“And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel. If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the wilderness, and you will be the cause of their destruction.” Then they came up to him and said, “We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children. But we will arm ourselves for battle and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place…” -Numbers 32:14-17
Upon first reading, I couldn’t understand why the Reubenites and Gadites would ask to stay on one side of the Jordan when the land that the Lord had promised to them was just on the other side. Why would they want to stop short when they knew they were so close? I could understand if they didn’t know where the Promised Land was going to be, but at first this seemed like getting all the way to the end of a race and sitting down right before the finish line. It just didn’t make sense to me. Then I started wondering what the lesson was in here. It made me think of one of Andy’s favorite quotes, that the biggest enemy of best is good. Was this a case where the land that they saw was good, so they stopped looking for the best God had for them? Verse one did mention that they noticed the land was good for livestock, so this is a possible reason, but it still felt like there was more. When I read the verses above I thought- yep! Here it is! They did the same thing that the scouts had done before- but hadn’t. In the very next set of verses, they agree to fight with the rest of the Israelites to take the Promised Land. So their request wasn’t driven by the same fear that the scouts had succumbed to earlier. So the pieces still weren’t fitting together. And as I continued to read, there was that Little Voice that just reminded me of a passage in the Gospels.
Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.
– Matthew 8: 21, 22
I instantly felt like the pieces fit together, and I had found the lesson that the Lord had hidden for me. The Reubenites and the Gadites weren’t afraid of the battle that was to come on the other side of the Jordan- they agreed to go and help their fellow Israelites take control of their inheritance. The Reubenites and the Gadites wanted to settle on the other side of the Jordan so that they could get things settled and established before doing what God had asked them to do. Do you see the link between the two passages? In both of these cases obedience isn’t an issue, both also had great intentions. But the interesting thing about both of these is that you get the sense that while they weren’t in the boat of disobedience and wrath, they weren’t fully where the Lord wanted them to be. There was more. And there is. We can glean some important lessons here.
1. The logistics of life can stall us. God isn’t unaware of the logistics of life, and He doesn’t want His people to be irresponsible. However, if you’re anything like me the daily (mostly lengthy) to do list can easily consume my mind and thoughts to where it unintentionally becomes the priority. I don’t ever start my day setting out to get boggled down by the worries of life- but it frequently happens. Andy once was meeting a friend- and I don’t remember if the context was getting engaged or pregnant- and he was expressing how he wanted to take whatever that next step in life was, but that he didn’t feel like we could financially afford it. His friend (by no means irresponsible) simply replied that if you ever waited until you felt like you could afford either one, it would never happen. Now, there is just pure irresponsibility- and I’m not talking about that- but these words were just wise. They spoke to this same struggle we see in our passages. There will always be more ducks to get in a row. We could always use more time, more planning, more money, resources… whatever. And when the Lord asks us to do something, if we waited until we had everything set and taken care of, we would never get around to doing what He asked. There is always something, and by the time we’ve taken care of that something to make it into a nothing, a new something has already appeared. Neither the tribes, or the man had the desire to not follow the Lord’s leading, but both wanted to wait until they had taken care of logistical matters. And there is a clear sense that while the heart for obedience was there, the Lord had more than that for them.
2. God is equally about people and obedience. In both of these cases, the logistical hang-ups had to do with people and family. This is really hard. We have all seen the two extremes in the Christian family. We have seen those that sacrifice obedience for the sake of their family, and we have seen people sacrifice their family for the sake of their obedience. We have got to find a healthy balance! When we sacrifice people for obedience to what God is asking us to do, we can communicate that God cares more about tasks than people. Which is just not true. But when we sacrifice obedience for people, not only are we missing out on what God has for us, but we are also keeping those people around us from experiencing it. God is always about people, but He is also always about obedience. To us, the balance seems impossible, but to God it is simple. Which is one of the main reasons why it’s important that our relationship with God remains a relationship. There is no handbook for every situation, but we can be in constant communication with the One that has the answer in every situation. Praise the Lord for that!
3. There is no sense in fighting God for control. The Reubenites and Gadites get points for wanting to take care of their families. They wanted to settle in, built pens for the livestock and fortified cities for their women and children. Then while they were away fighting, everyone back home would be safe and provided for. Which I can totally relate to. But let’s take a step back. Isn’t the real root of their request control? In a way it’s admitting to the mindset that if they don’t do it, it won’t get done. Now, no matter how hard it is for us to sometimes remember, the truth is that God cares infinitely more about my family than I do. The tribes would build those fortified cities only to hope that they would protect those inside, but God doesn’t have to hope His plans work. He is in control, and is more than capable of dealing with whatever logistics, emotions, people etc arise.
Being obedient now is sometimes as much a test of obedience as it is a test in the belief that God is able to take care of the details and the people!