Even as the Tribes of Israel were poised to enter the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan River, a deputation came to make a deal with Moses and the Leadership of Israel.
This group was the leadership of the tribes of Reuben and Gad. They were joined at some point by half the tribe of Manasseh.
They were enamored with the looks of the land from the middle point east of the Dead Sea, bordering the East Bank of the Jordan river, all the way up to the very northern tip of the Sea of Galilee.
These two tribes had large herds of cattle and saw this territory as being of the very best for grazing land.
Their eyes were upon what they saw as being so much to their own benefit that they were willing to forego their immediate possession. They first conquered the area, they settled their wives and children in fortified towns and then left them there while they accompanied the rest of the Army of Israel to conquer the land of Canaan. Having fulfilled their contract with Moses, Joshua, and the leaders of Israel, they returned to live on the East Bank territory of what had formerly been the land of Jazer and Gilead and Bashan. (Numbers 32:1-5)
Land and Possessions
During the assignment of the tribes at Sinai, we find Gad united to Reuben on the south side of the Tabernacle. Companionship in arms and hardships in the wilderness naturally led them to desire neighborhood in their possessions; also similarity of pursuits in tending flocks and herds led Gad to an alliance with Reuben.
Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, these two, alone of the tribes, remained shepherds still; after the intervening centuries since Jacob left Canaan for Egypt. They therefore received the pasture lands east of Jordan for their possession, as suited for their “multitude of cattle,” but accompanied the nine tribes and a half across Jordan to war with the Canaanites; and only after their conquest and the apportionment of the whole land to their brethren “at the doorway of the tabernacle of the congregation in Shiloh, before Jehovah” (Joshua 19:51; 22:1-8), were they dismissed to their tents for still they led a half nomadic life) and the land of their possession.
This decision by the Reubenites and Gadites was based on their lust to have what they saw as the most advantageous to themselves.
The early history of Reuben seems to have repeated itself again here. His dying father, Jacob tells him;
“Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power. Unstable as water, you shall not excel, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it” (Genesis 49:3-4)
Here we learn of his foul incest with Bilhah his father’s secondary wife, and his loss of the right of the First Born as punishment.
“They paid the price for their choice.”
I have heard it said that ‘what you focus on you come to appropriate for yourself.’ In the case of Reuben and Gad they wanted what God had not planned for them. Was there no suitable pasture land on the west of the Jordan? They did not know, but they grabbed what looked good to them, perhaps on the “I want it now” philosophy. Certainly it was not in the perfect will of God.
They paid the price for their choice.
Having remained on the East of the Jordan, they were vulnerable to attack by marauding bands, as they soon found out, and finally found themselves in the path of the cruel King of Assyria.
“In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maachah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria.” (2 Kings 15:29)
In 740 B.C. Tiglath-Pileser III, King of the Great Assyrian Empire, whose capital was a complex of four cities, the composite later named Nineveh, carried away the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half of Manasseh, placing them as captive slaves in cities of Assyria. God’s plan was to use pagan Nineveh’s example to teach the covenant people Israel how inexcusable is their impenitence. Just one generation earlier Jonah preached to Nineveh and they repented. 40 years later theses same people exact a judgment on Reuben and Gad. The mills of God grind slowly, but exceeding fine!
Hope to the penitent, however sunken, condemnation to the impenitent, however elevated in privileges; these are the lessons our Lord draws from Nineveh (Matt. 12:41).
Sadly the Reubenites and Gadites reaped trouble and captivity instead of the blessing that God had intended for them.
They chose Earthly blessing instead of the Spiritual.
Is this just some old history lesson? Is it not true that our modern world is doing the same thing? I, as an individual, have many times faced the temptation to grab the good instead of God’s Best.
If you have been making ‘good’ choices instead of ‘God’s Best’ this might be the best time to turn your heart toward the Lord who longs to give you better than you or I deserve.