Numbers
Introduction 1-5 The Wilderness Side of the Jordan as a Possession 6-15 The Indignation of Moses 16-19 Promise to Help in the Battle 20-24 Moses Agrees with the Pledge 25-27 Confirmation of the Appointment 28-30 The Appointment Is Passed On 31-32 Repetition of the Promise 33-42 Division of the Wilderness Side of the Jordan
Introduction

To understand the lesson of this chapter we need to know what the land represents and what the wilderness side of the Jordan represents. The land of Canaan is the land in which the people may enjoy the blessing of God. For the Christian, Canaan is a picture of the heavenly places, in which God blessed him “with every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:33Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ,).

To enter the land, you have to cross the Jordan. That river is a picture of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Only he who believes in Him is seated in Christ in the heavenly places. Heavenly blessings are the specific blessings of the believer. Only those who are aware of this will enjoy them.

The wilderness side of the Jordan is the land on the east side of the Jordan. The wilderness side of the Jordan speaks of the earthly blessings. With earthly blessings we can think of things like health, clothing, shelter, work and family. For these blessings you don’t have to cross the Jordan. Earthly blessings can also be enjoyed by non-Christians.

The difference in enjoying the earthly blessings between the believer and the unbeliever is that the believer will thank the Lord for those blessings (1Tim 4:33[men] who forbid marriage [and advocate] abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.), while the unbeliever appropriates those blessings as a right acquired by himself. So earthly blessings are not specific to the Christian. The Christian who is satisfied with only the earthly blessings, ignores what God has given him there above to enjoy together with Him.

The wilderness side of the Jordan first belonged to the Ammonites and was then conquered by the Amorite kings Sihon and Og. Therefore, the Israelites have received permission to conquer it (Num 21:21-3521Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, saying,22“Let me pass through your land. We will not turn off into field or vineyard; we will not drink water from wells. We will go by the king’s highway until we have passed through your border.”23But Sihon would not permit Israel to pass through his border. So Sihon gathered all his people and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel.24Then Israel struck him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the sons of Ammon; for the border of the sons of Ammon [was] Jazer.25Israel took all these cities and Israel lived in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all her villages.26For Heshbon was the city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken all his land out of his hand, as far as the Arnon.27Therefore those who use proverbs say,
“Come to Heshbon! Let it be built!
So let the city of Sihon be established.
28“For a fire went forth from Heshbon,
A flame from the town of Sihon;
It devoured Ar of Moab,
The dominant heights of the Arnon.
29“Woe to you, O Moab!
You are ruined, O people of Chemosh!
He has given his sons as fugitives,
And his daughters into captivity,
To an Amorite king, Sihon.
30“But we have cast them down,
Heshbon is ruined as far as Dibon,
Then we have laid waste even to Nophah,
Which [reaches] to Medeba.”
31Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites.32Moses sent to spy out Jazer, and they captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who [were] there.33Then they turned and went up by the way of Bashan, and Og the king of Bashan went out with all his people, for battle at Edrei.34But the LORD said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.”35So they killed him and his sons and all his people, until there was no remnant left him; and they possessed his land.
). Sihon has ruled in the south (Gilead) and Og in the north (Basan). It is God’s intention that His people will inherit a part of the wilderness side of the Jordan. In the kingdom of peace, all tribes are assigned a part in the land and each tribe also receives a part in the wilderness side of the Jordan. However, it is not God’s intention that His people will settle there completely. He does not want it to be content with it alone, without interest in the land of which He says: “The land belongs to me” (Lev 25:2323‘The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are [but] aliens and sojourners with Me.). It is His land.


The Wilderness Side of the Jordan as a Possession

1Now the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad had an exceedingly large number of livestock. So when they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that it was indeed a place suitable for livestock, 2the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben came and spoke to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, 3“Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon, 4the land which the LORD conquered before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” 5They said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession; do not take us across the Jordan.”

Reuben and Gad are stationed under the same standard. They will have considered the situation together and have come to the conclusion that there is much to be gained if they can stay where they are now: the plains of Moab. They have an exceedingly large number of livestock. And the area in which they are currently located provides what their livestock need according to their perception. They are guided by their eyes: the land is pleasing to their eyes and good for their livestock (cf. Gen 13:10-1110Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—[this was] before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar.11So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other.).

Therefore they ask Moses, Eleazar and the leaders to give them this land as their possession. In doing so, they ask to not having to go across the Jordan. They are asking, as it were, for a favor not to have to move into the land. That must have hurt Moses, who so desperately wanted to enter the land, but was not allowed to. And what will this have hurt the heart of the LORD. He has chosen this land for His people, and these tribes say they do not want to enter it.

The Gadites and Reubenites have experienced all the trials of the wilderness, they have been spared, and just before the Jordan they refuse to cross over. This is tragic. They use their large livestock as an excuse not to have to enter the land. Their property is their everything. If we use our earthly blessings for ourselves, they become an excuse not to occupy ourselves with the heavenly blessings.

There is also some impatience in the attitude of both tribes. Why wait for blessings of which you have to wait and see how they please you, if you can already enjoy them here and now? One bird in the hand is always better than ten in the air. This attitude can be found with us when we live for what we possess on earth, what we can touch and taste with our natural senses.


The Indignation of Moses

6But Moses said to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here? 7Now why are you discouraging the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land which the LORD has given them? 8This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. 9For when they went up to the valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the sons of Israel so that they did not go into the land which the LORD had given them. 10So the LORD’s anger burned in that day, and He swore, saying, 11‘None of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob; for they did not follow Me fully, 12except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have followed the LORD fully.’ 13So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the entire generation of those who had done evil in the sight of the LORD was destroyed. 14Now behold, you have risen up in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to add still more to the burning anger of the LORD against Israel. 15For if you turn away from following Him, He will once more abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all these people.”

Moses points out the dangers of their wish. He points out the negative influence that their wish can have on the rest of the people. Moses sees again a reluctant people who do not want to enter the land. It reminds him of what happened forty years earlier, and that is what he represents the two tribes. Then the whole people did not want to enter because some spies misrepresented things (Nm 13:27-33; 14:1-41Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night.2All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!3Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”4So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.”). The two tribes also misrepresent the situation by indicating that they do not appreciate the promised land.

Moses is not flattering about their ancestry. He calls them “a brood of sinful men” (verse 1414Now behold, you have risen up in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to add still more to the burning anger of the LORD against Israel.). Out of the fullness of his heart he expresses his indignation about the unwillingness of the people at the time to enter the land. Now the children from these ‘sinful men’ come and they also say that they do not want to enter the land. He is afraid that the same unwillingness is present in these men, this new generation.


Promise to Help in the Battle

16Then they came near to him and said, “We will build here sheepfolds for our livestock and cities for our little ones; 17but we ourselves will be armed ready [to go] before the sons of Israel, until we have brought them to their place, while our little ones live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18We will not return to our homes until every one of the sons of Israel has possessed his inheritance. 19For we will not have an inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has fallen to us on this side of the Jordan toward the east.”

The Reubenites and Gadites “came near to him”. In order to avoid misunderstanding or to explain something, we need to go to each other to listen to each other and to understand each other. Then the differences may not be gone, but the conflict is.

Both tribes make it clear that it is not unwillingness. They want to enter the land, but prefer the area they are in now. They prove that they are not afraid to enter the land by promising to help conquer it first. They are believers, not rebellions. Instead of discouraging their brothers, they want to encourage them by promising to fight even in the front ranks.

Their wives and children they leave at home. They will never get to know and appreciate the land. On the contrary, they ensure that their children are provided with all the comforts of their own choice. They will build cities for them. In this way they use their powers to make life in that area so pleasant that their children do not even think that there are higher things. Parents are an obstacle for their children to seek the heavenly things if they give all their time and strength to the earthly things.

They refuse a permanent residence in the land, even after they have helped to conquer it. When they have gone through it in its full length and width and have seen everything the land has to offer, they still return to the other side of the Jordan. They are so attached to it, they have so much attached their hearts to it, that they sacrifice the land for it.

In this way we can tell others about the heavenly blessings, help them to enjoy them, while we ourselves do not live in them. That’s because we’re completely absorbed by earthly things. There are excuses for not accepting the invitation to enjoy what God wants to give. The excuses are not wrong things in themselves, but they make clear what our hearts really are about.

In Luke 14 the Lord Jesus mentions in a parable a number of lawful things that were used as an excuse not to accept the invitation for a meal (Lk 14:18-2018But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’19Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’20Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’). The fact that Christians often see earthly blessings as the highest delight, and occupying themselves with heavenly blessings as a tiring activity, is because they do not know what their true portion is. They appropriate what is from another and is only entrusted to them to be stewards of it, and they do not appropriate what is given to them as their possession (Lk 16:1212And if you have not been faithful in [the use of] that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?).

The Gadites and Reubenites have chosen for delight here and now, not only for themselves, but also for their families. Later they are among the first to be carried away into exile by the Assyrians: “But they acted treacherously against the God of their fathers and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, even the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away into exile, namely the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara and to the river of Gozan, to this day” (1Chr 5:25-2625But they acted treacherously against the God of their fathers and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them.26So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, even the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away into exile, namely the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara and to the river of Gozan, to this day.; 2Kgs 15:2929In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon and Abel-beth-maacah and Janoah and Kedesh and Hazor and Gilead and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria.).

Earthly blessings are not a protection for spiritual dangers. If they lose them, they have nothing left. Christians who connect their faith experience to earthly blessings, go up and down in that faith experience, like the fluctuations of stock market prices. And their children have no footing whatsoever. We often see them disappear into the world.


Moses Agrees with the Pledge

20So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will arm yourselves before the LORD for the war, 21and all of you armed men cross over the Jordan before the LORD until He has driven His enemies out from before Him, 22and the land is subdued before the LORD, then afterward you shall return and be free of obligation toward the LORD and toward Israel, and this land shall be yours for a possession before the LORD. 23But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out. 24Build yourselves cities for your little ones, and sheepfolds for your sheep, and do what you have promised.”

Moses agrees to the guarantee that they will help first. He will no longer stop them and gives them the space to act according to their own desires. But he warns them not to sin against the LORD by not keeping their promise. He presents sin not only as something that will be discovered, but as an active person who will discover them, who will know how to find them. They will not be able to separate from their sin, nor will they be able to escape the punishment of sin.


Confirmation of the Appointment

25The sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben spoke to Moses, saying, “Your servants will do just as my lord commands. 26Our little ones, our wives, our livestock and all our cattle shall remain there in the cities of Gilead; 27while your servants, everyone who is armed for war, will cross over in the presence of the LORD to battle, just as my lord says.”

The Gadites and Reubenites confirm the appointment. They will leave everyone and everything behind in Gilead and go to battle themselves.


The Appointment Is Passed On

28So Moses gave command concerning them to Eleazar the priest, and to Joshua the son of Nun, and to the heads of the fathers’ [households] of the tribes of the sons of Israel. 29Moses said to them, “If the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben, everyone who is armed for battle, will cross with you over the Jordan in the presence of the LORD, and the land is subdued before you, then you shall give them the land of Gilead for a possession; 30but if they will not cross over with you armed, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.”

Moses will not be able to be present at the fulfilment of the promise and exercise control over it. But he has a competent successor. He passes on the appointment made to Eleazar and Joshua to act accordingly. Joshua acts on it later (Jos 22:1-41Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh,2and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have listened to my voice in all that I commanded you.3You have not forsaken your brothers these many days to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God.4And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as He spoke to them; therefore turn now and go to your tents, to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan.).


Repetition of the Promise

31The sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben answered, saying, “As the LORD has said to your servants, so we will do. 32We ourselves will cross over armed in the presence of the LORD into the land of Canaan, and the possession of our inheritance [shall remain] with us across the Jordan.”

In a summary, the Gadites and Reubenites confirm once again what they will do and will get in return.


Division of the Wilderness Side of the Jordan

33So Moses gave to them, to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Reuben and to the half-tribe of Joseph’s son Manasseh, the kingdom of Sihon, king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og, the king of Bashan, the land with its cities with [their] territories, the cities of the surrounding land. 34The sons of Gad built Dibon and Ataroth and Aroer, 35and Atroth-shophan and Jazer and Jogbehah, 36and Beth-nimrah and Beth-haran as fortified cities, and sheepfolds for sheep. 37The sons of Reuben built Heshbon and Elealeh and Kiriathaim, 38and Nebo and Baal-meon—[their] names being changed—and Sibmah, and they gave [other] names to the cities which they built. 39The sons of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead and took it, and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it. 40So Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he lived in it. 41Jair the son of Manasseh went and took its towns, and called them Havvoth-jair. 42Nobah went and took Kenath and its villages, and called it Nobah after his own name.

Moses divides the wilderness side of the Jordan between the Gadites, the Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh. This is not done by the lot, as will happen in the land (Jos 14:1-21Now these are [the territories] which the sons of Israel inherited in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the households of the tribes of the sons of Israel apportioned to them for an inheritance,2by the lot of their inheritance, as the LORD commanded through Moses, for the nine tribes and the half-tribe.). He gives them the land of their own choice. In the land every tribe gets the portion of God’s choice.

It seems that, after the two tribes have received the coveted pledge, half of the Manasseh tribe joins them. They also prefer to have their inheritance in wilderness side of the Jordan. Their choice may have been influenced by the arguments of the two tribes. This would then mean that the attitude of the two tribes has caused a division in another tribe. To make known our desires and our efforts to acquire them always influence others.


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