Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle: and when they saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle;
Nu 32:1-42. The Reubenites and Gadites Ask for an Inheritance.
1-5. the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead—A complete conquest had been made of the country east of the Jordan, comprising "the land of Jazer," which formed the southern district between the Arnon and Jabbok and "the land of Gilead," the middle region between the Jabbok and Jarmouk, or Hieromax, including Bashan, which lay on the north of that river. The whole of this region is now called the Belka. It has always been famous for its rich and extensive pastures, and it is still the favorite resort of the Bedouin shepherds, who frequently contend for securing to their immense flocks the benefit of its luxuriant vegetation. In the camp of ancient Israel, Reuben and Gad were pre-eminently pastoral; and as these two tribes, being placed under the same standard, had frequent opportunities of conversing and arranging about their common concerns, they united in preferring a request that the trans-jordanic region, so well suited to the habits of a pastoral people, might be assigned to them.
The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spake unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying,
Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Shebam, and Nebo, and Beon,
Even the country which the LORD smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle:
Wherefore, said they, if we have found grace in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession, and bring us not over Jordan.
And Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?
6-19. Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here—Their language was ambiguous; and Moses, suspicious that this proposal was an act of unbelief, a scheme of self-policy and indolence to escape the perils of warfare and live in ease and safety, addressed to them a reproachful and passionate remonstrance. Whether they had really meditated such a withdrawal from all share in the war of invasion, or the effect of their leader's expostulation was to drive them from their original purpose, they now, in answer to his impressive appeal, declared it to be their sincere intention to co-operate with their brethren; but, if so, they ought to have been more explicit at first.
And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given them?
Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadeshbarnea to see the land.
For when they went up unto the valley of Eshcol, and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, that they should not go into the land which the LORD had given them.
And the LORD'S anger was kindled the same time, and he sware, saying,
Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me:
Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the LORD.
And the LORD'S anger was kindled 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 consumed.
And, behold, ye are risen up in your fathers' stead, an increase of sinful men, to augment yet the fierce anger of the LORD toward Israel.
For if ye turn away from after him, he will yet again leave them in the wilderness; and ye shall destroy all this people.
And they came near unto him, and said, We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones:
16. they came near—The narrative gives a picturesque description of this scene. The suppliants had shrunk back, dreading from the undisguised emotions of their leader that their request would be refused. But, perceiving, from the tenor of his discourse, that his objection was grounded only on the supposition that they would not cross the Jordan to assist their brethren, they became emboldened to approach him with assurances of their goodwill.
We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones—that is, rebuild, repair. It would have been impossible within two months to found new cities, or even to reconstruct those which had been razed to the ground. Those cities of the Amorites were not absolutely demolished, and they probably consisted only of mud-built, or dry-stone walls.
But we ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel, until we have brought them unto their place: and our little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land.
17. and our little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land—There was good policy in leaving a sufficient force to protect the conquered region lest the enemy should attempt reprisals; and as only forty thousand of the Reubenites and the Gadites, and a half of Manasseh, passed over the Jordan (Jos 4:13), there were left for the security of the new possessions 70,580 men, besides women and children under twenty years (compare Nu 26:7, 18, 34).
We ourselves will go ready armed—that is, all of us in a collective body, or as many as may be deemed necessary, while the rest of our number shall remain at home to provide for the sustenance and secure the protection of our families and flocks. (See on Jos 4:12).
We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.
For we will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan, or forward; because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward.
And Moses said unto them, If ye will do this thing, if ye will go armed before the LORD to war,
20-33. Moses said unto them, If ye will do this thing—with sincerity and zeal.
go before the Lord to war—The phrase was used in allusion to the order of march in which the tribes of Reuben and Gad immediately preceded the ark (see on Nu 2:10-31), or to the passage over the Jordan, in which the ark stood in mid-channel, while all the tribes marched by in succession (Jos 3:4), of course including those of Reuben and Gad, so that, literally, they passed over before the Lord and before the rest of Israel (Jos 4:13). Perhaps, however, the phrase is used merely in a general sense to denote their marching on an expedition, the purpose of which was blessed with the presence, and destined to promote the glory, of God. The displeasure which Moses had felt on the first mention of their proposal had disappeared on the strength of their solemn assurances. But a lurking suspicion of their motives seems still to have been lingering in his mind—he continued to speak to them in an admonitory strain; and he concluded by warning them that in case of their failing to redeem their pledge, the judgments of an offended God would assuredly fall upon them. This emphatic caution against such an eventuality throws a strong doubt on the honesty of their first intentions; and yet, whether through the opposing attitude or the strong invectives of Moses they had been brought to a better state of mind, their final reply showed that now all was right.
And will go all of you armed over Jordan before the LORD, until he hath driven out his enemies from before him,
And the land be subdued before the LORD: then afterward ye shall return, and be guiltless before the LORD, and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the LORD.
But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out.
Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep; and do that which hath proceeded out of your mouth.
And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben spake unto Moses, saying, Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth.
Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our cattle, shall be there in the cities of Gilead:
But thy servants will pass over, every man armed for war, before the LORD to battle, as my lord saith.
So concerning them Moses commanded Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the chief fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel:
28-32. concerning them Moses commanded—The arrangement itself, as well as the express terms on which he assented to it, was announced by the leader to the public authorities. The pastoral country the two tribes had desired was to be granted them on condition that they would lend their aid to their brethren in the approaching invasion of Canaan. If they refused or failed to perform their promise, those possessions should be forfeited, and they themselves compelled to go across the Jordan and fight for a settlement like the rest of their brethren.
And Moses said unto them, If the children of Gad and the children of Reuben will pass with you over Jordan, every man armed to battle, before the LORD, and the land shall be subdued before you; then ye shall give them the land of Gilead for a possession:
But if they will not pass over with you armed, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.
And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben answered, saying, As the LORD hath said unto thy servants, so will we do.
We will pass over armed before the LORD into the land of Canaan, that the possession of our inheritance on this side Jordan may be ours.
And Moses gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and unto 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 the cities thereof in the coasts, even the cities of the country round about.
33. half the tribe of Manasseh—It is nowhere explained in the record how they were incorporated with the two tribes, or what broke this great tribe into two parts, of which one was left to follow the fortunes of its brethren in the settled life of the western hills, while the other was allowed to wander as a nomadic tribe over the pasture lands of Gilead and Bashan. They are not mentioned as accompanying Reuben and Gad in their application to Moses [Nu 32:1]; neither were they included in his first directions (Nu 32:25); but as they also were a people addicted to pastoral pursuits and possessed as immense flocks as the other two, Moses invited the half of them to remain, in consequence, probably, of finding that this region was more than sufficient for the pastoral wants of the others, and he may have given them the preference, as some have conjectured, for their valorous conduct in the contests with the Amorites (compare Nu 32:39, with Jos 17:1).
And the children of Gad built Dibon, and Ataroth, and Aroer,
34-36. And the children of Gad built—(See on Nu 32:16).
Dibon—identified with Dheban, now in ruins, an hour's distance from the Arnon (Mojeb).
Ataroth (Hebrew, "crowns")—There are several towns so called in Scripture, but this one in the tribe of Gad has not been identified.
Aroer—now Arair, standing on a precipice on the north bank of the Arnon.
And Atroth, Shophan, and Jaazer, and Jogbehah,
35-38. Atroth, Shophan, and Jaazer, &c.—Jaazer, near a famed fountain, Ain Hazier, the waters of which flow into Wady Schaib, about fifteen miles from Hesbon. Beth-nimrah, now Nimrin; Heshbon, now Hesban; Elealeh (Hebrew, "the high"), now Elaal; Kirjathaim (Hebrew, "the double city"); Nebo, now Neba, near the mountain of that name; Baal-meon, now Myoun, in ruins, where was a temple of Baal (Jos 13:17; Jer 48:23); Shibmah, or Shebam (Nu 32:3), near Heshbon, famous for vines (Isa 16:9, 10; Jer 48:32).
And Bethnimrah, and Bethharan, fenced cities: and folds for sheep.
And the children of Reuben built Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Kirjathaim,
And Nebo, and Baalmeon, (their names being changed,) and Shibmah: and gave other names unto the cities which they builded.
38. (their names being changed)—either because it was the general custom of conquerors to do so; or, rather, because from the prohibition to mention the names of other gods (Ex 23:13), as Nebo and Baal were, it was expedient on the first settlement of the Israelites to obliterate all remembrance of those idols. (See Jos 13:17-20).
And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorite which was in it.
39. Gilead—now Jelud.
And Moses gave Gilead unto Machir the son of Manasseh; and he dwelt therein.
And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took the small towns thereof, and called them Havothjair.
41. Havoth-jair—that is, "tent-villages." Jair, who captured them, was a descendant of Manasseh on his mother's side (1Ch 1:21, 22).
And Nobah went and took Kenath, and the villages thereof, and called it Nobah, after his own name.
42. Nobah—also a distinguished person connected with the eastern branch of the tribe of Manasseh.