From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 32

As Steve Taylor, Ph. D. says, “Books on world history usually begin with the civilizations of Sumer and Egypt, which arose at around 3000 BC, and from that point until the present day, history is little more than a catalogue of endless wars.”[1] The psychologist William James wrote an essay on ‘The Moral Equivalent of War’ in 1910. He suggested that warfare was common because of its positive psychological effects, both on the individual and on society as a whole. War gives societies a sense of unity in the face of a shared threat. It necessitates that the whole community works together and brings discipline and a sense of structure with a shared objective. He said that the ‘war effort’ inspires individual citizens as well as the soldiers to behave honorably and unselfishly, in the service of a greater good. Warfare also facilitates the manifestation of loftier latent human traits such as self-control, valor, altruism and self-denial.[2]

Israel had conquered the Moabites and the Midianites, and the tribes of Reuben and Gad had a lot of livestock. When they saw that the regions of Jazer and Gilead were good places for raising livestock, the leaders of the tribe of Gad and Reuben went and spoke to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the leaders of the congregation telling them that they would like to have that country as their possession. Yahweh had laid it low, it was good for livestock, and they had livestock.

Human beings in general have a strong need for belonging and identity. Going home to the Promised Land had been the identity of the children of Israel ever since Jacob moved the family into Egypt to find relief from famine. However after the conquest of the country east of the Jordan the tribes of Gad and Rueben were content to stay where they were. It seemed good enough for them. The fact that any of Yahweh’s chosen people would consider settling outside the land promised to Abraham showed an indifference to the plan of their God, Yahweh. Moses was apparently concerned that the attitude of the tribes of Reuben and Gad would keep the other tribes from going into the Promised Land. Complacency is contagious and Israel was going to have to fight for their home. Gad and Reuben had a responsibility to the rest of Israel. They couldn’t be allowed to discourage the whole family of chosen people by dropping off short of the Promised Land.

Moses reminded them why the nation failed to enter the Promised Land some 38 years before. Most of the men of that generation of Israelites had let the discouragement of the ten unfaithful spies sway them. If they had wholly followed Yahweh the discouraging report would not have persuaded them. Joshua and Caleb hadn’t wavered in their commitment to Yahweh and his plan and were the only ones left of that generation. The new generation could perish just like the previous one if they were to walk in the same unbelief. Moses told the tribes of Rueben and Gad that if they were to discourage the rest of Israel from entering the Promised Land they would be responsible for destroying the present generation just as the ten spies were responsible for destroying the last one.

Faith is productive and a lack of faith is destructive. Confidence in Yahweh should have been the result of all the evidence Israel had that he could love and care for their needs because he had brought them out of Egypt through many powerful miracles. He had demonstrated his caring love by controlling the forces of nature in order to supply their needs many times. However, as Jeremy E. Sherman, Ph.D. of Psychology Today says, “Evidence doesn’t speak for itself. It must be interpreted, people deciding what it’s evidence for and how far to extrapolate from the evidence to a general certainty. Even if all of us agree that the evidence points a certain way, we may later come to a different conclusion. … Without our leaps of faith, we’re unfocused, un-reliable, [and] our efforts to diffuse [or] to yield anything of lasting value [is diminished]. Without faith, we would extend our energy every which way and never get anything done. … We don’t feel or experience faith; we have it, as though it’s a permanent possession. Your faith is with you always, not in waves of certainty amidst your doubts, but a conviction made and held once and for all.”[3] Some years ago I read about a couple of Christian girls who were kidnapped and killed by an evil man. They spent their last hours in fear and finally died in the trunk of a car. The author of the article about their ordeal asked, “How could a good God allow that to happen to Christians?” A little later I read another article about another Christian girl who was kidnapped by another evil man. The reason for fear was as great in her case but it was overcome by her confidence in her God. She knew that he is the great I AM, reality behind all reality. She knew that he would never leave her nor forsake her and if the evil man killed her – as he surely would have – she knew she would go into eternity swaddled in God’s love. She didn’t die. Her love and peace, produced by her faith, was greater than the evil intent of the man who kidnapped her and he eventually let her go. That was the difference between those two incidents. In both cases the girls were Christians, but faith is the victory that overcomes the world – not association. When Yeshua/Jesus said faith as small as a mustard seed could move mountains, that’s what he meant.[4]

The leaders of Gad and Rueben effectively satisfied Moses’ concern of the other tribes being discouraged by their actions. They promised Moses, confidently, that the men of Reuben and Gad would fight right beside the nation, as they possessed the Promised Land. They said they wanted to build corrals for their livestock and towns for their families but then the best fighting men would leave their families behind in secure walled towns and go with the rest of Israel to claim the Promised Land. They promised not to go home until Israel was in full possession of the land – and they wouldn’t expect any inheritance west of the Jordan.

Moses told them that if they did what they said and took up arms in the presence of Yahweh for battle; and went across the Jordan ready to fight until Yahweh cleaned his enemies out of the land; when the land was secure they would have fulfilled their duty to Israel and their God, Yahweh. At that time the land east of the Jordan would be theirs to keep.

Moses added that if they didn’t keep their word they would be sinning against Yahweh and they couldn’t get away from the result of sin. Everyone has to live with the consequences of bad choices and sin always leads to misery and regret. Remember Joseph’s brothers [5] many years after their evil deeds against their brother assumed the punishment would come. Even after their father died they were still worried about the consequences of their sin.[6]

Moses told Gad and Rueben to build towns for their families and corals for their livestock and be ready to go to war with the rest of Israel.

The people of the tribes of Gad and Rueben agreed to do everything Moses commanded them to do. Their children and wives along with their herds and flocks would stay in the towns of Gilead and they would cross the river to fight for Yahweh.

Moses told Eleazar, Joshua, and all the leaders of the other tribes that if the tribes of Gad and Rueben kept their word and crossed the Jordan River with the other tribes – armed and ready to fight – that they could give them Gilead for their inheritance after the land was secure for the other tribes.

The tribe of Manasseh was so large that their portion spanned the Jordan. The descendants of Manasseh’s son, Makir, went to Gilead captured it, and drove out the Amorites who lived there. Moses then gave Gilead to the Makirites, the descendants of Manasseh. They moved in and settled there. The descendants of another son of Manasseh, Jair, captured some villages and named them Tent Camps.

Moses gave the families of Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh the kingdoms of the Amorites and Bashan. They had all the territories connected with them to build on.


Summary of chapter 32

The Reubenites and Gadites asked Moses to give them their inheritance on east side of Jordan. Moses objected and rebuked them but they explained themselves, and offered conditions which satisfied Moses. They were to build cities for their wives and children, and folds for their cattle, and then they would cross over the Jordan River ready to fight with the other tribes till the land was subdued. After that they would be free to return. Moses advised Eleazar, Joshua, and the elders about their proposal and the Gadites and Reubenites promised a faithful observance of the conditions. Moses assigned them, and the half tribe of Manasseh, the kingdom of Sihon, king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og, king of Bashan. The narrator listed the cities built by the Gadites, and the cities built by the Reubenites. The tribe of Machir, the son of Manasseh, expelled the Amorites from Gilead, and Moses granted it to them. The tribe of Jair, the son of Manasseh, took the small towns of Gilead, and Nobah took Kenath and its villages.


Prayer: Lord, help me to be faithful and obedient to you in all the circumstances of my life – whether they are good or bad. Help me to remember that you can see better and further than I can and know the beginning from the end of my life. You know how the things that happen in my life relate to and affect others and well as me. If I can be dead to my own selfish interests and let you live through me, the outcome will always be better, both for the lives I touch and for me. Therefore, I pray with the Psalmist let the words of my mouth and meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.



Things to think about

  1. Why do you think it was important for the tribes of Gad and Rueben to go to war with the rest of Israel?
  2. What do you see is the main difference in the way we, as Christians, are supposed to fight and the way ancient Israel fought?
  3. What do you think is the most important thing for us to learn from the example of what Yahweh, through Moses, expected of the different tribes of Israel?
  4. Why do you think self-control, valor, altruism and self-denial are important to any society?
  5. Whose battle was the conquest of Canaan? Who would benefit from the land being free from violent people involved in and promoting idolatry, gang rape, bestiality, child sacrifice, and many other evil and grotesque practices?[7]
  6. What is faith and why does it make a difference?
  7. Why would confidence in Yahweh make a difference in whether or not Israel was able to conquer the Promised Land?



[2] IBID


[4] Matthew 17:20

[5] Genesis 42:21

[6] Genesis 50:14, 15



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