28 So Moses gave command concerning them to Eleazar the priest and to Joshua the son of Nun and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel. 29 And Moses said to them, “If the people of Gad and the people of Reuben, every man who is armed to battle before the Lord, will pass with you over the Jordan and the land shall be subdued before you, then you shall give them the land of Gilead for a possession. 30 However, if they will not pass over with you armed, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.” 31 And the people of Gad and the people of Reuben answered, “What the Lord has said to your servants, we will do. 32 We will pass over armed before the Lord into the land of Canaan, and the possession of our inheritance shall remain with us beyond the Jordan.”
33 And Moses gave to them, to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben and to the half-tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land and its cities with their territories, the cities of the land throughout the country. 34 And the people of Gad built Dibon, Ataroth, Aroer, 35 Atroth-shophan, Jazer, Jogbehah, 36 Beth-nimrah and Beth-haran, fortified cities, and folds for sheep. 37 And the people of Reuben built Heshbon, Elealeh, Kiriathaim, 38 Nebo, and Baal-meon (their names were changed), and Sibmah. And they gave other names to the cities that they built. 39 And the sons of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead and captured it, and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it. 40 And Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he settled in it. 41 And Jair the son of Manasseh went and captured their villages, and called them Havvoth-jair. 42 And Nobah went and captured Kenath and its villages, and called it Nobah, after his own name. – Numbers 32:28-42 ESV
After listening to the proposal from the tribes of Gad and Reuben, Moses agreed to allow them to settle in land on the eastern side of the Jordan River, just outside the borders of Canaan. But he required them to swear an oath of fealty to the ten remaining tribes, agreeing to assist them in their conquest of the land of Canaan.
Moses then communicated the terms of the agreement to all the tribes of Israel, ensuring that everyone understood what was expected and what was to be done if those terms were not met. He wanted there to be no confusion or disagreement as to what this concession entailed for both parties.
“The men of Gad and Reuben who are armed for battle must cross the Jordan with you to fight for the Lord. If they do, give them the land of Gilead as their property when the land is conquered. But if they refuse to arm themselves and cross over with you, then they must accept land with the rest of you in the land of Canaan.” – Numbers 32:29-30 NLT
Notice that the terms of the agreement included the full participation of the Gadites and Reubenites until the land was fully conquered. This would not be a short-term commitment that entailed a single battle or a few short weeks of military service. The two tribes were obligated to fight alongside their brothers for the foreseeable future. And these two tribes were committing a sizeable number of their male population to fight for land that they would never occupy. In fact, the census Moses had taken revealed that between the tribes of Gad and Reuben, they fielded 84,230 soldiers. That comprised 14 percent of the entire Israelite force. So, their involvement in the conquest of Canaan would be vitally necessary to Israel’s success.
And the two tribes recommitted themselves to the terms of the agreement, assuring Moses and the rest of the leaders that they would follow through on their commitment.
“We are your servants, and we will do as the Lord has commanded! We will cross the Jordan into Canaan fully armed to fight for the Lord, but our property will be here on this side of the Jordan.” – Numbers 32:31-32 NLT
For however long it took, the Gadites and Reubenites would fight alongside their brothers and help ensure that every one of the ten tribes had successfully conquered and occupied their portion of the inheritance. That was a huge commitment on their part.
At this point in the narrative, it becomes clear that there was a third tribe that decided to get in on the action. This was the tribe of Manassah, one of the two sons of Joseph.
So Moses assigned land to the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph. He gave them the territory of King Sihon of the Amorites and the land of King Og of Bashan—the whole land with its cities and surrounding lands. – Numbers 32:33 NLT
Half of this tribe also decided to take advantage of the prime real estate on the eastern side of the Jordan River. And Moses gave them his approval.
The rest of the chapter outlines how the three tribes began their conquest of the area known as the Transjordan. Long before the Israelites crossed over the Jordan and began to do battle with the Canaanites, the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Manassah were gaining invaluable fighting experience against the enemies of Israel. The battles they undertook east of the Jordan would provide them with much-needed expertise in warfare strategy. It seems likely that their fellow Israelites assisted in many of these battles, assuring that the three tribes were able to capture and occupy enough land to meet the needs of their people.
God was sovereignly preparing the entire nation to enter the land of promise and carry out His divine plan. By the time came for them to cross the Jordan and conduct their first military campaign, they would have the confidence and experience they needed to succeed.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.