Yesterday we found the Gadites and Reubenites requesting to remain in the fertile Transjordan area with their enormous herds of cattle for, as they said, the land were "suitable for livestock". They asked that they not be required to "cross the Jordan".
Moses was indignant over their disinterest in the promised land and he took them to task for being just like their fathers whose lack of faith and desire to go forward caused Israel to remain in the wilderness for forty years. He told them they couldn't ask the soldiers of the other tribes to forge forward to conquer the land while they themselves sit back and mind their herds. We talked about how the Gadites and Reubenites appear to prefer remaining in the comfort zone of a land they've seen instead of boldly trusting that the unseen land is even better.
Today the men will propose a compromise. They will help their fellow citizens conquer the promised land. They vow to fight along with the other tribes---to fight ahead of them even---in exchange for being given the Transjordan region. Their compromise involves forfeiting the right to any territories in the promised land. "Then they came up to him and said, 'We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children. But we will arm ourselves for battle and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place. Meanwhile our women and children will live in fortified cities, for protection from the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the Israelites has received their inheritance. We will not receive any inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan, because our inheritance has come to us on the east side of the Jordan." (Numbers 32:16-19)
Moses is going to agree to their compromise if they plan to fight alongside all of Israel's soldiers. But is this the Lord's will for the tribes of Gad and Reuben? Is this the Lord's best for them? I don't believe so. When the Lord promised the land on the other side of the Jordan to the descendants of Abraham, I believe He intended all the tribes to go there. Had this not been His will then I think He would have made it clear that He was willing to accept alternative arrangements. I feel it would have been in the best interests of Israel as a whole---and the best interests of these two tribes---to live as one united nation on the other side of the Jordan.
Why then is Moses going to grant their request? I think because, as the Lord Jesus once said, Moses made certain allowances for the people because of the hardness of their hearts. (Matthew 19:8) In Matthew 19 Jesus is referring to Moses allowing divorce for reasons other than infidelity, but Jesus' words indicate that when Moses found himself between a rock and a hard place while shepherding Israel in the wilderness, he had difficulty fighting against the will of people whose hearts were set on doing the thing they wanted. I think there were times when a large number of the people were so determined to go their own way that in order to keep division and dissent from cropping up (to preserve unity as best he could) he compromised on issues that were actually pretty clear-cut and black and white. If the Lord said, for example, a man could not divorce his wife unless she had been unfaithful to him, then that's exactly what the Lord meant. If the Lord said, for example, that all twelve tribes were to live together on the other side of the Jordan, then that's exactly what the Lord meant. Anytime we only partially obey the Lord, we're going to forfeit something. Yes, the land on this side of Jordan is good, but the Gadites and Reubenites would almost certainly find even better pasture in the land the Lord repeatedly refers to as "running with milk and honey". The land on this side is good but the land on the other side is better. Spiritually speaking, I believe they missed out on a blessing too, for only wholehearted obedience brings us the spiritual maturity our Father in heaven wants for us.
Moses gives his ruling on the matter. We don't find him consulting the Lord first as we have on other occasions when he's been faced with situations where the will of some of the people opposes the will of the Lord. I can't say for certain Moses doesn't consult the Lord before making a decision, but if he did then he didn't mention it when writing the book of Numbers. If he felt he could defend his decision on the basis of the Lord's permission, I think he'd have taken the time to reassure his readers that he rendered this decision upon command of the Lord. I think he knew that any tribe remaining on this side of Jordan was against the Lord's will, but at the same time he may have felt the compromise was his only chance of preventing rebellion among the Gadites and Reubenites or discouragement among the other tribes. "Then Moses said to them, 'If you will do this---if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle and if all of you who are armed cross over Jordan before the Lord until He has driven His enemies out before Him---then when the land is subdued before the Lord, you may return and be free from your obligation to the Lord and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the Lord.'" (Numbers 32:20-22)
He also adds a warning. "But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. Build cities for your women and children, and pens for your flocks, but do what you have promised." (Numbers 32:23-24) Did the men do what they promised? Not entirely, for their women and children could hardly be expected to militarily defend fortified cities while also shepherding the enormous herds of cattle in the fields. As some Bible scholars point out, in the second census the number of fighting men from the tribes of Gad and Reuben was 84,230 but when Israel crosses over the Jordan we'll find the combined number of soldiers from Gad, Reuben, plus half the tribe of Manasseh numbering only 40,000. Where are all the other fighting men from these tribes? It is presumed they remained on the other side to protect the women and children and to defend the fortified cities. It's true that the tribes of Gad and Reuben sent some of their men to war, but not to the degree they appear to be promising here in Numbers 32---and not to the degree that Moses expected. But Moses will have died by that time and perhaps these men justify not sending all their men as promised because Moses is not there to enforce it.
I don't want to miss out on the Lord's best, do you? We have to be careful that we are not just partially obeying Him. We may receive some blessings for the commands we follow, but the Lord won't be able to bless us the way He wants to bless us if we are not being fully obedient to Him. He can't help us achieve spiritual maturity if we're behaving like wayward children bending the rules when it suits the carnal side of our nature. Full blessing requires full obedience. I believe the tribes of Gad and Reuben would have had so much more prosperity in every way if they'd been willing to reach forward in faith for that better land on the other side of Jordan instead of making themselves comfortable where they are.