Numbers 32

The Word Made Fresh

1The tribes of Reuben and Gad had large numbers of cattle and they saw that the regions of Jazer and Gilead were good grazing lands. 2So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the community leaders and said, 3“The areas around Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon – 4areas the LORD overcame for Israel – are land that is good for cattle, and we have cattle. 5If you will approve, let this region be given to us as our possession; please do not require us to settle on the other side of the Jordan River.”

6Moses objected. “Do you want your brothers to go to war while you settle here? 7Why would you discourage them from going over the Jordan into the land the LORD has given them? 8This is what your fathers did when we were in Kadesh-Barnea and I sent them to look over the land. 9They went to the valley of Eshcol and looked things over, then came back and discouraged us from going to the very land the LORD has given us! 10The LORD was very angry when they did that, and said to us, 11‘None of those who left Egypt who are twenty years old or more will ever see the land I promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they have not freely submitted to my leadership. 12Caleb and Joshua are the only ones who agreed with me without question or complaint.’ 13The LORD was angry with Israel, and made you wander around in the wilderness for forty years until that wicked generation had all died away. 14And now you bunch of complainers have come up after your parents to make the LORD even angrier with us! 15If you turn against the LORD now we will be abandoned in the wilderness until every one of us is gone!”

16They approached Moses again and said, “We will put up fences for our flocks and settlements for our families, 17and then we will take up arms and lead the other Israelites until they are settled in their lands. Our families will be safe here in the settlements that we will fortify to protect them against the people of this land, 18but we will not return to them until all the Israelites have taken their inheritance. 19We will not demand a share of their inheritance beyond the Jordan. We will claim the land on this side of the Jordan as our inheritance.”

20Moses said, “If you do this – if you will take up arms and go to battle before the LORD, 21and cross the Jordan armed and ready to fight until the LORD has driven out all our enemies 22and the land is subdued, then you may return and be free of any further commitment to the LORD and to Israel and take possession of this land as your own. 23But if you don’t go through with this, you will have sinned against the LORD and you will suffer because of it. 24So, build settlements for your families and fences for your flocks. But do not fail to do what you have said you will do.”

25The leaders of Gad and Reuben said, “We are your servants, and we will do as you say. 26Our children and our wives will stay in the settlements in Gideon, as will our animals, 27but we are your servants and we will cross over, armed for battle, to fight for the LORD as you have commanded.”

28Moses then told Eleazar and Joshua and all the leaders of the Israelites, 29“If the tribes of Gad and Reuben, armed for battle, cross over the Jordan with you and help you subdue the land, then you will grant them this land of Gilead as their possession. 30But if they fail to carry out their promise, they will be required to settle in whatever portion of land they are given in the land of Canaan.”

31The leaders of Gad and Reuben said, “We will do as the LORD has spoken. 32We will cross over into Canaan armed for war, but our inheritance will remain on this side of the Jordan.”

33Then Moses granted to the tribes of Gad and Reuben, and to the half-tribe of Manasseh (a son of Joseph) all the land belonging to King Sihon of the Amorites and all the land and villages belonging to King Og of Bashan, along with areas surrounding them.

34The tribe of Gad then rebuilt Dibon, Ataroth, Aroer, 35Atroth-shophan, Jazer, Jogbehah, 36Beth-Nimrah, and Beth-Haran. They fortified the towns and built folds for the sheep.

37The tribe of Reuben rebuilt Heshbon, Elealeh, Kiriathaim, 38Nebo and Baal-Meon, and Sibmah. They renamed the towns when they rebuilt them.

39The descendants of Machir, son of Manasseh, captured Gilead and took it from the Amorites, 40so Moses gave Gilead to them and they settled there.

41Jair, another son of Manasseh, captured the Amorite villages and renamed the area Havvoth-Jair.

42Also, Nobah captured the settlements of Kenath and renamed that area Nobah after himself.

Commentary

1-5: Three of the 12 tribes of Israel do not settle in the Promised Land of Canaan. Gad and Reuben (note that now Gad is mentioned before Reuben, and later Gad will be the primary tribe on the east side of the Jordan River) come to Moses with the request that they be allowed to settle the territory already conquered. The reason is because the land there is suitable for grazing, and they have many cattle. The third tribe, Manasseh, is not mentioned until the end of the chapter.

6-32: Moses is initially angry with the request, assuming that they are trying to get out of having to take part in the military campaigns that lie ahead. The two tribes assure him that if they are allowed to build towns and settle there, they will lead the other tribes in the conquest of Canaan. After some further negotiations in which their responsibilities are clarified and other elements of the community (priests, other tribal leaders) are informed, Moses grants their request.

33-42: At the end of the chapter the half-tribe of Manasseh suddenly appears (verse 33) as a co-claimant on the eastern territories of Gilead and are also allotted land there. The story illustrates that there is still a long way to go before Israel becomes an intact community. Intertribal disputes will arise now and then until there is a rift between the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin (which will become the kingdom of Judah) and the northern tribes (which will become the kingdom of Israel).

Takeaway

The LORD is referred to often in this chapter but is curiously absent from the negotiations taking place between Moses and the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. Moses speaks for the LORD in chapter 32 as he has elsewhere, but nowhere in chapter 32 does the LORD give Moses direct instructions as has been the case in every important development to this point.