In this chapter we have,
I. The humble request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad for an
inheritance on that side Jordan where Israel now lay encamped,
II. Moses's misinterpretation of their request,
III. Their explication of it, and stating it aright,
IV. The grant of their petition under the provisos and limitations
which they themselves proposed,
|The Request of the Reubenites.
||B. C. 1452.|
1 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
2 The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spake
unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of
the congregation, saying,
3 Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and
Elealeh, and Shebam, and Nebo, and Beon,
4 Even the country which the LORD smote before the
congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants
5 Wherefore, said they, if we have found grace in thy sight,
let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession, and
bring us not over Jordan.
6 And Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children
of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?
7 And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of
Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given
8 Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to
see the land.
9 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 the LORD had given them.
10 And the LORD's anger was kindled the same time, and he
11 Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from
twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I sware
unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not
wholly followed me:
12 Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the
son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the LORD.
13 And the LORD's anger was kindled against Israel, and he made
them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the
generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was
14 And, behold, ye are risen up in your fathers' stead, an
increase of sinful men, to augment yet the fierce anger of the
LORD toward Israel.
15 For if ye turn away from after him, he will yet again leave
them in the wilderness; and ye shall destroy all this people.
Israel's tents were now pitched in the plains of Moab, where they
continued many months, looking back upon the conquests they had already
made of the land of Sihon and Og, and looking forward to Canaan, which
they hoped in a little while to make themselves masters of. While they
made this stand, and were at a pause, this great affair of the disposal
of the conquests they had already made was here concerted and settled,
not by any particular order or appointment of God, but at the special
instance and request of two of the tribes, to which Moses, after a long
debate that arose upon it, consented. For even then, when so
much was done by the extraordinary appearances of divine Providence,
many things were left to the direction of human prudence; for God, in
governing both the world and the church, makes use of the reason of
men, and serves his own purposes by it.
I. Here is a motion made by the Reubenites and the Gadites, that the
land which they had lately possessed themselves of, and which in the
right of conquest belonged to Israel in common, might be assigned to
them in particular for their inheritance: upon the general idea they
had of the land of promise, they supposed this would be about their
proportion. Reuben and Gad were encamped under the same standard, and
so had the better opportunity of comparing notes, and settling this
matter between themselves. In the
the children of Reuben are named first, but afterwards the children of
either because the Gadites made the first motion and were most forward
for it, or because they were the better spokesmen and had more of the
art of management, Reuben's tribe still lying under Jacob's sentence,
he shall not excel. Two things common in the world induced these
tribes to make this choice and this motion upon it, the lust of the
eye and the pride of life,
1 John 2:16.
1. The lust of the eye. This land which they coveted was not
only beautiful for situation, and pleasant to the eye, but it was good
for food, food for cattle; and they had a great multitude of cattle,
above the rest of the tribes, it is supposed because they brought more
out of Egypt, than the rest did; but that was forty years before, and
stocks of cattle increase and decrease in less time than that;
therefore I rather think they had been better husbands of their cattle
in the wilderness, had tended them better, had taken more care of the
breed, and not been so profuse as their neighbours in eating the
lambs out of the flock and the calves out of the midst of the
stall. Now they, having these large stocks, coveted land
proportionable. Many scriptures speak of Bashan and Gilead as places
famous for cattle; they had been so already, and therefore these tribes
hoped they would be so to them, and whatever comes of it here they
desire to take their lot. The judicious Calvin thinks there was much
amiss in the principle they went upon, and that they consulted their
own private convenience more than the public good, that they had not
such regard to the honour and interest of Israel, and the promise made
to Abraham of the land of Canaan (strictly so called), as they ought to
have had. And still it is too true that many seek their own
things more than the things of Jesus Christ
and that many are influenced by their secular interest and advantage to
take up short of the heavenly Canaan. Their spirits agree too well with
this world, and with the things that are seen, that are temporal; and
they say, "It is good to be here," and so lose what is hereafter for
want of seeking it. Lot thus chose by the sight of the eye, and
smarted for his choice. Would we choose our portion aright we must look
above the things that are seen.
2. Perhaps there was something of the pride of life in it.
Reuben was the first-born of Israel, but he had lost his birthright.
Several of the tribes, and Judah especially, had risen above him, so
that he could not expect the best lot in Canaan; and therefore, to save
the shadow of a birthright, when he had forfeited the substance, he
here catches at the first lot, though it was out of Canaan, and far off
from the tabernacle. Thus Esau sold his birthright, and yet got to be
served first with an inheritance in Mount Seir. The tribe of Gad
descended from the first-born of Zilpah, and were like pretenders with
the Reubenites; and Manasseh too was a first-born, but knew he must be
eclipsed by Ephraim his younger brother, and therefore he also coveted
to get precedency.
II. Moses's dislike of this motion, and the severe rebuke he gives to
it, as a faithful prince and prophet.
1. It must be confessed that prima facie--at first sight, the
thing looked ill, especially the closing words of their petition:
Bring us not over Jordan,
(1.) It seems to proceed from a bad principle, a contempt of the land
of promise, which Moses himself was so desirous of a sight of, a
distrust too of the power of God to dispossess the Canaanites, as if a
lot in a land which they knew, and which was already conquered, was
more desirable than a lot in a land they knew not, and which was yet to
be conquered: one bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. There
seemed also to be covetousness in it; for that which they insisted on
was that it was convenient for their cattle. It argued likewise a
neglect of their brethren, as if they cared not what became of Israel,
while they themselves were well provided for.
(2.) It might have been of bad consequence. The people might have taken
improper hints from it, and have suggested that they were few enough,
when they had their whole number, to deal with the Canaanites, but how
unequal would the match be if they should drop two tribes and a half
(above a fifth part of their strength) on this side Jordan. It would
likewise be a bad precedent; if they must have the land thus granted
them as soon as it was conquered, other tribes might make the same
pretensions and claims, and so the regular disposition of the land by
lot would be anticipated.
2. Moses is therefore very warm upon them, which is to be imputed to
his pious zeal against sin, and not to any peevishness, the effect of
old age, for his meekness abated not, any more than his natural force.
(1.) He shows them what he apprehended to be evil in this motion, that
it would discharge the heart of their brethren,
"What!" (says he, with a holy indignation at their selfishness)
"shall your brethren go to war, and expose themselves to all the
hardships and hazards of the field, and shall you sit here at
your ease? No, do not deceive yourselves, you shall never be indulged
by me in this sloth and cowardice." It ill becomes any of God's Israel
to sit down unconcerned in the difficult and perilous concernments of
their brethren, whether public or personal.
(2.) He reminds them of the fatal consequences of the unbelief and
faint-heartedness of their fathers, when they were just ready to enter
Canaan, as they themselves now were. He recites the story very
"Thus did your fathers, whose punishment should be a warning to
you to take heed of sinning after the similitude of their
(3.) He gives them fair warning of the mischief that would be likely to
follow upon this separation which they were about to make from the camp
of Israel; they would be in danger of bringing wrath upon the whole
congregation, and hurrying them all back again into the wilderness
"You have risen up in your fathers' stead to despise the
pleasant land and reject it as they did, when we hoped you had risen up
in their stead to possess it." It was an encouragement to Moses to see
what an increase of men there was in these tribes, but a discouragement
to see that it was withal an increase of sinful men, treading in the
steps of their fathers' impiety. It is sad to see the rising generation
in families and countries not only no better, but worse than that which
went before it; and what comes of it? Why, it augments the fierce
anger of the Lord; not only continues that fire, but increases it,
and fills the measure, often till it overflows in a deluge of
desolation. Note, If men did but consider as they ought, what would be
the end of sin, they would be afraid of the beginnings of it.
16 And they came near unto him, and said, We will build
sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones:
17 But we ourselves will go ready armed before the children of
Israel, until we have brought them unto their place: and our
little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the
inhabitants of the land.
18 We will not return unto our houses, until the children of
Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.
19 For we will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan, or
forward; because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side
20 And Moses said unto them, If ye will do this thing, if ye
will go armed before the LORD to war,
21 And will go all of you armed over Jordan before the LORD,
until he hath driven out his enemies from before him,
22 And the land be subdued before the LORD: then afterward ye
shall return, and be guiltless before the LORD, and before
Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the LORD.
23 But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the
LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out.
24 Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your
sheep; and do that which hath proceeded out of your mouth.
25 And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben spake
unto Moses, saying, Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth.
26 Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our cattle,
shall be there in the cities of Gilead:
27 But thy servants will pass over, every man armed for war,
before the LORD to battle, as my lord saith.
We have here the accommodating of the matter between Moses and the two
tribes, about their settlement on this side Jordan. Probably the
petitioners withdrew, and considered with themselves what answer they
should return to the severe reproof Moses had given them; and, after
some consultation, they return with this proposal, that their men of
war should go and assist their brethren in the conquest of Canaan, and
they would leave their families and flocks behind them in this land:
and thus they might have their request, and no harm would be done. Now
it is uncertain whether they designed this at first when they brought
their petition or no. If they did, it is an instance how often that
which is honestly meant is unhappily misinterpreted; yet Moses herein
was excusable, for he had reason to suspect the worst of them, and the
rebuke he gave them was from the abundance of his care to prevent sin.
But, if they did not, it is an instance of the good effect of plain
dealing; Moses, by showing them their sin, and the danger of it,
brought them to their duty without murmuring or disputing. They object
not that their brethren were able to contend with the Canaanites
without their help, especially since they were sure of God's fighting
for them; but engage themselves to stand by them.
I. Their proposal is very fair and generous, and such as, instead of
disheartening, would rather encourage their brethren.
1. That their men of war, who were fit for service, would go
ready armed before the children of Israel into the land of
Canaan. So far would they be from deserting them that, if it were
thought fit, they would lead them on, and be foremost is all dangerous
enterprises. So far were they from either distrusting or despising the
conquest of Canaan that they would assist in it with the utmost
readiness and resolution.
2. That they would leave behind them their families and cattle (which
would otherwise be but the incumbrance of their camp), and so they
would be the more serviceable to their brethren,
3. That they would not return to their possessions till the conquest of
Canaan was completed,
Their brethren should have their best help as long as they needed it.
4. That yet they would not expect any share of the land that was yet to
"We will not desire to inherit with them, nor, under colour of
assisting them in the war, put in for a share with them in the land;
no, we will be content with our inheritance on this side Jordan, and
there will be so much the more on yonder side for them."
II. Moses thereupon grants their request, upon consideration that they
would adhere to their proposals.
1. He insists much upon it that they should never lay down their arms
till their brethren laid down theirs. They promised to go armed
before the children of Israel,
"Nay," says Moses, "you shall go armed before the Lord,
It is God's cause more than your brethren's, and to him you must have
an eye, and not to them only." Before the Lord, that is, before
the ark of the Lord, the token of his presence, which, it should seem,
they carried about with them in the wars of Canaan, and immediately
before which these two tribes were posted, as we find in the order of
2. Upon this condition he grants them this land for their possession,
and tells them they shall be guiltless before the Lord and before
They should have the land, and neither sin nor blame should cleave to
it, neither sin before God nor blame before Israel; and, whatever
possessions we have, it is desirable thus to come guiltless to them.
3. He warns them of the danger of breaking their word: "If you fail,
you sin against the Lord
and not against your brethren only, and be sure your sin will find
you out;" that is, "God will certainly reckon with you for it,
though you may make a light matter of it." Note, Sin will, without
doubt, find out the sinner sooner or later. It concerns us therefore to
find our sins out, that we may repent of them and forsake them, lest
our sins find us out to our ruin and confusion.
III. They unanimously agree to the provisos and conditions of the
grant, and do, as it were, give bond for performance, by a solemn
promise: Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth,
Their brethren had all contributed their assistance to the conquest of
this country, which they desired for a possession, and therefore they
owned themselves obliged in justice to help them in the conquest of
that which was to be their possession. Having received kindness, we
ought to return it, though it was not so conditioned when we received
it. We may suppose that this promise was understood, on both sides, so
as not to oblige all that were numbered of these tribes to go over
armed, but those only that were fittest for the expedition, who would
be most serviceable, while it was necessary that some should be left to
till the ground and guard the country; and accordingly we find that
about 40,000 of the two tribes and a half went over armed
whereas their whole number was about 100,000.
|Inheritance of the Reubenites.
||B. C. 1452.|
28 So concerning them Moses commanded Eleazar the priest, and
Joshua the son of Nun, and the chief fathers of the tribes of the
children of Israel:
29 And Moses said unto them, If the children of Gad and the
children of Reuben will pass with you over Jordan, every man
armed to battle, before the LORD, and the land shall be subdued
before you; then ye shall give them the land of Gilead for a
30 But if they will not pass over with you armed, they shall
have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.
31 And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben answered,
saying, As the LORD hath said unto thy servants, so will we do.
32 We will pass over armed before the LORD into the land of
Canaan, that the possession of our inheritance on this side
Jordan may be ours.
33 And Moses gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and
to the children of Reuben, and unto half the 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, with the cities
thereof in the coasts, even the cities of the country round
34 And the children of Gad built Dibon, and Ataroth, and Aroer,
35 And Atroth, Shophan, and Jaazer, and Jogbehah,
36 And Beth-nimrah, and Beth-haran, fenced cities: and folds for
37 And the children of Reuben built Heshbon, and Elealeh, and
38 And Nebo, and Baal-meon, (their names being changed,) and
Shibmah: and gave other names unto the cities which they builded.
39 And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to
Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorite which was in
40 And Moses gave Gilead unto Machir the son of Manasseh; and
he dwelt therein.
41 And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took the small towns
thereof, and called them Havoth-jair.
42 And Nobah went and took Kenath, and the villages thereof,
and called it Nobah, after his own name.
1. Moses settles this matter with Eleazar, and with Joshua who was to
be his successor, knowing that he himself must not live to see it
He gives them an estate upon condition, leaving it to Joshua, if they
fulfilled the condition, to declare the estate absolute: "If they
will not go over with you," he does not say "you shall give them no
inheritance at all," but "you shall not give them this inheritance
which they covet. If their militia will not come over with you, compel
the whole tribes to come over, and let them take their lot with their
brethren, and fare as they fare; they shall have possessions in
Canaan, and let them not expect that the lot will favour them."
Hereupon they repeat their promise to adhere to their brethren,
2. Moses settles them in the land they desired. He gave it to them for
Here is the first mention of the half tribe of Manasseh coming in with
them for a share; probably they had not joined with them in the
petition, but, the land when it came to be apportioned proving to be
too much for them, this half tribe had a lot among them, perhaps at
their request, or by divine direction, or because they had signalized
themselves in the conquest of this country: for the children of Machir,
a stout and warlike family, had taken Gilead and dispossessed the
"Let them win it and wear it, get it and take it." And, they being
celebrated for their courage and bravery, it was for the common safety
to put them in this frontier-country. Concerning the settlement of
these tribes observe,
(1.) They built the cities, that is, repaired them, because either they
had been damaged by the war or the Amorites had suffered them to go to
(2.) They changed the names of them
either to show their authority, that the change of the names might
signify the change of their owners, or because their names were
idolatrous, and carried in them a respect to the dunghill-deities that
were there worshipped. Nebo and Baal were names of their gods, which
they were forbidden to make mention of
and which, by changing the names of these cities, they endeavoured to
bury in oblivion; and God promises to take away the names of Baalim out
of the mouths of his people,
Lastly, It is observable that, as these tribes were now first
placed before the other tribes, so, long afterwards, they were
displaced before the other tribes. We find that they were carried
captive into Assyria some years before the other tribes,
2 Kings 15:29.
Such a proportion does Providence sometimes observe in balancing
prosperity and adversity; he sets the one over-against the other.