But Moses asked the Gadites and Reubenites, "Shall your brothers go to war while you sit here?
I. MOSES APPEALS TO THE SENSE OF SHAME. They had been one nation until now. The suffering of one tribe had been the suffering of all. They had marched in company and fought in company; but now, when Reuben and Gad see what seems the main chance, they say, "We have found what we want, we need go no further." Often the only way of treating selfishness is to make it thoroughly ashamed of itself. If there is no loving sympathy in the heart to be appealed to, we must do our best by appealing to a sense of decency; we must ask the selfish, if they have nothing else to think of, to think a little of their own reputation. It was a very humiliating thing, if only Reuben and Gad had been able to see it, that Moses here made no appeal to high motives. He did not say, "Consider well, for your own sakes, what you propose to do; consider whether you are not seeking a mere present, external, paltry gain, and paving the way for a tremendous loss hereafter." He might so have spoken, but what would the answer have been? "We are ready to take the risk of that." And so he leaves unasked and undetermined the whole question of what Reuben and Gad's own interest might be. That came up again in due time, as it was bound to do (Joshua 22.). But there was a question bearing on the welfare of Israel which could not be postponed, and Moses sets it before the two tribes in a very direct way, neither repressing his just indignation nor softening his language. If men persist in taking a course which is hurtful to the real welfare of others, they must be whipped out of it by the readiest available means. There are only too many in the world who will do anything they can get others submissively to tolerate. Seemingly having no conscience of their own to speak of, they are dependent on the indignant, unsparing remonstrances of others. These remonstrances have to supply the place of conscience as best they can.
II. HE POINTS OUT A PROBABLE PERIL TO THE NATION. When an army is advancing to the attack, it is a serious thing if a sixth part of the whole shows signs of desertion and of want of interest in the desired victory. From patriots Reuben and Gad had sunk all at once into mere mercenaries. They had gone with the nation only as long as it seemed their interest to go. They could, without the slightest compunction, leave a great gap in the order of the camp round the tabernacle. They did not stop to consider how their desertion would affect the arrangements of the whole camp. Lukewarm, unspiritual, and self-indulgent Christians - if the name may be allowed where such qualities prevail - little think of the continual hindrances and discouragements they bring to struggling brethren. The Christian life is hard enough when there is the outside world to contend with, but how peculiar and how difficult to surmount are the perils that come from false brethren! Note how Moses bases his fear of this peril on an actual experience. If the words of the ten craven-hearted spies drove the whole of Israel into rebellion, and doomed a whole generation to die in the wilderness, then how great a danger was to be feared from the desertion of two whole tribes!
III. HE PLAINLY FIXES THE RISK OF THIS PERIL AND THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT UPON REUBEN AND GAD. It was not open to them to say, "All these gloomy chances that you foreshadow depend on the other tribes. They need not be discouraged. Canaan is just as attractive now as it was before. Our staying here can really make no difference." It is both cowardly and unavailing to try and escape responsibility by insisting on the personal responsibility of others. It is of no use to say that we do not wish others to look on us as leaders. We know that men wilt do it whether we wish it or not, and the very fact of this knowledge fixes on us a responsibility which we cannot escape. God makes use of this very disposition to follow which is: found in human nature for his own gracious purposes. Jesus says, "Follow me." And those who follow him find that some at least become followers of them. If the way in which we are going is a way into which others may be drawn to their ruin, then the way is at once condemned. No amount of individual prosperity, pleasure, and ease can compensate the destruction of others who have perished in a path which they never would have entered but for us. Offences must needs come, but the caution and the appeal remain: "Woe be to him through whom the offence comes." Better for every beast in the herds to perish in Jordan than for the obscurest in all Israel to be prevented from getting into Canaan. - Y.
I. THE INJUSTICE OF THEIR PROPOSAL. Why should they have as their inheritance that country which all had assisted to conquer, and leave their brethren to conquer other possessions for themselves without their aid?
Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here? And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel?1. He shows them what he apprehended to be evil in this motion; that it would discourage the heart of their brethren (vers. 6, 7). What, saith he, with a holy indignation at their selfishness, "shall your brethren go to war, and expose themselves to all the hardships of the field, and shall ye sit here at your ease? No, do not mistake yourselves; you shall never be indulged by me in this sloth and cowardice." It ill becomes any of God's Israel to sit down unconcerned in the difficult concernments of their brethren, whether public or personal.
2. He minds them of the fatal consequences of the unbelief and faint-heartedness of their fathers when they were, as these here, just ready to enter Canaan. He recites the story very particularly (vers. 8-13). "Thus did your fathers," whose punishment should be a warning to you to take heed of sinning after the similitude of their transgression.
3. He gives them fair warning of the mischief that would be likely to follow upon this separation they were about to make from the camp of Israel; they would be in danger of bringing wrath upon the whole congregation, and hurrying them all back again into the wilderness (vers. 14, 15). "Ye are risen up in your father's stead" to despise the pleasant land, and reject it as they did, when we hoped you were risen up in their stead to possess it. It was an encouragement to Moses to see what an increase of men they were, but a discouragement to see that they were withal an increase of sinful men, treading in the steps of their fathers' impiety. It is sad to see the rising generations in families and countries seldom better, and often worse, than that which went before it. And what comes of it? why, it augments the fierce anger of the Lord; not only continues that fire, but increaseth it, and fills the measure often, till it overflow in a deluge of desolation. Note, if men did consider as they ought what would be in the end of sin, they would be afraid of the beginnings of it.
( Matthew Henry, D. D..)
II. THE TENDENCY OF THEIR PROPOSAL TO DISHEARTEN THEIR BRETHREN. Because the granting of this request would be likely to —
1. Reduce their numbers.
2. Engender dissatisfaction.
III. THE WICKEDNESS OF THEIR PROPOSAL.
1. Unbelief of God's word.
2. Depreciation of God's goodness.
IV. THE TENDENCY OF THEIR PROPOSAL TO CALL DOWN THE WRATH OF GOD.
1. The cause of His anger (ver. 14).
2. The expression of His anger (ver. 15).
3. The subjects of His anger. "All this people."
V. THE SOLEMN EXAMPLE BY WHICH MOSES ENFORCED HIS REBUKE (vers. 8-13).
1. First, then, we may mention an inconsistent life. There is nothing so beautiful on earth as a consistent life, a life entirely consecrated to God — devoted to one great object, and guided by one great principle. Such a life makes people feel that there is something from God in true religion; and it greatly encourages those who are seeking Christ. On the contrary, the inconsistent lives of Christians are the greatest possible hindrance to the world, and to those who are weak in faith. There was great apparent inconsistency in the request of the Reubenites. They ought to have valued God's promise, and have wished to settle within the limits of the Promised Land; but the rich pastures of the territories already won, and situated without its boundaries, were a temptation to them. And Moses saw at once the effect that this example would have upon the hearts of their brethren. It would discourage them. It is just so with those who ought to live for heaven, who profess to be looking for it, and yet set their affections on things below — on the creature, or the world, or on money. This contrariety between the profession and the life cannot be otherwise than a stumbling block to the world, and a great discouragement to those who are weak in faith. Some it hardens in their unbelief; others are led by it into painful doubt and perplexity. It is no small sin to discourage our brethren.
2. But again, the natural heart is very prone to think that religion is a gloomy thing, a system of sacrifices; and this we cannot wonder at, as it only sees what must be given up, but cannot perceive what is gained. It cannot understand that excellency of the knowledge of Christ which makes sacrifices easy and delightful, and renders things impossible to flesh and blood altogether possible. Now, when Christians are gloomy and desponding, when their look is melancholy and their language dissatisfied, it tends to confirm the notion that true religion does not make the heart happy, does not give it rest; and so the wanderer, discouraged at the outset, seeks cheerfulness and pleasure elsewhere, and not in Christ. Now, why should Christians ever give such an impression of religion? Surely it must be of all things the most blessed to be reconciled to God, to have the forgiveness of all sins. It is true that the Christian has many trials which are unknown to the world, fightings within, as well as fears without. But his fightings are not hopeless struggles. They are the precursors of victory; for, says St. Paul, we are made more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
3. Another way of discouraging our brethren is by showing want of sympathy in their difficulties. Hardness and want of sympathy have much to do with making the world as full of misery as it is.
4. Another case of discouragement to others is our shrinking, or appearing to shrink, from difficulties. Moses evidently thought that this was the motive of the request of the Reubenites. They wished to settle down in a land already won, instead of sharing the danger of war with their brethren. "Shall your brethren go to war, and ye sit here?" The event proved that happily this was not the case. Moses was mistaken in his suspicions. But it is quite clear, that had this been the case scarcely anything could have discouraged the rest of the Israelites more completely. Now this, we fear, is not a very uncommon cause of discouragements. There are too many Christians who shrink from difficulties. They prefer some smooth and easy course, the pastures of Jazer and Gilead to the warfare and conflicts of Canaan. If some easy work is proposed to them, which is accompanied by no great difficulties, and which involves no real self-denial, they may be ready for it. But they do not like to take up the cross, and especially a daily cross — one that lasts long. We ought not to shrink from difficulties in doing the will of God. It is usually God's way to surround His own work with difficulties, and often with such difficulties as His own hand alone can remove. And this He does to try His people's faith, not to discourage them. Viewed at a distance, like the wall of some great fortress, they appear very formidable, but when grappled with in faith, one after another they fall away. There are beautiful promises to encourage us under difficulties (Isaiah 41:14, 16; Zechariah 4:7). Let us then settle it well in our hearts that we must have difficulties in doing the work of God; but let not these dismay our hearts or lead us to discourage our brethren.
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