Stay Focused

12 “When we took possession of this land at that time, I gave to the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory beginning at Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and half the hill country of Gilead with its cities. 13 The rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, the kingdom of Og, that is, all the region of Argob, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh. (All that portion of Bashan is called the land of Rephaim. 14 Jair the Manassite took all the region of Argob, that is, Bashan, as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and called the villages after his own name, Havvoth-jair, as it is to this day.) 15 To Machir I gave Gilead, 16 and to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the Valley of the Arnon, with the middle of the valley as a border, as far over as the river Jabbok, the border of the Ammonites; 17 the Arabah also, with the Jordan as the border, from Chinnereth as far as the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, under the slopes of Pisgah on the east.

18 “And I commanded you at that time, saying, ‘The Lord your God has given you this land to possess. All your men of valor shall cross over armed before your brothers, the people of Israel. 19 Only your wives, your little ones, and your livestock (I know that you have much livestock) shall remain in the cities that I have given you, 20 until the Lord gives rest to your brothers, as to you, and they also occupy the land that the Lord your God gives them beyond the Jordan. Then each of you may return to his possession which I have given you.’ 21 And I commanded Joshua at that time, ‘Your eyes have seen all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings. So will the Lord do to all the kingdoms into which you are crossing. 22 You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.’ – Deuteronomy 3:12-22 ESV

After God had given Israel a decisive victory over Og and his forces, Moses found himself faced with yet another test of his leadership capabilities. Over the last 40 years, while serving as Israel’s deliverer, guide, and spiritual advisor, Moses had been forced to deal with a variety of unwelcome and unwarranted attacks on his leadership.

There had been countless occasions when the people grumbled and complained to Moses over their circumstances. They had blamed him for their lack of food and water. Then, when God had miraculously provided them with quail and manna to eat, they ended up whining to Moses about the lack of variety in their diet.

At one point, Moses was even forced to deal with an attempted coup led by his own brother and sister. Aaron and Miriam had become jealous of his power and authority, and set themselves up as equally anointed by God to lead the people of Israel, claiming, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” (Numbers 12:2 ESV). But their inflated sense of self-worth proved to be unwarranted because God stepped in and shut down their unjustified rebellion.

But the greatest test of Moses’ leadership had been the refusal of the people of Israel to cross over into the land of Canaan. That had been the primary point behind God’s call of Moses. Not only was he charged with redeeming the people from their captivity in Egypt, but he was to lead them to the land of promise. And when the first generation had refused to take possession of the land, the stock value of Moses’ leadership had taken a precipitous fall. It had to have been extremely demoralizing to walk away from the land he had worked so long and hard to reach. His confidence had to have taken a tremendous blow as he watched the people turn their backs on the very land God had promised to give them. And while he had been successful at getting the people to the land, he had failed at getting them to take possession of it.

All of this background is important if we are going to understand the significance of the scene presented in Deuteronomy 3:12-22. After the victory over Bashan, the tribes of Gad and Reuben approached Moses with a surprising request.

Now the people of Reuben and the people of Gad had a very great number of livestock. And they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, and behold, the place was a place for livestock. So the people of Gad and the people of Reuben came and said to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the chiefs of the congregation, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.” – Numbers 32:1-5 ESV

As Moses listened to the words of the people of Gad and Reuben, he had to have thought to himself, “Here we go again!” Right when they were poised to take possession of the land, he found himself facing yet another rebellion against his leadership. And his shock is evident in his response.

But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel from going into the land that the Lord had given them. And the Lord‘s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me…’” – Numbers 32:6-11 ESV

As far as Moses was concerned, this was a case of deja vu. He had been here before and he didn’t like what he was hearing or seeing. Their request reeked of mutiny. To Moses, it sounded like these two tribes were balking at the idea of entering the land and had chosen instead to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan.

And Moses told the Gadites and Reubenites just what he thought of them.

“…you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.” – Numbers 32:14 ESV

He saw the handwriting on the wall. He knew exactly what would happen if these two tribes decided to renege on their commitment to take possession of the land. It would be an unmitigated disaster. And Moses was unwilling to witness yet another debacle on his watch. He knew these two tribes were going to be essential to any success Israel would have in conquering the land. According to the census recorded in Numbers 26, the tribe of Gad consisted of 40,500 fighting men and the tribe of Reuben could field 43,730. Those are not insignificant numbers. And while Moses knew that God was going to go before Israel and fight on their behalf, he also knew that every single man was going to be needed in their conquest of the land. But more than anything, he knew that God would not tolerate another refusal on the part of the people to take possession of the land.

But a compromise was reached. In exchange for the right to possess the land east of the Jordan, the members of the two tribes agreed to keep their commitment to fight alongside their brothers until the and of Canaan was completely conquered. They would not abandon their solidarity with the other ten tribes until each had received its allotted portion within the land of promise.

Moses agreed to allow the two tribes to occupy the land east of the Jordan, as long as they kept their word to fight alongside their brothers, “until the Lord gives rest to your brothers, as to you, and they also occupy the land that the Lord your God gives them beyond the Jordan. Then each of you may return to his possession which I have given you” (Deuteronomy 3:20 ESV).

And Moses used the God-given victory over the lands east of the Jordan as incentive to Joshua and the people of Israel. It was a sign of what was to come. What God did east of the Jordan, He would do again when they crossed over into the land of Canaan.

“Your eyes have seen all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings. So will the Lord do to all the kingdoms into which you are crossing. You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.” – Deuteronomy 3:20-21 ESV

In a display of godly leadership, Moses attempted to focus the attention of the people where it needed to be: On God. He didn’t want the Gadites and Reubenites fixating on the land east of the Jordan. He didn’t want the rest of the tribes to grow jealous and take their eyes off of the prize that God had promised to give them. What God had done to Og and Sihon was just a glimpse of what God had in store for the Israelites. The rich land east of the Jordan was just an appetizer, meant to whet the appetites of the other ten tribes and encourage them to step out in faith. God had given land to the tribes of Gad and Reuben, but he had even more in store for rest of His people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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God’s Will Done God’s Way

26 “So I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to Sihon the king of Heshbon, with words of peace, saying, 27 ‘Let me pass through your land. I will go only by the road; I will turn aside neither to the right nor to the left. 28 You shall sell me food for money, that I may eat, and give me water for money, that I may drink. Only let me pass through on foot, 29 as the sons of Esau who live in Seir and the Moabites who live in Ar did for me, until I go over the Jordan into the land that the Lord our God is giving to us.’ 30 But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day. 31 And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to take possession, that you may occupy his land.’ 32 Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Jahaz. 33 And the Lord our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people. 34 And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. 35 Only the livestock we took as spoil for ourselves, with the plunder of the cities that we captured. 36 From Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and from the city that is in the valley, as far as Gilead, there was not a city too high for us. The Lord our God gave all into our hands. 37 Only to the land of the sons of Ammon you did not draw near, that is, to all the banks of the river Jabbok and the cities of the hill country, whatever the Lord our God had forbidden us. – Deuteronomy 2:16-25 ESV

Forty years earlier, when the people of Israel had been poised to enter the land of Canaan, they had received news from the spies that it was occupied by giants and its cities were “great and fortified up to heaven” (Deuteronomy 1:28 ESV). This news had caused the Israelites to reject God’s command to occupy the land. In their minds, the odds were stacked against them and the enemies they faced were more powerful than the God they served. So, they had walked away from the land flowing with milk and honey and had wandered in the wilderness for the next four decades. 

Now, a new generation had taken their place and stood on the eastern side of the Jordan River, with the land of Canaan lying before them. But before they could possess the promise, they would have to obey the promise-maker. God had a preliminary step they would have to take before they could begin their official conquest of the land.

After having declared the land of the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites as off-limits and unvailable for conquest, God told Moses to attack the land belonging to King Sihon of Heshbon.

“Rise up, set out on your journey and go over the Valley of the Arnon. Behold, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession, and contend with him in battle.” – Deuteronomy 2:24 ESV

God clearly commanded Moses to lead the Israelites into battle against Sihon and his forces. Yet, we read that Moses sent messengers to Sihon with words of peace, asking Sihon to allow the Israelites to pass through his land unhindered. Moses promised to restrict his people to the main road and even offered to pay Sihon if he would provide the Israelites with food and water. But Sihon refused to grant Moses and the people of Israel access to his land. Instead, he attacked the Israelites.

The parallel passage outlining the details of this story is found in Numbers 21. Neither here in Deuteronomy or in Numbers are we given an explanation as to why Moses decided to make peace overtures to Sihon. It seems quite evident that God expected the Israelites to do battle with the people of Heshbon. God had told Moses to “content with him in battle.” He had not instructed Moses to broker a peace agreement.  Was this a case of disobedience on the part of Moses? Was he guilty of second-guessing God and coming up with an alternative strategy that would circumvent the need for bloodshed? We’re not told. But it would appear that God was unwilling to risk Sihon accepting the peaceful alternative offered by Moses. Moses himself wrote:

But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day. – Deuteronomy 2:30 ESV

Perhaps Moses had been looking back on the ease with which they had passed through the lands of Edom, Moab, and Ammon. It only made sense to do whatever it took to avoid unnecessary risks or the loss of life. After all, the land of Heshbon was on the wrong side of the Jordan and not part of the land of Canaan, so why go to war when you could simply broker a peace agreement?

But regardless of the solid logic behind Moses’ thinking, he didn’t know what God had in mind. He was oblivious to God’s plan regarding the lands belonging to Sihon. He was also unaware that God was going to use Israel’s defeat of Sihon and his troops to send a message to the people occupying the land of Canaan. Once He had given the Israelites victory over Sihon, the news would travel fast and the people living west of the Jordan River would become disheartened.

“This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.” – Deuteronomy 2:25 ESV

We don’t always understand God’s ways. To our minds, God’s plans often appear illogical and unnecessarily difficult. So, we attempt to come up with an easier alternative. We choose to help God out by coming up with a plan of our own. Abraham and Sarah did just that when they determined that God’s promise to give them a son was not going to work out. After all, they were both advanced in years and Sarah was barren. So, Sarah came up with a Plan B,  offering her handmaiden to Abraham and demanding that he impregnate her with their future heir. Like any red-blooded male, Abraham eagerly listened to his wife and took her up on her offer. The result was the birth of Ishmael. But Sarah’s Plan B was not God’s will. Ishmael was not to be Abraham’s heir or the son through whom God was going to fulfill His promise to Abraham.

And God wasn’t interested in a peace treaty with Sihon. So, He hardened Sihon’s heart and caused the pagan king to reject the peace overtures of Moses. And the result was a rousing victory by the Israelites.

And the Lord our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people. And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. – Deuteronomy 2:33-34 ESV

Yet, even now, we read this story and we immediately sense what appears to be the needless destruction of innocent people. Why did King Sihon and his people have to die if they people of Israel were not even going to settle in their land? Why would God order the senseless and seemingly barbaric slaughter of innocent women and children?

As recorded above, the defeat of Sihon and the people of Hesbon was meant to send a message to the people occupying the land of Canaan. It would let them know that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites was all-powerful and that His people were fully capable of defeating anyone who stood opposed to them. What would appear to us as a senseless, unnecessary slaughter was actually part of a divine strategy for fulfilling God’s covenant promise.

If we fast-forward to the point in the story when Israel made its first foray into the land of promise, we discover the two spies who had entered the city of Jericho to assess its strength and document its defenses. They were given shelter by a prostitute named Rahab. When they prepared to leave her home and return to the camp of Israel, she pleaded with them to spare her life and those of her household. And here is why she was so adamant that they promise to protect her:

For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. – Joshua 2:10-11 ESV

The news about Israel’s victory over Sihon would spread. The annihilation of the people of Heshbon would send shudders of dread and fear among the nations living west of the Jordan. Israel’s victory over Sihon would put the fear of God into the people of Canaan. But there was a second purpose behind God’s command for Israel to destroy Heshbon. The land that once belonged to King Sihon would eventually become part of the land awarded to the tribes of Gad and Reuben, and half of the people of the tribe of Manassah. This land was perfect for raising livestock and these three tribes were predominantly herdsman by trace. So, God allowed the settlement of these three tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan. But why?

Because God had promised to give Abraham far more land than that occupied by the Canaanites. In the book of Genesis, we have recorded the exact words God spoke to Abraham when He detailed the extent of the land to be inherited by Abraham’s offspring.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward,  for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 ESV

And God went on to provide even greater detail.

“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” – Genesis 15:18-21 ESV

Notice the vast size of this land grant. It extends from the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates. It is massive in scale and includes the land of Heshbon. God had originally intended to give Israel far more land than they ever occupied, even under the kingships of David and Solomon. And just so we understand why God would take this land from one nation and award it to another, Moses later explains the method behind God’s seeming madness.

“After the Lord your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are such good people!’ No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The Lord your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people.” – Deuteronomy 9:4-6 NLT

We may not understand or even approve of God’s ways, but it is important that we trust Him. He is the sovereign God of the universe and His ways are always just and right. From our limited perspective, it may not always appear that way, but we must trust that He knows what is best. His plan is perfect and His ways are always right.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

The Inheritance of God.

14 To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the Lord God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to him.

15 And Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the people of Reuben according to their clans. 16 So their territory was from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland by Medeba; 17 with Heshbon, and all its cities that are in the tableland; Dibon, and Bamoth-baal, and Beth-baal-meon, 18 and Jahaz, and Kedemoth, and Mephaath, 19 and Kiriathaim, and Sibmah, and Zereth-shahar on the hill of the valley, 20 and Beth-peor, and the slopes of Pisgah, and Beth-jeshimoth, 21 that is, all the cities of the tableland, and all the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, whom Moses defeated with the leaders of Midian, Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the princes of Sihon, who lived in the land. 22 Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel among the rest of their slain. 23 And the border of the people of Reuben was the Jordan as a boundary. This was the inheritance of the people of Reuben, according to their clans with their cities and villages.

24 Moses gave an inheritance also to the tribe of Gad, to the people of Gad, according to their clans. 25 Their territory was Jazer, and all the cities of Gilead, and half the land of the Ammonites, to Aroer, which is east of Rabbah, 26 and from Heshbon to Ramath-mizpeh and Betonim, and from Mahanaim to the territory of Debir, 27 and in the valley Beth-haram, Beth-nimrah, Succoth, and Zaphon, the rest of the kingdom of Sihon king of Heshbon, having the Jordan as a boundary, to the lower end of the Sea of Chinnereth, eastward beyond the Jordan. 28 This is the inheritance of the people of Gad according to their clans, with their cities and villages.

29 And Moses gave an inheritance to the half-tribe of Manasseh. It was allotted to the half-tribe of the people of Manasseh according to their clans. 30 Their region extended from Mahanaim, through all Bashan, the whole kingdom of Og king of Bashan, and all the towns of Jair, which are in Bashan, sixty cities, 31 and half Gilead, and Ashtaroth, and Edrei, the cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. These were allotted to the people of Machir the son of Manasseh for the half of the people of Machir according to their clans.

32 These are the inheritances that Moses distributed in the plains of Moab, beyond the Jordan east of Jericho. 33 But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the Lord God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them. Joshua 13:14-33 ESV

division-of-promised-land-to-ancient-israelThis section of chapter 13 provides us with greater detail concerning the allotment of the land of promise to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. All the way back during the days of Moses’ leadership, they had made a request that they be allowed to settle east of the Jordan, in the land of Gilead. The book of Numbers tells us that both tribes had significant numbers of livestock and that the land east of the Jordan was an ideal location for them to settle and raise their flocks and families. The Israelites had defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites, as well as Og, king of Bashan. So, the tribes of Reuben and Gad appealed to Moses and the leadership of Israel to allow them to have this conquered land as their allotment of the inheritance.

“Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.” – Numbers 32:3-5 ESV

And Moses had agreed to their request, on the condition that they assist the rest of the tribes in their conquest of the land west of the Jordan. Moses did not want them to abandon their brothers in their divinely decreed mission to conquer and possess the land of promise. So, the men of Reuben and Gad had given Moses their word.

16 Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, 17 but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. 19 For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” – Numbers 32:16-19 ESV

The tribe of Manasseh was allotted land on both sides of the Jordan, with half of them settling east of the Jordan and the remainder receiving land on the other side.

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. – Numbers 32:39-40 ESV

Once the primary conquest of the land of promise had been accomplished and the majority of the significant opposition had been removed, Joshua allowed the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh to return to their side of the Jordan and settle in the land they had been given. The author provides us with great details concerning the geographic boundaries of their land, and he makes sure that we understand that this allotment had been according to the words of Moses.

And Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the people of Reuben according to their clans. – Joshua 13:15 ESV

Moses gave an inheritance also to the tribe of Gad, to the people of Gad, according to their clans. – Joshua 13:24 ESV

And Moses gave an inheritance to the half-tribe of Manasseh. It was allotted to the half-tribe of the people of Manasseh according to their clans. – Joshua 13:29 ESV

Joshua’s decision to allow the three tribes to settle east of the Jordan was in keeping with the command Moses had given years earlier. He was simply keeping the commitment Moses had made, because the clans of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh had kept their word to fight alongside the rest of the tribes until the land of promise had been fully conquered and settled.

It’s interesting to note that these three tribes had selected their land based on appearance. After Israel had conquered Og and Sihon, making the land east of the Jordan available, the tribes of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh had seen that it provided a perfect environment for pasturing their flocks and herds. And it was already conquered land. The ready availability of the land, including its well-fortified cities was appealing to them. So, rather than wait to see what God had in store for them on the other side of the Jordan, they chose to settle outside the land of promise. And years later, they would be removed from their land because of disobedience and unfaithfulness to God.

25 But they broke faith with the God of their fathers, and whored 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, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he took them into exile, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, to this day. – 1 Chronicles 5:25-26 ESV

They got the land they wanted. They fulfilled the lust of their eyes, but they eventually failed to keep their. commitments to God. The land was rich and perfect for raising their many flocks. But somewhere along the way, they took their eyes off of God and forgot that He was the one who had blessed them with their flocks and the land on which to raise them.

These verses are book-ended by references to yet another tribe, that of the Levites. The tribe of Levi had been appointed by God to serve Him in the tabernacle, alongside Aaron and his sons.

1 So the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood. And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony.” – Numbers 18:1-2 ESV 

God had set them apart for this special role and had promised to provide for their needs. Rather than give them land on which to plant crops and raise flocks, God would allow them to eat the animals that were brought for sacrifice.

14 Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. 15 Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. – Numbers 18:14-15 ESV

And Moses made it clear that this provision by God would take the place of any inheritance of land. They would be cared for by God.

19 All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.” 20 And the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.” – Numbers 18:19-20 ESV

Rather than land, the Levites received the promise of God that He would provide for all their needs, in return for their faithful service in His tabernacle. The tribes of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh asked for what they wanted and got it. The tribe of Levi asked for nothing and got the blessing of being provided for by God. They received no land, but were given the privilege of serving God in His tabernacle. And they found themselves fed by God Himself, enjoying the first fruits of the all the other tribes as their reward for faithful service to God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What Has God Done?

On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them.

Then they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” – Genesis 42:18-28 ESV

Joseph determined to keep up his charade a bit longer. After three days of confinement, had his brothers brought into his presence once again. Using an interpreter, Joseph informs his brothers that he will allow them to go, but only under certain conditions. One of them must stay behind as a guarantee, and the rest must return with their youngest brother. They will be allowed to purchase grain and take it with them for their families, but each of them will be required to return in order to save the life of the one brother who will be left behind. Joseph is testing his brothers by placing a huge temptation right in front of them. He remembers full well how easy they had found it to get rid of him. So he provides them with another opportunity to reveal their true character. He is not going to dictate which brother will stay behind, but will leave that decision up to them. Would they take advantage of the situation to get rid of yet another less-than-favorite brother, choosing to never return and leaving him to deal with the governor’s anger?

The brothers, shocked and dismayed by the situation in which they find themselves, begin to talk among themselves. They assume that Joseph, who in their eyes is obviously an Egyptian, cannot understand them because he has been utilizing an interpreter. But he overhears their conversation as they begin to discuss and debate their dire circumstance. They immediately assume this is God’s payback for the sin they had committed against their brother, Joseph, more than 20 years ago. Reuben, utilizing a bit of revisionist history, reminds them that he was the one who told them “not to sin against the boy” (Genesis 42:22 ESV). Then he smugly adds, “But you did not listen.” The truth is, that is not exactly how it went down. What Reuben had actually said was, “Let’s not kill him. Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him” (Genesis 37:21-22 NLT). Now, in his defense, Reuben had planned to sneak back later that night and rescue Joseph from the cistern and return him to his father. But that part of the plan had never been revealed to the brothers. As far as they were concerned, he was also willing to let Joseph die. It was actually Judah who saved Joseph’s life by recommending that they sell him as a slave rather than kill him. But as the brothers bickered and debated, Joseph overheard their conversation and saw their fear and regret for what they had done. And he wept. He could sense their remorse. He could feel their pain as they struggled with what they had done and wrestled with the apparent divine justice that God was finally bringing on them.

So Joseph made their task a bit easier by choosing Simeon, the second oldest, as the one to stay behind. Then he had their sacks filled with grain. Not only that, he secretly instructed that the money each of the brothers had paid for their grain be put back in their sacks. And he provided them with provisions for the long journey home. This is a significant feature of the story. The brothers had come to Egypt to buy grain. The goal given to them by Jacob, their father, was to purchase what was necessary to save the lives of their families. He had sent them with the instructions, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die” (Genesis 42:2 ESV). They were to purchase their own salvation. The brothers, each guilty of selling their brother into slavery, were going to use their personal resources to try and escape the devastating and ultimately, deadly, effects of the famine. But when they had purchased their grain, Joseph saw to it that their money was returned to them. Their salvation would be based on his mercy, not their merit or resources. Joseph had every right to enact revenge, but instead he chose to show grace – undeserved favor. He gave them what they did not deserve. He provided them with salvation, when what they really deserved was justice.

On the way home, the mood must have somber. They would have had plenty of time to think about what they had done and regret their actions. When they stopped along the way to feed their donkeys, things took an even worse turn, as they made the shocking discovery that their money was still in their sacks. It is interesting to note that their conclusion was negative, not positive. They exclaimed, “What is this that God has done to us?” (Genesis 42:28 ESV). They saw this as another example of God’s divine payback for their previous sin. What they didn’t realize was that this was actually the merciful hand of God, providing them with salvation rather than condemnation. Joseph had given them the grain they needed as a gift. It was free. Their money was not necessary. They would simply have to accept it willingly and joyously. But their reaction was one of fear. They immediately saw the presence of their money as proof of God’s unabsolved anger with them. Little did they know that the salvation God had in mind was going to be far greater than sacks full of grain and temporary relief from a famine. He had bigger things in store for them. He was going to fulfill His promise to Abraham. He was going to give them a land. He was going to make them a great nation. He was going to bless the nations through them. What is this thing that God has done to us? A great thing. A divinely ordained thing. A good, gracious, merciful, kind and undeserved thing.

 

The Providential Plan of God.

Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.

When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard. – Genesis 37:25-36 ESV

After having thrown Joseph into an empty cistern, his brothers sit down and share a meal together. They weren’t exactly distraught over their actions or showing any signs of remorse. The only one to speak up and interrupt their meal was Judah, who offered an alternative plan that entailed selling their brother to Ishmaelite traders, rather than leaving him to die in an empty cistern. They could be rid of their brother, make some money, and not have his blood on their hands. It was a win-win proposition. So all the brothers agreed, except for Reuben, who had earlier convinced them to throw Joseph into the pit so he could sneak in and rescue him later. For whatever reason, he was not there when this decision was made. But everyone else was fully complicit and on board with this latest plan.

So they sold their younger brother to Ishmaelite traders for 20 shekels of silver. The Ishmaelites were descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah. When Sarah realized that she was unable to provide a son to Abraham, she convinced him to impregnate her maidservant so that they might fulfill the promise of God. But once the child was born, Sarah changed her mind and demanded that Abraham get rid of the boy and his mother. And God told Abraham to do as Sarah commanded, saying, “ I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:13 ESV). So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away, providing them with water, but little else. When the water ran out, Hagar laid her son under a bush to die and then she cried out to God. Moses records, “…and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt” (Genesis 21:17-21 ESV).

This is an important detail in the story of Joseph, because of the connection between Ishmael and Egypt. His wife would be Egyptian and while his descendants would become Bedouins, they would develop an ongoing trading relationship with the Egyptians. So when the brothers of Joseph decided to sell him, they chose to do business with Ishmaelites, who just so happen to take Joseph to Egypt.

When Reuben returned and found Joseph no longer in the pit, he panicked. His brothers shared with him what they had done and took the news poorly. But yet another decision was made to concoct a story to tell to their father, Jacob. They took Joseph’s multicolored tunic, tore it and covered it in goat’s blood. And then they carried it the 70 miles back home and told their father that his favorite son had been killed by a wild beast. This news was devastating to Jacob. He was distraught and refused to be comforted. Perhaps he couldn’t stop thinking about Joseph’s dreams and wondering that had happened. Had the dreams not been of God? Had God’s plan somehow been thwarted by a random act of violence perpetrated by a wild animal? His favored son was dead and the dreams of Joseph had died along with him.

But there is something Jacob does not know. While his world had seemingly caved in on him, Moses reminds us that the story of Joseph is far from over.  “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:36 ESV). Joseph was not dead. Neither were his dreams. Because God was not done. The brothers of Joseph thought they had gotten rid of him once and for all. Any chance of them ever having to bow down to their younger brother had been completely eliminated. Or so they thought. Little did they know that they had actually facilitated the very thing they dreaded. They had helped set in motion a chain of events that would result in the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams and the realization of their worst nightmare. Years earlier, when Sarah decided to give her handmaiden to Abraham, she had no way of knowing the outcome. She had initially hoped that Hagar would give birth to a son who would become the father of a great nation, and that is exactly what had happened. But not according to Sarah’s original plan. God had another plan in mind. The descendants of Ishmael would play a role in the future of the people of Israel. They would facilitate the sale of Joseph into slavery in Egypt. None of this was blind luck or the result of fate. The sovereign, providential hand of God was at work behind the scenes, orchestrating His plan and preparing the descendants of Abraham to receive the fulfillment of the promises He had made to him years earlier. He was going to make of them a great nation. The question was, “How?” And the answer was, “According to His providential plan.

The Death of a Dream?

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him” — that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. – Genesis 37:12-24 ESV

Joseph has had two very vivid dreams. But neither he or the members of his family seem to know what they mean. Jacob, his father, seems the most oblivious and yet he is one who had experienced his own personal encounters with God. Years earlier, when he was escaping from the wrath of his brother, Esau, for having stolen his birthright, he had had a dream of his own.

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:11-15 ESV

Years later, on his return home, he had another encounter with God. This time it wasn’t a dream, but a very real and physically exhausting wrestling match with God. He even named the place where it happened, Peniel, which means “the face of God.” So of all people, Jacob should have known that something was going on in regards to the two dreams of Joseph. But did nothing about them. In fact, for him, it was simply business as usual. He didn’t even seem to be aware of the growing animosity of his own sons to their younger brother. While they were off tending the families sheep, he sent Joseph to go check on them. The trip from Hebron to Shechem would have been 60 miles one way. And when Joseph arrived, he found that his brothers had moved on to Dothan, another ten miles further north. What was Jacob thinking? Why would he put his favorite son at risk? Was this Jacob’s attempt to knock his son down a few notches and teach him a lesson regarding his arrogant-sounding dreams? There are so many questions that whirl around this narrative. Many of which are left unanswered. We are not told the motivation behind Jacob’s decision. But we are given numerous signs that God was sovereignly and providentially at work behind the scenes.

Why had the brothers traveled 60 miles to pasture their flocks? It was because Jacob owned land there. He had purchased it on his return from his self-imposed exile (Genesis 33:18-20). But why had the brothers then moved on to Dothan? It seems that they had left the flocks in Shechem to pasture and had headed to Dothan, which was trading town that lay on a busy caravan route between Damascus and Egypt. We are not told the reason for their little jaunt to Dothan. It could have been to buy goods or simply to see the sights. But their decision would prove providential.

When Jacob finally arrived in Dothan, the text says, “saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him” (Genesis 37:18 ESV). How did they recognize him from a distance? Perhaps it was his coat of many colors that gave him away. But upon recognition that it was their despised brother, Joseph, they come up with a plan to eliminate him once and for all. They are 70 miles from home. He is not under the protective care of their doting father. The circumstances couldn’t have been more perfect. It was time to put an end to the dreams and the dreamer. And little did Joseph know of the nightmare that lay ahead.

It was Reuben, the first-born, who intervened and prevented the brothers from killing Joseph. He advised them to place Joseph in a cistern in the ground, with the intention to come back later and rescue him. So when Joseph arrived, he received a shocking and less-than-welcoming reception. His brothers stripped him of his multi-color tunic and threw him in a pit. This scene is a foreshadowing of what is to come. It will be repeated several times in the life of Joseph over the course of his life. His meteoric fall from favored son to despised and deserted brother will not be the last time he experiences a setback in his young life. And yet, we will see that God is with him – all along the way. His father’s insensitivity and lack of common sense are no match for God’s sovereign plan. His brothers’ hate-filled, revenge-motivated plan cannot thwart the will of God. In fact, they will eventually discover that their evil actions end up actualizing the very dreams they so despised. Their wrongly-motivated intentions to strip Joseph of his favored status would actually result in his ultimate rise to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt.

It was Nebuchadnezzar, the king the Babylon, who had another dream given to him by God. He was told that, because of his pride, he would suffer from a period of insanity. He would fall from his splendor as king and spend his time living like a wild animal. And when the king’s sanity returned to him, he “praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever” (Daniel 4:34 NLT), saying, “All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth. No one can stop him or say to him, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’” (Daniel 4:35 NLT). God’s will is unstoppable. His providential purposes are irrefutable and irresistible. What He determines will take place. What He predicts will come to pass. What He promises will be fulfilled. A dream given by God can never die. And while the dreamer may suffer, he or she is protected by the sovereign hand of God.