RESOLVING ISSUES OF REWARD, RESPONSIBILITY, RULERSHIP, AND RATIONALIZATON PREPARED GOD’S PEOPLE TO MOVE FORWARD IN THEIR MISSION OF CONQUEST
Daniel Block: Moses’ recollections here divide into four parts, each of which is signaled by the chronological marker “at that time” and is controlled by a specific verb cast in the first person. In these episodes Moses’ focus shifts from the conquered land (vv. 12–17), to the two and one-half tribes of Israel (vv. 18–22), to Joshua (vv. 21–22), and to himself (vv. 23–28). Verse 29 provides an epilogic conclusion.
Peter Craigie: With the completion of the conquest east of the Jordan, the newly captured land was divided among some of the tribes. In these verses, there is first a description of the division of the land between the tribes (vv. 12–17) and then a reminder to those tribes that, although they had already come into possession of their land, nevertheless their responsibilities had not ceased until the conquest was complete.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Sometimes, just before we head out on an important trip or other venture, we pause to review. We may feel ready to move forward but then discover that a few things still need to be taken care of. Likewise for the people of Israel. This Retrospect (1:6–3:29) concludes with four brief paragraphs tying together loose ends, each set off and introduced by the phrase at that time (3:12, 18, 21, 23). Unfortunately, most translations do not follow the signal of this key phrase and divide the section into fewer than four paragraphs. A verse situating Israel geographically concludes the section.
The four paragraphs:
(1) allocate the Transjordan to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh;
(2) challenge these three tribes to represent their unity with the other tribes by sending their warriors across the Jordan to assist their kin in taking possession of the land west of the Jordan;
(3) portray Moses encouraging Joshua as he prepares to lead the tribes across the Jordan; and
(4) report one more futile appeal to God by Moses to be allowed to cross the Jordan with the people. The chapter concludes with Israel camped in the valley opposite Beth-peor, ready to cross the Jordan. But according to the logic of Deuteronomy, first it must hear the final instructions, or testament, of Moses.
I. (:12-17) ISSUE OF REWARD (INHERITANCE) –
DISTRIBUTION OF THE POSSESSED LAND IN TRANSJORDAN
(:12a) Possession of the Land
“So we took possession of this land at that time.”
Daniel Block: In the short run, the request of the two and one-half tribes to retain this land seems both logical and reasonable. This was a fertile region, especially suitable for grazing herds and flocks, as the two tribes recognized. Moreover, the Israelites’ elimination of the Amorites had created a power vacuum in the region. Nevertheless, this land had previously never been envisaged as part of the Promised Land, and one may assume that if the Israelites had entered from the south thirty-eight years earlier, it would never have become part of the land of Israel. Although Moses declared that these lands were Yahweh’s gift to the two and one-half tribes (3:18), the accounts here and in Numbers are strangely silent on the involvement of God in the process. Assuming Moses’ had access to God’s will on this matter, we are still surprised that God would allow the expansion of the territory of Israel in response to the people’s desires.
Nevertheless, in long-range terms, granting the people’s request yielded disastrous consequences. Whereas God’s original plan envisaged the Jordan as a barrier between Israel and the Transjordanian nations, in a matter of months it would divide the nation itself. The theological implications of their request dawned on the two and one-half tribes immediately after the backbone of Canaanite resistance had been broken (Josh. 22). Fearing the western Israelites would treat their descendants as second-class citizens, excluded from the people of Yahweh, they built an altar on the west bank of the Jordan to memorialize their membership in the people of Yahweh (vv. 24–25). Had cool heads not prevailed, this decision would have resulted in a civil war within Joshua’s own lifetime.
Peter Craigie: This block of land allocated to the two tribes was approximately (perhaps exactly) the territory that had formerly been Sihon’s kingdom (see Deut. 2:36).
DISTRIBUTION OF THE LAND
A. (:12b) To the Reubenites and Gadites
“From Aroer, which is by the valley of Arnon, and half the hill country of Gilead and its cities, I gave to the Reubenites and to the Gadites.”
Daniel Block: Numbers 32 tells the full story. Observing that the hills of Gilead and Bashan were ideal for raising livestock, the tribes of Reuben and Gad approached Moses for permission to claim this land as their possession (32:5). At first Moses interpreted the request as an act of rebellion against Yahweh (32:14–15), but when they assured him they would cross the Jordan with the rest of the tribes and assist them in the conquest of Canaan, he granted their request.
B. (:13) To Manasseh
“And the rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh, all the region of Argob (concerning all Bashan, it is called the land of Rephaim.”
C. (:14) To Jair, the Son of Manasseh
“Jair the son of Manasseh took all the region of Argob as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and called it, that is, Bashan, after his own name, Havvoth-jair, as it is to this day.)”
Duane Christensen: Jair and Machir took the initiative in their violence of dispossessing the Amorites of Bashan and Gilead. For their obedience they were awarded the opportunity to integrate that land into the larger “promised land” of Israel as a whole, along with the tribes of Reuben and Gad. But first they must cross over the Jordan with their brothers to complete the conquest on the other side in Cisjordan.
D. (:15) To Machir
“And to Machir I gave Gilead.”
Peter Craigie: The term Machir refers to the descendants of Machir, the son of Manasseh, and came to be used as virtually synonymous with Manasseh. The allocation of this territory to Machir was because the descendants of Machir had been the ones directly responsible for capturing it from the Amorites (Num. 32:39).
E. (:16-17) To the Reubenites and Gadites
“And to the Reubenites and to the Gadites, I gave from Gilead even as far as the valley of Arnon, the middle of the valley as a border and as far as the river Jabbok, the border of the sons of Ammon; 17 the Arabah also, with the Jordan as a border, from Chinnereth even as far as the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, at the foot of the slopes of Pisgah on the east.”
II. (:18-20) ISSUE OF RESPONSIBILITY (UNITY) –
CROSSING OVER THE JORDAN IN SOLIDARITY TO CONQUEST THE PROMISED LAND
A. (:18a) Realized Possession of the Land West of the Jordan
“Then I commanded you at that time, saying,
‘The LORD your God has given you this land to possess it;’”
B. (:18b-20) Responsibility for Fighting for Anticipated Possession of the Land East of the Jordan
1. (:18b) Leading the Charge
“all you valiant men shall cross over armed before your brothers,
the sons of Israel.”
Michael Grisanti: At the heart of this section is the reality that God seeks to maintain the solidarity and unity of the children of Israel. They need to conquer the entire region of Canaan and enjoy their new possession as one people.
This was an essential emphasis since the topographical barrier represented by the Jordan River could become an obstacle to national unity. Unfortunately, later on in Israelite history the tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan River became less interested in the affairs on the other side of the Jordan. In Judges 5, when Deborah and Barak led Israel against the Canaanites from Hazor, the tribes from Transjordan offered no assistance.
David Thompson: It has been often observed that God does not call His people to a playground but a battleground. Moses said that the men who were living on the east side, still needed to go fight for the rest of the Promised Land on the west side of the Jordan. Then he said after they had taken all the land they could return home.
2. (:19-20) Securing Your Women, Children and Livestock
“But your wives and your little ones and your livestock (I know that you have much livestock), shall remain in your cities which I have given you, 20 until the LORD gives rest to your fellow countrymen as to you, and they also possess the land which the LORD your God will give them beyond the Jordan. Then you may return every man to his possession, which I have given you.”
Peter Craigie: the many cattle were the spoil from the initial campaigns (Deut. 2:35 and 3:7). There were many of them because the land east of the Jordan, and particularly Bashan, was ideal cattle country. The emphasis here is on the new wealth of the inheritance of the eastern tribes, for cattle were a far more significant sign of prosperity in the ancient Near East than a healthy bank balance would be in the modern age.
Eugene Merrill: To further measure their resolve, the fighting men must leave their wives, children, and livestock in the Transjordan (v. 19). Only after the task of conquest in the west was over could they return (v. 20). As it turned out, this appears to have taken at least seven long years (Josh 14:6-15; cf. 22:1-4), far longer, no doubt, than the most pessimistic would have thought. As to the matter of the security and maintenance of the families left behind, one must assume that the youth and the men over the normal maximum age for military service could more than meet these needs. Of course, it would also have been possible for troops from the west to recross the Jordan to take up arms on behalf of their loved ones should the need arise, particularly in light of the fact that Gilgal, just five miles west of the Jordan, was Joshua’s headquarters during the early years of the conquest (Josh 4:19; 10:6-7,15,43; 14:6).
III. (:21-22) ISSUE OF RULERSHIP (LEADERSHIP) –
CHARGE TO JOSHUA TO MAINTAIN CONFIDENCE IN THE LORD WHO FIGHTS FOR ISRAEL
A. (:21) Confidence Based on Past Experience of Conquests Directed by the Lord
“And I commanded Joshua at that time, saying, ‘Your eyes have seen all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings; so the LORD shall do to all the kingdoms into which you are about to cross.’”
David Thompson: It is critical that God’s people move forward for God, and one of the keys to doing that is not being afraid of the future; and one of the keys to not being afraid of the future is remembering that as long as we have obeyed God, we have seen God give us victory.
B. (:22) Confidence Based on the Lord’s Continuing Presence and Dominion
“Do not fear them, for the LORD your God is the one fighting for you.”
Daniel Block: Moses’ charge to Joshua consisted of three elements.
(1) He reminded Joshua of his own past experience of Yahweh’s intervention on Israel’s behalf, which Joshua had seen with his own eyes.
(2) Moses declared that Yahweh’s triumph over Sihon and Og was paradigmatic for what he would do against the kingdoms on the other side of the Jordan.
(3) Moses promised the continued presence of Yahweh, for Yahweh is the divine Warrior fighting for them.
Peter Craigie: Moses employs here the now familiar technique of eliciting courage for the future on the basis of the experience of the past. Joshua had a formidable task before him, but he was called upon to undertake it in the sure knowledge of a God who had already shown himself faithful. As the Lord had done in the past, just so will the Lord do to all the kingdoms to which you are about to cross over.
The words to Joshua are completed by a charge not to fear man, the visible and tangible enemy, for the Lord, though invisible and intangible, he is the one fighting for you.
IV. (:23-28) ISSUE OF RATIONALIZATION (REQUEST) —
DENIAL OF MOSES’ PETITION TO CROSS THE JORDAN RIVER AND SEE THE GOOD LAND
A. (:23-25) Prayer of Moses
1. (:23) Intensity of His Prayer
“I also pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying,”
David Guzik: We can appreciate what a painful thing this was for Moses. He lived the first 40 years of his life confident in his own ability to deliver Israel. He spent the next 40 years of his life having that confidence demolished as he tended his father-in-law’s sheep. He spent the last 40 years of his life being used of God to do what he was called to do. Now, he was not allowed to see the end result. No wonder Moses pleaded with the Lord.
2. (:24a) Invocation
“O Lord God,”
Peter Craigie: Lord God—the Hebrew is ʾădōnāy yhwh. This name or title for God is used only twice in Deuteronomy and on both occasions it appears in a prayer of Moses (here and at 9:26). It is indicative of the deeply personal tone of the request Moses brings to the Lord.
3. (:24b) Praise for God’s Demonstrated Power
“Thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness and Thy strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as Thine?”
Daniel Block: In prayers imbedded in Old Testament narratives, the opening invocation is often followed by a description of the divine addressee, proclaiming his power and uniqueness. This particular declaration consists of a statement followed by a rhetorical question.
Michael Grisanti: Although Moses was the great lawgiver and the ruler of Israel, he addresses his God as the “Sovereign LORD” and regards himself as his “servant.” Moses realized that he had only begun to comprehend his great God’s majesty because God had only begun to manifest himself to Moses and his people. The phrase “your greatness and your strong hand” refers to Yahweh’s awe-inspiring character and his impressive interventions in Israel’s behalf.
4. (:25) Petition
“Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.”
Peter Craigie: The prayer began with a recollection of God’s activity in the past, which was followed by words praising the incomparable character of the Lord. Now Moses voices his request to be permitted to pass over the Jordan. The words of the request are related directly to the earlier part of the prayer; Moses wished to cross over so that he could see the good land. He desired the completion of the vision that had grown toward fulfilment over more than forty years. Though he would have been too old to savor for long the experience of the land, just to set foot on it would have been sufficient reward for the years of struggle and anticipation.
B. (:26-28) Denial by the Lord
1. (:26) Response of Anger
“But the LORD was angry with me on your account,
and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me,
‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The expression used for God’s anger is strong (v. 26). In Psalm 78 it is used twice, first as in “he was full of wrath” (v. 59), and then again in verse 62: “He gave his people to the sword, and vented his wrath on his heritage.” Simply inserting that sense into our passage may be too harsh since the specific word choice may well have been influenced by the immediate context. The term itself is based on the same Hebrew root as the verb “to cross.” These verses thus involve a wordplay, or a pun, on the term “cross.” The passage begins with Moses requesting permission to “cross the Jordan.” The response then could be translated, but the Lord was cross with me (v. 26 AT), with the continuation, for you shall not cross the Jordan (v. 27).
2. (:27) Response of Consolation
“Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes,
for you shall not cross over this Jordan.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Behind this language lies the story of Abraham and Lot (Gen 13). After Abraham and Lot separate, with Lot settling in the cities of the plains and Abraham in Canaan, God says to Abraham, “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (Gen 13:14–15). At that time Abraham was promised the land, but he could only behold it and sojourn in it. Similarly, now Moses is asked to survey the land. Like Abraham, he is unable to settle down on it, but he is able to see the land. In ancient legal custom, a formal seeing the land was a form of accepting the grant (cf. 1:8). The land had been promised to the ancestors, and it was given formally at the beginning of Deuteronomy (1:8); in viewing the land, Moses now accepts it. All that remains is the actual taking possession of that which has been given.
3. (:28) Response of Leadership Transition
“But charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him;
for he shall go across at the head of this people,
and he shall give them as an inheritance the land which you will see.”
Peter Craigie: The response of the Lord introduces Joshua again (see also vv. 21–22), thus returning to one of the most important themes in the book, the succession of the leadership from Moses to Joshua.
(:29) EPILOGUE – GEOGRAPHICAL MARKER
“So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor.”
Daniel Block: Moses concludes his recollections of this painful episode abruptly by noting simply that he and the people remained in the valley opposite Beth Peor on the plains of Moab (34:1), the place where he delivered this address. The valley in question was probably Wadi ʿAyn Musa, “The Valley of Moses’ Well,” at the foot of Pisgah. Beth Peor is probably an abbreviation for the fuller name, Beth Baal Peor, “the house of Baal of Peor,” which suggests the location of a shrine to Baal (cf. 4:3). The Israelites are still at the place where they had recently engaged in spiritual prostitution and physical harlotry (Num. 25:1–9).
Gerald Gerbrandt: Across the Jordan from Beth-peor is Shittim, the place where Numbers reports, “Israel yoked itself to the Baal of Peor” (Num 25:1–5). Is Deuteronomy subtly warning the audience that Israel is ready to cross the Jordan, but that the crossing is fraught with danger and temptation (Brueggemann 2001: 46)? In order to survive the crossing and life in the land, Israel will need to heed the instructions it will receive from Moses in the remainder of the book.