20 And Moses said unto them [the leaders of Gad and Reuben], If ye will do this thing, if ye will go armed before the LORD to war,
21 And will go all of you armed over Jordan before the LORD, until he hath driven out his enemies from before him,
22 And the land be subdued before the LORD: then afterward ye shall return, and be guiltless before the LORD, and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the LORD.
23 But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out.
There are many situations recorded in the Old Testament that are difficult to reconcile with New Testament ethics, and beyond that, the values of people living in the twenty-first century. The story before us is the narrative of a difficult situation. The passage under consideration concerns the future of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, now gathered on the eastern side of the Jordan River and ready to cross.
The intention of the Hebrew people is to cross the Jordan River, invade the Land of Canaan, dispossess the inhabitants, and claim the land for themselves and their posterity.
The justification for this invasion and dispossessing of the land was rooted in a religious belief articulated by a man named Abraham, who believed that God came to him while he was living in the land of Ur of the Chaldees with a message. Abraham was to leave Ur and go to a new land.
The year was 2161 BC when Abraham was born to Terah in Ur. He was the eldest of three sons. “Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot” (Gen. 11:27).
First Divine Appearance to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees
In the year 2091 BC Abraham turned 70, and heard God calling him by name. “Now the LORD had said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you: And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed. So, Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land to the place of Sichem, to the plain of Moreh.
Second Divine Appearance to Abraham in Canaan
And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, To your seed will I give this land: and there built he an altar to the LORD, who appeared to him. And he removed from there to a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he built an altar to the LORD, and called on the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.”
Abraham was obedient to the revealed will of the Lord. By faith, Abraham gathered seventy souls about him and set out on the journey that is still being told and studied four thousand years later.
The narrative moves forward past the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to come to Moses and the end of his life, c. 1406 BC. Moses has been told he will not be allowed to enter into the Land of Promise. Nevertheless, out of love for his people, Moses makes some final preparations on their behalf.
Of particular concern is how the initial entrance into Canaan might go. Moses anticipated a strong opposition from the inhabitants of Canaan because dispossessing people of their land and resources is not always welcomed. It is naturally deeply resented, and is usually met with armed resistance.
The Canaanites would prove to be no exception. They would fight the Hebrew invaders economically, religiously, culturally, and on the field of battle.
In the end, the Canaanites would lose all three major campaigns waged against them led by Joshua and his armies. But they would try to keep what they had possessed since the days of their founding father, Canaan.
Canaan is listed as the fourth son of Ham, who in turn was one of the three sons of Noah. Following the flood, the earth began to be repopulated from the eight survivors on the Ark. The descendants of Shem, Ham, and Jephthah spread out over the earth. The descendants of Ham, which included the patriarch Canaan, eventually settled along the Mediterranean Sea coast.
There were other descendants of Ham through Canaan inhabiting the land. In all, there were seven tribes of Canaan, each one a tribal-nation, meaning they were not united but were local, fiercely independent, warring with each other, and extremely wicked and immoral.
There were the Amorites. The name means, the ‘high ones’, because they were very tall. The Amorites were prominent in the Land. Moses dealt with two of their kings, Sihon and Og, because they dwelt on the East of the Jordan River. The Amorites sacrificed their young infants to Molech. The slaughter of babies is nothing new to modern America. The chief characteristic of the Amorites was pride. They were proud of their physical features. They were proud of their culture. They were proud of their very existence.
There were the Hittites. Their chief characteristic was aggression, and they were very powerful and covetous. Their religion was a mixture of ideas from Babylon and Egypt, which means the were cosmopolitan. They were in the land from 1600 to 1200 BC. Their chief goddess was Ishtar of Nineveh (Acts 19:34: Diana of the Ephesians). Their gods usually rode on the backs of animals, or were enthroned between them.
There were the Perrizites. This pagan group means, ‘to drag away violently; hate.’ They dwelt in unwalled cities.
There were the Canaanites. This group valued the arts and sciences. They were a fertility cult, and most debased, more than others. Their form of worship entailed both heterosexual and homosexual ceremonies. As might be expected, the Canaanites attracted, influenced, and at times dominated the other tribes of the land.
There were the Girgashites. Their name means, ‘to draw away; to entice. They, too, were utterly immoral and corrupt, decadent, vile and base.
There were the Hivites. These people were impulsive, clever, deceitful, false, unwarlike, cowardly, but warmhearted. The Gibeonites were Hivites. who deceived Joshua (Joshua 9:3ff).
There were the Jebusites. These people were warlike. It would take centuries to conquer them, which David finally did 400 years after Joshua (Joshua 18:28 cf. 1 Chron. 11:4-7). They held the city that would be named Jerusalem.
These were the Seven Major Tribal Nations Israel would move to defeat, and dispossess, once they crossed the Jordan River.
To ensure military conquest, Moses knew that all the tribes of Israel had to engage the enemy. For that to happen, two tribes, the tribe of Gad, and the tribe of Reuben, had to be persuaded to support the other ten tribes.
Special persuasion was needed, for Gad and Reuben faced a temptation, and that was to stay on the eastern side of Jordan, and avoid any major conflict.
The tribes of Gad and Reuben could have argued that the conquest of Canaan was not their fight.
They could have argued that they were happy with their assigned portion of the land and wanted to stay safe and happy. Gad and Reuben faced the temptation to have peace at any price, even if that meant the slaughter of their kinsmen according to the flesh.
Moses did not want the tribes of Gad and Reuben to succumb to temptation. He would persuade them, with his most powerful argument, to join in the conflict and fight alongside their brethren.
What was the main argument of Moses?
It was very simple and straightforward.
For Gad and Reuben to go and fight the Canaanites with the other tribes of Israel was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do because God had entered into a Covenant with the Hebrew people with conditions to be met by both parties. God’s part of the Covenant was to protect the Hebrew people, and give them victory, according to Divine promise, but the children of Israel had to do their part, and that was to go forth in faith to fight.
Because Moses was mighty in words, his argument was persuasive. “And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben answered, saying, As the Lord hath said unto thy servants, so will we do” (Num. 32:31).
The decision and commitment by the tribe of Gad and Reuben solidified Israel into a nation. Their decision encouraged the hearts of the other ten tribes. There is strength in unity. The decision of Gad and Reuben honored their Covenant commitment so that they were “guiltless before the Lord, and before Israel” (Num. 32:22).
It was a great moment in the life of the nation of Israel. Israel be one people with one heart, one mind, with a unified objective against a common enemy.
It was a tremendous political victory for Moses. He was to the end mighty in words.
It was a spiritual moment for all, because Israel, as a whole, agreed to keep Covenant with the Lord, and continue to live and move by faith. The people believed in God. They believed the Lord would keep His word and bring them victory inside the Land of Promise.
It is a wonderful story that is recorded, but, it does raise a question. It is an honest question. It is a difficult question. It is a logical inquiry.
What moral right did the children of Israel have to gather on the border of Canaan with a view to invading the land and dispossessing the people?
In order to justify the actions of the children of Israel, and understand the situation from a Biblical perspective, several general principles must be kept in mind.
First, the earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof. In the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them.
Second, God is sovereign over all of His creation, which means He can dispose of it in any fashion He so chooses. In His wisdom, God has decided that there be nations. Nationalism is a Divine idea. Nationalism protects the individual better than any other form of government. The history of the great empires of the world is a testimony to this truth. When nations are destroyed or absorbed into a vast empire, there are only two groups of people, the rulers and the ruled. There are masters and slaves. Nationalism allows for small groups of people to live together in relatively peace and harmony and protect the rights and property of one another.
Globalism, Socialism, Communism, Internationalism, and Open Borders break down the barriers of nations only to enslave individuals, and take away personal freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and the right to bear arms. A powerful state cannot control free people.
Into the dust bin of history have gone oppressive empires. Today, the European Common Market is breaking apart as ethnic groups yearn for their own nations with borders, in order to enjoy a common language and culture.
Nationalism is a divine ideal.
As God has established nationalism, so the Lord has decided the boundaries of a nation. This is done for a specific reason. Consider the words found in Acts 20 which teaches that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; 27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” Acts 20:26, 27).
By understanding these general principles, it can be seen that if the Lord sovereignly creates a nation, and determines it boundaries for a moral purpose, He has the sovereign right to discipline that nation when His moral Law is broken.
The inhabitants of Canaan had broken the moral law of God, and they would pay a terrible price for their many sins because they would not repent, they would not return to the one true God. So, they would be destroyed. Israel was simply an instrument of Divine judgment in the hands of Almighty God.
Israel would do no wrong in conquering the Canaanites by any means necessary, for it was the will of God. The judgment of God can be cruel and harsh, but it is no harsher than sin. It is sin which made the Canaanites proud, vicious, and immoral. It was sin that caused people to worship idols. It was sin that led mothers and fathers to offer their babies to Molech. It was sin that caused the Canaanites to enslave others. The Evil Empire had to be destroyed.
And, in the will of God it was. For more than 4,000 years the land of Canaan has been associated with the Israelites, the Jews, the People of the Covenant. The Amorites, Hittites, Perrizites, Canaanites, Girgashites, Hivites, Jebusites discovered that sin has a saturation point in a nation, and then it is destroyed. The people are disposed. God will give what people have to someone else who Covenants with Him.
By way of application, there is a life to live, by faith, even as “Abraham believed God and it was accounted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3).
Our life of faith is to be guided by the Spirit. “For as many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).
The Spirit will lead us to fight a mortal Enemy, which is Sin, which is to be completely conquered “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13).
God has promised to give those who fight as a good solider of the cross great rewards in time and in eternity. But the spiritual battle must be engaged. Before a battle British officers would tell their soldiers, “England expects ever man to do his duty!” God says to the Christian, “Do your duty and you will be guiltless.”
Leading all Christians is our Joshua, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Captain of our Salvation (Heb. 2:10). In as far as we follow Christ across the Jordan into the fray, we shall be victorious. But the victory will not be won without some battles being lost, and some causalities along the way. Nevertheless, we move out in faith. Armed with the whole armour of God. With hope in our hearts, and praise on our lips, with purpose in life, and confidence in the outcome, we go forth to do our duty. To God be the Glory!