There is a fascinating portion of scripture found in Numbers chapter 32, which has a significant spiritual application for us today. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel is about to finally enter into the promised land. However, the tribes of Reuben and Gad decide that they like the land east of the Jordan instead, and so they ask Moses and the other Jewish leaders to let them have it.

“Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of livestock; and when they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that indeed the region was a place for livestock, the children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, ?Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Shebam, Nebo, and Beon, the country which the Lord defeated before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.? Therefore they said, ?If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession. Do not take us over the Jordan.?” Numbers 32:1-5 (NKJV)

Moses answers them with harshness in the verses that follow, saying that they are discouraging the other Israelites, even as the ten spies discouraged them forty years earlier, when they were about to enter into the promised land (Canaan). So they modify their request and say that they will leave their possessions and fight with the rest of the tribes to help them conquer Canaan, and on that basis they are granted their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan. Then they make an incredible statement:

“For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has fallen to us on this eastern side of the Jordan.” Numbers 32:19 (NKJV)

In the Hebrew sense of this, since the perfect tense is used, this denotes an action already completed, and implies arrogance on the part of these tribes, in that they seem to presume that God has put His stamp of approval on this action. It speaks to us of a disobedient people who do not want to entirely sever themselves from the people of God, but will not obey the complete word of God ? staying somewhere between the church and the world. Their desires have led them to break the tenth commandment by coveting land which God never intended for them – all for the love of livestock.

Temporal Wealth is Fleeting

When we think of wealth in our modern world, we typically consider houses and cars and businesses. But in that time period wealth was measured mainly by the amount of livestock a man owned. We see an example of this in the Book of Job. However, even as Job lost all of his livestock suddenly, we understand that the true Owner of the “cattle on a thousand hills” sometimes takes away wealth. We also read in Proverbs:

“Will you set your eyes on that which is not?

For riches certainly make themselves wings;

They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” Proverbs 23:5 (NKJV)

Nevertheless, these Israelites had made up their minds. And we see from this a very important lesson for all of us. That is, when we covet, which means to greatly desire something, it blinds us and we become easily deceived, just as Reuben and Gad were.

This is why they could think they were correct in their presumption, even after forty years in the wilderness with all the Israelites longing for the promised land. Moses, himself, was distressed because he could not enter Canaan, but this was his punishment because of his disobedience in striking the rock twice. Yet they were giving up this generous inheritance for some cattle. However, they were also cheating themselves from the promises of God:

“But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety?” Deuteronomy 12:10 (NKJV)

Part of understanding this blindness comes from examining the actual Hebrew word used here for cattle. The word is miqneh and it simply means livestock of various types. But the root work for miqneh is qanah . It means “redeemed, possessor,” or “of God, creating and redeeming His people”. The deep instruction here for us is that they had made their cattle their redeemer and deliverer. They were essentially believing in material things for their joy and happiness and virtually their salvation, instead of looking to God. They had made it an idol, even as Aaron had formed one in the image of a calf when the Israelites first came out of Egypt: ?”And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, ?This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!?” Exodus 32:4 (NKJV)

Another reason they declined to cross the Jordan River is revealed in the meaning of the name. The Hebrew word for Jordan is yardane, and it means “descender” or “to go down”. The root word is yarad, and it means “to go down, to be prostrated, to be taken down, to be brought down, to sink.” It speaks to us of a dying to self. Of giving up worldly things to enter into a land of spiritual blessings. Of going on a journey of faith that takes us from dependence on the things we see and touch for sustenance and joy, to reach a special place ? where through submission to God we receive a supernatural joy and peace which the material world cannot take away.

The Deceitfulness of Riches

The tribes of Reuben and Gad did not want to settle down in the wilderness until they reached the place just east of the Jordan ? for it was well-watered and beautiful land. The rest of the wilderness had been a desert, and the dryness of it was not alluring to them. Likewise, the people who live in our present day world in countries where there is political oppression and a lack of food and comfort, see clearly that their joy and peace will not come from their material surroundings, and so they are not desirous of settling here.

However, in the prosperous West we find that there is much grass for our cattle, which we have in abundance and are trying to maintain. We rely on our material blessings for our joy and peace, because this is traditionally what we have depended on. We can even find preachers and teachers to tell us that God has given us our inheritance here, and that He wants us to have even more than we have. Many of us have lost sight of spiritual goals, because we are so immersed by the material.

We would do well then to consider the end of Reuben and Gad. In their horrible presumption and arrogance, they would not believe that Canaan was the best land simply because God said it was. Therefore they settled close to the land of Moab, where they would end up falling into paganism again, and worshiping the idols of the land. Then, after falling away from God, we read in 2 Kings 15:29 that they were eventually taken away captive by the Assyrians, years before the other tribes were attacked.

“Unstable as water, you shall not excel.” Genesis 49:4 (NKJV)

This curse had been pronounced on Reuben by his father, Jacob. And there is also a curse on us ? that is the whole human race, because of sin. But we are delivered from the curse by Christ through whom we may overcome the world and its allurements. We will excel spiritually, when we decide that God?s promises of spiritual blessings really are true, and when we invest our time and money in the Kingdom, rather than chasing the illusory riches of the day. We begin the journey across the Jordan when we decide that the material world has no lasting promise for us.

With the threat of an impending financial crisis, let us lay down this idol before it is torn from us. This is not to say that we do not work hard at our jobs, and even seek to better ourselves in the material world. But how important is it to us? Our checkbooks and schedules will reveal this. Where do we spend our money, and how do we spend our time? If God is not the priority in both, than we will find ourselves drifting into a deception such as Reuben and Gad had drifted ? to their eventual great regret.

When Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees, with nothing more than a promise from God, he did not leave a shantytown. The excavations of Ur have proved it to have been one of the most affluent cities of that day. The houses were large and most of the people were well-fed. This is the reward promised to Abraham:

“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ?Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.?” Genesis 15:1 (NKJV)

How many Christians can say the He is their exceedingly great reward? If we play the world?s game, if money and power are our idols, if we seek our own to the exclusion of His will for us, let us not doubt that we have not only put ourselves in a spiritually vulnerable position, but we are also discouraging other Christians. For after Reuben and Gad had made their proposal, Moses said:

“Now why will you discourage the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord has given them?” Numbers 32:7 (NKJV)

The Hebrew word for discourage here is nuw, and it means to “hold back, forbid, disallow, restrain, hinder or frustrate”. This is evidently what Reuben and Gad did to the tribe of Manasseh, because their schism can be traced to this event. Half of their tribe decided to cross the Jordan and the other half, influenced by these two tribes, did not. Similarly, if we as Christians set a standard in our society which allows greed and selfishness to be applauded, just as the world does, are we not discouraging those who would make a material sacrifice to serve Christ? Do we not sin corporately if we do not stand against the idolization of prosperity that rules our land?

We are known for being against homosexuality and abortion, and that should be the case. Nevertheless, are we known for not being greedy? When the gospel is preached in the richest nation on earth, is it accompanied by annoying entreaties for money? Do the people around us who are not Christians see in us a lust for the things of the world; the same lust that is holding them in bondage? Has the commandment not to covet become passe? And are we, like Reuben and Gad, dangerously far from the place in the promised land that can only be reached by a baptism of submission, humility and self-denial? Where is our inheritance and what are we living for ? this world or next one?

Only one life, will soon be passed,

Only what done for Christ will last.