Reuben, Gad, and Part of Manasseh
“And they said, If we have found favor in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession; bring us not over the Jordan” (Numbers 32:5).
In the 40th year of their national wandering, all of Israel was, no doubt, excited in anticipation of entering into the Promised Land. This new generation of those who were less than 20 years old at the outset of their journey, knew the judgment of Jehovah and the reason for it. The recent victories over their enemies bolstered their confidence to go into the land and defeat the Canaanites.
It was at this point that two of the tribes came to Moses with a proposal. “Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle: and when they saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle; the children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spake unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying, Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Sebam, and Nebo, and Beon, the land which Jehovah smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle; and thy servants have cattle. And they said, If we have found favor in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession; bring us not over the Jordan” (Numbers 32:1‑5).
The tribes of Reuben and Gad liked what they saw of the land on the east side of the Jordan river. It had just been won in battle from the Amorites, Moabites and Midianites and seemed ideal for the grazing of cattle. Recognizing the authority of Moses and Eleazar and the other heads of the tribes, these two tribes requested that their inheritance in the Promised Land begin right there.
At this request, Moses became indignant! “Moses said unto the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to the war, and shall ye sit here? And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which Jehovah hath given them?… And, behold, ye are risen up in your fathers’ stead, an increase of sinful men, to augment yet the fierce anger of Jehovah toward Israel. For if ye turn away from after him, he will yet again leave them in the wilderness; and ye will destroy all this people” (Numbers 32:6, 7, 14, 15).
Moses believed the request to settle on the east side of Jordan was an effort by the two tribes not to have to go across the Jordan and battle the Canaanites. Furthermore, this would leave the other ten tribes to fend for themselves in the battles to come. Moses likened it to the same fear and lack of faith characteristic of the previous generation.
Perhaps Moses was correct in his assessment and his anger was justified, yet they stood up and answered Moses directly. “They came near unto him, and said, We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones: but we ourselves will be ready armed to go before the children of Israel, until we have brought them unto their place: and our little ones shall dwell in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan, and forward; because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side of the Jordan eastward” (Numbers 32:16‑18).
Their steadfast commitment to the rest of the nation appeased Moses, although he warned them that, “if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against Jehovah; and be sure your sin will find you out” (verse 23). He then directed Eleazar and Joshua to make it so.
Although it was only Reuben and Gad which had requested this arrangement, Moses added another tribe to the arrangement. Why Moses did this is not specified. “And Moses gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and unto the half‑tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land, according to the cities thereof with their borders, even the cities of the land round about” (Numbers 32:33).
When Moses later described the boundaries of what would be the future Land of Israel, he mentioned the 2-1/2 tribes again. “And Moses commanded the children of Israel, saying, This is the land which ye shall inherit by lot, which Jehovah hath commanded to give unto the nine tribes, and to the half‑tribe; for the tribe of the children of Reuben according to their fathers’ houses, and the tribe of the children of Gad according to their fathers’ houses, have received, and the half‑tribe of Manasseh have received, their inheritance: the two tribes and the half‑tribe have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan at Jericho eastward, toward the sunrising” (Numbers 34:13-15).
Moses plainly states that they “have received their inheritance.” This is interesting from both a prophetic and symbolic viewpoint. These tribes received their land inheritance before the end of the 40 years of wandering, before the rest of their brethren! In God’s Divine Plan of the Ages, He has arrangements to give blessings to various classes and individuals in advance of the world. Some of the rewards are spiritual and others are earthly.
Prophetic and Practical Applications
On a map of ancient Israel, we can see that 9½ tribes are on the west side of the Jordan and 2½ are on the east side. (The tribe of Levi received no land inheritance.) If we consider the Jordan river a picture of the division between earthly and spiritual rewards, we discover some wonderful lessons.
Those tribes which received their land on the west side of the river represent the world of mankind in the Kingdom of Christ, poised to receive the earthly blessings on the Highway of Holiness (Isaiah 35:8). The 2½ tribes on the east side point to three spiritual classes which receive their inheritance before the rest of the world of mankind.
Reuben, the first‑born of Jacob, seems to represent the “little flock,” the “church of the firstborn.” They receive an inheritance of the divine nature, before God begins working with mankind. The tribe of Gad represents the Great Company, another spiritual class that will receive their spiritual inheritance and their reward lower than the divine nature, before mankind. This leaves the half tribe of Manasseh. Only one more class receives part of their reward and inheritance before the bulk of mankind, that is, the Ancient Worthies.
Of this class of faithful people who lived before the death of Jesus, we read the following. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises” (Hebrews 11:13). Their reward will not only be earlier than the world’s, but also better. This aspect is described in Hebrews 11:35, “that they might obtain a better resurrection,”
Their resurrection will be better because they will be resurrected as perfect human beings. Yet they must await completion of the church. (The world will need to work to attain perfection. This is shown by the many battles the 9‑1/2 tribes had to fight in order to inherit their land.) The Apostle Paul continues to make a distinction for the Ancient Worthies in Hebrews 11:40. “God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
Thus, we see that these three spiritual classes all receive their reward and inheritance before the rest of mankind. But that does not end their responsibility toward their “brethren,” in this case the rest of humankind. To emphasize this point, notice Joshua’s comments just prior to entering the Promised Land. “To the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half‑tribe of Manasseh, spake Joshua, saying, Remember the word which Moses the servant of Jehovah commanded you, saying, Jehovah your God giveth you rest, and will give you this land. Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle, shall abide in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan; but ye shall pass over before your brethren armed, all the mighty men of valor, and shall help them; until Jehovah have given your brethren rest, as he hath given you, and they also have possessed the land which Jehovah your God giveth them: then ye shall return unto the land of your possession, and possess it, which Moses the servant of Jehovah gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrising. And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou hast commanded us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us we will go” (Joshua 1:12‑16).
Note that Joshua characterizes these tribes as having been “given” rest.1 Paul likewise uses this term in speaking of the rest we now have by faith and fully beyond the veil. He even refers to Joshua!
(1) Moses also characterized these 2-1/2 tribes as entering into rest in Deuteronomy 3:20.
“For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest hath himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:8‑11).
The powerful lesson for us is that while we will receive our inheritance, our reward, before the world, we have a solemn obligation to help mankind receive their inheritance! The Little Flock, the Great Company, and the Ancient Worthies will all have had experience with sin and all of the trouble it has caused during the permission of evil. They will all have ultimately overcome. They will be uniquely qualified to understand the weaknesses and failures of men and to be able to help them up the Highway of Holiness.
The Tribe of Manasseh
The tribe of Manasseh straddled the Jordan River, with one part on the east of the river and one part on the west. This suggests a dual role of the Ancient Worthies. They will be the visible representatives of the invisible spiritual Kingdom of Christ. In Psalm 45:16 they are called “princes in all the earth.” We may say they have one foot in the earthly phase of the kingdom and one foot in the heavenly phase. This is beautifully shown in the land inheritance of Manasseh.
Brother Russell suggests that the Ancient Worthies, following their kingdom work, may ultimately receive a spiritual reward (Reprint 5182). If so, the closeness of Manasseh to both Reuben and Gad on the east side of the Jordan becomes a beautiful picture of this possibility.