Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
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1-5. the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead--A complete conquest
had been made of the country east of the Jordan, comprising "the land
of Jazer," which formed the southern district between the Arnon and
Jabbok and "the land of Gilead," the middle region between the Jabbok
and Jarmouk, or Hieromax, including Bashan, which lay on the north of
that river. The whole of this region is now called the Belka. It has
always been famous for its rich and extensive pastures, and it is still
the favorite resort of the Bedouin shepherds, who frequently contend
for securing to their immense flocks the benefit of its luxuriant
vegetation. In the camp of ancient Israel, Reuben and Gad were
pre-eminently pastoral; and as these two tribes, being placed under the
same standard, had frequent opportunities of conversing and arranging
about their common concerns, they united in preferring a request that
the trans-jordanic region, so well suited to the habits of a pastoral
people, might be assigned to them.
6-19. Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children of
Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here--Their
language was ambiguous; and Moses, suspicious that this proposal was an
act of unbelief, a scheme of self-policy and indolence to escape the
perils of warfare and live in ease and safety, addressed to them a
reproachful and passionate remonstrance. Whether they had really
meditated such a withdrawal from all share in the war of invasion, or
the effect of their leader's expostulation was to drive them from their
original purpose, they now, in answer to his impressive appeal,
declared it to be their sincere intention to co-operate with their
brethren; but, if so, they ought to have been more explicit at first.
16. they came near--The narrative gives a picturesque description
of this scene. The suppliants had shrunk back, dreading from the
undisguised emotions of their leader that their request would be
refused. But, perceiving, from the tenor of his discourse, that his
objection was grounded only on the supposition that they would not
cross the Jordan to assist their brethren, they became emboldened to
approach him with assurances of their goodwill.
We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our
little ones--that is, rebuild, repair. It would have been impossible
within two months to found new cities, or even to reconstruct those
which had been razed to the ground. Those cities of the Amorites were
not absolutely demolished, and they probably consisted only of
mud-built, or dry-stone walls.
17. and our little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the
inhabitants of the land--There was good policy in leaving a sufficient
force to protect the conquered region lest the enemy should attempt
reprisals; and as only forty thousand of the Reubenites and the
Gadites, and a half of Manasseh, passed over the Jordan
there were left for the security of the new possessions 70,580 men,
besides women and children under twenty years (compare
Nu 26:7, 18, 34).
We ourselves will go ready armed--that is, all of us in a collective
body, or as many as may be deemed necessary, while the rest of our
number shall remain at home to provide for the sustenance and secure
the protection of our families and flocks.
20-33. Moses said unto them, If ye will do this thing--with sincerity
go before the Lord to war--The phrase was used in allusion to the
order of march in which the tribes of Reuben and Gad immediately
preceded the ark (see on
or to the passage over the Jordan, in which the ark stood in
mid-channel, while all the tribes marched by in succession
of course including those of Reuben and Gad, so that, literally, they
passed over before the Lord and before the rest of Israel
Perhaps, however, the phrase is used merely in a general sense to
denote their marching on an expedition, the purpose of which was
blessed with the presence, and destined to promote the glory, of God.
The displeasure which Moses had felt on the first mention of their
proposal had disappeared on the strength of their solemn assurances.
But a lurking suspicion of their motives seems still to have been
lingering in his mind--he continued to speak to them in an admonitory
strain; and he concluded by warning them that in case of their failing
to redeem their pledge, the judgments of an offended God would
assuredly fall upon them. This emphatic caution against such an
eventuality throws a strong doubt on the honesty of their first
intentions; and yet, whether through the opposing attitude or the
strong invectives of Moses they had been brought to a better state of
mind, their final reply showed that now all was right.
28-32. concerning them Moses commanded--The arrangement itself, as well
as the express terms on which he assented to it, was announced by the
leader to the public authorities. The pastoral country the two tribes
had desired was to be granted them on condition that they would lend
their aid to their brethren in the approaching invasion of Canaan. If
they refused or failed to perform their promise, those possessions
should be forfeited, and they themselves compelled to go across the
Jordan and fight for a settlement like the rest of their brethren.
33. half the tribe of Manasseh--It is nowhere explained in the record
how they were incorporated with the two tribes, or what broke this
great tribe into two parts, of which one was left to follow the
fortunes of its brethren in the settled life of the western hills,
while the other was allowed to wander as a nomadic tribe over the
pasture lands of Gilead and Bashan. They are not mentioned as
accompanying Reuben and Gad in their application to Moses
neither were they included in his first directions
but as they also were a people addicted to pastoral pursuits and
possessed as immense flocks as the other two, Moses invited the half of
them to remain, in consequence, probably, of finding that this region
was more than sufficient for the pastoral wants of the others, and he
may have given them the preference, as some have conjectured, for their
valorous conduct in the contests with the Amorites (compare
with Jos 17:1).
34-36. And the children of Gad
Dibon--identified with Dheban, now in ruins, an hour's distance from
the Arnon (Mojeb).
Ataroth (Hebrew, "crowns")--There are several towns so called in
Scripture, but this one in the tribe of Gad has not been identified.
Aroer--now Arair, standing on a precipice on the north bank of the
35-38. Atroth, Shophan, and Jaazer, &c.--Jaazer, near a famed
fountain, Ain Hazier, the waters of which flow into Wady Schaib, about
fifteen miles from Hesbon. Beth-nimrah, now Nimrin; Heshbon, now
Hesban; Elealeh (Hebrew, "the high"), now Elaal; Kirjathaim
(Hebrew, "the double city"); Nebo, now Neba, near the mountain of
that name; Baal-meon, now Myoun, in ruins, where was a temple of Baal
Shibmah, or Shebam
near Heshbon, famous for vines
(Isa 16:9, 10;
38. (their names being changed)--either because it was the general
custom of conquerors to do so; or, rather, because from the prohibition
to mention the names of other gods
as Nebo and Baal were, it was expedient on the first settlement of the
Israelites to obliterate all remembrance of those idols. (See
39. Gilead--now Jelud.
41. Havoth-jair--that is, "tent-villages." Jair, who captured them,
was a descendant of Manasseh on his mother's side
(1Ch 1:21, 22).
42. Nobah--also a distinguished person connected with the eastern
branch of the tribe of Manasseh.