The Transjordan Tribes
1 The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. 2 So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, 3 “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon— 4 the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel—are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. 5 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.”
The children of the tribes of Reuben and the tribes of Gad had both been encamped on the southern side of the tabernacle for the 38 years, all the while the Israelites were in the desert, so it would seem natural that they should desire to be located near each other in the promised land.
Both the Reubenites and the Gadites had very large herds and flocks to take care of, so they went to Moses, Eleazar the priest and the leaders of the community, to ask permission to take possession of the lands of Jazer and Gilead, since the lands were perfect to keep their “great multitude of cattle” (as the King James puts it) well fed!
The Reubenites and Gadites requested this land on the east side of the Jordan as their inheritance, presumably since it was so easily conquered, and assuming the western side of the Jordan will be just as easily conquered by the rest of the Israelite tribes.
Theologians once thought that this was an act of selfishness and coward-ness on their part, but there is no scripture to back this up, it is now thought that perhaps they intended to do them kindness by leaving them more land on the East side of the Jordan.
6 Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, “Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here? 7 Why do you discourage the Israelites from crossing over into the land the Lord has given them? 8 This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to look over the land. 9 After they went up to the Valley of Eshkol and viewed the land, they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the Lord had given them. 10 The Lord’s anger was aroused that day and he swore this oath: 11 ‘Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of those who were twenty years old or more when they came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— 12 not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.’ 13 The Lord’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone.
14 “And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel. 15 If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the wilderness, and you will be the cause of their destruction.”
Moses had good cause feel some anger and anxiety towards the Reubenites and Gadites about crossing over the Jordan to the East side and entering Canaan, due largely to what the “Original” group of Israelites had put Moses through.
Moses assumes the worst of them and brings back to remembrance what the Lord has done to their forefathers, as they themselves were about to enter Canaan.
Moses in anger, calls them a brood of sinners, and warns them not to turn away from the Lord, so that it doesn’t happen to the rest of the Israelites all over again.
16 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. 17 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. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the Israelites has received their inheritance. 19 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.”
The men of the Reubenites and Gadites said to Moses that they would arm themselves for battle and go ahead of the Israelites across the Jordan to the West side, and would not return home until the rest of the Israelites have settled in their own lands. They also said to Moses, that they would like to build pens for all their livestock and that they want to leave behind their women and children in fortified cities for protection, while they are away in battle. They proclaim, that there will be NO inheritance for them on the West side, since they have requested the East side as their inheritance.
20 Then Moses said to them, “If you will do this—if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle 21 and if all of you who are armed cross over the Jordan before the Lord until he has driven his enemies out before him— 22 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.
23 “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. 24 Build cities for your women and children, and pens for your flocks, but do what you have promised.”
Moses agrees to their offer and holds them to it as a vow, but warns them not to break that vow, or their sin will find them out and they will be sinning against the Lord.
25 The Gadites and Reubenites said to Moses, “We your servants will do as our lord commands. 26 Our children and wives, our flocks and herds will remain here in the cities of Gilead. 27 But your servants, every man who is armed for battle, will cross over to fight before the Lord, just as our lord says.”
The Gadites and Reubenites confirm to Moses their plan and confirm to Moses that they are all still to be considered Moses’ servants and will do as the Lord has commanded them to do faithfully.
28 Then Moses gave orders about them to Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun and to the family heads of the Israelite tribes. 29 He said to them, “If the Gadites and Reubenites, every man armed for battle, cross over the Jordan with you before the Lord, then when the land is subdued before you, you must give them the land of Gilead as their possession. 30 But if they do not cross over with you armed, they must accept their possession with you in Canaan.”
31 The Gadites and Reubenites answered, “Your servants will do what the Lord has said. 32 We will cross over before the Lord into Canaan armed, but the property we inherit will be on this side of the Jordan.”
Moses gives orders about them to Eleazar the priest, Joshua and all the family heads of the tribes of Israelites. Moses says that the men of the Gadites and Reubenites will cross over the Jordan to the West with them, armed for battle- as the Lord instructed. Moses also tells the Israelites that if they do this, they do not get an inheritance of land in the West side, but they will receive the land of Gilead on the East side as their inheritance, but if they fail to cross over with them, then they will have to settle on the West side with the rest of them.
The Gadites and Reubenites all agree to do as the Lord has instructed, and confirm that the land on the East side will be theirs.
33 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.
Verses 33-42 seem to be a foretelling of the land of Gilead and who occupies it as their inheritance. This is also the first mention of the “half-tribe of Manasseh”. The half-tribe of Manasseh had apparently made the same request to Moses, so Moses seeing just how large the territory of Gilead was agreed to share it between the three different tribes.
Moses gave the Gadites, Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh the whole land of Gilead with its cities and even the territory around them.
(see verse 39 for who the half tribe of Manasseh is)
34 The Gadites built up Dibon, Ataroth, Aroer, 35 Atroth Shophan, Jazer, Jogbehah, 36 Beth Nimrah and Beth Haran as fortified cities, and built pens for their flocks. 37 And the Reubenites rebuilt Heshbon, Elealeh and Kiriathaim, 38 as well as Nebo and Baal Meon (these names were changed) and Sibmah. They gave names to the cities they rebuilt.
39 The descendants of Makir son of Manasseh went to Gilead, captured it and drove out the Amorites who were there. 40 So Moses gave Gilead to the Makirites, the descendants of Manasseh, and they settled there. 41 Jair, a descendant of Manasseh, captured their settlements and called them Havvoth Jair. 42 And Nobah captured Kenath and its surrounding settlements and called it Nobah after himself.