3:16 – The Rest of the Story – God Reveals His Plan 6: Deuteronomy

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan (Current location of study)
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
  • Our Response

“and to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the Valley of the Arnon, with the middle of the valley as a border, as far over as the river Jabbok, the border of the Ammonites;” – Deuteronomy 3:16

This is one of the 3:16 verses that really doesn’t stand on its own, but it’s a good reminder that NO scripture should be considered complete on its own outside of the context of the rest of scripture. In determining context, one must consider the immediate context (the immediately surrounding verses), the context of the chapters and book from which the verse comes, and how that books fits in to the overall story of the Bible. Additionally, there is historical and societal context to consider, or what is going on in the world at the time. There is also literary context, or what type of writing style and voice is being used in the passage. I’m not saying that its inappropriate to let a particular verse “speak to you” by itself, but all these factors should nevertheless be considered.

This particular verse, found in Deuteronomy, is part of the first of a set of speeches or sermons that Moses speaks to the Israelites prior to his coming death. The Israelites have been wandering for nearly 40 years in the desert between Mount Sinai (where the law was given to them by God) and the land of Canaan, the land God had promised Abraham to give to his offspring through Isaac and then through Jacob (Israel). The reason God had sentenced them to this “wandering” was their continued rebellion against Him has He led them out of Egyptian slavery. In Numbers 14:20-33, God says

“I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valleys, turn tomorrow and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.” And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the LORD, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness.

Moses’ speeches in Deuteronomy, then, are being delivered at the end of the forty-year time period to the next generation who have grown up in the desert. Only Caleb and Joshua (and Moses, at this point) have survived from those to whom God’s judgment was pronounced. Just prior to this, the Israelites at approached the Jordan river from the south and east and had requested free passage through the land controlled by the Amorite kings Sihon and Og. Neither of these kings gave permission for them to pass through, but rather came out in force to attack Israel. Israel defeated them completely and their land east of the Jordan river became unoccupied.

The leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad (and half of the tribe of Manasseh) came to Moses and requested they be given the land of Gilead, the Amorite land formerly controlled by Sihon and Og. We read about this in Number 32:16-23.

Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the LORD for the war, and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the LORD, until he has driven out his enemies from before him and the land is subdued before the LORD; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the LORD and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the LORD. But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out.

This brings us back to our 3:16 verse.

“and to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the Valley of the Arnon, with the middle of the valley as a border, as far over as the river Jabbok, the border of the Ammonites;” – Deuteronomy 3:16

This is where there is a bit of controversy. As God revealed His plan to His people regarding the promised land, it was always listed in regard to the land west of the Jordan river.

Map of the Promised Land from the online ESV Study Bible

Was the land claimed by Reuben, Gad and half-Manasseh part of the promise? Was it outside of God’s plan or will? God used the defeat of Og and Sihon to demonstrate to the Israelites that He was going to give them victory over their enemies. It set the stage for their entrance into the promised land as a new generation who had perhaps grown callous to the provisions of God. They had been living on manna for forty years and probably settled into a bit of a rut.

The provision of this additional land is in keeping with the character of God. Without drawing from the “name it, claim it”, prosperity gospel advocates, I will simply say that it is consistent with God’s character to provide even more blessings beyond what he promises. The most important thing to remember about God’s provision and blessings is hidden verse 21 of that Numbers 14 passage I quoted above. When God was proclaiming judgment on His people he said, “But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” This was a foundational basis for the judgment. God is to receive the glory from His blessings. The first-generation Israelites had strayed so far from God’s plan and will that He was no longer going to receive glory from their continued existence, so they had to die.

Wherever we find ourselves in living out God’s plan for our lives, He must receive the glory for it. Whatever blessing we receive from God is not about us. The Gadites and Reubenites received God’s blessings as part of the larger revelation and fulfillment of His plan and the revelation of His glorious relationship to His people. In Deuteronomy 9:5 God explains to the Israelites, “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Next time we’ll examine Joshua 3:16 as God’s plan continues to unfold to His people.

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