These are the kings that the People of Israel defeated and whose land they took on the east of the Jordan, from the Arnon Gorge to Mount Hermon, with the whole eastern side of the Arabah Valley. Joshua 12:1
Chapter 12 of Joshua at first glance seems to be the least enticing for it is primarily a detailed list of all the kings that were conquered by the children of Israel. The names are difficult to pronounce and for most of us, it’s a turn-the-page moment. However a few verses down there is a subtle but very important message. Come with me to verse 6:
Moses the servant of God and the people of Israel defeated them and Moses the servant of God gave this land as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh.
So why is this important?
Back in Numbers 32 there is the account of the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh to inherit the land east of the Jordan. They approached Moses with their request, explaining that they had great herds of livestock and the land on the east side was perfect for their needs.
Moses responded with a rebuke. ‘Do you mean that you are going to leave the fighting that’s ahead to your brothers while you settle down here? Why would you even think of letting the people of Israel down, demoralizing them just as they’re about to move into the land God gave them? ‘ vs. 6-7
The LORD had promised the land of Israel to ALL the tribes of Israel so what is at issue here is that two and a half tribes are opting out of their inheritance! They were called to cross over the Jordan and take possession of the Land but Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh wanted to stop just short of fulfilling the will of God.
Think of it. They’d been through forty years in the desert, faced battles and hardships, all for the purpose of taking possession of God’s gift to them. And now when it’s in their sight, they draw back and want to stop short of fully obeying the LORD.
In the end Moses granted their request on condition that they fight with their brothers to take the land and if they did, they would be allowed to go back across the Jordan to the area they fancied.
This account is one of the most stark displays of following God…but not quite; going so far but falling short of the goal. It is a sobering example of how we can make a commitment to follow the Lord and then put the brakes on, so to speak, when His will takes us in a direction we don’t want to go. The consequences are never pretty.
Fast forward several hundred years to the first century of the Common Era. The Gadarenes – and presumably some of the tribe of Reuben and Manasseh with them – appear again, in the very same location, but instead of raising livestock, they are raising – of all things – pigs! (Matthew 8) The most abominable animal to the Jews! From wealthy and prosperous forefathers who settled just short of the Promised Land has descended generations who over time were reduced to raising pigs. The implication is profound.
We are too easily moved by appearances and/or rational arguments instead of keeping as our highest priority the revealed will of the Lord God of Israel in His Word.
Whenever we compromise or rationalize our commitment to the LORD, the result will always be the same, sooner or later. The land on the east side of the Jordan looked so good but to settle there was in conflict with the will of the Holy One of Israel and the descendants of the two and a half tribes suffered the consequences.
It’s a profound lesson too often missed as it’s tucked away in the midst of a list of kings whose names elude us. How important it is to pay attention and search for the treasures of wisdom, even when they are semi-hidden in the Word of God.
God did not hide the failings of His people from us when He gave us the Torah and the Prophets. Their successes and their failures are clearly demonstrated so that we might learn from both. When did they enjoy success? When they obeyed the word of the LORD. When did they fail? When they failed to obey the word of the Lord.
Let the wise take heed.