October 2, 2017
Scripture reading – Numbers 29-32
As a reminder, the setting of the closing chapters in Numbers is on the threshold of the Promise Land on the east side of the Jordan River. Having wandered in the wilderness of today’s Arabian Peninsula for 40 years, the twelve tribes of Israel encamped once again where their fathers and mothers had turned back a generation earlier. Knowing his days with Israel are numbered, Moses set his heart upon the task of preparing Joshua, his successor, to lead the nation when the LORD took him from them.
Numbers 29 continues the instructions to Israel regarding worship, sacrifices and feasts that began in Numbers 28. The “Feast of Trumpets” marked the beginning of a new year for Israel (29:1-6), followed by the “Day of Atonement” (29:7-11). For Israel, the “Day of Atonement” was the most holy day and the only day the high priest entered into the holy of holies with the blood of sacrifice (note Leviticus 16). The “Feast of Tabernacles” (29:12-34) followed the “Day of Atonement” and was a celebration of the harvest.
Making and binding of Vows is the subject of Numbers 30. Vows and covenants were not treated lightly and were binding with few exceptions. One of the exceptions was a young woman living under her father’s authority. A father who heard his daughter’s vow had a right to cancel it; however, should he be silent, her vow would stand (30:3-6).
Should the woman marry, her vow to the LORD stood unless her husband cancelled it (30:7-8). Widowed or divorced women were bound by their vows to the LORD and could not cancel them (30:9). Reminding us all the husband is the head of the wife and home, the husband had the authority to cancel the vow of his wife or allow it to stand (30:10-16).
Numbers 31 records the final actions of Moses before the LORD removed him as the leader of Israel. Knowing the men of Israel would soon cross the Jordan River and begin the conquest of the Promise Land, it was important that her enemies on the east side of the Jordan be eliminated as a threat to the people in their absence. Thus, the LORD ordered Moses to wage war against the Midianites, slaying the men of Midian, their kings and the old nemesis of Israel, the prophet Balaam (31:1-10, 16). Reminding the nation how important it was for the people to be a people holy and consecrated to the Lord, Moses ordered the deaths of every male, young and old, and adult women who had “known man by lying with him” (31:13-18). Those men who gone to war and slain the people of Midian were to purify themselves for seven days before coming back into the midst of Israel (31:19-24). Numbers 31:25-54 records the dividing of the spoils of war.
Two and a half tribes of Israel, Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh petitioned Moses to assign them land on the east side of Jordan because it was fertile and could support their livestock (Numbers 32:1-5). Moses’ first reaction to the request was swift, believing those tribes were deserting the nation and the conquest of the Promise Land (32:6-15).
The tribes responded to Moses with assurances they were ready to go to war with the other tribes; however, their desire was to return to the grassy fields on the east side of the Jordan after the battles in the Promise Land (32:16-42).
I close with an observation: Stopping short of crossing over and taking possession in the land God had promised as an inheritance to Abraham and his lineage (Genesis 12) proved a disastrous choice for Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh.
Those tribes did keep their vow and fulfilled their obligation to go to war beside the other tribes until Israel had possession of the Promise Land (Joshua 22:1-4); however, their decision to return to the east side of Jordan made their families vulnerable when enemies made war against Israel.
In Joshua 22, Joshua dismissed the men of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh with the challenge, “take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5).
The men of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh built an altar (Joshua 22:10) to serve as a testimony to their children and a memorial to all Israel they were one people; however, the other tribes misjudged their altar as a departure from the LORD and they prepared to go to war against the two and one-half tribes (Joshua 22:11-20). After explaining the purpose of the altar (Joshua 22:21-29), the tribes accepted their explanation and made peace with them (22:30-34).
Joshua’s concern for the two and a half tribes proved prophetic because Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh were not only geographically distant from the others, but they also became spiritually distant from the LORD and His people in generations that followed. We read of them, “they transgressed against the God of their fathers, and went a whoring after the gods of the people of the land, whom God destroyed before them” (1 Chronicles 5:25).
My Christian friend, there is no half-way, half-hearted service for the LORD that is acceptable. Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh believed the land short of the land the LORD promised them was good enough; however, that decision would become a great sorrow for their children who were the first to turn away from the LORD and be taken captive by Assyria (1 Chronicles 5:26).
Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith