Joshua 22:30-34(NKJV) 30Now when Phinehas the priest and the rulers of the congregation, the heads of the £divisions of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them. 31Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh, “This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord. Now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.” 32And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the rulers, returned from the children of Reuben and the children of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33So the thing pleased the children of Israel, and the children of Israel blessed God; they spoke no more of going against them in battle, to destroy the land where the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt. 34The children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar, Witness, “For it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”
This week we have been looking at the 2 ½ tribes of Israel that chose to settle on the east bank of the Jordan river. We have been looking at this in light of the thought that God wants this to be a year of favor for his people. We have seen that favor given by God can bring great benefit to the people of God. We also know that favor with those to whom we are called to preach will result in more people being saved. The thing we want to see this week is that the place of the greatest favor is the center of the will of God.
The 2 ½ tribes who settled east of Jordan did so because this land was more pleasing to their flesh than the land on the west side of the river. They went across the river with their army and helped the rest of Israel obtain their possession in Canaan, the understood Promised Land, but they did not want to live there. I believe that many Christians today want to see the will of God come to pass in the earth but they do not want to live in the center of God’s will. They do not want to sacrifice comfort or pleasure to see the will of God accomplished. I believe this is a dangerous place to live.
In today’s scripture we see that Reuben, Gad and Manasseh explained the construction of the replica altar to the rest of Israel by saying they just wanted it to be an altar of remembrance. They were afraid that the rest of Israel would forget that they were part of the covenant people. There is no rebuke in this chapter. Their explanation is accepted and they are allowed to keep this altar. However, I believe that what happens to them is a warning to those of us who would rather live on the fringes of the will of God than make the full commitment to be in the center of God’s will.
What role did the 2 ½ tribes play in the subsequent history of Israel? I have tried to find them in the scriptural account and I cannot. They are mentioned in Judges and there are some individuals with those names mentioned in the Old Testament, but I see no mighty deeds by Reuben, Gad or Manasseh. I have found no mighty warriors or prophets from these tribes, although there was a prophet called Gad. There is no mention of great events happening in their territory. It is possible that I may have missed something, but I think it is safe to say that they were not major players in what happens in Israel.
It seems that Reuben, Gad and Manasseh simply fade out of the record. They became a non-factor in the destiny of Israel. I do not want that to be my legacy. I want the devil to know I was here and breathe a sigh of relief when I leave. When I stand before the Lord, I want to hear “Well done.” not, “What did you do again?” When we choose to live on the fringes of the will of God, we become a non-factor in the Kingdom. We may live comfortable lives or we may not, but we will not fulfill the destiny God has for us in the earth.
What was the problem with their choice to stay on the east side of Jordan? They pointed it out themselves in the 25th verse. They say God made the Jordan a border between them and the rest of Israel. The truth is, they are the ones who made the border, not God. The result was the same. There was a division between them, the rest of the people of God and the perfect will of God. This border created some weaknesses that the enemy eventually exploited.
Reuben, Gad and Manasseh gradually lost their identity with the rest of Israel. They were still covenant people, but the separation caused them to develop a somewhat different lifestyle than those in Canaan. I cannot give chapter and verse to support this conclusion, but I can point to human nature. It is always the case that when part of a group is separated from the whole, they will develop differently than the whole. I believe this must have been the case with Reuben, Gad and Manasseh or they would not have faded from the record.
As a pastor, I have seen this pattern over and over again. People who are involved in church and committed to the whole purpose of God are different in their Christian walk than those who simply come on Sunday and try to “live a good life.” Often, they just do not see the necessity to walk in the holiness and commitment that the rest of the church does. The result is usually compromise and further separation. That is the legacy of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh.
The 2 ½ tribes were cut off from the presence of God. In the Old Testament, the presence of God dwelt in the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was first in the Tabernacle and eventually in the Temple in Jerusalem. It was not on the east side of Jordan. The altar that Reuben, Gad and Manasseh built on the east side of Jordan was called a “replica” of the altar of the Lord, but it did not have the presence of God.
We might point out that the presence of God no longer dwells in an earthly temple but in the hearts of men. This is very true. However, the manifestation of God’s presence is strongest in the center of his will. When we choose to live on the fringes of Christianity, we will never experience the manifestation of God’s presence in its fullness. When we are separated from this manifestation, we gradually lose the sense of his presence and the affect that it has in our lives. I believe this is a major problem. Without the manifested presence of God Christianity devolves into nothing more than a religious system. (2 Tim 3:5)
Finally, Israel’s choice left them with no separation between them and the enemy. It was just too easy for the enemy to infiltrate them. There was too much contact with the cultures that were opposed to the destiny of the people of God. Eventually this led to so much compromise that they were no longer a viable factor in fulfilling that destiny.
I believe this is what happens to us when we are not fully committed to the will of God. We find ourselves with no border between the enemy and us. We are too close to the culture of the world and we allow compromise to rob of us of what the Lord has for us. Sin is all around us and it is getting more and more accepted in our culture. We are foolish to think we can straddle the line between the kingdom of God and the world. We need to have a definite border between the world and us. I believe the best way to keep that border in tact is to be sold out for God and for his will and destiny.
Do not be like Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. Do not settle for life on the other side of Jordan. Do not settle for living as close to the world as possible without sin. It is a dangerous place to be. As the saying goes, “If you play around a slippery river bank you will eventually fall in.”
Instead, give all you have for the Lord. Sell out to the fullness of his will and presence. Do not ask how far you can go before you are out of the will of God. Ask instead how to find the center of the will of God. Commit to pleasing him not to just trying not to displease him. The benefits, including favor, are worth the commitment.