Settling for less: Numbers 32


Today’s reading: Numbers 31-32.

It’s time for a little theologeography. That’s my portmanteau for the study of geography in the Bible. The Israelites have made it right next to the border of the Promised Land. They are camped to the east of the Jordan River and just above the Dead Sea. Everything they have heard about and been promised for generations lies across the Jordan to the west. Now, suddenly, two of the tribes – Reuben and Gad – decide they want to settle in this Transjordan land rather than across the river.

So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, 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 as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.” Number 32:2-5

They liked what they saw in the Transjordan, also known as Gilead and Bashan. It’s the western part of modern-day Jordan. Apparently it was beautiful pasture land. In years to come people would speak of the “balm of Gilead” and talk about how fat the cows of Bashan grew. Reuben and Gad were cattle herders, and this looked like the perfect place to raise their animals. There was nothing wrong with the land, but it wasn’t what God had planned for them.

Moses was concerned that they were taking the easy way out in order to avoid the fight for Canaan. The men of Reuben and Gad agree to accompany the other tribes into the Promised Land to help secure it for Israel, and Moses lets them have the Transjordan territory. At the last moment half of the tribe of Manasseh steps up and asks for the same terms. Apparently there was some friction within the Manasseh tribe that led to this split.

And what was the result? I’m not an expert, but it looks like the tribe of Reuben became Bedouins herding their cattle across the undeveloped land of Gilead. Gad became a tribe of fighters that often needed to use their skills because of their exposed position on the flank of Israel. Apparently these tribes were among the first to go into exile when Israel was conquered. As we continue to read through the Bible, I’ll keep my eye out for Reuben and Gad to see how they fared.

Why do we settle for less than God’s best?

  • Because we like to take the easy way
  • Because something else looks better to us than what God recommends
  • Because we want it now, not later
  • Because we lack faith that the better exists

So we may settle for relationships that are not ideal for us, because we don’t trust God to provide the better one. We take the path of less resistance rather than fighting for what is right. We accept a less intimate knowledge of God rather than working harder to get close to him. What have you settled for, rather than pressing on to win what God wanted for you? In my own life I can see how I have shrunk back from disciple-making to enjoy a quiet, introspective life. The good news is that it’s not too late. We can all continue on our Promised Land journey. Let’s cross the Jordan today.

Here is a proposal made by the Reubenites and Gadites, that the land lately conquered might be allotted to them. Two things common in the world might lead these tribes to make this choice; the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. There was much amiss in the principle they went upon; they consulted their own private convenience more than the public good. Thus to the present time, many seek their own things more than the things of Jesus Christ; and are led by worldly interests and advantages to take up short of the heavenly Canaan. Matthew Henry

The Reubenites and Gadites would have been unbrotherly if they had claimed the land which had been conquered, and had left the rest of the people to fight for their portions alone. We have received much by means of the efforts and sufferings of the saints in years gone by, and if we do not make some return to the church of Christ by giving her our best energies, we are unworthy to be enrolled in her ranks. Others are combating the errors of the age manfully, or excavating perishing ones from amid the ruins of the fall, and if we fold our hands in idleness we had need be warned, lest the curse of Meroz fall upon us. The Master of the vineyard saith, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” What is the idler’s excuse? Personal service of Jesus becomes all the more the duty of all because it is cheerfully and abundantly rendered by some. The toils of devoted missionaries and fervent ministers shame us if we sit still in indolence. Shrinking from trial is the temptation of those who are at ease in Zion: they would fain escape the cross and yet wear the crown; to them the question for this evening’s meditation is very applicable. If the most precious are tried in the fire, are we to escape the crucible? Charles Spurgeon

Image by Kordas on Wikimedia Commons, CC by-sa 3.0