But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the
people of Reuben, "Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit
here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from
going over into the land that the Lord has given them?" (Bemidbar/Numbers
As the nation of Israel was preparing to enter the Promised Land,
they were camped east of the Jordan River. The members of two of the
tribes approached Moses to request settling the area they were currently
in rather than west of the Jordan. I might be exaggerating, but Moses
went kind of ballistic on them as he lectured them on their history.
Don't they remember what happened the last time the people didn't want
to cross the Jordon to the take the Land? How could they have forgotten
how the majority of the envoys Moses sent almost forty years before
discouraged the whole nation from trusting God (see Bemidbar/Numbers
13-14). It's people like this that undermine faith and get in the way of
God's plans and purposes. For almost four decades the people have had to
wander in a barren wasteland due to the likes of such people. Oh no!
Moses wasn't going to stand for this. Once was enough; not again!
Moses really knew how to put these people in their place. The only
problem was he got it wrong. Moses' mistake is one of the most common in
human experience. He ascribed motive. He thought he had adequate
information to know why these two tribes made their request. It's not as
if he was clueless as to where his people were at. He knew his history.
He knew his people. He knew they weren't always the quickest to get
whatever it was God was teaching them. The years of wandering were
partly designed to wipe out the generation that freaked out the last
time. And since then, it's been complain, complain, complain; problem
after problem. And now this sort of thing again: "We want to stay
here. We don't want to enter the Land!" So can we blame him?
How was he supposed to know that this was nothing like what happened
before? He couldn't have guessed that they would pledge to stick with
the rest of the nation until the land on the other side of the Jordan
was secured. It's understandable that he made the assumption he did. I
don't think you or I would have reacted differently. Still, it all goes
to show, in our interactions with other people we cannot determine
motive. The request was clear. The reasons weren't yet given.
Kudos to those guys for how they handled Moses' ill-informed
reaction. They let him finish his diatribe, and then politely and
patiently explained where they were coming from. I don't know how much
we can surmise from this, but we read, "Then they came near to him
and said" (Bemidbar/Numbers 32:16; ESV). Most of us would recoil
from being falsely accused as they were. But instead they simply and
clearly made their case. Once Moses heard them out, he was completely
okay with their plan.
I know this story would have been nicer if Moses wouldn't have
reacted as he did. Perhaps had the two tribes been wiser, they would
have included the why along with their request. On the other hand, often
when we are confident that our suggestions are sound, we may not always
anticipate the kind of reaction they got. But hats off as well to Moses
for his quick recovery. Not everyone gets over being as wrong as he was.
Even though he misunderstood their motive, he was humble enough to not
only listen to their explanation, but he also accepted it, approved it,
and helped implement it.
There are many lessons we can take away from this interchange
regarding reacting, patience, and so on. But what I see here more than
anything is a reminder to not ascribe motive. We can rarely tell, if
ever, what drives another person based on what they say or even what
they do. It's difficult enough to understand people's motives when we
know them well like Moses did, let alone in cases where we have few
facts. Moses thought it was obvious, but he was wrong. Perhaps we would
be well advised to accept that we know far less of the inner workings of
our fellow human beings than we think.
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