Numbers 32


‘The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon—the land the LORD subdued before the people of Israel—are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. If we have found favour in your eyes,” they said, “let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.” Numbers 32:1-5

The Transjordan Tribes

After defeating the Moabites and the Midianites, Israel now finds themselves on the east side of the Jordan River which used to belong to the Amorites and Og.

It was ideal for grazing their livestock. It appears that Reuben and Gad were very happy with this new land and  so, they asked if they could have it as their inheritance.

Although the request may sound good, it wasn’t God’s will. God’s will was that all the tribes should work together to take the land of Canaan and settle there. It appears that they didn’t want to cross the Jordan and take their responsibilities as part of the army of Israel so.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Was this a sinful request on the part of these tribes? Differences of opinion are expressed, but in the light of Moses’ severe rebuke in the next verses, our own conclusion is that their request represented a fundamental departure by those tribes away from the true will of God. It has been the same in all generations where men looked on present advantages and temporal benefits and elected instead of following God’s will to choose their own changes and walk in their own ways instead of God’s.’

Gill, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Ataroth, Dibon, and Jazer, these were places which belonged to the Amorites, and were taken from Sihon, their king, of Ataroth we read nowhere else but in this chapter, of Dibon, Isaiah 15:2, Jazer was a city, from whence the land about it had its name, it is the same with Jazer, Numbers 21:32 and stood about fifteen miles from Heshbon, the capital city of the kingdom of Sihon and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Shebam, and Nebo, and Beon, these were all places in the same country; of Heshbon, Numbers 21:25, Nimrah is the same with Beth Nimrah, Numbers 32:36 and sometimes called Nimrim, famous for its water, Isaiah 15:6.’

‘Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, “Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from crossing over into the land the LORD has given them? This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to look over the land. After they went up to the Valley of Eshkol and viewed the land, they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the LORD had given them. The LORD’s anger was aroused that day and he swore this oath: ‘Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of those who were twenty years old or more when they came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the LORD wholeheartedly.’ The LORD’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone. “And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the LORD even more angry with Israel. If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the wilderness, and you will be the cause of their destruction.” Numbers 32:6-15

Moses doesn’t mix his words here when he speaks to the tribes of Reuben and Gad. He interprets their request to settle there as an effort to ignore their responsibilities to fulfil the will of God.

It’s clear that Moses wants them to know and understand that there’s still a war to fight and they need to be a part of it. He reminds the leaders of Reuben and Gad why Israel failed to enter the Promised Land 38 years ago.

Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh were planning on avoiding their military responsibilities to help the others conquer Canaan.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The generation of the Exodus was now substantially extinct, Numbers 26:64-65.’

Moses tells them that they can perish just like the previous generation if they walk in the same unbelief.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘In our view, Moses’ anger and frustration were fully justified. True, he listened to the glorying promises of these potential rebels and permitted them to do as they wished, but there can hardly be any doubt that Moses’ first and immediate response to this was correct. This response, of course, was a rehearsal of events following Kadesh-Barnea and the sending out of the spies which resulted as follows.

1. It discouraged Israel.

2. Jehovah’s anger was kindled against Israel.

3. God forbade any of that generation except Caleb and Joshua to enter Canaan.

4. The Lord punished the whole nation with some forty years of aimless wanderings in the wilderness. Now, forty years later, once more standing on the verge of entering Canaan, here the sons of those original sinners once more appear with a plan of their own. They would NOT enter Canaan at all but settle EAST of Jordan! What a fine place to pasture sheep!’

‘Then they came up to him and said, “We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children. But we will arm ourselves for battle and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place. Meanwhile our women and children will live in fortified cities, for protection from the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the Israelites has received their inheritance. We will not receive any inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan, because our inheritance has come to us on the east side of the Jordan.” Numbers 32:16-20

None of the tribes would be envious of Reuben or Gad, resting in ease, while the rest of Israel are out battling for their lands. After realising that their request may have been misunderstood, the men of Reuben and Gad decide they would go and fight with their brothers against the Canaanites.

Poole, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Either all, or as many of us as shall be thought necessary, leaving only so many as may be necessary to provide for the sustenance and defence of our wives and children here, Joshua 4:12-13.’

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Did they keep these promises? No! They certainly did not. The women and children left behind under this arrangement could by no means have manned and defended the fortified towns and villages where they lived.’

‘Then Moses said to them, “If you will do this—if you will arm yourselves before the LORD for battle and if all of you who are armed cross over the Jordan before the LORD until he has driven his enemies out before him—then when the land is subdued before the LORD, you may return and be free from your obligation to the LORD and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the LORD. “But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. Build cities for your women and children, and pens for your flocks, but do what you have promised.” The Gadites and Reubenites said to Moses, “We your servants will do as our lord commands. Our children and wives, our flocks and herds will remain here in the cities of Gilead. But your servants, every man who is armed for battle, will cross over to fight before the LORD, just as our lord says.” Then Moses gave orders about them to Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun and to the family heads of the Israelite tribes. He said to them, “If the Gadites and Reubenites, every man armed for battle, cross over the Jordan with you before the LORD, then when the land is subdued before you, you must give them the land of Gilead as their possession. But if they do not cross over with you armed, they must accept their possession with you in Canaan.” The Gadites and Reubenites answered, “Your servants will do what the LORD has said. We will cross over before the LORD into Canaan armed, but the property we inherit will be on this side of the Jordan.” Then Moses gave to the Gadites, the Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan—the whole land with its cities and the territory around them. The Gadites built up Dibon, Ataroth, Aroer, Atroth Shophan, Jazer, Jogbehah, Beth Nimrah and Beth Haran as fortified cities, and built pens for their flocks. And the Reubenites rebuilt Heshbon, Elealeh and Kiriathaim, as well as Nebo and Baal Meon (these names were changed) and Sibmah. They gave names to the cities they rebuilt. The descendants of Makir son of Manasseh went to Gilead, captured it and drove out the Amorites who were there. So Moses gave Gilead to the Makirites, the descendants of Manasseh, and they settled there. Jair, a descendant of Manasseh, captured their settlements and called them Havvoth Jair. And Nobah captured Kenath and its surrounding settlements and called it Nobah after himself.’ Numbers 32:17-42

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Note the repetition of the words ‘every man that is armed for war’ in Numbers 32:21 and Numbers 32:27. What these tribes actually did amounted to far less than half of what they promised, Joshua 4:13. Instead of the words ‘men armed for war’ in Numbers 32:17 / Numbers 32:21, and Numbers 32:27, some follow the rendition found in Jewish versions, namely, ‘shock-troops’.’

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The cities here named fall into three groups. On Dibon, compare Numbers 21:19. The Moabite stone was discovered here in 1868. This city, occupied on the first acquisition of the territory by the Gadites, and assigned by Joshua to the Reubenites, was eventually recaptured by the Moabites, in whose hands it remained. Ataroth, i.e., ‘crowns’ (Attarus?) was seven miles northwest of Dibon. Aroer (Arair) lay between Dibon and the Arnon.’

If Reuben and Gad do as they said they would, then they would be blameless before the LORD and before Israel. But if they didn’t, they would be guilty. Moses says, if they sin by doing nothing, James 4:17, then their sin will be found out.

In other words, if the tribes of Reuben and Gad did nothing, that is, if they stayed at home while their brothers went to war fighting for their lives to take possession of the land, then their sin of doing nothing would surely find them out.

Half the tribe of Manasseh, were also happy to settle on the lands east of the Jordan River, and so, if they decided to stay at home instead of helping their brothers in taking the land, their sin too would be found out, Numbers 32:33.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The Machirites did not exterminate the whole population of this district, Joshua 13:15, etc. The conquest of the district east of Jordan seems never to have been so effectually accomplished as that on the other side. During the troublesome times of the Judges, the eastern Manassites rendered good service to the nation, Judges 5:14. Gideon, and probably Jephthah, were of this tribe, and reflect in a later generation the warlike and adventurous spirit which Jair and Nobah exhibited in the days of Moses.’

Go To Numbers 33


"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"