The Two Tribes and a Half

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The history of the Two Tribes and a Half has its own instruction for us, and illustrates a peculiar character of mind and will among the saints of God. They do not stand with the Lot of the days of Abraham, though in some respects they remind us of him.
It is wonderful what a variety of moral character and of Christian experience finds itself before the soul in the histories of Scripture. The soul reads itself there fully; the workings of nature not only in man, but in the renewed man, its conflicts and its strength giving us to see so much that we know in ourselves; and, at times, the lights and shades as well as the distinctive features are to be traced.
The Two. Tribes and a Half are not Lot, but there is that in them which tells us of him. Like him, their own distinct, independent history begins with their eyeing the well watered plains which were good for their cattle in the wilderness side of Jordan. They think of their cattle rather than the call of God, and the pilgrimage of their brethren. Had their hearts been full of Christ, they would not have seen anything till they had crossed the river. Abraham, their father, had never been on that side of the river; nor did their expectation when called out of Egypt stop short of the other side. Neither had Moses said anything about those plains, in the land of Gilead. But they had cattle, and those plains were suitable to their cattle, and they sue for an inheritance ere they reach the land which had been their expectation when they set out. This was all. They had no thought whatever of revolting; of sacrificing the portion of true Israelites, but their cattle drew their eyes to the goodly plains of Gilead, and they were for possessing them, though they would do so as Israelites.
How natural! How common! In moral power they come short of the call of God, though they hold to the hope of that calling, and claimed fellowship only with those who were the objects of it. They were not in power a risen people; though in faith one with such. They were careful to declare and hold to their alliance with the Tribes who were to pass the Jordan; though they were led to remain on the wilderness side of it themselves. I do not regard them, like Lot, a people of mixed principles, who had deliberately formed their lives by something inconsistent with the call of God, but rather as a generation, who owning all that obey it, and refusing all thought of having any other, are not found in the moral power of it.
Again I say how common! This is a large generation. We know ourselves too well to ask, is there such a people?
Moses at once is made uneasy by this movement on the part of Reuben and Gad and the Half Tribe of Manasseh. He expressed this uneasiness with much force. He tells them that they bring to his remembrance the conduct of the spies whom he had sent out years before from Kadesh-Barnea, and whose way had discouraged their brethren, and occasioned the forty years' pilgrimage in the wilderness. There was something so unlike the call of Israel from Egypt in the hope of Canaan, in all these suggestions on the part of these Tribes, that Moses at once thus resents it: and it is bad that this is produced in the soul of a Moses; when the first instinctive feelings and thoughts of a saint, who is walking in the power of the resurrection of Christ, are alarmed and wounded by what is seen in a brother. And yet how common! many a Moses now-a-days is called in spirit to challenge what offends, as being out of company with the calling of the saints. For many a thing gets its sanction or its excuse from the heart of a saint that cannot stand before the judgment of faith.
Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh have to explain themselves, and to give fresh pledges to Moses that they by no means separate themselves from the fellowship and interests of their brethren, and they do this with zeal, and with integrity too. In this they are not with Lot. Lot's conduct separated him for the rest of the journey from Abraham. But not so these Tribes. With zeal they assert their purpose to be still with their brethren. Nay, they would by no means have taken the Eastern Gilead, had this produced a forfeiture of their identity with those who were to be in the Western Canaan. They are to give pledges too, that they will be foremost in the action which still remains on the behalf of their brethren's inheritance. By no means do they contemplate anything like the loss of fellowship with them; in this they are above Lot. But still they have stopped short of Canaan. They are not in the full power of the Canaan-calling-not in the thoughts of the man of God, a dead and risen people; for they are pausing (ere the promised inheritance be reached) for the sake of their cattle in the wilderness.
Moses, however, does not let them go, as Abraham let Lot go. They are not to be treated in that way, neither does the judgment of God light on them, as on the unbelieving spies who bring up an evil report of the land. They do not belong to such generations, though their way may savor of such. Moses cannot lose sight of them because they propose to feed their cattle in the plains of Gilead, while they thus with zeal assert their purposed fellowship with their brethren. They are his, and he is theirs still, I may say; and they hold on together, unlike Lot and Abraham, who never met after Lot became a citizen of the world; practically forgetful so far, of the calling of God.
This is so; but still Moses has to eye them and remember them, and keep his thoughts somewhat anxiously and uneasily occupied about them. And this is not the best witness for a saint. Happy when the Holy Ghost can have us and our state also, to lead us still onward, and feed us still in the knowledge and with the things of Jesus.
Lot and Abraham never met after the way of the world had drawn Lot into it. Jonathan and David, now and again, and in their affections there is communion between them true and warm. Obadiah and Elijah met only once, and it is but a poor meeting: "Reserve" marking the way of Elijah; and "Effort" that of Obadiah; for they were not kindred spirits. The leathern girdle of the prophet but ill-assorting with the livery of Ahab; but the two Tribes and a Half are above these. They are still the companions of their brethren, and will not think of anything else; and Moses admits their title without reserve. Their desire to have their portion in Gilead makes no difference as to this. But still they do not go through and through; they do not measure the whole of the wilderness, but they linger; and the thought of their cattle being suited in the fields of Gilead attracts them, and there they find an object, though they still accompany the camp
What shades of difference there are in those different illustrations; what different classes of the people of God; yea, and what difference in the same class do we meet here. Lot and Jonathan and Obadiah are of one class; men of mixed principles, as the expression is; men whose lives are formed by such every day habits as cannot combine with the pilgrim character; or the suffering-witnessing-character to which the call of God leads. Sodom, as Lot's place, Saul's court as Jonathan's, and the palace of Ahab, King of Israel at Jezreel, as Obadiah's; when Abraham dwelt in a tent, David in a den or cave of the earth, and Elijah with the provisions of God at Cherith or Sarepta. And yet Jonathan was not Lot or Obadiah personally, though we have to set them all in one class. Neither was Obadiah, Lot exactly; and as between them as a class, and such dead and risen men as Moses and Joshua, we have to bring in the Rubenites, Gadites, and Half Tribe of Manasseh, a generation who will by no means admit the thought of their separating themselves from full companionship with the call of God; but who, nevertheless, exhibit in moral action that which is not according to the full measure of that call. And this is indeed a common case-nay, this is the common case among the saints. We know it ourselves; we own the call, we witness it, we speak of Canaan, of death and resurrection, of hopes and inheritance beyond the river; but nature, and present ease, and present desires, the bleating of the flock, the lowing of the oxen, as they feed in the plains of Gilead, lead to much which makes the more single eye of a Moses, and the more fixed and single purpose of a Caleb or of a Joshua to wonder and inquire. (See Num. 32)
Joshua, who has the spirit of Moses, has them in some anxious and uneasy remembrance, like Moses; and he addresses a word of special admonition to them when he tells the conduct of affairs under the Lord, and for Israel. For they are still, being the Tribes, on the wilderness side of Jordan, the occasion of this fear and uneasiness to the more simple and devoted mind of a full-hearted, single-eyed servant of Christ. (Josh. 1)
There remains, however, another sight of them still in the progress of the history, and one which has its own striking moral features, I mean in Josh. 22
The ark had gone over. The feet of the priests bearing it had divided the waters of Jordan, and the ark had gone over conducting and shielding the Israel of God. And it is true that our Tribes of Reuben, and Gad, and Half-Manasseh had gone over with them; but the ark and Israel had remained there-that's the difference. The two Tribes and a Half return, but the ark remains. The place that becomes a -ransomed people, a dead and risen people, is left, and they return to settle where Israel had but wandered.
Joshua, like Moses, instinctively feels all this, and warns them, and exhorts them on their departure And as soon as they reach the place they had chosen they begin to feel it also. They are not fully at ease; and there is something specially significant in that. They raise an altar-(the heart of an Israelite in the land of Gilead would do just the same at this day). They are uneasy-Jehoshaphat was uneasy, when he found himself in the court of Ahab, and asked for a prophet of the Lord. The renewed mind speaks that language in a foreign land. They raise the altar, and called it "ED," or a witness-a witness that Israel's God was their God. But why all this? Had they remained in Canaan, where the ark and the tabernacle of God were, they would not have needed this. But they were not there, Shiloh was not in view, nor could their souls carry the sense of it, that Shiloh was the common center with all their brethren. They have to give themselves some artificial help, to give their souls a crutch, If I may so speak, to aid the confidence and the joy of their hearts; that as Israelites, they had fellowship and common interests and calling with their brethren. All this is very full of meaning, and is constantly experienced to this day. Some witness of our belonging to the Israel of God is needed and craved by the soul, when we get into a position in the earth which the call of Israel does not fully justify. The countenance of others-the restless examinations of our own state-reasonings with ourselves-remembrance it may be, of better days with the soul-something that is as artificial and of our own device as the altar of ED, and which would have been as unneeded too as that, had the soul been more simple and faithful.
All this is still known, and is all figured here-it is the writing on this pillar on the eastern side of Jordan. And a wonderful pillar it thus is. Lot's wife, the pillar of salt, had a writing upon it which the Divine Master Himself has read for us; and I doubt not, so has this pillar of ED, which the Holy Ghost would fain teach us to read, that we may be warned to know what uneasiness and doubt accompanies the soul that has retreated to find a settlement there, where the saints are and have been strangers. This altar witnessed both for and against these Israelites. It was just what Jehoshaphat's uneasiness was when he found himself with Ahab and the prophets of Baal. It is just what a saint's uneasiness here is when he finds himself involved in a world that he ought to hare left. For all this bespeaks the saintly or renewed mind, but in such exercises and experiences as the grace of God has caused it.
( To be continued, if the Lord will.)
To be soundly instructed in the heavenly origin, heavenly position and heavenly destiny of the Church, is the most effectual safe-guard against worldliness in the saint's present path, and also against false teaching in reference to future hopes.