The Expository Files


Shall I Sit Here While Others Fight?
"We do not war according to the flesh..." 

Numbers 32:1-27

Prior to Israel's occupation of the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad wanted to settle in the land east of the Jordan River. Their request and Moses' response are found in the book of Numbers, (32:1-27) and have practical application to our attitudes today with regard to our responsibilities to God, His purpose, and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Two Tribes Make a Request

Reuben and Gad were two of the twelve tribes of Israel and had much livestock. As Israel prepared to cross over the Jordan River and enter into Canaan to possess it, Reuben and Gad saw that the land of Jazer and Gilead (the Transjordan) was good for livestock. They determined that rather than cross the Jordan and settle in that land, they wanted instead to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan River and settle there (Numbers 32:1). So they requested to be given the land east of the Jordan as their possession, and not the lands west of the Jordan with the other ten tribes Numbers 32:2-5).

Moses responded that the request, as it stood, was not fair to the ten tribes. There were enemies in the land, and so he asked, "Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here?" (Numbers 32:6). Moses knew that the people could be discouraged if their numbers dwindled significantly (Numbers 32:7). The only reason the lands Reuben and Gad desired were now safe is because of a united effort of all the people. They would be no different than the ten spies of the previous generation who had discouraged Israel by their report and had aroused God's anger. This could turn out to be very destructive to God's people (Numbers 32:8-15)!

Reuben and Gad then offered to send their warriors to help possess the Promised Land (Numbers 32:16-19). Moses agreed to this solution, but with a stern warning. All will be fine if they do as they had promised. However, if they renege on their promise, Moses said, "But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out." (Numbers 32:20-23).

A War Still Rages Today

We need to understand that Israel was at war. So are we. It is a different kind of war in which we are engaged; a spiritual war. The New testament Scriptures put it this way: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ..." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). It is a spiritual war that requires specialized armor and weapons. Since it is a war against Satan, and the spiritual forces of wickedness, the armor and weapons we employ are different from the ones used by Israel, different, but not without parallel.

"Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:13-17; see context vss. 10-18)

Application-"Shall You Brothers Go to War While You Yourselves Sit Here?"

Think of the battlefield! Many have stood for the truth in the past, finding their way of the religious creeds and systems concocted by man turning to the Scriptures, the Word of God alone. Once established on such a wonderful and firm foundation, brethren have withstood new innovations that would lead them back into the religious apostasies of the past. Also, standing firm on God's Rock, brethren have rejected the ever changing moral dictates of human society and culture favoring instead the moral teachings and principles found in the revelation of God. We, today, are the recipients and beneficiaries of countless struggles and battles, waged in the hearts of men and women.

How much should we appreciate the efforts of those in the past to secure and make known the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the "perfect Law of Liberty"? We are free to enjoy the blessings of God's family as we look with fond expectation toward "our promised land"; our "Canaan's Land"; our "unshakeable heavenly kingdom" . Yes, there is still a "Jordan River" which we, too, must cross.

But the war wages on!

The battlefield is the heart. Paul wrote that "every thought must be brought captive to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Jesus once asked what was probably a rhetorical question about His return. He asked about when He comes again, will He "find faith upon the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Let us answer, "Yes! If we have anything to do with it!"

But then, there is another question we would do well to think about as well. "Shall our brethren go to war while we sit here?" Will I be content to let others make all the sacrifices and do all the work? Will I expect them to carry extra oil for their lamps and mine? Will I watch them take the risks that faith sometimes calls for? Will I see their lights shining forth into a dark world while I have dimmed my own? Will it be only them, and not me, who labors in the vineyard, who rebukes and encourages, who shares and serves with dedication, courage and resolve?

Shall I just sit idly by as my brethren exert themselves by faith? Will I jealously guard my "comfort zone" doing all I can to ensure that I am not overly disturbed? Do I really think or expect I can really enjoy all the wonderful spiritual blessings in Christ for which I will not labor myself? How can I be filled with peace, hope, joy, love and confidence if I am willing to sit safely on the other side of the river while others cross over to meet their obligations to the Lord and His kingdom?

Moses said, "Now why are you discouraging the sons of Israel from crossing over into the land which the LORD has given them? " (Numbers 32:7). When we neglect our responsibility to God and His people, we also discourage our brethren!

When Reuben and Gad realized the effect of sitting while their brethren went to war, they immediately made arrangements to do their part. Moses was even patient with them, allowing them time to care for their families (Numbers 32:24) They in turn promised to do their part in going to war. They succeeded because they understood that they could not just cast aside their own responsibilities to God. Let us all, today, realize the same lessons as we serve our King, Jesus, and fight the good fight of faith.

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 16.4; April 2009