Shall Your Brethren Go to War While You Sit Here? (Num 32:6)

by Rick Kirk

After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the people of Israel were once again on the verge of entering the land of milk and honey. They were now near River Jordan in Moab. The ‘land of Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar’ (Deut 34:1-3) that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a mere distance away. All it needed was for the Israelites to enter the ‘good land which the LORD our God is giving us’ (Deut 1:25) and take it. Moses needed all hands on deck, and that meant all able men from all tribes were to be armed, prepared and ready to support one another in the final push into Canaan and conquer it. Victory was very close! It was at the door!

Then it happened. Filled with the lust of the eyes, the tribes of Reuben and Dan decided the land east of River Jordan was an ideal ‘place for livestock’ (Num 32:1). They approached Moses, Eleazar the priest and the leaders of Israel to request permission to remain and take possession of that choice land as they owned ‘a very great multitude of livestock’.

Moses then asked of them, “Shall your brethren go to war while you sit here?” (Num 32:6). Shall your brothers fight the Canaanites, sacrifice themselves, shed blood and do all the work while you choose to sit back? Will you not support the cause, effort, work and fight together with your brothers?

He was disappointed and upset that such a request came at an inopportune time. At a time when all able-bodied men ought to be available to enter Canaan and go to war against the current inhabitants of the land. The Israelites were at war in a land that the Lord had given them. It was a time when all tribes were expected to be united together as one man, single-minded and focused, just as they did against the tribe of Benjamin when the concubine of a Levite was killed (Judg 20:11). Therefore the bid to stay and remain on the rich and fertile land of Jazer & Gilead by the two tribes displeased Moses as he feared their action will discourage the people and incur the wrath of God once again. He reminded them of the consequences of the actions by their fathers forty years earlier when the disbelieving spies caused the people of Israel to lose heart and were banished to the wilderness for four decades. This latest act of selfishness would not be appreciated by the rest of the people of Israel who may suffer yet again at the hand of God.

Believers of Jesus Christ ought to be united through the Word (John 17:21). We are “to speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among us, but that we be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor 1:10), and also do ‘good works which are good and profitable unto men’ (Titus 3:8). We are to “look out not only for our own interests, but also for the interests of others”. (Phil 2:4)

Jesus had noted that “the harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2). There is a great need for workers who are willing to roll up their sleeves and put their hands to the plow. Christ is fully aware of the urgency to harvest (“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” John 4:35) as He observe, recognize and know that the harvest is now and on-going. What is urgently required are willing workers.

Many years ago, I was heading towards Klang North on a motor cycle. The traffic moving in the same direction seemed to have come to a standstill. I rode on until I noticed a car had broken down on the road on a slight incline. The driver could not restart the car to move it to the road shoulder so that the congested traffic can be eased. He was helpless.

I stopped to lend a hand to push the car whilst the driver remained in the driver’s seat to maneuver to the side of the road. When another man and I tried to push the car, we had great difficulty moving it. Thinking the driver may have forgotten to release the hand brakes, I then approached the driver to inquire if he had released the brakes. It was then I peeked into the car and noticed 3 amply endowed ladies were sitting in the car. After I had requested them to alight, we managed to push the car easily onto the road shoulder. The ladies were fully aware of the problems a stalled car would pose to the traffic condition. They could have offered to make our effort lighter by getting down, yet decided to remain in the car.

Just like the people of Reuben and Gad, we can be distracted by the cares of the world, comfortable lifestyle and self-centeredness. They saw a land good for their flocks and decided they must have it immediately, forgetting that the work before them was not yet complete. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being (1 Cor 10:24) especially in the good works before us. We are all fellow workers (Rom 16:3, 9, 21) and fellow servants (Col 1:7; 4:7). All of us are in it together. The talents given to each of us are our responsibility to be used to the best of ability for the good of all.

Do we sit in the car or are we out there pushing the car? Let’s not sit in the car as the tribes of Reuben and Gad were wont to do in Gilead. But if you do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out (Num 32:23)