“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 32:5)
So far, we have examined the attention that we must give to the words we speak and the words we listen to.
Chapter 32 of Numbers seems to emphasize listening patiently to the requests of others, leaving room for real communication.
As it came near the time to cross the Jordan and take possession of the land of promise, two of the tribes, Gad and Reuben, decided that they preferred the land of Gilead and asked for permission to settle on the east side of the Jordan, rather than cross over with the rest of the tribes of Israel.
This request provoked Moses to anger and he accused them of cowardice and betrayal:
“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?’” (Numbers 32:6)
As Israelis face brutal ongoing terrorist attacks and are hammered by bombs from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, this is a question that some Israelis might want to ask their brethren who remain in relative comfort and prosperity in the nations of the world.
Still, we wonder, why did the simple request of Gad and Reuben spark such a bitter outburst of anger in Moses?
This request reminded him of a painful incident from his past experience with the Israelites. He remembered that the bad report of 10 of the 12 spies discouraged the people so much that they wanted to go back to Egypt instead of going in to possess the land. Moses was concerned that there might be a repeat, resulting in more wilderness wandering.
He wanted to circumvent anything that would prevent the people from entering the Promised Land.
“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.” (Numbers 32:7–8)
The Grapes of Canaan, by James Tissot