If we have found favor in your eyes,” they said, “let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.”
Numbers 32:5 (NIV)
When I was a kid I was terrible at waiting for things. My sister, Jody, and I would always tell each other what we were getting for Christmas. I just had to know, even though it pretty much ruined Christmas morning as a time of pleasant surprises.
Driven by my appetites I was terribly impatient as a young person and typically wanted things now. Perhaps this developed from being the youngest sibling and watching others get to do things first while I had to wait until I was big enough or old enough. Perhaps it’s just part of my personality. Whatever the case, I can tell you that throughout my life journey when I was given a choice between the instant, easy gratification of a known quantity or the long, slow, patient wait for a promised, better pay-off down the line, I have typically always chosen the former. I’ve been very good at taking the easy-way out.
This trait has generally not served me well.
So it was with great interest that I read the story of the Hebrew tribes of Reuben, Gad in today’s chapter. If you’ve been following the larger story we know that many years before today’s chapter Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land God had promised them in the land of Canaan.
Back in those ancient days the land was largely made up of small city-states that controlled a small territory. Sometimes these towns would band together to form a larger, regional power in the area, but often each city-state would build a wall around their village and go it on their own. In those days it was a dog-eat-dog world in which people groups were constantly invading and conquering one another. You were always at risk of a larger, stronger people showing up out of nowhere, conquering you, killing your entire population, and taking all of your possessions as plunder. If the Israelites wanted the Promised Land they would have to take it by conquest. It seems bloody and barbaric in our politically correct, modern Western world, but the ancient world of the near east was a bloody, barbaric place. It’s just the way it was.
A generation earlier, on their first visit to the Promised Land, Moses sent spies into the land to check things out. All but two of the spies were fearful and advised not starting a military campaign to take the land. Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, advised that the Israelites have faith in God and go for it. Because of the tribes’ lack of faith God said they’d continue to be a nomadic, wandering people for an entire generation before giving their children another chance.
As today’s chapter opens we’re setting up for the second chance. The Hebrew Tribes have approached the Jordan River and are once more looking out over the Promised Land. It’s right there for the taking, but it will require a hard campaign of conquest an no guarantee of victory. Now, the Reubenites and Gadites come to Moses and say, “We like this land we’re standing on. Perfect for our flocks. We’ll settle for this. Have fun with the conquest.”
It’s just like me as a little kid. “I’ll take the thing I can have right now. This land I can see and we already possess and I don’t have to worry about conquering? It will be way more easy. I’ll take the easy way out, thank you.”
Moses immediately thinks, “It’s deja vu all over again.”
When confronted with what they were doing, the Reubenites and Gadites strike a pledge that they will settle the land they were on, but would send their men on the military campaign to support their fellow tribes in the conquest. Moses agrees, but I can feel an eery foreshadowing of problems to come…
- Will the Reubenites and Gadites really be committed to supporting the conquest when their wives and children are back on the other side of the Jordan?
- Will the Reubenites and Gadites leave their best fighters to protect their families and possessions and send their worst fighters on conquest? How’s that going to go over with the other tribes?
- Once the Promise Land is secured will the Reubenites and Gadites be pissed off when they realize that they settled for less when they could have had much better land if they’d just been patient and held-out like the other tribes?
[Cue: red flags waving, alarm bells going off, and a loud buzzer]
All of the hard lessons this impatient person has learned along my life journey tells me this is not going to end well.
This morning I’m reminded of some of my own mistakes when I chose immediate, easy gratification over a much better, promised pay-off that required patience, fortitude and/or hard work. Some of these mistakes were silly and insignificant, but others were tragically life changing.
I’ve learned over time to recognize the pattern in myself. I’ve developed more patience. Having experienced some really good “promised land” rewards and delayed gratification has given me positive reinforcement on which to draw upon. I’m more likely to make wise choices today than I was in my younger years. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that some natural inclinations never go away. I just have to learn to recognize and manage the moment when I’m tempted to take the easy way out.