For the past several days Moses has been recounting Israel's defeat of two Amorite kings: Sihon and Og. Israel took the land of these kings, which lay on the east side of the Jordan River. Today we'll see how that land was divided up after Israel conquered it.
"Of the land we took over at that time, I gave the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory north of Aroer by the Arnon Gorge, including half the hill country of Gilead, together with its towns." (Deuteronomy 3:12) You'll recall that in Numbers 32 the Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large flocks and herds, saw that the land in this area was suitable for livestock. The men of these two tribes went to Moses and Eleazar and the leaders of Israel to request that their inheritance be the land on the east side of the Jordan river instead of on the west side, which was in the promised land proper.
Moses was angry with their request and asked, "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) But the men answered, "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 32:17-19) Moses agreed that they could possess the land on the east side of the Jordan as long as they helped their fellow tribes take possession of the land on the other side of the Jordan.
We were not told in Numbers 32 that half the tribe of Manasseh made the same request as the tribes of Reuben and Gad but they must have because the Bible says, "Then Moses gave to the Gadites, the Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan---the whole land with its cities and the territory around them." (Numbers 32:33) Our text today backs this up, saying, "The rest of Gilead and also Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh. (The whole region of Argob in Bashan used to be known as a land of the Rephaites.)" (Deuteronomy 3:13) As we've already learned, the Rephaites were people of larger than normal stature, such as King Og of Bashan whose bed was approximately 13.5ft long according to Moses in yesterday's passage. The whole region of Argob in Bashan used to be known as the land of the Rephaites but it is renamed once it comes into possession of the half-tribe of Manasseh. "Jair, a descendant of Manasseh, took the whole region of Argob as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maakathites; it was named after him, so that to this day Bashan is called Havvoth Jair." (Deuteronomy 3:14) This verse corresponds to Numbers 32:41 in which Jair captured the settlements of this region.
"And I gave Gilead to Makir." (Deuteronomy 3:15) Manasseh had a son named Makir and his descendants were known as the Makirites. In Numbers 32 we learned that the descendants of Makir went to Gilead and captured it and that Moses gave Gilead to them and they settled in it.
"But to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory extending from Gilead down to the Arnon Gorge (the middle of the gorge being the border) and out to the Jabbok River, which is the border of the Ammonites. Its western border was the Jordan in the Arabah, from Kinnereth to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea), below the slopes of Pisgah." (Deuteronomy 3:16-17) The Israelites took nothing across the border in the Ammonite territory because the Lord commanded them not to touch anything He had given to the Ammonites.
Moses reminds the Israelites that the land on the east side of the Jordan was parceled out to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh on the condition that their soldiers help the remaining tribes to conquer the land on the west side of the Jordan. "I commanded you at that time: 'The Lord your God has given you this land to take possession of it. But all your able-bodied men, armed for battle, must cross over ahead of the other Israelites. However, your wives, your children and your livestock (I know you have much livestock) may stay in the towns I have given you, until the Lord gives rest to your fellow Israelites as He has to you, and they too have taken over the land that the Lord your God is giving them across the Jordan. After that, each of you may go back to the possession I have given you." (Deuteronomy 3:18-20)
It was only fair that the tribes who inherited land on the east of the Jordan would have to help the remaining tribes take over the land west of the Jordan. The kingdoms of Sihon and Og were conquered by all Israel's soldiers together. It wouldn't be right for the Gadites, Reubenites, and half-tribe of Manasseh to remain in the land taken from the Amorite kings and say to their fellow Israelites, "Well, good luck on the other side of the Jordan. Thanks for your help here. We're just going to stay on this side of the river in these fortified towns and we're going to graze our flocks and herds in these pastures. But we wish you all the best."
The men who inherited their land first must go first across the Jordan River and must charge first into battle on the other side. The land on the east side wasn't fully earned until they had helped their brothers get their own land. This is a beautiful example of the Lord's people working together and being concerned for each other's wellbeing. As the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12, the Lord's people are all members of one body. If one member is hurting, we should all feel their pain. If one member needs help, we should all want to give assistance. Just as our whole body knows it when we stub our toe on the bedpost in the night, and just as our whole body wants to do everything possible to make the toe stop hurting, we should minister to the other members of the body of Christ. In this same way, when one member has something to rejoice about, we should rejoice with him. The victory of one of our brothers or sisters is a victory of our own, just as the healing of a broken toe makes the whole body feel better.
All the people of all the tribes of Israel were members of one body. Moses reminds them that they must care about each other, help each other, and work together to make sure every tribe fully inherits what the Lord has promised. No one is to say, "My part of the land has already been conquered. I'm not going out with the army anymore. I'm going to stay home and plant my crops and tend my herds." Instead each man is to say, "I'm going to help my brothers be victorious in battle. They helped me conquer my portion of the land; I will help them conquer theirs. We are all in this together. My brother's victory is my victory. My brother's happiness is my happiness." We'd have far more love and unity and victory in the church as a whole and also in each of our individual lives if we followed the principles we find Israel following in our text today.