THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD TO HIS COVENANT STIPULATIONS ENABLES INITIAL MILITARY SUCCESS FOR THE TRANSJORDANIAN TRIBES BUT EVENTUALLY RELEGATES THEM TO EXILE DUE TO IDOLATRY
Frederick Mabie: As part of his survey of “all Israel,” the Chronicler now turns his attention to the Transjordanian tribes of Reuben, Gad, and (part) Manasseh. Prior to Israel’s entry into Canaan, Israel acquired land in Transjordan in conjunction with the defeat of Sihon and Og (cf. Nu 21:21–35; Dt 2:24–3:10). The area taken from Sihon extended from the border of Moab at the Arnon River/Wadi to the Jabbok River/Wadi and eastward to the border of the Ammonites. The allure of this region, given its agricultural richness and prime grazing areas (cf. Lot in Ge 13), prompted Reuben and Gad to seek the “land of Gilead” as their inheritance (Nu 32).
Although not well received initially (cf. Nu 32:6–15), this Transjordanian territory is ultimately allotted to Reuben, Gad, and part of Manasseh (cf. Nu 32:33). Although efforts were made to ensure that the Jordan River did not divide the tribes of Israel (cf. Jos 22:21–34), it nevertheless functioned as a barrier to tribal integration. As with the tribe of Simeon, these tribes had long ceased to exist within their original tribal territory by the time of the Chronicler. As such, the Chronicler’s presentation of the genealogical material of these tribes continues his emphasis on showing continuity between the past and present that can foster hope within his postexilic audience. With this in mind, the Chronicler’s remarks on God’s blessing and enablement to those who cry out to him in prayer and trust (vv.20–22) stand in important contrast to the remarks on God’s judgment of those who persist in covenantal unfaithfulness (vv.25–26).
Andrew Hill: The purpose of the passage is twofold.
(1) The account explains the prominence of the tribe of Judah even though Reuben was the firstborn son of Jacob (renamed Israel).
(2) The record contributes to the Chronicler’s goal of including all the tribes of Israel in the ideal “all Israel” identity he seeks to establish for the postexilic community.
J.A. Thompson: Up to this point the Chronicler has dealt with Judah and Simeon. But following his scheme of giving the total tribal picture built around the three central tribes of Judah, Levi, and Benjamin who remained faithful to the Davidic kingship and the temple, he needed to give attention also to the other tribes. The first of these in his order was the tribe of Reuben (5:1–10). We may postulate that the Chronicler had a source which preserved some personal details about Reuben and his descendants and brief notes of a very localized nature concerning pastures for their flocks.
I. (:1-10) TRIBE OF REUBEN
A. (:1-2) Explanation of the Demotion of Reuben from First-Born Privileges
“Now the sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel (for he was the first-born, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright. 2 Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph),”
Frederick Mabie: The Chronicler’s genealogical summary of the tribal line of Reuben has an almost immediate digression that seeks to explain why the firstborn of Jacob’s sons (namely, Reuben) was not afforded the typical benefits of the firstborn expected within the biblical world (note the repetition of “firstborn” in vv.1–3). As with the near landlessness of Simeon (see comments on 4:24–31), the basis for this demotion is based on an event within the story line of Genesis (the situation with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah; cf. Ge 35:22) and anticipated in Jacob’s prophetic “blessings” on his sons (cf. Ge 49:3–4). The demotion of Reuben is coupled with the promotion of Joseph, which also draws on the content of Genesis (cf. Ge 48:5; Dt 21:15–17).
August Konkel: The Chronicler distinguishes three levels of status for Reuben, Joseph, and Judah. At the death of Rachel, Reuben tried to prevent Bilhah from assuming his mother’s position as the chief wife of his father (Gen 35:22; cf. 49:3–4). His attempt to prematurely lay claim to his inheritance and become successor to his father resulted in disgrace and loss of leadership (Sarna 1989: 244–45). The birthright was given to Joseph, who achieved a special distinction from his father. Joseph’s two sons became sons to Jacob (Gen 48:5). Each of them received an inheritance, so that Joseph was given a double portion (48:22), the right of the firstborn (Deut 21:17). The Chronicler uses this interpretation of the Genesis record to say that Reuben could not be registered as having the birthright (1 Chron 5:1), though he was the firstborn.
This interpretation is consistent with the tradition of Israel. Reuben is first in naming the tribal representatives (Num 1:5–15), but Judah occupies the primary position in the encampment of the tribes (2:3–31) and in the order of presenting daily offerings (7:12–83). According to the blessing of Jacob, the scepter belonged to Judah and would not be taken from him (Gen 49:8–12). Judah was the lion among his brothers, and they would bow before him.
J.A. Thompson: Normally the firstborn son would have taken precedence. But Reuben, Jacob’s eldest son, born to Leah (Gen 29:32; 35:23; 49:3; Exod 6:14; Num 1:20; 26:5) defiled his father’s bed (Gen 35:22; 49:4b) and was displaced from the first place in favor of Judah. Further, Reuben was associated with Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. As a result, Reuben was not listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright. Perhaps another factor that influenced the Chronicler in dropping Reuben from his place in the tribal list in favor of Joseph was that Joseph was the firstborn son of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. Fathers could determine who was the “eldest” son, especially when the normal heir had committed an offense.
B. (:3-10) History of the Tribe of Reuben
Martin Selman: The Reubenites’ history is divided into at least three periods (vv. 3-6, 7-9, 10). Beerah (v. 6) seems to represent the end of the tribe’s existence when they were exiled by Tiglathpileser III (Tilgathpilneser, here and 2 Chr. 28:20), probably in 733 BC. . . Verses 7-10 describe Reubenite expansion in earlier times. Arver, Nebo, and Baal-meon (v. 8) were recaptured from Ahab by Mesha King of Moab in the second half of the ninth century BC. (cf. Num. 32:3, 38; Josh. 13:16-17). The Hagrites (v. 1-10, cf. vv. 19-21), who were defeated in Saul’s time in the eleventh century BC, were associated both with the Arabs (cf. Hagar) and the Moabites (Ps. 83:6).
1. (:3-6) Genealogical Survey Up to the Exile
“the sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel were Hanoch and Pallu, Hezron and Carmi. 4 The sons of Joel were Shemaiah his son, Gog his son, Shimei his son, 5 Micah his son, Reaiah his son, Baal his son, 6 Beerah his son, whom Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria carried away into exile; he was leader of the Reubenites.”
2. (:7-9) Geographical Expansion
“And his kinsmen by their families, in the genealogy of their generations, were Jeiel the chief, then Zechariah 8 and Bela the son of Azaz, the son of Shema, the son of Joel, who lived in Aroer, even to Nebo and Baal-meon. 9 And to the east he settled as far as the entrance of the wilderness from the river Euphrates, because their cattle had increased in the land of Gilead.”
August Konkel: The Chronicler’s concern is the documentation of authority and genealogical relationships. He discusses registration of the families of Beerah (v. 7a) according to the subdivisions of each tribe. Unlike Joshua, where individual families are not identified (cf. Josh 13:15, 24, 29), the Chronicler supplies some of the tribal subdivisions. There is no indication when this registration occurred; it could have been any time from Saul to the Assyrian period.
Frederick Mabie: The geographical extent of the Reubenites of v.8 reflects Reuben’s early territorial hub to the north of Moab (i.e., north of the Arnon River/Wadi) and west of Ammon, while the geographical markers in v.9 reflect eastward expansion by the tribe. Thus, as he did with the tribe of Simeon, the Chronicler highlights military successes and territorial expansions of the tribe of Reuben (vv.8–10), which resulted in additional pastureland for the tribe (recall the prayer of Jabez [4:9–10].
Mark Boda: Although in the first half of this genealogy (5:1-6) the Chronicler was honest about Reuben’s loss of firstborn status and blessing and did not hide the exilic nightmare his tribe faced in the Assyrian period, the second half (5:7-10) highlights signs of blessing with extensive tribal territory, accumulation of wealth, and success in battle.
3. (:10) Military Conquest of the Hagrites
“And in the days of Saul they made war with the Hagrites, who fell by their hand, so that they occupied their tents throughout all the land east of Gilead.”
II. (:11-17) TRIBE OF GAD
“Now the sons of Gad lived opposite them in the land of Bashan as far as Salecah. 12 Joel was the chief, and Shapham the second, then Janai and Shaphat in Bashan. 13 And their kinsmen of their fathers’ households were Michael, Meshullam, Sheba, Jorai, Jacan, Zia, and Eber, seven. 14 These were the sons of Abihail, the son of Huri, the son of Jaroah, the son of Gilead, the son of Michael, the son of Jeshishai, the son of Jahdo, the son of Buz; 15 Ahi the son of Abdiel, the son of Guni, was head of their fathers’ households. 16 And they lived in Gilead, in Bashan and in its towns, and in all the pasture lands of Sharon, as far as their borders. 17 All of these were enrolled in the genealogies in the days of Jotham king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam king of Israel.”
August Konkel: The tribe of Gad settled next to Reuben in the territory of Bashan (v. 11). Bashan is the fertile basaltic tableland mainly north of the Yarmuk, the river that flows into the Jordan just south of the Sea of Galilee. The area was proverbial for its cattle ranges (Amos 4:1). Mount Hauran (Jebel Druze) rises east of Bashan, protecting it from the desert; its snow-capped peaks have significant rainfall in spite of its eastern location. Salekah is the traditional eastern province of Bashan (Deut 3:10; Josh 12:5; 13:11), often associated with a spur of Mount Hauran. This is far north of the original settlement of Gad and the Arnon in Dibon, Ataroth, and Aroer (Num 32:34). The Gadites migrated northward, making Ramoth Gilead one of their cities (Deut 4:43). The Chronicler describes the Gadites as occupying Bashan alongside the half-tribe of Manasseh.
The Gadite record begins with one clan distinguished by four notable leaders and a total of eleven family heads (1 Chron 5:12–13). These are not connected to other known genealogies (Gen 46:16; Num 26:15–17). The relationship of the sons of Abihail (1 Chron 5:14) to the previous families is ambiguous. The name Ahi is textually uncertain (v. 15). Abihail may be regarded as the father of the preceding eleven family heads, having a pedigree of seven generations. Ahi is then identified as a chief among these Gadite clans, though his relationship to Joel, the first chief mentioned (v. 12), is left unexplained. If the name Ahi is omitted, Abihail is an earlier chief with a genealogy of nine more generations.
Gilead is a rugged mountain region that reaches altitudes of over three thousand feet on the north and south sides of the Jabbok. The actual tableland is fairly narrow, as the western slopes dominate the area, and the eastern desert draws nearer than Bashan, which has the protection of the Hauran Mountains. Gilead sometimes is a general reference to Transjordan; in the genealogy Gilead is a descendant of Gad (v. 14). The depiction of Gilead and the outlying villages of Bashan is unusual (v. 16); normally the expression is used of villages surrounding a major city, such as Jabesh in the mountainous area of northern Gilead. It may be that “Jabesh” was the original reading (Knoppers 2004a: 379); the loss of an initial letter yod resulted in the reading Bashan. In the Mesha Inscription of Moab, Sharon is a region or city in the area of Medeba, the northern area of Moab. “Pasturelands” is a term used for a designated grazing area about one thousand yards outside of town limits (Num 35:1–5). If this identification of Sharon is correct, the Chronicler names the northern and southern regions of Gad.
Eugene Merrill: The Gadites settled in Bashan, south and east of the Sea of Kinnereth and north of the Yarmuk River. There was no clearly defined border between Gilead and Bashan (v. 16) so no doubt the Eastern tribes mingled rather freely.
J.A. Thompson: The discussion on Gad is short, a mere seven verses. It does not contain material from the lists of Gen 46:6; Num 26:15–18 or from the list of those in David’s army in 1 Chr 12:9–13. The Chronicler must have had access to an independent source. The list contains some important geographical information and an account of the Hagrite war.
Andrew Hill: During Old Testament times Bashan was an extremely fertile plateau and was renowned for its grain harvests and served as pasturage for cattle (cf. Deut. 32:14) and as a source of timber (cf. Isa. 2:13). The desire for control of this highly productive real estate led to repeated warfare between Israel and Aram.
III. (:18-22) MILITARY ACCOMPLISHMENTS
“The sons of Reuben and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, consisting of valiant men, men who bore shield and sword and shot with bow, and were skillful in battle, were 44,760, who went to war. 19 And they made war against the Hagrites, Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab. 20 And they were helped against them, and the Hagrites and all who were with them were given into their hand; for they cried out to God in the battle, and He was entreated for them, because they trusted in Him. 21 And they took away their cattle: their 50,000 camels, 250,000 sheep, 2,000 donkeys, and 100,000 men. 22 For many fell slain, because the war was of God. And they settled in their place until the exile.”
Martin Selman: These verses are a summary dealing with expansion and conquest by the two-and-a-half tribes.
J.A. Thompson: V. 18 — We are given a glimpse of the composition of these military forces in three descriptions:
• “men who could handle shield and sword,”
• “who could use a bow,” and
• “who were trained for battle.”
V. 20 — What is transparent from this report is that the impressive military credentials of the Transjordan tribes were not the deciding factor in their victory. God’s response to their prayer prompted his intervention and their final victory (cf. 2 Chr 6:34–39). Here is another piece of evidence collected by the Chronicler to demonstrate his ardent belief that kingship was not necessary for Israel to regain its lands and restore its good fortunes. What was required was a people devoted to God. A feature of the Chronicler’s theology was that when God’s people called on God in the day of battle, he helped them and handed their foes over to them. They cried out to God, they trusted him, and he answered their prayers.
Frederick Mabie: Although the genealogy of the half-tribe of Manasseh has not yet been given (cf. vv.23–24), the Chronicler provides an account of the three Transjordanian tribes that intersects with the crux of his message, namely, God’s faithfulness to effect covenantal blessings to those who seek him (vv.20–22). When God is sought and trusted by his people, the battle of his people becomes his own battle (v.22; cf. Dt 20:4; Lev 26:6–8).
The theme of God’s faithfulness is stressed over and again by the Chronicler, no doubt for the encouragement of the postexilic community (cf. Jer 29:10–14). Conversely, as the summary of the genealogy of the Transjordanian tribes will show (5:25–26), God is also “faithful” to bring about covenantal consequences for disobedience and unfaithfulness.
August Konkel: The Hagrites were allied with three other Arabic tribes. Jetur and Naphish are found elsewhere in the genealogies, among the descendants of Ishmael (Gen 25:15; 1 Chron 1:31). The battle description makes God the warrior on behalf of the three tribes, as in Pharaoh’s defeat as Israel crossed the Red Sea or the fall of Jericho. The victory was not a result of military strategy or the massive number of warriors present. Land is a gift of God to his people; it is consistent with the Chronicler’s theology that trust in God is rewarded with his provision.
Eugene Merrill: The chronicler interrupted the genealogies to comment on military matters common to the Eastern tribes. He recounted their war with the Hagrites (cf. v. 10) and their allies. The Transjordanian tribes, with their 44,760 soldiers, achieved a signal triumph by God’s help in answer to their prayers. The number of captured livestock was huge (v. 21), revealing that that land area was fertile for sheep grazing. This occurred in the days of Saul (v. 10), perhaps in connection with Saul’s Ammonite wars (cf. 1 Sam. 1:1-11). The Hagrites, known now from Assyrian inscriptions, were replaced by the victorious Israelites until the Exile (1 Chron. 5:22), perhaps the Assyrian Captivity of some Israelites led by Tiglath-Pileser III in 734 B.C. (not to be confused with the final Assyrian Captivity of Israel in 722 B.C.).
IV. (:23-26) TRANSJORDANIAN MANASSEH
A. (:23-24) Summary of Manasseh’s Significance
1. (:23) Multiplied within Specific Geographic Areas
“Now the sons of the half-tribe of Manasseh lived in the land;
from Bashan to Baal-hermon and Senir and Mount Hermon they were numerous.”
2. (:24) Major Leaders
“And these were the heads of their fathers’ households, even Epher, Ishi, Eliel, Azriel, Jeremiah, Hodaviah, and Jahdiel, mighty men of valor, famous men, heads of their fathers’ households.”
B. (:25-26) Spiritual Failure Resulting in Exile
“But they acted treacherously against the God of their fathers, and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. 26 So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, even the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away into exile, namely the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and to the river of Gozan, to this day.”
Mark Boda: By linking the Exile to unfaithfulness, the Chronicler is again foreshadowing one of the key themes in his narrative work (see the account of Manasseh in 2 Chr 33). Such unfaithfulness is consistently linked there as here to illicit worship of foreign gods, here described in terms of breaking marital vows. The results of such behavior throughout his narrative account is divine discipline, the ultimate expression of which is invasion by foreign armies and exile to foreign lands.
John Schultz: The final paragraph provides reasons for the exile of the northern tribes in general and the Transjordan tribes in particular. It follows Chronicles’ typical practice of quoting earlier biblical material, in this case using 2 Kings 17:7-23 as a general background and selecting specific information from 2 Kings 15:19, 29; 17:6; 18:11. But more importantly, it follows almost exactly the structure of the explanation of Judah’s exile in 2 Chronicles 36:14-20, occasionally employing even the same wording. The same four essential elements are found in both passages.
(a) Israel and Judah were unfaithful to God (cf. 2 Chr. 36:14 … )
(b) they were especially condemned for their idolatry (cf. 2 Chr. 36:14);
(c) God sent a foreign army to punish his people (cf. 2 Chr. 36:17); and
(d) they went into exile (cf. 2 Chr. 36:18- 20).
Frederick Mabie: Although the Chronicler has pointed out the successes of the Transjordanian tribes as they sought him (cf. vv.20–22), this summary of their genealogy reflects the reality that ultimately these tribes were unfaithful to God (cf. 2Ki 17:7–17). In the light of the covenantal unfaithfulness of these tribes, God is “faithful” to bring about promised covenantal consequences for disobedience and unfaithfulness, including defeat by enemies (cf. Lev 26:14–17; Dt 28:48). The sovereign agency of God is seen in his use of the Neo-Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III (ca. 745–27 BC; spelled “Pilneser” by the Chronicler and also noted by his throne name “Pul”), whom God “stirred up” both to defeat and disperse the Transjordanian tribes (v.26; cf. Isa 10:5).
August Konkel: The exile of the Transjordanian tribes was because of their unfaithfulness to the covenant, described as an adulterous relationship with other gods (v. 25). The campaigns of Tiglath-Pileser were primarily directed against Damascus, but his campaigns included northern Israel (2 Kings 15:29). A summary inscription in Tiglath-Pileser’s annals recounts the overthrow of Pekah, whose base of operations began in Transjordan (COS 2.291, Summary Inscription 9–10). The location of the deportation is known from 2 Kings 17:6. Gozan was a location on the Habur River, a tributary to the Euphrates. Halah was a town and district northeast of Nineveh; the name Hara describes this area as the mountain. From the viewpoint of the Chronicler, that territory remained in exile in his time.
Andrew Hill: The Chronicler’s consistent understanding of God’s sovereignty is worth noting. It is God who stirred the spirit of the king of Assyria to judge the sin of Israel (1 Chron. 5:26). Likewise, it is God who stirred the spirit of the king of Persia to permit the Jews to return to their covenant homeland (cf. 2 Chron. 36:22–23).