J. W. H. Nichols.
The two and one-half tribes of Israel — Rueben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 32) remind us somewhat of Lot, the earthly-minded companion of Abraham, who chose the well watered plain of Jordan, which appeared to him as "the garden of the Lord" and who failed to appreciate — as did Abraham — the call of God. Yet in other ways they were dissimilar, for it could not be said that, like Lot, their lives were formed by mixed principles, which led to unholy associations with such direful consequences, but they were evidently a people fully owning and wishing identification with those who obeyed the call of God, yet they were not prepared to walk in the power of it.
"The eyes of man are never satisfied" (Proverbs 27:20), and Lot-like the tribes lifted up their eyes, "saw the land," and "behold the place was a place for cattle." (Num. 32:1). But it was on the wilderness side of Jordan, and alas they evidently thought less of God's call to Canaan and the pilgrimage of their brethren, than present advantages. Abraham, their progenitor, knew nothing of that side of Jordan. Moses had not mentioned it, and when they left Egypt nothing short of the promised land was before them. But as they journeyed their earthly possessions increased, and they had much cattle. Evidently they reasoned, that since the plains suited their pursuit, nothing would be gained by crossing Jordan, and they, therefore, ask for an inheritance on the plain of Jordan and so came short of the call of God. There was no thought of giving up their portion as Israelites, no rebellion, but their cattle led them to seek what suited them, and so they remained on the wilderness side.
What a voice this has for us! How many true Christians there are who come short of appropriating their heavenly possessions! Like the two and half tribes, they have no thought of being untrue to their Christian position, but are content to know their salvation is secure, and settle down in congenial circumstances.
To Moses their proposal came with misgiving, it was so far short of the purpose of God made known while they were still in Egypt. "I will bring you unto the land concerning which I did swear to give it to Abraham to Isaac and to Jacob and I will give it to you for an heritage: I am the Lord." (Ex. 6:8). He chides them and speaks of the way their brethren had been discouraged by the spies sent out from Kadesh Barnea, and the resulting forty years wandering in the wilderness. They repudiate all thought of alienation from their brethren, and signify their willingness to go with them to war until the land is possessed. In this they were unlike Lot whose conduct separated him from Abraham. They did not want to forfeit fellowship with their brethren, but they were not in the moral power of the call of God, something less than the land sufficed.
In Joshua 22 we find the sequel. All that was commendable in them Joshua recounts, but it is evidently with some misgiving; he blessed them, and sent them away, saying, "But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses, the servant of the Lord, charged you, to love the Lord your God and walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments, and to cleave unto Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul." So they returned to the wilderness side of Jordan, and on settling down in their chosen possessions, we read they "built there an altar by Jordan, a great altar to see to" (Joshua 22:10). But it was not the altar. They were far from the tabernacle with its ark of the covenant and accompanying mercy seat, of which God had said, "There will I meet with thee and will commune with thee." (Ex. 25:22)
No altar, however "great to see to," could possibly make up for the loss of this. Upon their altar, they are free to own, no burnt offerings or meat offerings or peace offerings could be offered (verse 23) — it was simply to "see to," and lest their children should cease to fear the Lord, and as a witness of their place and portion in Israel.
All this shows, they had some fear that their desire to remain in the plain of Jordan might not bring unmixed blessing. We can never step out of the path of obedience without consequent spiritual loss. Israel, when they heard of the altar built on the other side of Jordan, gathered together at Shiloh to go up against their brethren, but on hearing the purpose of. it, and the avowed loyalty of the two and a half tribes, they were satisfied and returned.
What a lesson is here, for those who have eyes to see and hearts to understand. How many there are whose place and portion among the people of God cannot be questioned, who, however, are not prepared to take possession of their heavenly position, and so settle down in congenial surroundings, the wrong side of Jordan, i.e., know little of what it is to be dead and risen with Christ and are not found seeking those things which are above where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1-2). Content to maintain their Christian profession in a religious world, where there is often "a great altar to see to," they come short of their heavenly calling, and often become world-borderers. All this inevitably brings corresponding loss — loss of present Christian joyfulness of joy of which the blessed Lord speaks in John 15:11, and future, reward, when every bit of faithfulness and testimony will be remembered.
The Lord grant that writer and reader may not fall short, or desire less than our God-given heavenly position and calling.