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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
The record of the last war to the east of the Jordan is followed by the assignment of the lands already conquered to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and to certain families of the tribe of Manasseh.
1Now 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;
Jazer - Compare the marginal reference. This district, although included in the land of Gilead, seems to have had special attractions for the Israelite settlers. All travelers in Gilead, the modern Belka, bear witness to its richness as compared with the country to the west of the Jordan. Its general character is that of an upland pasture, undulating and thickly timbered. In the last respect its northern portions excel its southern; but for fertility of soil the southern province is preferred by the Arabs, in whose lips it has passed into a proverb: "Thou canst not find a country like the Belka."
2The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spake unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying,
3Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Shebam, and Nebo, and Beon,
See Numbers 32:34-38 notes.
4Even the country which the LORD smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle:
5Wherefore, 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.
6And Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?
7And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given them?
8Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadeshbarnea to see the land.
Your fathers - The generation of the Exodus was now substantially extinct. Compare Numbers 26:64-65.
Kadesh-barnea - See Numbers 13:26.
9For when they went up unto the valley of Eshcol, and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, that they should not go into the land which the LORD had given them.
10And the LORD'S anger was kindled the same time, and he sware, saying,
11Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me:
12Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the LORD.
The Kenezite - Kenaz Genesis 36:11 was the name of one of the "dukes of Edom:" but Israel and Edom were of kindred origin, and the use of similar names by the two peoples is not surprising.
13And 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.
14And, behold, ye are risen up in your fathers' stead, an increase of sinful men, to augment yet the fierce anger of the LORD toward Israel.
15For if ye turn away from after him, he will yet again leave them in the wilderness; and ye shall destroy all this people.
16And they came near unto him, and said, We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones:
17But 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.
18We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.
19For we will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan, or forward; because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward.
20And Moses said unto them, If ye will do this thing, if ye will go armed before the LORD to war,
21And will go all of you armed over Jordan before the LORD, until he hath driven out his enemies from before him,
22And 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.
23But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out.
Be sure your sin will find you out - literally, "know ye your sin that it will find you out." Moses implies that their sin would eventually bring its own punishment along with it.
24Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep; and do that which hath proceeded out of your mouth.
25And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben spake unto Moses, saying, Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth.
26Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our cattle, shall be there in the cities of Gilead:
27But thy servants will pass over, every man armed for war, before the LORD to battle, as my lord saith.
Before the Lord - i. e., immediately in front of the sacred tokens of the Lord's presence; compare Numbers 10:17 note.
28So concerning them Moses commanded Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the chief fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel:
29And Moses said unto them, If the children of Gad and the children of Reuben will pass with you over Jordan, every man armed to battle, before the LORD, and the land shall be subdued before you; then ye shall give them the land of Gilead for a possession:
30But if they will not pass over with you armed, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.
31And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben answered, saying, As the LORD hath said unto thy servants, so will we do.
32We will pass over armed before the LORD into the land of Canaan, that the possession of our inheritance on this side Jordan may be ours.
33And 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.
Half the tribe of Manasseh - That is, (compare Numbers 32:39; Joshua 17:1) the families of Machir. Moses, when assigning to the pastoral tribes the inheritance which they desired, appropriated to these Manassites especially the district they had already subdued, as a reward for their valour and exploits. Thus the whole of the conquered country was provisionally disposed of, and the forwardness anti valour of the Machirites rewarded. It seems clear from Numbers 32:39 and Joshua 17:1, that the claims of the Machirites arose simply out of their exploits.
34And the children of Gad built Dibon, and Ataroth, and Aroer,
The cities here named fall into three groups. On Dibon, compare Numbers 21:19. The Moabite stone was discovered here in 1868. This city, occupied on the first acquisition of the territory by the Gadites, and assigned by Joshua to the Reubenites, was eventually recaptured by the Moabites, in whose hands it remained. Ataroth, i. e., "crowns" (Attarus?) was seven miles northwest of Dibon. Aroer (Arair) lay between Dibon and the Arnon.
Atroth, Shophan - , was Atroth-Shophan, i. e., Atroth, or Ataroth of Shophan, or "of the burrow;" thus distinguished from the Ataroth named in the verse preceding from which it was probably not far distant. These four cities may be styled the Dibon settlement.
35And Atroth, Shophan, and Jaazer, and Jogbehah,
Jaazer - (compare Numbers 32:1) with the neighboring "Jogbehah" (Jebeiha), seven miles to the northeast, formed the second group.
36And Bethnimrah, and Bethharan, fenced cities: and folds for sheep.
The third Gadite settlement lay in the valley of the Jordan, to the west of the preceding. It comprised the cities of Bethnimrah (Nimrun) and "Beth-haran" (Beit-ha-ran).
37And the children of Reuben built Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Kirjathaim,
The Reubenites established themselves more compactly than the Gadites. Elcalch (el-'Al) a mile to the northeast; Nebo (Nebbeh) probably three miles to the southwest; Baal-meon (Main) nearly two miles to the south; Kirjathaim (Kureiyat?): and Shibmah, more properly Sibmah, famous at a later period for its vines (compare Isaiah 16:8), four miles east of Heshbon; all clustered round the old Amorite Capital. The Reubenites probably retained at the partition all these cities with the exception of Heshbon, which, passing to the Levites, were thenceforth reckoned as within the tribe of Gad.
Neither the Reubenites nor the Gadites were "builders" in the sense of founders of the cities of which they thus took possession. They probably fortified them, for the first time or afresh, so as to render them places of safety for their families during the campaigns on the other side of the Jordan; and provided them with all conveniences for their flocks and herds.
38And Nebo, and Baalmeon, (their names being changed,) and Shibmah: and gave other names unto the cities which they builded.
39And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorite which was in it.
The children of Machir - Machir, the son of Manasseh, was long since dead: even his sons had been brought up upon Joseph's knees Genesis 50:23. But the renown acquired by his descendants raised his family almost to the dignity of a tribe; and the Machirites are in the next verse styled Machir, just as the children of Judah or of Ephraim are often spoken of as Judah or Ephraim. So in Judges 5:14 Machir is coupled with Ephraim and Zebulun.
Went - i. e., "had gone:" the statement is preparatory to the ensuing record of the grant to them of the land they had won.
Gilead - More strictly part of north Gilead; which, though inhabited by the Amorites, had belonged to the kingdom of Og. Gilead was the district from which had sprung the ancestress of the Machirites (compare 1 Chronicles 7:14).
40And Moses gave Gilead unto Machir the son of Manasseh; and he dwelt therein.
41And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took the small towns thereof, and called them Havothjair.
The exploits of Jair - he was the conqueror of Argob Deuteronomy 3:14 - gave new. luster to his name; and the fame of the family is attested by the history of Jair the Israelite judge, doubtless a descendant; perhaps also by the mention of Jairus Luke 8:41, the ruler of the synagogue at the neighboring city of Capernaum.
Havoth-jair - That is, the villages, or rather groups of tents, or "kraals," of Jair. Originally they were twenty-three in number 1 Chronicles 2:22 : in the days of the youuger Jair, to whom they probably descended by inheritance, they either had increased to thirty, or were reckoned at that round number Judges 10:4.
42And Nobah went and took Kenath, and the villages thereof, and called it Nobah, after his own name.
Kenath - Now Kenawat, an important site near the southern extremity of the tract el-Lejah, and on the western slopes of the mountains of the Hauran. The name given to it by its conqueror, as in other cases, fell ere long into disuse, and the old name has held its ground to this day.
The notices, both Scriptural and traditional, of the conquest of northeastern Gilead and Bashan by the Machirites, plainly intimate that it was effected by a few chiefs of great military prowess, who overran rapidly a far larger district than they could colonize. The father of Jair, however, Segub, was of the tribe of Judah (compare Numbers 27:1, and note; 1 Chronicles 2:21-22), and it is likely that the Manassite leaders induced many of the more adventurous of this tribe, and some possibly of other tribes, to join them in their enterprise against Bashan (see Joshua 19:34).
The Machirites did not exterminate the whole population of this district (see Joshua 13:15, etc.). The conquest of the district east of Jordan seems never to have been so effectually accomplished as that on the other side.
During the troublous times of the Judges the eastern Manassites rendered good service to the nation; compare Judges 5:14. Gideon, and probably Jephthah, were of this tribe, and reflect in a later generation the warlike and adventurous spirit which Jair and Nobah exhibited in the days of Moses.