And to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, spoke Joshua, saying,…
We have here a fine appeal, and a fine answer to that appeal. Arrived at the Jordan, they are about to make that invasion of Palestine which gave the Church of God a country and truth a home. At first the settlement of all the twelve tribes in the country between the Jordan and the sea seems to have been the design of Moses. But "the region beyond Jordan" was fertile - a finer land for flocks than Canaan itself. It was not surprising, therefore, that the pre-eminently pastoral tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh should desire to settle there. And when the opposition of Og, king of Bashan, and Sihon, king of the Amorites, necessitated war, and ended in their defeat, the desire of these tribes found expression in a formal request. On the condition that their settlement on the nearer side of Jordan was not to be a "secession," and that they would help their brethren in the conquest of the whole land, Moses had granted their request, and divided the territory between them. Now Joshua, on the death of Moses, requires their fulfilment of their pledge. Rest would have been pleasant, and selfish reasons in plenty forthcoming for evading the fulfilment of their promise; but the claim for brotherly help was made to men of brotherly nature. This chapter shows their prompt response, and the remainder of this Book shows - one might almost say all the subsequent books of the Bible do so - the splendid results of their brotherliness. I find a very perfect illustration of a great theme, viz., the duty and blessedness of the more favoured helping their less favoured brethren. Observe -
I. THE DUTY OF THOSE MORE EARLY, OR MORE RICHLY BLESSED, HELPING THEIR LESS FAVOURED BRETHREN. There are those more and those less favoured. Those that attain the desire of their hearts much earlier and much more fully than their brethren. God does not divide His favours as a communistic philosopher would do. All are largely, but all unequally and diversely, blessed. So it happened here. The two and a haft tribes had got all their fighting over before the others had well begun. Had Israel entered the land of Canaan by the south, as they probably would have done if they had not shrunk from the enterprise on the return of the spies, then Judah would have been the first to find its home secure; and Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh would have been the last if they still desired the district of Gilead. It is not the peculiar virtue of the latter that it should be earlier, nor any fault of the former that it should be later. It is due simply to their entering now from the east instead of from the south. So in the contrasted condition of these tribes we have but a type of the contrasted conditions of men. There are some have made their fortune by the time others are just beginning to struggle for it. To some, truth comes with clear evidence as a bright heritage of their youth, while others only reach it with protracted struggle. Some are favoured with a knowledge of the gospel, while others are in densest ignorance. Some nations have vast wealth of liberty and justice, when others are just beginning to achieve the first sweets of freedom. And in such circumstances the more fortunate are very apt to enjoy their comforts, regardless of the struggles of their brethren; just as these tribes might have argued with plausible ingenuity that they should be excused from rendering assistance to their brethren. The struggle with Bashan - that district which rises like an island of rock from the pastoral plains, and which is the great natural fortress, the "keep" of the whole district - had been arduous. The remains of the cities of Bashan, so strongly built that three thousand years has not been able to reduce them to ruins, show the energy and developed civilisation of their foes. There are not a few indications that the stress of the conflict fell on the two and a half tribes. How easily they might have been tempted to settle down, indifferent to their brethren's welfare. Besides, they had respectable excuses. Who would defend their wives and children when all their mighty men were across the Jordan? What would become of their cattle? What security was there against the Bedawin, then, as now, roving about intent on spelt? Might they not act as rear guard, and keep the communications open - secure a safe retreat? But Moses, Joshua, God, all expect the more to help the less fortunate, and the generous instincts of their own hearts assent to the doctrine, and the nobility of their action testifies to all posterity that privilege carries responsibility, and that all who have are bound to aid all who lack. "Go forth before your brethren armed, till the Lord hath given them rest." Let the upper classes of our country share rather than monopolise education, power, enjoyment of life. Let the rich aid the poor; the strong the weak. Let those who have the gospel help those who are in darkness to attain its light. The successful have a duty to the struggling to aid them, not feebly, but with their full strength. If this example illustrates the duty of the more helping the less favoured, it illustrates with equal clearness, secondly -
II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF DOING SO. One does not like to contemplate what would have been the results had they withheld their help. The Amorites, strong in their mountain fastnesses, the Canaanites - the race we know better under the name of Phoenicians, strong in their civilisation, wealth, commerce, maritime enterprise, inhabiting the seaboard plains - were not enemies to be lightly overcome. Ten out of the twelve spies - all brave men - reported the conquest impossible; and the other two hoped for it only because they had the faith that remembered nothing was impossible. What would have been the effect on the world if Phoenician religion, with its unutterable vileness and cruelty, destruction of morality and virtues in all their forms, had extirpated Hebrew religion, with its inspiration of virtue, truth, liberty, and all things high, one is content to leave unguessed. But Israel was fighting the world's battle of truth and righteousness against enormous odds, and the two and a half tribes nobly taking their share in the conflict. Observe what blessed results followed.
1. They had the reward of being grandly useful in the service they rendered. They did not fail, nor were discouraged until, as the result of three or four years of war, the whole land from Hebron in the south to Baal Gad in Lebanon was theirs. And God's people, God's Church, and God's Truth had an earthly house. The candle was set on a candlestick, and gave light to all surrounding nations and succeeding ages. Thy brotherly help, in whatever direction rendered, will never be in vain. Nothing has such success and so little failure as kindly help.
2. Their service resulted in the development of a finer brotherhood. Not a perfect one, as there will be too much occasion to mark, but yet a relationship in which there was on the one hand the genial interest we always take in those we help, and on the other there was the gratitude always felt where service is promptly and freely given. They know not what they lose who never render help. Serve and love your brethren and they will pray for you and love you, when perhaps their love and prayer will turn the scale between hope and despair.
3. There was developed in these tribes a noble sentiment of heroic patriotism. We make our acts: but our acts make us. And a noble deed increases the nobility of nature from which it sprung. The service now rendered by the tribes inhabiting Gilead lived in their memory, an inspiration to similar service. Gideon and Jephthah headed the tribes, and twice over delivered Israel from her oppressors. And in later times this same region gave Israel her grandest prophet - the great Elijah - who restored pure and undefiled religion to its throne. The service you render ennobles you, and makes you more capable of nobler service in all time to come.
4. There was the direct outward reward. They lost nothing by it even in material wealth. No enemy attacked their families. They brought back great store of spoil, more wealth than herding could have given them in the interval. And through all their future history the service now rendered by them was repayed to them. So that, though exposed in situation, the first to feel the brunt of the attacks of Syria and Ammon, they retained, by help of their brethren, their possessions and their freedom, right down to the days of Ahab. It is no slight reward which waits on brotherly kindness and charity, but one which makes men richer than with any wealth of selfishness they could possibly be. Go thou, and in thy sphere do as these tribes did - render prompt, willing, rich, lengthened service to your less favoured brethren, and "exceedingly abundant above all you ask or think" will you find your reward in heaven. - G.
Parallel VersesKJV: And to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, spake Joshua, saying,