What does it say?
Israel is marching toward the land and becomes God’s instrument of judgment on the Midianites for having seduced Israel both sexually and spiritually (Num 31). This story establishes a pattern of how they will conduct war and deal with the spoils of war in future battles.
As the nation stands on the brink of entering the land, a situation arises that threatens to destroy the unity of the nation (Num 32). Two-and-a-half tribes see that the land on the eastern side of the Jordan River seems perfect for their herds and want to stay there instead of crossing over into the Promised Land. We can only imagine the sinking feeling in Moses’ heart to think that just when unity is needed more than ever, a good portion of the nation is not committed to follow through with the mission. They avoid disaster by coming to an agreement that the men of these tribes will push forward with the others until the land is conquered and possessed.
What does it mean?
God uses irresponsible and immature believers to accomplish his purposes – and even non-believers! However, as we have seen, all of us will answer for our sin and poor decisions eventually. Now, the Midianites reap what they have sown.
Modern believers often struggle to see divinely sanctioned wars involving the death of innocent children and non-combatants in Old Testament passages. This is difficult without question! It’s important to remember that the social and anthropological context of these times includes continued, and often barbaric, tribal conflict. God deals with people in their own context. Whenever and wherever his truth is consistently manifested in daily life on a large scale, society inevitably changes for the better, as history attests. Conversely, some who profess to follow Christ, but whose lives do not line up with biblical truth have committed horrible atrocities. God’s story has yet to finish. Those who rebel against him will be judged, and those who give up all for his sake will be rewarded.
The two-and-a-half tribes settle just short of the missional goal. Like many believers to this day, they settle for “good enough.” Like many today, they seem more concerned for their herds and business (32:1) than for the spiritual well being of their children and families.
How will I respond?
What would it take to get me to settle for “good enough?” If I were to list my priorities right now, how would I order them in terms of importance? Is there something I need to turn loose of in order to complete my God-given purposes on earth?