Today we’re going to be talking about victory and living in victory. Chapter 12 is a transitional chapter between fighting the battles and dividing the land.
Verses 1-6 describe the victories of Moses on the east side of the Jordan, the battles on the way to the Promised Land. When we begin to follow the path of God’s promises, the battles begin. Along the path, we will encounter distraction, discouragement, and struggles. Satan’s greatest goal is to rob God of His glory, and some people veer from the path before they ever experience a taste of what God has for them. If not us, we probably know some who seem to be growing in their understanding of spiritual things, and then some catastrophe or something really good (a new relationship, a job, a hobby, etc.) brings great distraction, and the narrow path to God’s promises is abandoned for the broad path of destruction. And that is what happened to a portion of Israel.
Israel was on the east side of the land, and they lived in relative peace as they prepared to enter God’s promised land. Two and a half tribes, the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh, were shepherds. They saw how good the land was for livestock, and they were satisfied there, so they asked Moses if they could settle in the land east of the Jordan, and not enter in to God’s promised land. The tribes were on the path to the promises of God, but were distracted by good things.
Verses 7-24 are about the defeated kings within the land, 31 in all. Joshua and Israel had taken much of the land, but the battles were not over yet – there was still work to be done. Chapter 12 is a moment of reflection, a reminder to them of what God had done through them. How often do we find ourselves in that same place? The purpose of the church is to gather together and stir one another up. What has God done in your life in the past week, month, year, 5 years? That is why we take time each month in our morning gathering to ask the question, “What has God done in your life?” Sharing the work God has done in your life encourages others to press on and reminds us of God’s faithfulness.
Now Joshua was old and advanced in years when the LORD said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land remains to be possessed. Joshua 13:1
God reminded Joshua that there was still work to be done and encouraged him to keep going. The chapter goes on to list all the land that Israel had not yet conquered. In fact, Israel never completely fulfilled what God had called them to do – they never completely drove out the Canaanites or occupied the land.
God’s work was not yet finished. The work of sanctification or being set apart as a nation was not complete. Israel fell short, and the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh never entered the land, thus the book of Judges. Chapter 1 of Judges begins with victories, but later we read that Manasseh did not drive out, Ephraim did not drive out, Zebulum did not drive out, Asher did not drive out, and on the list goes on. The Canaanites persisted in the land and even prohibited Dan from taking their allotted territory. Joshua died, and only one generation later, Israel followed after Baal. God commanded Israel to take the territory completely because He knew they would be influenced and distracted.
Now that we have this overview of Chapter 12, we’ll take a closer look at the two and a half tribes who stayed on the east side.
Moses the servant of the LORD and the sons of Israel defeated them; and Moses the servant of the LORD gave it to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half- tribe of Manasseh as a possession. Joshua 12:6
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 LORD conquered before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” 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 LORD has given them? “This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land….”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 LORD 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.” Numbers 32:1-8, 14-19
What happened here? The two and a half tribes were delivered out of Egypt forty years before with the rest of Israel. They had seen God’s providence and heard of His promises as they wandered in the wilderness, and they reached the river’s edge along with everyone else. So what happened?
The tribes had a lot of livestock (which equaled wealth, power, and influence), and they were not sure what was in the promised land. When they saw that the land was good for livestock, they decided they wanted to stay on the east side of the river. They trusted in their eyes and flesh rather than the promises of God. These were not pagans or unsaved people – these were people who had seen the mighty hand of God working in the wilderness, who would see God part the waters of the Jordan and defeat an overwhelming enemy. They were not ignorant of God, and yet they did not enter in to the land.
This is the same temptation that Adam and Eve were caught up with in the garden. Eve saw that the fruit was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and able to make one wise. She forsook the promises of God and went for the fruit. Before we judge Adam and Eve or the two and a half tribes, we do the same thing – we trust in what we can see. In 1 John, we read something very similar:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17
The tribes were close to having what God wanted for them, but they fell short. They failed to enter in because they put their eyes and hearts on the things of this world – they trusted in their own wisdom rather than the promises of God.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5
Do we find ourselves doing the same things as the tribes? Do we take what looks like the safe route, the route we can feel and touch and hold, rather than leaning on the promises of God? One of the main messages of Joshua is that every single promise God made to Israel came to pass:
Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed: All came to pass. Joshua 21:45
But not all of Israel received the promises of God. Because the two and a half tribes did not enter into the land, they did not experience all that God had for them. In fact, because of the distances and separation of the Jordan, the tribes drifted quickly and compromise came. Because they were separated out, they were unable to worship and sacrifice with the rest of Israel. They became that lone antelope away from the herd, out of community, and they were taken down.
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. 1 Chronicles 5:25-26
The tribes were the first to go into Assyrian captivity, and they lost all influence in the history of Israel. Were they cut out forever, and did they lose their place in the nation of Israel? No, but they did miss out on God’s blessing. Some speculate that the tribes remained on the east side of the river, still herdsman but now herding pigs. If that theory is true, that the tribes became Jewish pig farmers, what a terrible legacy for them.
The two and a half tribes are like the third soil in the parable Jesus told in Matthew 13. The sower sows seeds, the word of God. The first seed falls on hard soil and the birds eat it up – this represents hardened hearts and the work of the enemy. The second heart/soil receives the seed, but it is a rocky soil and there are no roots. The seed sprouts up quickly, but withers in the sun – this represents those who respond quickly yet have no depth or understanding, and as soon as persecution or an uncomfortable moment comes, they are gone.
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19
The third soil/heart seemed to be good soil and the seed grew, but there were also weeds. Scripture tells us that the weeds represent the worries, concerns, and distractions of the world. When asked by His disciples what this mean, Jesus said:
And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. Matthew 13:22
This person is consumed with the world and all that it offers, like the two and a half tribes who look at their herds and say, “This is good enough. I am comfortable. I don’t need all the promises of God.” This is a description of where most of the visible church in our western world lives – believers who have experienced God but their intimacy with Him and their spiritual growth is stunted because of the cares of this world.
The concept of exchange is that we can only hold one thing at a time, but we’ve bought the lie that we can hold it all. Almost every decision in life is an exchange: You don’t order everything on a menu, you choose a limited amount. You play one position on a team at a time. You chose to be here, and not somewhere else. Others have chosen to be somewhere else, and are not here. Exchange means we let go of one thing to have another. The greatest exchange is to lay down our life to pick up our cross. We want the pasture land and the promised land, but in between is the river Jordan.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:24-26
When we choose not to follow Jesus, we live in bondage and sin. Our enemy has been defeated, but will we experience the victory that Jesus won for us on the cross? Will we put aside the good distractions or push through the struggles? Will we exchange the temporal for the eternal promises of God?