Settling for Less – Numbers 32-33

Posted: July 3, 2008 in Numbers

Numbers 32 (NKJV)
1 Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of livestock; and when they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that indeed the region was a place for livestock, 2 the children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, 3 “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Shebam, Nebo, and Beon, 4 the country which the Lord defeated before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” 5 Therefore they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession. Do not take us over the Jordan.”

A. IOW, Gad & Reuben were ranchers/cattlemen…and the land of Gilead was good ranching land. They figured, “Hey, we’ve been here a while & it’s working out great for our herds – why not just stay?”

B. At first glance, this doesn’t sound too bad. But keep in mind that Gilead wasn’t what God originally had in mind for them. The WHOLE nation of Israel had been commanded to cross the Jordan River & possess the land; now 2 tribes are stopping short…

a. Keep in mind that the Land is a picture of the rest and inheritance we have in Christ (Heb 4). To go to the edge of the land & stop short of actually entering is to stop short of everything that God has for us. It’s to put ourselves at the whims of legalism (as we try to figure out for ourselves what is/isn’t pleasing to God) & to endanger ourselves for all sorts of worldly influences. [Mark 5: Legion-possessed man was in Gadarenes…land of pig farmers, etc.]

6 And Moses said to the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben: “Shall your brethren go to war while you sit here? 7 Now why will you discourage the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord has given them? 8 Thus your fathers did when I sent them away from Kadesh Barnea to see the land. 9 For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, so that they did not go into the land which the Lord had given them.

A. Is Moses overreacting? Not at all! He saw the 1st rebellion of Israel up front & personally. He knows exactly what happened when Israel said “no” to the Lord.

B. There’s another reason to be upset: a lack of faith can be contagious. Moses rightly fears that Reuben & Gad are going to discourage the rest of the nation from going over…after all, Israel doesn’t have the best of track records in trusting God.

a. How is a lack of faith contagious? Because it causes people to be apathetic. “I don’t know if I can really trust God for growth and His promises, so I’m just not going to do anything at all.” “Really? Me too, I guess.” Apathy is the opposite of what Christ Jesus calls us to in the gospel! It’s flat-out impossible to deny oneself, pick up one’s cross & follow Christ while being apathetic. The very act in picking up a cross requires a passion to follow Christ; who would do it otherwise?

10 So the Lord’s anger was aroused on that day, and He swore an oath, saying, 11 ‘Surely none of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and above, shall see the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they have not wholly followed Me, 12 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh, the Kenizzite, and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the Lord.’ 13 So the Lord’s anger was aroused against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone.

A. The results of Israel’s rebellion: 40 years of a death march.

B. Did Moses really have to remind them of this? After all, the generation who died were their fathers & mothers. Yes! We need to be reminded of the consequences of sin! We don’t want to be like the fool who returns to sin over & over like a dog to its vomit (Prov 26:11)…thus we need to be consistently reminded that sin is truly sinful & an infinite offense against an infinite God.

a. Too often we think that the gospel is only for the unbeliever; but it’s not…it’s for the church too! As we’re reminded of the sinfulness of sin, we’re also reminded of the grace of God given to us through Christ Jesus & that gives us all the more reason to worship Him!

14 And look! You have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel. 15 For if you turn away from following Him, He will once again leave them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all these people.”

A. Here’s the danger: all of Israel will follow suit, rebel, and be destroyed by God in His righteous judgment.

16 Then they came near to him and said: “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, 17 but we ourselves will be armed, ready to go before the children of Israel until we have brought them to their place; and our little ones will dwell in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until every one of the children of Israel has received his inheritance. 19 For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has fallen to us on this eastern side of the Jordan.”

A. Their solution? We’ll settle here, but still fight with the others…

B. Is this a good solution? Not really. It satisfies the immediate need, but still stops short of fully following the Lord into what He had planned for them. [] What God has in mind for us is good! Through Christ, He’s our Abba Father – why would we think it would be anything less than good? Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. [] Whatever this temporary world holds for us, we have a future with God Almighty! You can’t get any better than that!

a. Why stop short of anything the Lord has for us? God calls us to be continually transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom 12:2) and to grow in our faith. If we’re not growing, something’s wrong!

20 Then Moses said to them: “If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves before the Lord for the war, 21 and all your armed men cross over the Jordan before the Lord until He has driven out His enemies from before Him,

A. Notice Who it is that is actually driving out the enemies: God. The conquest we’ll look at in Joshua isn’t a triumph of Israel; it’s a triumph of God that He allowed Israel to take part in. [] Important distinction; God’s glory is God’s alone…He doesn’t share it. (Nor should He.)

22 and the land is subdued before the Lord, then afterward you may return and be blameless before the Lord and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the Lord. 23 But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out.

A. Moses agrees…

B. But Moses leaves them with a warning if they go back on their promise:

a. They will have sinned against the Lord. It’s not merely that they will have disappointed their brothers in the other tribes; they will have sinned against God Almighty. [Vertical sin vs. Horizontal sin] Psalm 51:4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge. []

b. Their sin will find them out. They won’t be able to sneak anything by. What they sow; that will they also reap (Gal 6:7-8). [] Sin is never truly hidden…it always has consequences. The question is: will we confess our sin & allow God to deal with the consequences in His mercy? Or will God have to use those consequences to get us to deal with the sin we should have confessed to begin with?

24 Build cities for your little ones and folds for your sheep, and do what has proceeded out of your mouth.” 25 And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben spoke to Moses, saying: “Your servants will do as my lord commands. 26 Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our livestock will be there in the cities of Gilead; 27 but your servants will cross over, every man armed for war, before the Lord to battle, just as my lord says.” [They agree] 28 So Moses gave command concerning them to Eleazar the priest, to Joshua the son of Nun, and to the chief fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel.

A. Underscores the fact that Moses isn’t going over there with the rest of Israel…so he’s preparing the next generation of leadership for what needs to be done.

29 And Moses said to them: “If the children of Gad and the children of Reuben cross over the Jordan with you, every man armed for battle before the Lord, and the land is subdued before you, then you shall give them the land of Gilead as a possession. 30 But if they do not cross over armed with you, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.”

A. Isn’t this interesting? Moses tells the leadership that if Reuben & Gad go over to fight, it’s ok if they stay in Gilead. But if not, they had to forfeit Gilead & come over the Jordan. Why do they get to partake in a promised land that they didn’t help in procuring? Well…it’s not really that simple. They would come over the Jordan, but they wouldn’t get their own land. They’d be forfeiting Gilead PLUS any inheritance of their own. Instead, they’d have to ask their brothers for land from them. Thus, they’ve got a good motivation to keep their word!

31 Then the children of Gad and the children of Reuben answered, saying: “As the Lord has said to your servants, so we will do. 32 We will cross over armed before the Lord into the land of Canaan, but the possession of our inheritance shall remain with us on this side of the Jordan.”

A. Affirm for the 3rd time their willingness to keep their promise. They now have 2-3 witnesses to what they’ve said.

33 So Moses gave to the children of Gad, to the children of Reuben, and to half the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land with its cities within the borders, the cities of the surrounding country.

A. Describes the extent of the land they received. Vs. 34-42 describe the different cities built by Gad & Reuben.

B. We’re not told why the ½ tribe of Manasseh also stayed behind…it’s possible they were allotted the land because they actually fought & dispossessed the people of it. – Numbers 32:39-40 (39) And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead and took it, and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it. (40) So Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he dwelt in it.

Numbers 33 (NKJV)
1 These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who went out of the land of Egypt by their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron. 2 Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord. And these are their journeys according to their starting points:

A. We’re not going to read every location name (couldn’t pronounce some of them if I tried! J) – but Moses had apparently kept a log of the various locations that Israel had camped & Ch 33 is basically that record.

B. Interesting to me that God decided to keep all these very specific names in the Scripture. Of course most of these locations mean little to us today; but they meant a lot to the people who 1st read of them! We need to put ourselves in their shoes – imagine reading a history of our people traveling through Houston to Centerville to Dallas to Terrell to Tyler…we’d certainly identify with it – that would be OUR history. Likewise for Israel, it was their history…

a. Also underscores the fact that our God is a God of details. There’s nothing that escapes His watchful eye…

3 They departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the Passover the children of Israel went out with boldness in the sight of all the Egyptians. 4 For the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had killed among them. Also on their gods the Lord had executed judgments.

A. The exodus obviously begins with Passover… [review]

B. Were there other ‘gods’ for the Lord to judge? No – but God showed Himself to be the One True God by utterly upturning every so-called ‘god’ that the Egyptians worshipped…

5 Then the children of Israel moved from Rameses and camped at Succoth.

A. Verses 6-10 describe their journey out of Egypt. [MAP]

11 They moved from the Red Sea and camped in the Wilderness of Sin.

A. That’s probably the most nonchalant reference of the Red Sea crossing in all the Scripture! J

B. BTW – liberal scholarship likes to point out that “Red Sea” in Hebrew could be translated “Reed Sea”…thus perhaps Israel crossed a marsh land rather than (at minimum) the Gulf of Aqaba (extension of Red Sea along Sinai peninsula). BUT…to make this claim ignores the inspiration of the entire Scripture, including the NT. Hebrews 11:29 By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned. [] Greek is a specific reference to the Red Sea!

a. Our God is a supernatural God! (By definition…) We need not be surprised when He does supernatural things. He created the heavens & the earth, so how hard could it be for Him to part the waters of the Red Sea? With God, nothing is impossible!

12 They journeyed from the Wilderness of Sin and camped at Dophkah. 13 They departed from Dophkah and camped at Alush. 14 They moved from Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink.

A. Context? Exo 17 where Moses struck the Rock & God brought forth water.

15 They departed from Rephidim and camped in the Wilderness of Sinai.

A. Where they spent a year receiving the 10 Commandments, the rest of the ordinances, & constructed the tabernacle…

B. Vs. 16-36 document their journey from Sinai to Kadesh…but the question is: which journey to Kadesh? They went there twice: once almost straight from Sinai, but they rebelled – spent almost 40 years wandering while the oldest generations died off; then went back in preparation to enter a 2nd time. There’s no real definitive consensus on which occasion it is…

a. Personal opinion? I believe this is the 1st journey. Thus far in Numbers, the overwhelming opinion on the wilderness wandering is that it was a complete waste of time; thus Moses records no history of it whatsoever in the narrative of the book. So it would make sense that he didn’t record any stops along the way either. At the very least (if this is the wilderness wandering), this is all that’s said of the time…simply markers of time along the way until their national “time-out” is over.

37 They moved from Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the boundary of the land of Edom. 38 Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the Lord, and died there in the fortieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month. 39 Aaron was one hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor.

A. Moses & Aaron both misrepresented the Lord when Moses struck the rock the 2nd time – thus both were disciplined by not entering the Land…Aaron obviously died 1st.

B. Vs. 40-49 the final journeys until they’re ready to enter the Promised Land…

50 Now the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho, saying, 51 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you have crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52 then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places; 53 you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell in it, for I have given you the land to possess.

A. What to do when crossing into the land:

a. Drive out the people: speaks of conquest… Israel wasn’t going there to make peace. God was judging the people for their wickedness (which had been building up since at least Gen 15:16). [] Keep in mind that God’s judgment on the Canaanites was both just & merciful. Not only was His judgment poured out on sin, but He prevented further generations from being raised up in a wicked culture (which included infant sacrifices to Molech, etc.).

b. Destroy the idolatry: Israel was to rid the land of anything that remotely had to do with the false gods of the Canaanites. Unfortunately they failed at this – proven by their many falls into idolatry & blasphemy during their history.

i. We’re never to compromise with sin & let it occupy a corner in our lives; we’re to declare war on it & do away with it! The minute we let it alone is the minute it’ll start drawing us away from God.

c. Dispossess the inhabitants: speaks of permanence… This was not a temporary stay for Israel; this was to be their permanent home where they would rest and enjoy the blessings of God. [] Likewise our rest is in Christ & we should be diligent to enter that rest (Heb 4:11) & remain in His grace.

54 And you shall divide the land by lot as an inheritance among your families; to the larger you shall give a larger inheritance, and to the smaller you shall give a smaller inheritance; there everyone’s inheritance shall be whatever falls to him by lot. You shall inherit according to the tribes of your fathers.

A. How to divide the land: fairly & proportionally to each tribe. There was a place for everyone. [] Likewise, Jesus told us in His Father’s house are many rooms…we don’t need to be worried about God running out of space. If He called you, He’s preparing to receive you for all eternity!

55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell.

A. What happens if they fail? The people are going to be harassing irritants…a pain in their side that would never go away.

i. Again, sin cannot be ignored. It’ll always be nagging & pulling at us in temptation. If we’re not entrusting our whole lives to the Lord Jesus, we’re really not trusting Him at all. Let Him deal with those areas that we want to ignore – and let Him continue to conform you into His image.

B. BTW, why would they fail? Only if they didn’t do what God told them to do; He was the one Who had given them the land for a possession. The victory was already there, awaiting them…they merely needed to take it.

i. Praise God our victory is already won in Christ Jesus!

56 Moreover it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them.’ ”

A. Sobering thought to end on. If Israel didn’t drive out/dispossess the people & destroy the idolatry, then the same judgments that fell on the Canaanites would fall on the Israelites.

a. Why? Because they would be guilty of the same crimes! (Matthew Henry) “It was intended that the Canaanites should be put out of the land; but if the Israelites learned their wicked ways, they also would be put out. Let us hear this and fear. If we do not drive out sin, sin will drive us out. If we are not the death of our lusts, our lusts will be the death of our souls.”


God’s got them ready! He’s preparing them to enter the Land & will do so shortly for them after giving them a few more instructions & a review of the law in Deuteronomy. This should be a joyful momentous occasion for the Israelites as they prepare for God to be glorified through His victory…but already they are falling short of what God has intended for them. Not only did Gad & Reuben neglect to possess the land – the entire nation will fail at destroying the Canaanites among them & God will indeed fulfill His promise in vs. 56 in the various captivities. How sad. They’re right on the cusp – and will indeed experience some of what God has for them…but ultimately fall woefully short.

How about us? Are we toying around with sin waiting for it to create unnecessary obstacles to God’s will for us? Time is so short – why waste any of it living outside what we know God has for us? Don’t settle for less! If there’s sin in your life, confess it, repent & be done with it. Then rest completely in Christ & live empowered by the Holy Spirit.


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