Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 8th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Numbers 32

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-19

Maybe the leaders of Reuben and Gad concluded that their brethren could easily handle the remaining Canaanites without their help. The Israelites had defeated the Midianites and earlier Sihon and Og easily. Also the pastures of Gilead attracted them. Their request revealed a selfish desire that would have cost their brethren dearly. The remaining tribes would have had to fight their battles without Reuben and Gad’s help.

"In Numbers 32:1 the sons of Reuben are mentioned before the sons of Gad, but in subsequent references this order is reversed. The reason is very likely that the tribe of Gad was more important than that of Reuben [cf. Genesis 49:4]. There is an oblique confirmation of this supposition on a stone that King Mesha of Moab set up around 850 B.C., following his defeat of the Israelites [i.e., the Moabite Stone]. This stone bears an inscription that refers to Gad as a people that lived there from times immemorial." [Note: Maarsingh, p. 110.]

Moses saw this request as potentially very discouraging to the other tribes and warned Reuben and Gad against disheartening their brothers.

Verses 1-42

The settlement of the Transjordanian tribes ch. 32

Another instance of incomplete obedience followed the great victory God gave His people and the military commanders’ sacrificial, voluntary worship of Yahweh.

Verses 20-32

To preclude another Kadesh-barnea tragedy Moses commanded Reuben and Gad to go into battle with their brethren. If they would do this they could have their desired land after the fighting ended. Moses’ concern was that the whole nation should enter the land and carry out God’s will by destroying the Canaanites. If after they did this these tribes wanted to live on the other side of the Jordan, that decision would not constitute an act of disobedience to God. Transjordan was part of the Promised Land, but most of the people God commanded the Israelites to destroy lived west of the Jordan River.

Moses then instructed his successor, Joshua, in the terms of this agreement. Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh committed themselves to fight alongside their brethren. This is the first mention of the half tribe of Manasseh. Its leaders were apparently not as aggressive in this plan as the leaders of Reuben and Gad were.

Verses 33-42

With this agreement behind them the two and one-half tribes proceeded to settle in Transjordan until called upon to cross the Jordan River as part of Israel’s fighting force.

"The eastern territory of Manasseh, divided between the clans of Makir and Jair, was essentially identical to the old kingdom of Og. The Makirites took the southern part, that is, Gilead as far south as the allocation of Reuben and Gad. The Jairites received the region north of Gilead, defined more precisely as Og’s kingdom of Argob. It presumably extended as far north as Mount Hermon and was bordered on the south by the little kingdoms of Maacah and Geshur, just above the Yarmuk (Deuteronomy 3:13-14). A third entity, Nobah, has no apparent connection with Manasseh, but took in Kenath and the surrounding villages (Numbers 32:42). Kenath (Qanawat) was located about sixty miles due east of the Sea of Galilee, deep in the Hauran Desert." [Note: Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., p. 91.]

Though these tribes did fulfill their military obligation (Joshua 4:12-13; Joshua 4:22), their plan was not a good one. It created a potential problem of disunity in Israel. Furthermore it demonstrated a desire for what looked good physically and materially (cf. Lot) in preference to what God said He would give them that they had not yet seen. Distance from the other tribes produced misunderstanding and disunity later (Joshua 22). The lack of natural defenses on the north, east, and south of Transjordan made this area especially vulnerable to attack by Israel’s enemies. This area was often the first to experience invasion, and Israel lost control of it several times in her later history (e.g., 2 Kings 15:29).

Whenever the Bible mentions cities of this area allotted to Reuben, especially Heshbon and Mediba, they regularly appear to be under the control of either Moab or Ammon (Isaiah 15:4; Isaiah 16:8-9; Jeremiah 48:2; Jeremiah 48:45; 1 Chronicles 19:7). Reuben is seldom even mentioned (only in Judges 5:15-16; 2 Kings 10:33; 1 Chronicles 5:6; 1 Chronicles 5:26; 1 Chronicles 12:37; 1 Chronicles 27:16) after the Moabite oppression and never in a way to show that it controlled its allotted land. [Note: Leon Wood, Israel’s United Monarchy, p. 37, n. 12.]

Transjordan was part of the land God included in the Abrahamic Covenant. However, God’s purpose for Israel at this time was to drive out the Canaanite tribes that lived primarily west of the Jordan. We may assume that if these tribes had simply followed Moses’ leadership God would have done something even better for them than what their own plan provided. This is what God often does in such situations, ample testimony to which we find throughout Scripture.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Numbers 32". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/numbers-32.html. 2012.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile