In American history in 1889, public lands in the territory we now know as the state of Oklahoma were opened up for settlement claims. It is called “The Land Rush of 1889.” Certain people illegally went there “sooner” than the starting time and made premature claims to lands … and so they were derogatorily called “Sooners.”
Today we read about the “Sooners of Israel.” In recent devotional posts I’ve introduced you to the word “Transjordan” which speaks of the lands east of the Jordan River – east also of the Sea of Galilee (Kinnereth) and the Dead Sea (Arabah). This is the area that was inhabited by the Amorites and the Kings named Sihon and Og. In recent days we have studied their defeat by the power of God’s hand through the Israelites.
Of Israel’s twelve tribes, two of them (plus one-half of a third very large clan) looked around at this land and basically said, “Yo man, this be some mighty fine land for settling down!” These tribes had a lot of livestock, and the land was particularly suited for such an economy.
So they went to Moses and said, “We’d like to just settle down right here and receive this land as our inheritance if that is OK with you.” (This story is in Numbers chapter 32.) Moses’ initial reaction was to essentially say, “This is the same song, verse two – the same lame excuse I heard nearly 40 years ago about not wanting to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land!”
So, the leaders of the tribe of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh came back by saying they would build pens for their animals, settle the women and children and infirmed in some cities, but all the fighting men would cross the Jordan to help the rest of the nation conquer the Canaanites in Palestine. This promise was deemed worthy and honorable, and indeed the tribes kept their word (which may be read about in Joshua 22).
The remaining verses of this reading for today (21-29) recount how Moses knew he was not going to be able to go over the Jordan to see the Land, rather Joshua was commissioned to lead that task of conquest. This was because of God’s anger at Moses for striking the rock to get water from it rather than speaking to it. Moses was angry at the complaining and rebellion of the people, but his act took glory away from the Lord and HIS divine provision. Moses was able however, to go to Mt. Pisgah and from that perspective have a personal view of this land toward which his life work was to lead the people. As I write this on MLK Day, I’m mindful that this is the historical allusion of which the Rev. King referenced in his “I Have a Dream” speech – stating the issues of justice he could envision in America, but saying that he may not get to go there with his hearers, but he could witness if from afar in his mind’s eye.
God puts such a high value on his people being a people who will be united and work together. This is a timeless principle of God’s blessing, and it is one that is especially pertinent for any church family comprised of diverse “tribes” of ages and preferences. It is more important that we fight together for one another against the larger enemy of the kingdom of darkness … than that we settle down prematurely into our own preferential tents of ease and enjoyment.
And I will say that this Moses story is one of the most baffling times for me when I think of how this great leader was withheld what would seem to be a just blessing of getting to personally witness the Promised Land. After all the complaining and grumbling and rebellion that he endured – to be prohibited for smacking a rock in frustration seems about as unfair as the guy who died when preventing the ark of the covenant from falling off the ox cart many years later. But it all speaks to the holiness of God – of His way of ordering that things be done and obeyed. This is a powerful lesson and application for those in leadership, and a reminder to those in “followership” of the unintended consequences of endless grumbling and complaining.
May this passage and these timeless applications bear the fruit of revival in all our hearts and lives!
Division of the Land
12 Of the land that we took over at that time, I gave the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory north of Aroer by the Arnon Gorge, including half the hill country of Gilead, together with its towns.13 The rest of Gilead and also all of Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh.(The whole region of Argob in Bashan used to be known as a land of the Rephaites. 14 Jair, a descendant of Manasseh, took the whole region of Argob as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maakathites; it was named after him, so that to this day Bashan is called Havvoth Jair.) 15 And I gave Gilead to Makir. 16 But to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory extending from Gilead down to the Arnon Gorge (the middle of the gorge being the border) and out to the Jabbok River, which is the border of the Ammonites. 17 Its western border was the Jordan in the Arabah, from Kinnereth to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea), below the slopes of Pisgah.
18 I commanded you at that time: “The Lord your God has given you this land to take possession of it. But all your able-bodied men, armed for battle, must cross over ahead of the other Israelites.19 However, your wives, your children and your livestock (I know you have much livestock) may stay in the towns I have given you, 20 until the Lord gives rest to your fellow Israelites as he has to you, and they too have taken over the land that the Lord your God is giving them across the Jordan. After that, each of you may go back to the possession I have given you.”
Moses Forbidden to Cross the Jordan
21 At that time I commanded Joshua: “You have seen with your own eyes all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings. The Lord will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. 22 Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.”
23 At that time I pleaded with the Lord: 24 “Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? 25 Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”
26 But because of you the Lord was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the Lord said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan. 28 But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” 29 So we stayed in the valley near Beth Peor.