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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 16–27
Verses 16–27

We have here the accommodating of the matter between Moses and the two tribes, about their settlement on this side Jordan. Probably the petitioners withdrew, and considered with themselves what answer they should return to the severe reproof Moses had given them; and, after some consultation, they return with this proposal, that their men of war should go and assist their brethren in the conquest of Canaan, and they would leave their families and flocks behind them in this land: and thus they might have their request, and no harm would be done. Now it is uncertain whether they designed this at first when they brought their petition or no. If they did, it is an instance how often that which is honestly meant is unhappily misinterpreted; yet Moses herein was excusable, for he had reason to suspect the worst of them, and the rebuke he gave them was from the abundance of his care to prevent sin. But, if they did not, it is an instance of the good effect of plain dealing; Moses, by showing them their sin, and the danger of it, brought them to their duty without murmuring or disputing. They object not that their brethren were able to contend with the Canaanites without their help, especially since they were sure of God’s fighting for them; but engage themselves to stand by them.

I. Their proposal is very fair and generous, and such as, instead of disheartening, would rather encourage their brethren. 1. That their men of war, who were fit for service, would go ready armed before the children of Israel into the land of Canaan. So far would they be from deserting them that, if it were thought fit, they would lead them on, and be foremost is all dangerous enterprises. So far were they from either distrusting or despising the conquest of Canaan that they would assist in it with the utmost readiness and resolution. 2. That they would leave behind them their families and cattle (which would otherwise be but the incumbrance of their camp), and so they would be the more serviceable to their brethren, Num. 32:16. 3. That they would not return to their possessions till the conquest of Canaan was completed, Num. 32:18. Their brethren should have their best help as long as they needed it. 4. That yet they would not expect any share of the land that was yet to be conquered (Num. 32:19): “We will not desire to inherit with them, nor, under colour of assisting them in the war, put in for a share with them in the land; no, we will be content with our inheritance on this side Jordan, and there will be so much the more on yonder side for them.”

II. Moses thereupon grants their request, upon consideration that they would adhere to their proposals. 1. He insists much upon it that they should never lay down their arms till their brethren laid down theirs. They promised to go armed before the children of Israel, Num. 32:17. “Nay,” says Moses, “you shall go armed before the Lord, Num. 32:20; 21. It is God’s cause more than your brethren’s, and to him you must have an eye, and not to them only.” Before the Lord, that is, before the ark of the Lord, the token of his presence, which, it should seem, they carried about with them in the wars of Canaan, and immediately before which these two tribes were posted, as we find in the order of their march, Num. 2:10; 17. 2. Upon this condition he grants them this land for their possession, and tells them they shall be guiltless before the Lord and before Israel, Num. 32:22. They should have the land, and neither sin nor blame should cleave to it, neither sin before God nor blame before Israel; and, whatever possessions we have, it is desirable thus to come guiltless to them. But, 3. He warns them of the danger of breaking their word: “If you fail, you sin against the Lord (Num. 32:23), and not against your brethren only, and be sure your sin will find you out;” that is, “God will certainly reckon with you for it, though you may make a light matter of it.” Note, Sin will, without doubt, find out the sinner sooner or later. It concerns us therefore to find our sins out, that we may repent of them and forsake them, lest our sins find us out to our ruin and confusion.

III. They unanimously agree to the provisos and conditions of the grant, and do, as it were, give bond for performance, by a solemn promise: Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth, Num. 32:25. Their brethren had all contributed their assistance to the conquest of this country, which they desired for a possession, and therefore they owned themselves obliged in justice to help them in the conquest of that which was to be their possession. Having received kindness, we ought to return it, though it was not so conditioned when we received it. We may suppose that this promise was understood, on both sides, so as not to oblige all that were numbered of these tribes to go over armed, but those only that were fittest for the expedition, who would be most serviceable, while it was necessary that some should be left to till the ground and guard the country; and accordingly we find that about 40,000 of the two tribes and a half went over armed (Josh. 4:13), whereas their whole number was about 100,000.