In Chapter 32 we find two tribes of Israel requesting to live outside of the promised land. Israel has conquered some territory on the way to the promised land, due to the peoples of the area opposing them and attacking them, and today we learn that the Reubenites and Gadites are content to remain there instead of traveling on to the land promised by God to Abraham's descendants.
"The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock." (Numbers 32:1) They aren't wrong about the suitability of this area for their livestock; these men know their business when it comes to flocks and herds. Where they're wrong is in thinking it's suitable to remain here---in their comfort zone---instead of entering into the fullness of the inheritance the Lord has waiting for them.
We've all been guilty of wanting to remain in our comfort zone. We'll say, "I'm okay right here. This place is suitable for me." But the Lord doesn't want to give us what is just okay. If you are a parent, do you want your children to have what is just okay? Or did you want them to have the best possible experiences and advantages? The Lord, who is a perfect father, wants the best for Israel. The Transjordan area is okay but the promised land is far better. The Reubenites and Gadites will never have the best possible experiences and advantages, or opportunities for spiritual growth, if they remain where they are.
The men bring their request to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the leaders of the community. "So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community and said, 'Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealah, Sebam, Nebo and Beon---the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel---are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. If we have found favor in your eyes,' they said, 'let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.'" (Numbers 32:2-5) I imagine Moses and the other top officials are shocked. The whole purpose of the long endeavor they've been undertaking is to arrive at, take over, and possess the promised land. For hundreds of years the children of Israel have comforted themselves with the oath the Lord swore to the patriarch Abraham. Now the fulfillment of the promise is so close they can almost touch it, and yet these two groups want to stop short.
Moses voices his displeasure at the men's willingness to quit. "Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, 'Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from crossing over into the land the Lord has given them?'" (Numbers 32:6-7) Moses says, "It's bad enough that you are content not to take hold of the Lord's great promises, but you could be the cause of the entire nation not inheriting the Lord's great promises. Every tribe of Israel must work together to successfully carry out the Lord's will for them in this new land. How will it affect the other tribes if you Gadites and Reubenites hang back here and refuse to go to war and fight for the good land the Lord wants to give Israel? Won't some of the others also want to drop out? Won't it cause them to question whether all the effort will be worth it when they get there? Won't it cause a crisis of faith for some of your fellow citizens?"
To prove his point about how quickly and easily a large group of people can be discouraged, Moses reminds them of the rebellion that took place earlier in Numbers when some of the men who spied out the land of Canaan spoke faithless words to the congregation. "This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to look over the land. After they went up to the Valley of Eshkol and viewed the land, they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the Lord had given them. The Lord's anger was aroused that day and He swore on oath: 'Because they have not followed Me wholeheartedly, not one of those who were twenty years old or more when they came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob---not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.' The Lord's anger burned against Israel and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in His sight was gone." (Numbers 32:8-13)
The age of twenty was, at this time in Israel's history, what we'd call "the age of majority". A man could not serve in the army until he turned twenty and apparently was not considered a full adult with all the legal rights of an adult until the age of twenty. This meant he was not fully responsible for his actions until he reached the age of twenty. We could compare this to the rights and responsibilities conveyed upon persons in our own nation when they reach the modern age of majority of eighteen. At eighteen our citizens can vote, join the army, and make legally binding decisions for themselves. In our courts of law we judge the crime of a person eighteen or older more harshly than we judge the same crime committed by a thirteen-year-old. In this same way, the men of Israel who were twenty years old and up when they left Egypt were considered legal adults and this is why the Lord held accountable those who were twenty and older. If the men twenty and older had not rebelled against Him forty years earlier, Israel would have already been in the promised land and Moses would not be having the discussion he's having with the Gadites and Reubenites right now. He urges them, "Don't make the same mistake your fathers made! Their mistake cost us forty years. Their mistake affected the entire community. Don't be like them. You aren't affecting only yourselves if you make this wrong decision; you'll be affecting all the people of Israel."
Moses is angry, and rightly so. He doesn't behave in an unseemly manner in his anger but I can almost hear his voice shaking with righteous indignation as he fearlessly denounces the sinful attitude of these particular men. The Bible tells us not to judge (have a condemnatory attitude) toward our fellow man, but the Bible does not tell us we aren't to recognize sin as sin. Just as the New Testament tells us not to allow sin to invade and take up residence in the church, Moses tells these men not to allow sin to invade or take up residence in their hearts. If they do, sin will invade and take up residence among all the people of Israel. The plan of the Gadites and Reubenites will hurt not only their own tribes now and in the future but it will also hurt the entire nation. Moses has no choice to speak up and point out their error to them. Everything is at stake right now. This situation could turn into a major rebellion in a heartbeat; Moses has seen it happen before. He knows how quickly the wrong attitude of a few can influence the attitude of many, so with the authority and permission of the Lord he says: "And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel. If you turn away from following Him, He will again leave all this people in the wilderness, and you will be the cause of their destruction." (Numbers 32:14-15)
After hearing Moses' words, these men will see the light, won't they? No, they'll do what most of us have done at one time or another: they'll try to talk the Lord into falling in line with their plan. Have you ever tried to "convince" the Lord your idea is the best? I'm not talking about things that are blatantly sinful such as what the Gadites and Reubenites want in today's passage; there isn't necessarily something sinful about a particular thing we may want for ourselves. For example, maybe a certain career path looks best to us, or we think we are at the right stage in life to get married, or we want to buy a particular house in a specific neighborhood. It's not sinful to want to work, to get married, or to own a home. But as the children of the Lord we must consult our Father on all of our major life decisions. He knows how these decisions will turn out in the future. The job that looks perfect for us may turn out to be a workplace filled with dishonesty and strife. The person we think is right for us to marry may not turn out to be trustworthy and dependable in the future. The house we can afford to buy on today's salary may not be affordable if we get laid off work five years from now or have to switch to a job with lower pay. The Lord doesn't just look at how things appear today, like we do with our limited human resources. He sees how a decision we make today will affect us five years from now, or fifteen years from now, or in our old age. When He says no to something it's because He knows best. That's why He's saying no to the Gadites and Reubenites remaining in the Transjordan area instead of crossing over into the promised land. These men have said the Transjordan area is "suitable" for them, but the Lord wants to give them something more than that which is merely suitable. He wants to give them the extraordinary. He wants them to experience the miraculous.