Numbers 32
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The assignment of land to tribes on the east of Jordan

The chapter as a whole is the work of P , but Numbers 32:39; Numbers 32:41 f. are much earlier, and must be assigned either to J E or to an ancient document akin to J E .

The writers of Israelite history felt it to be a matter of importance to explain how it was that certain of the tribes lived on the east of Jordan, separate from the main body of the nation. The traditions bearing on the subject differed greatly in many details, and the results are somewhat confusing. It will be noticed that, with the exception of Numbers 32:33; Numbers 32:39-42, the chapter deals only with Reuben and Gad. These two tribes asked permission to settle east of the Jordan because they possessed large herds and flocks (Numbers 32:1-5). Moses was angry at what appeared to be their wish to desert the main body, and said that they would discourage the rest of Israel in their efforts to win Canaan (Numbers 32:6-15). But they explained that they were willing, after having built dwelling-places for their cattle and families, to go with the rest of Israel until the conquests west of Jordan were completed (Numbers 32:16-19). And to this Moses consented, charging Eleazar and Joshua to see that it was carried out (Numbers 32:20-32). The names of their towns are enumerated in Numbers 32:34-38. They lay in the territory which Israel had already taken from Sihon (Numbers 21:21-32).

But there are two elements in the chapter which cause confusion. (1) In Numbers 32:33 the half tribe of Manasseh is coupled with Reuben and Gad as receiving this territory from Moses; and in Numbers 32:40 Moses gives it to Machir, a ‘son,’ i.e. a clan or division, of Manasseh. It seems probable, therefore, that the words in Numbers 32:33, ‘and unto the half tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph’ (or perhaps the whole verse), and Numbers 32:40 are later additions to P’s narrative, The tradition which assigned the land to Reuben and Gad only is less well known than that which included the half tribe of Manasseh, because the latter appears frequently elsewhere; see Deuteronomy 3:12 f., Numbers 4:43, Numbers 29:7 f.; Joshua 12:6; Joshua 13:29; Joshua 13:31; Joshua 14:3; Joshua 18:7. (2) In Numbers 32:39; Numbers 32:41 f. the fact that Sihon’s territory had already been conquered is disregarded, and portions of the tribe of Manasseh, represented by three clans, Machir, Jair, and Nobah, are related to have attacked Gilead on their own account. Now in Joshua 17:14 the ‘house of Joseph’ (i.e. Ephraim and Manasseh) had ‘one lot only,’ which was in the central hills on the west of Jordan. It seems therefore that at first the Manassites as a whole settled west of the Jordan, and that at a later time some of them made expeditions and gained land on the east. It may therefore be concluded that Numbers 32:39; Numbers 32:41-42 are not in their right position. They have been extracted from a much earlier account, such as we have in Judges 1, of the efforts of individual tribes, after Moses’ death, to establish themselves in the country. See also note on Numbers 32:41.

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;
1. the land of Jazer] Jazer always appears, elsewhere, as the name not of a district but of a town (see Numbers 32:3; Numbers 32:35 and notes on Numbers 21:24; Numbers 21:32). It is difficult to see any reason for its special mention here other than the fact that it marked the limit of Gilead on the east (cf. Joshua 13:25).

the land of Gilead] The extent of country covered by the name Gilead varies in different passages. Here, and in Numbers 32:29, the name denotes the land south of the R. Jabbok, as is shewn by the towns enumerated in Numbers 32:3; Numbers 32:34-38; cf. Joshua 13:24 f. The modern name of this tract is ‘the Belka.’ But in Numbers 32:39 f., Joshua 17:1; Joshua 17:5 f. the name Gilead is applied to land north of the Jabbok as far as the R. Jarmuk. Once more, these two tracts are sometimes treated as the two halves of Gilead (cf. Joshua 12:2; Joshua 12:5; Joshua 13:31, Deuteronomy 3:12 f.), so that the name could be used in the widest sense of all the land occupied by Israel on the east of the Jordan (cf. Joshua 22:9; Joshua 22:13). Its borders on the north, east and south would vary from time to time, according as the neighbouring nations were weak or powerful; for example, at least ten of the fourteen towns in Numbers 32:34-38 were at times in possession not of Israel but of Moab. The northern half of Gilead, in the wide sense, is an agricultural territory, its hills covered with forests, and its valleys and plains with orchards, vineyards and cornfields. But the southern half consists of moorland, useless for agriculture but affording rich pasture for flocks. See G. A. Smith, Hist. Geog. ch. xxvii.

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,
3. All these names recur in Numbers 32:34-38, three of them in a slightly different form (see R.V. marg.). Beon is probably a mere scribal slip for Meon.

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?
And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given them?
7. discourage] lit. ‘oppose.’ The word is the same as in Numbers 30:5 [Hebrews 6].

Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadeshbarnea to see the land.
8–13. Moses refers to the narrative of the spies in chs. 13 f. In the preliminary note to ch. 13 it is shewn that that narrative is a combination of the traditions of J E and of P ; and both of these supply material to the present passage. The starting-point and the destination of the spies (Kadesh and Eshcol) are from the former, and the mention of Joshua from the latter.

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.
14. an increase of sinful men] a brood of sinful men. In angry rebuke Moses uses a contemptuous term. The subst. is not found elsewhere in the O.T.; but a similar word (R.V. ‘increase’) occurs in 1 Samuel 2:33.

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:
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. will be ready armed] Heb. has lit. ‘will arm ourselves hastening.’ But the expression is awkward, and the last word (חֻשִׁים) is doubtful. חֲמֻשִׁים should probably be read: will arm ourselves in battle array; cf. Exodus 13:18, Joshua 1:14; Joshua 4:12.

our little ones] Including, of course, the wives and all members of the family who were not fighting men. God would take care of them while all the soldiers were fulfilling the sacred duty of conquering the land of Canaan (cf. Exodus 34:24). An historical basis underlying the passage probably was that some portion of Gad took part in the battles on the west of Jordan. This seems to be referred to in the early poem in Deuteronomy 33 (Numbers 32:20 f.).

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,
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.
23. be sure your sin will find you out] lit. ‘know your sin, that it will find you.’ The rendering of the E.V., which has passed, as a proverbial expression, into our current language, is based upon an ancient notion that sin, like a curse, has so to speak an individual existence. The sinner cannot escape its consequences; it will search and find him wherever he may hide himself. Cf. Genesis 4:7 ‘sin coucheth at the door.’

Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep; and do that which hath proceeded out of your mouth.
24. proceeded out of your mouth] See on Numbers 30:2.

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:
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.
30. If they refused to join the rest of Israel in their battles, then, as a punishment, they must be forced, with their families and flocks, to live on the west of Jordan.

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. and unto the half tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph) This clause, or perhaps the whole verse, is a later addition to P . See prelim. note above.

And the children of Gad built Dibon, and Ataroth, and Aroer,
34–38. Many of these towns have been identified with some probability. But the list represents a tradition very different from that in Joshua 13:15-28 (P ), and must be ultimately derived from an earlier source, though in its present form it was probably written by a priestly writer. In Joshua 13:15-28 Reuben occupies the position which is ordinarily represented on modern maps, on the south of Gad, the dividing line between them running east from about the northern point of the Dead Sea. But in the present passage Reuben’s position is not so independent. Five of the six towns assigned to them in Numbers 32:37-38 are situated in a district about midway between the Jabbok and the Arnon, and lie between Gadite towns to the north and south of them. They are thus represented as occupying an enclave within the Gadite area. Sibmah is unknown, as also are Atroth-shophan and Beth-nimrah. See G. A. Smith, Hist. Geogr. p. 567.

And Atroth, Shophan, and Jaazer, and Jogbehah,
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] The parenthesis is strange, for the change of names by the Manassites is related immediately afterwards. Some think that it is a marginal note to the reader that the names are to be changed and read otherwise than they are written in the text. The words refer to Nebo and Baal-meon. Both Nebo and Baal suggested pagan worship, and the latter was frequently altered, e.g. Ish-bosheth, Mephi-bosheth, El-yada, for Ish-baal, Merib-baal, Baal-yada.

And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorite which was in it.
39. The individual action of clans (here and in Numbers 32:41 f.) is similar to that described in Jdg 1:3; Jdg 1:22. See prelim. note.

And Moses gave Gilead unto Machir the son of Manasseh; and he dwelt therein.
40. A later addition to the chapter. See prelim. note. In 1 Chronicles 2:21; 1 Chronicles 2:23 the possession of Gilead by Machir is expressed by saying that Machir was ‘the father of Gilead.’

And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took the small towns thereof, and called them Havothjair.
41. Jair the son of Manasseh] This Manassite clan that took Gilead and gave its name to the district Havvôth-Jair (‘the towns of Jair,’ marg. or better ‘the tent villages of J .’) is mentioned in Jdg 10:3-4 as Jair the Gileadite, and is represented as one of the judges of Israel. The territory which the clan occupied is identified in Deuteronomy 3:14 with Argob in Bashan (cf. Joshua 13:30). But Deuteronomy 3:5 is not in agreement with that, because Argob is described as a region of fenced cities with ‘high walls, gates, and bars’; while the clan dwelt in tent villages. And in 1 Kings 4:13 the two districts seem to be expressly distinguished.

And Nobah went and took Kenath, and the villages thereof, and called it Nobah, after his own name.
42. And Nobah went and took Kenath] The clan Nobah appears to have given its name to a place, which is mentioned with Jogbehah (see Numbers 32:35) in Jdg 8:11. Kenath is identified by Euseb. and Jerome as Kanatha, the modern Ḳanawât, which lay on the western slope of Jebel Ḥaurân. This was far to the north, and would make the present passage imply that the Nobah clan left the district where Nobah lay and migrated. But 1 Chronicles 2:23 places Kenath in close proximity with Ḥavvôth-Jair; and Jdg 8:11 can be most easily explained if Kenath and Jogbehah lay near one another.

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