By Kristin B. Sizemore
My daily reading led me to Numbers 32 today. At this point, Israel has been delivered from Egypt, received God’s law, wandered in the wilderness for 40 years because of their disbelief, and has finally begun the string of wars and battles that will result in the conquest of the Promised Land. They have received victories through faith over the territories of Midian, Sihon, and Og, but they still have the hardest battles to wage ahead.
Once Israel crosses the Jordan, they will be facing the fight of their lives to possess the land that Jehovah Himself has given to them. Still, the land on the east of the Jordan is pretty attractive and absolutely perfect for raising cattle on. It just so happens that the tribes of Reuben and Gad possess multitudes of cattle! It’s perfect! They come to Moses with a plan; they will stay east of Jordan, cultivate this land, raise their cattle, and live happily ever after.
Moses goes off! Do you blame him? You can’t blame him. Moses was a reluctant leader in the first place. Only his faith in Jehovah pulled him from his happy hideout among the flocks of Jethro in the desert. Then he faces Egypt, a heathen nation, intent on serving demons and enslaving God’s people. God performs miracles and wonders, delivering Israel from bondage. The Holy Ghost is a visible Guiding Presence, manifested in the form of a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud and functioning as a protecting navigational system. Still, when opposition comes, Israel freaks out. God parts the sea, destroys the enemy, and leads His people to safety. He gives them His law and confirms it with mighty thunderings, which if you study translation, are God’s literal voice speaking simultaneously in the 70 tongues of the nations. This turns out to be the first Day of Pentecost, by the way. The prophetic element in that is the cause for the hair standing up on the back of your neck right now. God actually eats and drinks with His new divine council, the leaders of Israel. Still, Israel gets restless and decides to worship the gods of Egypt. Many are destroyed by the wrath of God after that escapade. The pattern continues; Israel doubts, Israel sins, God issues judgment, God extends mercy.
The cycle continues until the day of the evil report. Israel has reached the entrance of the Promised Land. All they have to do is accept what is theirs through faith. The congregation of Israel rejects the report of faith. God issues judgment. They will wonder in the wilderness for 40 years, waiting for the disbelieving generation to die off. As Israel continues its pattern, Moses becomes angry and disobeys God’s instructions regarding the water from the rock. He knows he’ll stay behind and gladly accepts God’s righteous judgment. My point is, Moses has probably just about had it.
So, at the end of Israel’s sentence in the wilderness, here come these guys, the leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad and they basically ask, “So, can we just hang out here?”
Please read Numbers 32:1-15 and then enjoy my own unhinged translation of my friend, Moses’s, response,
“Are you joking? Your brethren are going to go to war and you’re just going to sit here and hang out? Are you planning to discourage the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land that God has given them? This is what your fathers did at Kadesh-Barnea! They came back from scouting out the land and discouraged the heart of the children of Israel and convinced them that they should not go into the land that the Lord had given them! The Lord’s anger was kindled and He issued His judgment that no one over the age of 20 would see the land that He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because they had not wholly followed him! Only Caleb and Joshua would be preserved because they wholly followed God. The Lord was so angry with Israel that He caused them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until all that received the evil report were consumed! Now, here you are, cut right out of your fathers! You are an increase of sinful men that you would again kindle the Lord’s anger toward Israel! If you turn away from God, He will again leave Israel in the wilderness and all His people will be destroyed!”
It turns out that the tribes of Reuben and Gad had a solution; they would build pens for their livestock, fenced cities for their women and children, and then join the rest of Israel in battle, not returning to their homes, east of Jordan, until the conquest of the Promised Land was complete. This was agreeable to all parties and even fulfilled the eastward boundaries that God had promised to Abraham. I bet they wish they would’ve come off with that in the first place. Actually, why didn’t they? Were they hoping to get away with settling into their inheritance and leaving their people to fight the battles of conquest, down by two tribes? We may never know, but I highly suspect that if Moses hadn’t so fiercely objected to the problems with their request, it would have been pretty tempting just to hang out and leave the hard work to the rest.
How many times are we guilty of this type of offense? We are willing to be loyal to God, to our family of believers, to our leaders, but we bail when we get the opportunity to do so. They’ve got it under control. It’s no big deal if I miss one mid-week service. I can’t worship until this need is met. It’s just prayer meeting. I can pray at home. Why should I have to drag into church just to pray with a bunch of people? The bible doesn’t say in one directive sentence that I should be faithful to church.
God expects faithfulness and loyalty; to Him, to His Word, to the leaders He’s called to have authority over you, to worship, to the body of believers He has placed you with. You can loophole all you want. I used to be an expert. Trust me, it’s dangerous. It’s abusive to God’s Word. Once you break yourself, you’ll have a price to pay to get your mind and heart back under subjection to God’s truth. If you receive the whole Word of God, you won’t have questions regarding faithfulness and loyalty or what they entail.
What happens when your leader finally calls you on it?
“Are you joking? You’re going to just bail on us while we’re here trying to unite in worship? You’re not going to work alongside us toward the purpose He has called this body of believers to accomplish? You are just like the people who received the evil report; failing to place your faith and trust wholly in God and His promises! You are going to keep your fellow believers from receiving all God has for them and prevent souls from coming to salvation!”
I’ll have to give it to the tribes of Gad and Reuben; they fell in line. They didn’t get angry or defensive. They simply promised their faithfulness and loyalty and asked that they could inherit the land of their choice if they were true to their word. How do we, in the modern church world react? As a pastor’s wife, I can tell you that some react just as Gad and Reuben did. They accept Godly directives and apply them to their lives, for the good of their spiritual walk and the success of the church. However, some act and speak in defiance, bearing the long-standing effects of the shadow of the evil report at Kadesh-Barnea. Who does he think he is? Why should I have to be faithful? I don’t deserve to be spoken to in that way! He doesn’t understand what’s going on in my life! Easier said than done!
So, who will you be? Will you be faithful and loyal to God and His purpose for you or will you reject the timeless truths of God’s plan in favor of an evil report? What is the price of your belief in the good report? Would you rather waller (yes, waller) in the evil mud and muck of Kadesh-Barnea or rise up and join God’s remnant as we unite in faith to receive the victory, milk, and honey of the Promised Land?