Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle: and when they saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle;XXXII.
(1) Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad . . . —These tribes had occupied a contiguous position in their encampments for the space of thirty-eight years (Numbers 2:10; Numbers 2:14), and it was natural that they should desire to be permanently located near each other.
The land of Jazer.—See Numbers 21:32. This district was remarkable for its rich pasture-land.
The land of Gilead.—This land lay north and south of the Jabbok, and even in its present desolation shows traces of its great fertility.
Wherefore, said they, if we have found grace in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession, and bring us not over Jordan.(5) Bring us not over Jordan.—These words may be understood either simply as a request that the inheritance of the speakers might be assigned to them on the eastern side of the Jordan, or, as they appear to have been understood by Moses, and as they were in all probability designed to be understood, as a request that the conquest of the western side of the Jordan might be left to the other tribes, and that the Reubenites and Gadites might be permitted at once to establish themselves in the land which had been already subjugated. It is possible that the speakers, judging from the ease and rapidity with which the eastern side of the Jordan had been conquered, might have thought that their brethren were well able to subdue the western side without their aid. Be this as it may, their language indicated a selfish consideration of their own interests, and it was calculated to discourage and dishearten their brethren, and consequently it was strongly reproved by Moses. It is deserving of notice that the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh were amongst the first who were taken into captivity by the King of Assyria (1Chronicles 5:26).
And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given them?(7) And wherefore discourage ye the heart . . . —The verb which is rendered discourage, and which occurs again in Numbers 32:9, means rather to “alienate,” or “avert.” The cognate noun occurs in Num. adv. 34, in the same connection in which it is used in Numbers 32:9. (See Note in loc.)
Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the LORD.(12) For they have wholly followed the Lord.—See Numbers 14:24.
And the LORD'S anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed.(13) And he made them wander in the wilderness forty years.—Moses here declares the fulfilment of the prediction which he had announced in obedience to the Divine commandment at the time when the spies brought up an evil report of the land. (See Numbers 14:33-34.)
And they came near unto him, and said, We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones:(16) We will build sheepfolds . . . —The sheepfolds were commonly constructed of loose stones piled up on one another.
And cities for our little ones.—The word which is rendered “build” often means to “build up” or “repair,” and it probably has that meaning in this place, as applied to the cities. (See Numbers 32:26.)
But we ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel, until we have brought them unto their place: and our little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land.(17) Will go ready armed . . . —Or, will equip ourselves in haste.
And our little ones shall dwell . . . —The word taph, which is here rendered “little ones,” appears to include all the defenceless portion of the nation. (See Exodus 12:37.)
For we will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan, or forward; because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward.(19) For we will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan, or forward . . . on this side Jordan eastward.—This is one of the critical passages which determine the meaning of the word which is rendered “on yonder side” in the first clause of the verse, and “on this side” in the second clause. It is true that the meaning of the word in the first clause is defined by the addition of the word which is rendered “or forward,” and which is more correctly rendered and forward—i.e., “further off,” or “to a greater distance; “and that its meaning in the second clause is defined by the addition of the word “eastward,” or “towards the sun-rising;” but the application of the same word to the country on both sides of the Jordan shows that it cannot be inferred, with any degree of certainty, from the use of this word, whether the position of the writer was on the eastern or western side of the river. (See Numbers 32:32, where the same word occurs without any addition.) The language of the Gadites and the Reubenites must not be interpreted as if it were spoken in a defiant spirit, but as disclaiming their right to any portion of the inheritance on the west of the Jordan if they obtained their request to settle on the eastern side.
And Moses said unto them, If ye will do this thing, if ye will go armed before the LORD to war,(20) if ye will go armed before the Lord . . . —The same verb and the same preposition are here used which are used in Numbers 32:17. It may be inferred from this expression that the army of the Israelites was regarded as the army of the Lord; and it seems probable that there is a reference to the ark of the Lord as being carried on certain occasions into the war. If the order of march prescribed in the second chapter of this Book was still observed, there may be a reference to the fact that the tribes of Reuben and Gad, which encamped on the south side of the Tabernacle, immediately preceded the ark (see Numbers 10:18-22), just as those of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh immediately followed it (Psalm 80:2). At the time of the passage of the Jordan, the priests who bare the ark stood still in the river until the whole of the people had passed over “before the ark of the Lord” (Joshua 4:5; Joshua 4:11); but at the siege of Jericho it appears that the ark was carried in the midst of the host, some of the armed men going before it, and some following after it (Joshua 6:9). If this is the true meaning of the word “before the Lord,” it was natural that the Reubenites, or their spokesman, should first use the words “before the children of Israel” in Numbers 32:17, and should not adopt the expression “before the Lord,” as in Numbers 32:32, until it had been previously employed by Moses.
And the land be subdued before the LORD: then afterward ye shall return, and be guiltless before the LORD, and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the LORD.(22) And this land shall be your possession before the Lord.—See Deuteronomy 3:12-20; Joshua 13:15-33.
And Moses gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and unto half the 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, with the cities thereof in the coasts, even the cities of the country round about.(33) And unto half the tribe of Manasseh . . . —This is the first mention of the tribe of Manasseh. The application for a grant of the land on the eastern side of the Jordan appears to have been made only by the tribes of Reuben and Gad. The explanation, however, of this mention of the half tribe of Manasseh is found in Numbers 32:39, from which it appears that a portion of that tribe had been chiefly, if not exclusively, engaged in the conquest of certain portions of Gilead and Bashan, and had, therefore, justly acquired a claim to the possession of the districts which they had subjugated. (See Deuteronomy 3:13-15.)
And the children of Gad built Dibon, and Ataroth, and Aroer,(34) And the children of Gad built Dibon . . . Better, repaired or fortified. Some of the cities mentioned in this and the following verses—as, e.g., Dibon and Heshbon—are mentioned also in Numbers 21 in connection with the conquest of the Amoritish territory. It is not probable that new cities would have been built at this time, nor did the circumstances of the Israelites admit of the delay which would have been involved in such an undertaking. It was at Dibon that the Moabite stone was discovered by Mr. Klein in 1868. For the geographical position and modern names of the towns mentioned in these verses, see Keil (in loc). In the distribution of the towns by Joshua, some of the southernmost towns repaired or fortified by the Gadites appear to have fallen to the tribe of Reuben. (See Joshua 13:16-17.) Heshbon, on the other hand, appears to have fallen to the lot of the tribe of Gad, and to have been assigned to the Levites (1Chronicles 6:80-81).
And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorite which was in it.(39) And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went . . . —Better, Now the children of Machir the son of Manasseh had gone to Gilead, and taken it, &c. (See Note on Numbers 32:33.)
And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took the small towns thereof, and called them Havothjair.(41) And Jair the son of Manasseh . . . —Jair was the son of Segub, the son of Hezron, who married the daughter of Machir, the son of Manasseh (1Chronicles 2:21-22). Jair was, therefore, the great-grandson of Manasseh, and was one of those Israelites who were reckoned as belonging to their maternal tribe.