the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Manasseh, Tribe of
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
— On the prophetic benediction of Jacob, above referred to, although Manasseh, as the representative of his future lineage, had, like his grand- uncle Esau, lost his birthright in favor of his younger brother, he received, as Esau had, a blessing only inferior to the birthright itself. Like his brother, he was to increase with the fertility of the fish which swarmed in the great Egyptian stream, to "become a people, and also to be great" — the "thousands of Manasseh," no less than those of Ephraim, indeed more, were to become a proverb in the nation; his name, no less than that of Ephraim, was to be the symbol and the expression of the richest blessings for his kindred.
The position of the tribe of Manasseh during the march to Canaan was with Ephraim and Benjamin on the west side of the sacred tent. The standard of the three sons of Rachel was the figure of a boy, with the inscription "The cloud of Jehovah rested on them until they went forth out of the camp" (Targ. Pseudojon. on Numbers 2:18). The chief of the tribe at the time of the census at Sinai was Gamaliel ben-Pedahzur, and its numbers were then 32,200 (Numbers 1:10; Numbers 1:35; Numbers 2:20-21; Numbers 7:54-59). The numbers of Ephraim were at the same date 40,500. Forty years later, on the banks of the Jordan, these proportions were reversed. Manasseh had then increased to 52,700, while Ephraim had diminished to 32,500 (Numbers 26:34; Numbers 26:37). On this occasion it is remarkable that Manasseh resumes his position in the catalogue as the eldest son of Joseph. Possibly this is due to the prowess which the tribe had shown in the conquest of Gilead, for Manasseh was certainly at this time the most distinguished of all the tribes. Of the three who had elected to remain on that side of the Jordan, Reuben and Gad had chosen their lot because the country was suitable to their pastoral possessions and tendencies. But Machir, Jair, and Nobah, the sons of Manasseh, were no shepherds.
They were pure warriors, who had taken the most prominent part in the conquest of those provinces which up to that time had been conquered, and whose deeds are constantly referred to (Numbers 32:39; Deuteronomy 3:13-15) with credit and renown. "Jair, the son of Manasseh, took all the tract of Argob... sixty great cities" (Deuteronomy 3:14; Deuteronomy 3:4). "Nobah took Kenath and the daughter-towns thereof. and called it after his own name" (Numbers 32:42). "Because Machir was a man of war, therefore he had Gilead and Bashan" (Joshua 17:1). The district which these ancient warriors conquered was among the most difficult, if not the most difficult, in the whole country. It embraced the hills of Gilead, with their inaccessible heights and impassable ravines, and the almost impregnable tract of Argob, which derives its modern name of Lejah from the secure "asylum" it affords to those who take refuge within its natural fortifications. Had they not remained in these wild and inaccessible districts, but gone forward and taken their lot with the rest, who shall say what changes might not have occurred in the history of the nation, through the presence of such energetic and warlike spirits? The few personages of eminence whom we can with certainty identify as Manassites, such as Gideon and Jephthah-for Elijah and others may with equal probability have belonged to the neighboring tribe of Gad — were among the most remarkable characters that Israel produced. Gideon was, in fact, "the greatest of the judges, and his children all but established hereditary monarchy in their own line" (Stanley, S. and P. p. 230).
But, with the one exception of Gideon, the warlike tendencies of Manasseh seem to have been confined to the east of the Jordan. There they throve exceedingly, pushing their way northward over the rich plains of Jaulan and Jedur — the Gaulanitis and Ituraea of the Roman period — to the foot of Mount Hermon (1 Chronicles 5:23). At the time of the coronation of David at Hebron, while the western Manasseh sent 18,000, and Ephraim itself 20,800, the eastern Manasseh, with Gad and Reuben, mustered to the number of 120,000, thoroughly armed — a remarkable demonstration of strength, still more remarkable when we remember the fact that Saul's house, with the great Abner at its head, was then residing at Mahanaim, on the border of Manasseh and Gad. But, though thus outwardly prosperous, a similar fate awaited them in the end to that which befell Gad and Reuben; they gradually assimilated themselves to the old inhabitants of the country — they "transgressed against the God of their fathers, and went a-whoring after the gods of the people of the land whom God destroyed before them" (1 Chronicles 5:25). They relinquished, too, the settled mode of life and the definite limits which befitted the members of a federal nation, and gradually became Bedouins of the wilderness, spreading themselves over the vast deserts which lay between the allotted possessions of their tribe and the Euphrates, and which had from time immemorial been the hunting-grounds and pastures of the wild Hagarites, of Jetur, Nephish, and Nodab (1 Chronicles 5:19; 1 Chronicles 5:22). On them first descended the punishment which was ordained to be the inevitable consequence of such misdoing. They, first of all Israel, were carried away by Pul and Tiglath- Pileser, and settled in the Assyrian territories (1 Chronicles 5:26). The connection, however, between east and west had been kept up to a certain degree. In Bethshean, the most easterly city of the cis-Jordanic Manasseh, the two portions all but joined. David had judges or officers there for all matters sacred and secular (1 Chronicles 26:32); and Solomon's commissariat officer, Ben-Geber, ruled over the towns of Jair and the whole district of Argob (1 Kings 4:13), and transmitted their productions, doubtless not without their people, to the court of Jerusalem.
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