I opened my bible this afternoon and read a tragedy I didn’t even know existed within the pages. I guess I skipped over it seeing little significance before, but today, it broke my heart. The story takes places near the Jordan, so close to the Promised Land it literally hurts. Numbers 32. The Reubenites and Gadites stopped to enjoy the view around them and decided to settle. Just short of the Promised Land, they settled their families and their belongings. They didn’t care to inherit the provision and protection of God. They didn’t care to abide in His will. They looked around with their physical eyes and appreciated what was immediately before them to the degree that they were willing to stop short of all that God had for them.
“The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the land of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and said … ‘if we have found favor in your eyes … let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.’”
I can only imagine Moses’ face when he heard them speak this. His face must have fell, chin to the floor in dumbstruck awe. And then perhaps he tightly closed his mouth and his jaw line tensed as he struggled to recover from the shock. Forty years in the wilderness and you aren’t even going all the way? You want this instead of that? You want this land without promise, and you are willing to sell out your brothers to have it?
“Moses said … ‘Shall your countrymen go to war while you sit here?
Moses thought it was because they were either lazy or scared. And he pointed out that this was a sin their fathers had also committed. It appears their forefathers were the same men who dissuaded the Israelites from entering Canaan the first time.
“This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to look over the land. After they went up … and viewed the land, they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the Lord had given them … And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel.”
But the Reubenites and Gadites insisted they were men ready for battle. They just wanted to unload their wives and children, and all their belongings. In effect, they were tired of traveling and wanted to settle down, and they looked around and said, “Why not now? This looks good and we are on the edge of Promise, so this is just as good as what’s on the other side of that river, right?” So they assured Moses that if they could receive that land, they would make their families comfortable and then go ahead of the children of Israel into battle to drive out the inhabitants of the land so they could also receive their inheritance.
As I read further into the chapter, I noticed that Moses, even after relenting to their requests on the premise of their binding oath to the rest of the Israelites, never referred to this land as their inheritance. Actually, what he said to them was this, “…if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle, and if you will go armed over the Jordan before the Lord until he has driven his enemies out before him – then when the land is subdued before the Lord, you may return and be free from your obligation to the Lord and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the Lord.” The land was to be their possession, but it would not be the inheritance. Not something from the Father because of a birthright, but just a belonging given to assuage desire. Is that not a tragedy? And to be free from their obligation to the Lord? I can’t even imagine that kind of life.
I’ve been standing here on the edge of Promise for quite a while, and I know the promises God has given me. They are forever in my mind. I completely understand the weariness of the Reubenites and Gadites. The journey has been long and tiring, and I spend a lot of time peering off into the distance, straining to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Land. I know in my heart it is wonderful and worth the wait. But I’m tired. God spoke of abundance and I am still scraping by. He spoke of peace and rest, and I am living in a constant state of chaos. I understand the intense longing to finally settle down and be done. But, and maybe this will serve as a notice for my enemies, I’m not willing to settle. I don’t just want a land to possess. I want the inheritance. I don’t just want to settle. I want to receive the Promise. I want to walk the land that I have envisioned based on God’s promises. I know that I have battles left to fight. I know that I will have to continue to put one weary foot in front of another until I finally get there. I know it’s gonna take some work. But I cannot allow myself to have come this far to quit. Forty years in the desert, what’s one more day? Or two? Or another year? While the thought is not immediately comforting, I am compelled to obey God. One day at a time, I’ve made it this far and I know that if I just take them as they come and do all I can with the moments, I can tread on until I reach the land. Dear Father, help me not to stop short of the Promised Land. I don’t want to receive anything less than Your Will for my life. And may I make no excuses to quit. Thank you for helping me to plod on.