Understanding the Old Testament

The Tribes East of the Jordan River

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

The Israelite victories over the Amorites had given them an unexpected windfall: a large amount of land east of the Jordan River (in what is now the country of Jordan). This land was perfect for raising livestock, and the tribes of Reuben and Gad had a lot of livestock. (Numbers 32:1) So they asked Moses to give them this land instead of a portion of Canaan.

And they asked for another favor: “do not take us across the Jordan.” (Numbers 32:5) Numbers does not make their intention clear. Did they mean they wanted to avoid fighting in Canaan, or merely that they wanted to eventually live east of the Jordan River instead of in Canaan? Moses assumed the former, and this favor he was unwilling to grant. He practically accused the Reubenites and Gadites of cowardice (Numbers 32:6-7) and treachery (Numbers 32:8-15).

Faced with Moses’ accusations the leaders of the two tribes quickly clarified their intent, or perhaps backed away from their previous position, depending on how their second request is interpreted. They explained that they would send their warriors to fight alongside their brothers, leaving behind their families and possessions, and would not return until the war to conquer Canaan was finished. (Numbers 32:16-19) And with this assurance Moses approved their plan. (Numbers 32:20-24)

So the tribes of Reuben and Gad took possession of the land that had belonged to the Amorites. (Numbers 32:33) The tribe of Manasseh also received land east of the Jordan. (Numbers 32:40) Manasseh would receive land in Canaan, too, becoming the only tribe with land on both sides of the Jordan River. (See Joshua 17.)

These three tribes sent 40,000 warriors across the Jordan with the Israelites to help conquer Canaan. (See Joshua 4:12-13.) Although Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh combined had almost 137,000 adult males, according to the second census (see Numbers 26:7, 26:18,and 26:34), Joshua was apparently satisfied with their contribution, for nowhere does the Bible hint that they had not lived up to their promise to help their fellow Israelites conquer Canaan.

Questions to ponder or discuss: The tribes east of the Jordan River displayed faith in God by sending their best warriors into Canaan, because this left their families and possessions relatively unprotected and dependant on God for their security. How have you shown faith in God by relying solely on Him to take care of yourself and/or your loved ones? How have you failed to show such faith?

.Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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