Parashat Mattot (Tribes)

Bamidbar (Numbers) 30:2–32:42

As we continue in our weekly readings, we find a tragic story that we, God’s followers, still struggle with today. In order to fully understand the story, I want to first remind us of God’s promise to the sons of Israel in Exodus 3:7–8:

And the Lᴏʀᴅ said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. “So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.”

God saw the suffering of His people, and in His time, He redeemed them and brought them to the Land He had promised to our Fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Land that He described as a “good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” Yet, the sons of Reuben and Gad (as well as half of the tribe of Menashe) had it “too good” and didn’t want to leave their wealth in order to enter the Promised Land. They saw the plenty that they had and as a result, requested to not move forward with the rest of Israel into the Land which God promised them. Instead of taking hold of God’s promise, they preferred to stay in the same comfortable place they were in:

Now the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad had an exceedingly large number of livestock. So when they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that it was indeed a place suitable for livestock, the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben came and spoke to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon, the land which the Lᴏʀᴅ conquered before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock; and your servants have livestock.” And 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 across the Jordan.”

But Moses said to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here? “Now why are you discouraging the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land which the Lᴏʀᴅ has given them? “This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. “For when they went up to the valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the sons of Israel so that they did not go into the land which the Lᴏʀᴅ had given them. “So the Lᴏʀᴅ’s anger burned in that day, and He swore, saying, ‘None of the men who came up from Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob; for they did not follow Me fully, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have followed the Lᴏʀᴅ fully.’ “So the Lᴏʀᴅ’s anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the entire generation of those who had done evil in the sight of the Lᴏʀᴅ was destroyed. “Now behold, you have risen up in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to add still more to the burning anger of the Lᴏʀᴅ against Israel. “For if you turn away from following Him, He will once more abandon them in the wilderness; and you will destroy all these people.”

Then they came near to him and said, “We will build here sheepfolds for our livestock and cities for our little ones; but we ourselves will be armed ready to go before the sons of Israel, until we have brought them to their place, while our little ones live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. “We will not return to our homes until every one of the sons of Israel has possessed his inheritance. “For we will not have an inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has fallen to us on this side of the Jordan toward the east.”

So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will arm yourselves before the Lᴏʀᴅ for the war, and all of you armed men cross over the Jordan before the Lᴏʀᴅ until He has driven His enemies out from before Him, and the land is subdued before the Lᴏʀᴅ, then afterward you shall return and be free of obligation toward the Lᴏʀᴅ and toward Israel, and this land shall be yours for a possession before the Lᴏʀᴅ. “But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lᴏʀᴅ, and be sure your sin will find you out. “Build yourselves cities for your little ones, and sheepfolds for your sheep; and do what you have promised.” And the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben spoke to Moses, saying, “Your servants will do just as my lord commands. “Our little ones, our wives, our livestock and all our cattle shall remain there in the cities of Gilead; while your servants, everyone who is armed for war, will cross over in the presence of the Lᴏʀᴅ to battle, just as my lord says.”

So Moses gave command concerning them to Eleazar the priest, and to Joshua the son of Nun, and to the heads of the fathers’ households of the tribes of the sons of Israel. And Moses said to them, “If the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben, everyone who is armed for battle, will cross with you over the Jordan in the presence of the Lᴏʀᴅ, and the land will be subdued before you, then you shall give them the land of Gilead for a possession; but if they will not cross over with you armed, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.” And the sons of Gad and the sons of Reuben answered, saying, “As the Lᴏʀᴅ has said to your servants, so we will do. “We ourselves will cross over armed in the presence of the Lᴏʀᴅ into the land of Canaan, and the possession of our inheritance shall remain with us across the Jordan.”

So Moses gave to them, to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Reuben and to the half-tribe of Joseph’s son Manasseh, the kingdom of Sihon, king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og, the king of Bashan, the land with its cities with their territories, the cities of the surrounding land. And the sons of Gad built Dibon and Ataroth and Aroer, and Atroth-shophan and Jazer and Jogbehah, and Beth-nimrah and Beth-haran as fortified cities, and sheepfolds for sheep. And the sons of Reuben built Heshbon and Elealeh and Kiriathaim, and Nebo and Baal-meon — their names being changed — and Sibmah, and they gave other names to the cities which they built. And the sons of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead and took it, and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it. So Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he lived in it. And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took its towns, and called them Havvoth-jair. And Nobah went and took Kenath and its villages, and called it Nobah after his own name. ”

(Numbers 32:1–42)

Moses’ main point of contention here was not the fact that the sons of Reuben, Gad, and Menashe did not want to go with the rest of Israel into the Land of Promise, but rather that they were ok to not inherit that which God promised them.

Isn’t this story so valid for us today? We are so easily blinded by the plenty that we have and the momentary comfort of the here and now that we lose sight of all God has promised to us. And what He has promised us is so much better than anything we could make for ourselves! We act just like the sons of Reuben, Gad, and Menashe, preferring our comfort to walking the path of bold unapologetic obedience to the Lord. What He has for us is much greater than our temporary fleshly satisfaction!

In the end, it’s really about our willingness to settle for less than God’s best. We cheat ourselves out of living in His abundant blessing because we prefer to settle for what seems like the better end of the deal at the time. And we miss out on the greatness of what lies on the other side of the Jordan!

What is the Lord asking you to trust Him with in your life? Would you be willing to let go of your personal comfort (money, job, home, possessions, etc.) in order to follow Him by faith into something even greater?

He is trustworthy and faithful to lead you to a good land…are you ready?


Shabbat shalom,


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