted to bring down Israel’s dedication to Yahweh by leading them astray after false gods, and as a result a goodly number of Israelites had been executed or had died in the plague. It remained therefore for justice to be brought on the murderers responsible.

This was another side of the dedication of Israel. As Yahweh’s dedicated people they had to be concerned for His holiness and for the destruction of all that actively stood against Him. Defeating Midian would be evidence of their genuine dedication, and as a result of shedding blood for blood would purify the land. Together with what has gone before in 27-29 it is part of the process of rededication and purification resulting from possession of the land, and the whole parallels chapters 5-9 which also dealt with purifying and dedication. The new Israel must be dedicated and purified as the old had been.

The principle here follows a similar principle to that which demanded the destruction or driving out of the Canaanites. All who would lead Israel astray from Yahweh must be removed. But it carries it a stage further, for these Midianites, (not be it noted the whole of Midian. Midian were widely scattered in a number of sub-tribes), who are depicted as having deliberately plotted Israel’s downfall at the behest of Balaam would clearly never cease to be a thorn in the side of Israel. There was therefore no alternative but to exterminate them. Had they left Israel alone, they would have been left alone. And the parallel in the chiasmus below also suggests that this extirpation was to be seen as a cleansing for Israel. Blood had been spilled in the land and so the murderers had to be brought to justice.

The chapter splits into two main sections, the carrying out of the sentence on Midian (Numbers 31:1-24), and the division of the spoils (Numbers 31:25-54), which can be analysed as follows:

The Sentence Passed and Carried Out On Midian (Numbers 31:1-24).

a To avenge the children of Israel who had died because of Midian (to make Israel clean) (Numbers 31:1-2).

b A proportion of the men armed and to go to war (Numbers 31:3-5).

c Phinehas goes with them with the vessels of the Sanctuary and the trumpets for alarm (Numbers 31:6).

d Warred against Midian and slew every male (Numbers 31:7).

e They slew the kings of Midian (Numbers 31:8 a).

f They slew also Balaam of Peor (Numbers 31:8 b).

g Took captive all their women, children, beasts and spoil (Numbers 31:9).

h All their cities and encampments burned with fire (Numbers 31:10).

i Took all the spoil both of man and beast (Numbers 31:10-11).

i Brought all the captives prey and spoil to Moses and Eleazar and the congregation in the camp (Numbers 31:12).

h Moses, Eleazar and chieftains go out to meet the victorious army (31:13)

g Moses angry because all the women were spared (Numbers 31:14-15).

f These were the women who led Israel astray through the counsel of Balaam (Numbers 31:16)

e To slay all the male children and all the married women (who caused Israel to sin though the command of the kings) (Numbers 31:17).

d Keep alive young unmarried women (Numbers 31:18).

c The men to purify themselves seven days and all garments (to make them fit to approach the Sanctuary and its vessels) (Numbers 31:19-20).

b All spoils to be purified by fire or by water of uncleanness (Numbers 31:21-23).

a Men to wash on seventh day and be clean and enter the camp (Numbers 31:24).

(ii) The Division of the Spoils (Numbers 31:25-54).

a The sum of the prey that was taken and the levies commanded (Numbers 31:25-31).

b Division between the men of war, Yahweh (the priests), the people and the Levites (Numbers 31:32-47).

a The sum of the men of war and their freewill gift to the Sanctuary (Numbers 31:48-54)

This second section can then be analysed as follows:

The Sum of The Prey That Was Taken From The Midianites and The Levies For Yahweh and the Levites Commanded (Numbers 31:25-31).

a Yahweh speaks to Moses. With Eleazar he is to take the sum of the prey which has been captured (Numbers 31:25-26).

b The prey to be divided into two parts between the men who went to war and the remainder of the congregation (Numbers 31:27).

b A levy to be made on the soldiers’ share for Yahweh and given to Eleazar the Priest as a contribution offering and a levy to be made on the congregation’s share for the Levites who keep the charge of the Dwellingplace (Numbers 31:28-30).

a Moses and Eleazar do as Yahweh commanded (Numbers 31:31).

The Division Between the Men of War, Yahweh (the Priests), the People and the Levites (Numbers 31:32-47).

a The sum of the prey assessed (Numbers 31:32-35).

b Sum of the half which belongs to the soldiers and to Yahweh’s tribute (Numbers 31:36-40).

c Yahweh’s tribute given to Eleazar the Priest (Numbers 31:41).

a The congregation’s half divided from the men that warred (Numbers 31:42).

b Sum of the half which belongs to the congregation (Numbers 31:43-46).

c The Levites share given to the Levites (Numbers 31:47).

The Sum of The Surviving Men of War and Their Freewill Gift to The Sanctuary Of Their Personal Spoil (Numbers 31:48-54).

a The assessing of the men of war, not one is missing (Numbers 31:48-49).

b They offer the gold from their personal spoils to Yahweh to make atonement for themselves before Yahweh (Numbers 31:50).

c Moses and Eleazar accept the gold and wrought jewels of their offering (Numbers 31:51).

c The sum of the offering made to Yahweh (Numbers 31:52).

b The explanation of where the personal spoils came from (Numbers 31:53).

a Moses and Eleazar take the gold into the Dwellingplace of the congregation for a memorial of the children of Israel before Yahweh (Numbers 31:54).

We shall now look at Numbers 31 in detail in its three sections.

Chapter 32. The First Settlement Of Tribes of Israel.

We do not know at what stage this approach took place, but it must have been at an early one for Manasseh/Machir are not mentioned. They would come in later, when they saw the land of Og that they had conquered. The land which Reuben and Gad took was mainly the land which had been controlled by Sihon and his Amorites. The taking of the whole of that area followed later by the seizure of Upper Gilead and Bashan would have taken considerable time and effort, and was probably still going on when the battle with the Midianites took place.

A quick defeat of Sihon and Og was one thing, taking possession of their countries was another (see Numbers 22:24-25; Numbers 22:35; Deuteronomy 2:34-36; Deuteronomy 3:4-10). But it becomes clear that different generals had been sent with their men and had assailed different places (see below). And as Yahweh had given them the land and they had been told from the beginning that they were to possess it (Deuteronomy 4:1) we can be sure that this procedure was carried out with alacrity. The subjection of Upper Gilead and Bashan could only have had possession in mind for it was not on their route to Canaan.

4). The Settlement of the Transjordanian Tribes (Numbers 32).

The defeat of Sihon having taken place (Numbers 22:21-25) and the country having been possessed and given to Israel by Yahweh (Deuteronomy 4:1), it would need to be permanently occupied, and Reuben and Gad, recognising that it suited their way of life, approached Moses for permission to settle there.

This settlement of the land finalised its cleansing. Those who through idolatry had been sentenced to death had been dealt with and now possession was taken of it in the name of Yahweh.

Once the details had been sorted out this possession would be a huge encouragement to all Israel. Here were the actual firstfruits of the invasion. And what Yahweh had done here, He could continue to do. So it was described in some detail with this in view.

But this reminds us that the logistics behind the invasion were far more complicated than appears from the narrative. This is in fact true of all books on warfare. Only a tiny proportion of the complications can be revealed. Here we learn of how Reuben and Gad, over a period of time, took possession of and ‘rebuilt’ the land of the Amorites, while Machir did the same in Upper Gilead and Bashan.

Once the crossing of the Jordan had taken place it would mainly be left in the hands of the young men between thirteen and twenty, partially disabled men of fighting age, and the older men who were unable to fight, together with their feisty womenfolk. And what was also important was that it would secure their rear.

Analysis.

a Reuben and Gad desire to settle in Transjordan (Numbers 32:1-2).

b A description of the desirable cities and desirable land for their cattle (Numbers 32:3-5).

c Moses is angry at them for discouraging the other tribes (Numbers 32:6-15).

d Moses reminds them that Yahweh will cast them from the land if they hesitate to enter it, as He did before (Numbers 32:10-15)

e They covenant that their warriors will go forward with Israel (Numbers 32:16-19).

e Their going forward is confirmed and agreed (Numbers 32:20-23).

d Moses permits settlement on the condition that they go forward and do not hesitate (Numbers 32:24-27).

c Moses confirms to the leadership of the tribes that the soldiers of Reuben and Gad will go with the other tribes (thus preventing discouragement) (Numbers 32:28-32).

b They receive the desirable cities and build folds for their sheep (Numbers 32:33-38).

a The land of the Amorites in Transjordan is given to the two tribes and the half tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 32:39-42).


Verses 1-5

Chapter 32. The First Settlement Of Tribes of Israel.

We do not know at what stage this approach took place, but it must have been at an early one for Manasseh/Machir are not mentioned. They would come in later, when they saw the land of Og that they had conquered. The land which Reuben and Gad took was mainly the land which had been controlled by Sihon and his Amorites. The taking of the whole of that area followed later by the seizure of Upper Gilead and Bashan would have taken considerable time and effort, and was probably still going on when the battle with the Midianites took place.

A quick defeat of Sihon and Og was one thing, taking possession of their countries was another (see Numbers 22:24-25; Numbers 22:35; Deuteronomy 2:34-36; Deuteronomy 3:4-10). But it becomes clear that different generals had been sent with their men and had assailed different places (see below). And as Yahweh had given them the land and they had been told from the beginning that they were to possess it (Deuteronomy 4:1) we can be sure that this procedure was carried out with alacrity. The subjection of Upper Gilead and Bashan could only have had possession in mind for it was not on their route to Canaan.

4). The Settlement of the Transjordanian Tribes (Numbers 32).

The defeat of Sihon having taken place (Numbers 22:21-25) and the country having been possessed and given to Israel by Yahweh (Deuteronomy 4:1), it would need to be permanently occupied, and Reuben and Gad, recognising that it suited their way of life, approached Moses for permission to settle there.

This settlement of the land finalised its cleansing. Those who through idolatry had been sentenced to death had been dealt with and now possession was taken of it in the name of Yahweh.

Once the details had been sorted out this possession would be a huge encouragement to all Israel. Here were the actual firstfruits of the invasion. And what Yahweh had done here, He could continue to do. So it was described in some detail with this in view.

But this reminds us that the logistics behind the invasion were far more complicated than appears from the narrative. This is in fact true of all books on warfare. Only a tiny proportion of the complications can be revealed. Here we learn of how Reuben and Gad, over a period of time, took possession of and ‘rebuilt’ the land of the Amorites, while Machir did the same in Upper Gilead and Bashan.

Once the crossing of the Jordan had taken place it would mainly be left in the hands of the young men between thirteen and twenty, partially disabled men of fighting age, and the older men who were unable to fight, together with their feisty womenfolk. And what was also important was that it would secure their rear.

Analysis.

a Reuben and Gad desire to settle in Transjordan (Numbers 32:1-2).

b A description of the desirable cities and desirable land for their cattle (Numbers 32:3-5).

c Moses is angry at them for discouraging the other tribes (Numbers 32:6-15).

d Moses reminds them that Yahweh will cast them from the land if they hesitate to enter it, as He did before (Numbers 32:10-15)

e They covenant that their warriors will go forward with Israel (Numbers 32:16-19).

e Their going forward is confirmed and agreed (Numbers 32:20-23).

d Moses permits settlement on the condition that they go forward and do not hesitate (Numbers 32:24-27).

c Moses confirms to the leadership of the tribes that the soldiers of Reuben and Gad will go with the other tribes (thus preventing discouragement) (Numbers 32:28-32).

b They receive the desirable cities and build folds for their sheep (Numbers 32:33-38).

a The land of the Amorites in Transjordan is given to the two tribes and the half tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 32:39-42).

Reuben and Gad Desire To Settle in Transjordan (Numbers 32:1-5).

Numbers 32:1-2

‘Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle: and when they saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle; the children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and to the princes of the congregation, saying,’

While the Reubenites and Gadites were in process of possessing the land they recognised its huge potential for their large numbers of cattle, and approached the leading body of Israel, made up of Moses, Eleazar and the tribal chieftains.

Note that in the first instance Reuben is mentioned first out of deference to Reuben’s seniority as the firstborn, but that immediately the Gadites then take preference as the stronger tribe, something which will continue throughout the chapter (Numbers 32:6; Numbers 32:25; Numbers 32:29; Numbers 32:31; Numbers 32:33-37).

Numbers 32:3-4

Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Sebam, and Nebo, and Beon, the land which Yahweh smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle; and your servants have cattle.”

They began by outlining the area that they had in mind. It was probably gone into in some detail, but was here described in terms of the chief cities, most of which can be identified with some degree of probability. It was a fertile and well watered area very suitable for herds and flocks.

“Ataroth (‘crowns”) is probably Khirbet ‘Attarus. It is later mentioned in the Moabite stone when it had been repossessed by the Moabites. Dibon was possibly sited where the modern village of Dhiban is found. The city is mentioned by Rameses II who claimed its capture. It became known as Dibon-gad but is mentioned in the Moabite stone as having been recaptured by them. Jazer was later given to the Merarite family of the Levites, and furnished valuable fighting men in the days of David (1 Chronicles 26:31). The site may be that of Khirbet Gazzir on the Wadi Szaib. Nimrah (Beth-nimrah below in Numbers 32:36) is possibly Tell Nimrin, or Tell Bileibil. Heshbon was Sihon’s royal city (Numbers 21:26). Its site has not been definitely identified. But while there are no late bronze age remains on Tell Hesban, there are on nearby sites. Elealeh has been identified with El ‘Al, north east of Heshbon. Nebo is possibly Khirbet Ayn Musa or Khirbet el Mukkayet. It was later recaptured by Mesha of Moab. All these towns would be vulnerable once Moab became strong again centuries later and Israel were weaker because of disobedience.

Numbers 32:5

‘And they said, “If we have found favour in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not bring us over the Jordan.” ’

So knowing that Yahweh had declared that He was giving this land to Israel they staked their claim to it. They asked that they might possess it rather than the promised land over the Jordan. But it was not part of the original ‘promised land’ and Israel would always look on it as not quite the same as being in the promised land (Joshua 22:19).


Verses 6-9

Moses Is Angry At Them For Discouraging The Other Tribes (Numbers 32:6-9).

Numbers 32:6

‘And Moses said to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, “Shall your brethren go to the war, and shall you sit here?” ’

Moses took their words as an indication that they were trying to find an easy way out and were unwilling to enter Canaan and confront the nations there. He had cause to remember how Yahweh had punished their fathers for backing down from a conquest of the land. He asked them whether it was really their intention to leave their fellow Israelites to invade Canaan on their own.

Numbers 32:7

And for what reason do you discourage the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which Yahweh has given them?”

Did they not recognise that this would discourage the others from going forward into the land which Yahweh had given them? Why then were they doing it?

Numbers 32:8-9

Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up unto the valley of Eshcol, and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, that they should not go into the land which Yahweh had given them.”

By discouraging the people in this way they were no different from the scouts who went to the valley of Eshcol and saw the land, and also discouraged the hearts of the people (Numbers 13:21-33), thus preventing them from going into the land which Yahweh had given them, thus rejecting His gift.


Verses 10-15

Moses Reminds Them That Yahweh Will Cast Them From The Land If They Hesitate To Enter It, As He Did Before (Numbers 32:10-15).

Numbers 32:10

And Yahweh’s anger was kindled in that day, and he swore, saying,”

And the result was that Yahweh’s anger was kindled against them, so that He swore what He would do to them.

Numbers 32:11-12

Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite, and Joshua the son of Nun; because they have wholly followed Yahweh.”

For He had declared that none of them would be allowed to see the land that they had rejected, the land that He had sworn to give to their forefathers. None of the males from twenty years old and upwards would be allowed to enter it, apart from Caleb and Joshua. They would be the exceptions because they had wholly followed Yahweh.

Numbers 32:13

And Yahweh’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander to and fro in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of Yahweh, was consumed.”

Thus was Yahweh’s anger kindled against them, and He made them wander to and fro in the wilderness for forty years until the whole of that generation was consumed, because they had done evil in His sight.

Numbers 32:14

And, behold, you are risen up in your fathers’ stead, an increase of sinful men, to augment yet the fierce anger of Yahweh towards Israel.”

And now here they were doing exactly the same thing. They were rising up in their father’s place, adding to those who had been sinful men by being equally sinful, stoking up the fierce anger of Yahweh against Israel.

Numbers 32:15

For if you turn away from after him, he will yet again leave them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”

For did they not realise what the result would be? If they turned away from following Yahweh, and refused to enter the land which God had promised their forefathers to give them? He would again leave them in the wilderness, along with all their fellow-tribesmen, and all of them would be destroyed, and it would all be the fault of the Reubenites and the Gadites.


Verses 16-19

Reuben and Gad Covenant That Their Warriors Will Go Forward With Israel (Numbers 32:16-19).

Numbers 32:16-17

‘And they came near to him, and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones, but we ourselves will be ready armed to go before the children of Israel, until we have brought them to their place: and our little ones shall dwell in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land.”

But the Reubenites and Gadites assured him that they were not trying to avoid entering the land which God had given them. They pointed out that they would establish their families where they were, erecting sheepfolds for their animals, and repairing the fortified cities for them to find protection in, because of the belligerence of the inhabitants of nearby lands, and then they would go forward with the children of Israel, ready armed for battle, until they had brought them into the place that God had for them.

Numbers 32:18

We will not return to our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.”

Indeed they promised that they would not return to their houses until every man of the children of Israel had inherited his inheritance.

Numbers 32:19

For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan, and forward, because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side of the Jordan eastward.”

But they themselves would not inherit in Canaan because they believed that God was showing them that their inheritance lay on this side of the Jordan.


Verses 20-23

Their Going Forward Is Confirmed and Agreed (Numbers 32:20-23).

Numbers 32:20-21

‘And Moses said to them, “If you will do this thing, if you will arm yourselves to go before Yahweh to the war, and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before Yahweh, until he has driven out his enemies from before him,”

At these words Moses was satisfied that they were not avoiding entering the land. And he declared that if they would do what they had promised, and would arm themselves to go to war ‘before Yahweh’, and every one of them would pass over the Jordan ‘before Yahweh’, until He had driven out all His enemies from before Him, then all would be well.

Notice the phrase ‘before Yahweh’. They would be involved in holy war, in Yahweh’s war, and they would be accomplishing God’s will in driving out from the land those who had proved their unfitness to be there.

Numbers 32:22

And the land is subdued before Yahweh, then afterwards you shall return, and be guiltless towards Yahweh, and towards Israel, and this land shall be to you for a possession before Yahweh.”

And once the land was subdued in Yahweh’s sight, then they would be able to return to their families, and be guiltless towards Yahweh, and towards Israel. None would be able to lay any charge against them. And then this land in which they now were could be to them their own possession before Yahweh.

Numbers 32:23

But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against Yahweh, and be sure your sin will find you out.”

But if they did not do so, then let them be sure of this, that their sin would find them out, and they would find themselves enduring the same punishment as their fathers had done, dying in the wilderness.


Verses 24-26

Moses Permits Settlement On Their Accepting His Conditions (Numbers 32:24-26).

Numbers 32:24

Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep; and do what has proceeded out of your mouth.”

So he gave them permission to make the necessary safeguards for the future of their families, to repair and reinforce the fenced cities that had been captured, and to erect folds for their animals, on the condition that they would then go forward with the children of Israel over the Jordan.

Numbers 32:25

‘And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben spoke to Moses, saying, “Your servants will do as my lord commands.” ’

So the Gaddites and Reubenites said that they would do all that Moss commanded. Note the terminology with which they address him, which speaks of a contemporary situation remembered, ‘my lord’. This was a rare use of the term, in the giving of an official commitment (compare Numbers 12:11).

Numbers 32:26

Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our cattle, shall be there in the cities of Gilead, but your servants will pass over, every man who is armed for war, before Yahweh to battle, as my lord says.” ’

They covenanted that their little ones, and their wives, and their flocks and their cattle would remain in the cities of Gilead (lower Gilead), but they would cross the Jordan with Israel, every man armed for war. They would go forward ‘before Yahweh’ to battle, as Moses, their lord had said.


Verses 28-32

Moses Confirms To The Leadership Of The Tribes That The Soldiers of Reuben and Gad Will Go With The Other Tribes (Numbers 32:28-32).

Numbers 32:28

‘ So Moses gave charge concerning them to Eleazar the priest, and to Joshua the son of Nun, and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the children of Israel.’

On the condition of their promises Moses now gave a charge to Eleazar the Priest and to Joshua, and to the chieftains of the tribes.

Numbers 32:29-30

‘And Moses said to them, “If the children of Gad and the children of Reuben will pass with you over the Jordan, every man who is armed for battle, before Yahweh, and the land shall be subdued before you; then you shall give them the land of Gilead for a possession, but if they will not pass over with you armed, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.”

And the charge was this. That if the fighting men of Gad and Reuben passed over Jordan with them and the land of Canaan was subdued before Israel, then they should be given the land of Gilead for a permanent possession rather than just a temporary one, But if they would not pass over armed then they would not be granted the land but would have their possessions in the land of Canaan (thus ensuring that they had to cross over).

Numbers 32:31

‘And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben answered, saying, “As Yahweh has said to your servants, so will we do. We will pass over armed before Yahweh into the land of Canaan, and the possession of our inheritance shall remain with us beyond the Jordan.” ’

The Gaddites and the Reubenites then publicly confirmed their position. They would do what Yahweh had said. Their fighting men would pass over the Jordan with the tribes of Israel armed ready for battle, and they would accept their inheritance as being in the land east of Jordan.

It will be noted that nowhere at this stage is there a hint of the Manassites being given land east of Jordan. Thus this agreement was clearly made prior to the full conquest of Bashan, which will in fact now be brought into account.

It would seem therefore that the information just recounted clearly came from a written account which ceased at this point, presumably a covenant treaty between the Gaddites and the Reubenites, and the rest of Israel. That does not mean that the information given below was given so very much later. The record of the Daughters of Zelophehad demonstrates that the settlement of Machir in Gilead was already being widely discussed. It was just not included in the treaty record made with Gad and Reuben.


Verses 33-42

The Land of the Amorites in Transjordan Is Given To The Two Tribes and the Half Tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 32:33-42).

The fulfilment of the treaty was now confirmed with the additional information that Upper Gilead and Bashan were given to the half tribe of Manasseh. We are given no indication as to when this activity took place, but it was clearly before they crossed the Jordan for it is mentioned that ‘Moses gave’. The essential first moves were therefore made before his death. It is, however possible that some of it was completed at a later date, being recorded by Moses’ scribe.

Numbers 32:33

‘And Moses gave to them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and to the half-tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon, king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og, king of Bashan, the land, according to the its cities with their borders, even the cities of the land round about.’

As a result of the above treaty, and no doubt as a result of one made with the half-tribe of Manasseh at a later date, the kingdoms of Sihon and Og, with the land and the cities, was given to the Gaddites, the Reubenites and the half tribe of Manasseh. This latter probably resulted from the fact that the successful generals in the northern campaign were Manassites. The gift, however was one thing, the possession of it another, especially in Upper Gilead and Bashan. For while the Amorites had been defeated and driven out, they would tend to seek to return, so that in fact some of the cities had to be retaken.

Numbers 32:34-36

‘And the children of Gad built (repaired and fortified) Dibon, and Ataroth, and Aroer, and Atrothshophan, and Jazer, and Jogbehah, and Beth-nimrah, and Beth-haran, as fortified cities, and folds for sheep.’

The Gaddites immediately set about making the cities that the Israelites had sacked ready for occupation again. They repaired and fortified a number of cities in their allotment. These included Dibon, Ataroth, Nimrah (Beth-nimrah) and Jazer of those mentioned in verse 3, together with Aroer, Atrothshophan, Jogbehah, and Beth-haran, cities north of the Reubenite territory. They also erected the essential folds for the sheep.

Aroer was presumably not the one in the Arnon Valley, which would be in Reubenite territory, unless in fact the two tribes intermingled, which is very possible. Heshbon would later pass to the Gadites, and the powerful Gadites may well have wanted, with Moab over the river south of Arnon, to guard the southern border. Otherwise it may be the Aroer mentioned in Joshua 13:25. Jogbehah was mentioned in the pursuit by Gideon of the later Midianite oppressors Judges 8:11 and is probably modern Jubeihat. Beth-haran was probably a border strongpoint, and may well be identified with modern Tell Iktanu.

Numbers 32:37

‘And the children of Reuben built (repaired and fortified) Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Kiriathaim, and Nebo, and Baal-meon, their names being changed, and Sibmah. And they gave other names to the cities which they built.’

The Reubenites also set about repairing and fortifying the cities in their area. These included Heshbon, Elealeh, and Nebo, and possibly Beon (as Baal-meon), all as mentioned in Numbers 32:3. And they no doubt built up other structures which would act as temporary fortresses. Meanwhile the conquest of the north was going on, and Israel as a whole were preparing for the invasion.

Note that it specifically mentions that some of their names were altered. Some because they contained names of gods. Thus we should not be surprised to find them under other names. However, Moab would still call them by their old names, and when centuries later they retook them the old names would once again become prominent. The initial repairing and fortification would make them habitable and reasonably strong so as to afford a safe haven for those left behind by the fighting men in case of trouble.

Numbers 32:39

‘And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it.’

Meanwhile in the war against Upper Gilead and Bashan in which Og was first defeated, the children of Machir (sub-tribe of Manasseh) took Upper Gilead and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it. It was what they found there that made them subsequently decide to follow in the steps of Gad and Reuben.

Numbers 32:40

‘And Moses gave Gilead to Machir, the son of Manasseh, and he dwelt in it.’

So on the same principles as had applied to the Gadites and the Reubenites Moses gave Upper Gilead to Machir, no doubt also with a similar treaty.

Numbers 32:41

‘And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took its towns, and called them Havvoth-jair.’

The Manassite general, Jair, captured many ‘towns’ (encampments?) in Upper Gilead and named them ‘the tent-villages of Jair’.

Numbers 32:42

‘And Nobah went and took Kenath, and its villages, and called it Nobah, after his own name.’

Another Manassite general called Nobah, took other towns and villages, including Kenath which he called Nobah after himself. A Kenath appears in several Egyptian texts of 2nd millennium BC. Many identify it with the ruins of Qanawat, but this is uncertain.

So the land of Sihon was extensively settled by the Gadites and Reubenites, while Upper Gilead and Bashan were settled by the Manassites. We must not, however, see the latter as being as simple as that. Some of the former inhabitants returned to their cities, and were no doubt a continuing problem until the serving soldiers had returned home.

In all the above it is important to recognise that the name Gilead was very fluid. We know from its mention elsewhere that it could refer to at least part of the kingdom of Sihon, it could also apply to the northern part conquered by the Manassites, and it could apply to the whole area at once.

This firm establishment of a part of Israel in land given to them by Yahweh must have come as a huge boost to the remainder of the tribes. Here they saw before their very eyes the new prosperity that was going to be theirs. Here was what they were crossing the Jordan to obtain. And having defeated Amorites here, including the fearsome Og, there was no reason why it should be any different across the river. So the recording of this in book form would serve as a huge encouragement in the days to come.

There are many lessons that we can learn from this passage. It reveals how God was able to deal with the enemies of His people and so expand their blessings. It stresses how all who serve God should be faithful to each other and fight each other’s cause. It stresses honour and integrity. It was a lesson against letting others down. It reminds us that we should not just be concerned about our own patch, but seek the blessing and expansion of others, as others once did the same in order to bring the Gospel to our patch. Its emphasis is on sharing both activity and benefits.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 32:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/numbers-32.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, January 19th, 2020
Second Sunday after Epiphany
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