Studies in the Books of Chronicles
The East Bank of Jordan
1st Chronicles 5
Having used considerable space tracing the lineage Judah (Chapter 2 to Chapter 4:23), and less time on Simeon (whose people dwelt with the tribe of Judah), the inspired historian now spends one chapter only on the tribes which made up the east bank settlement; Rueben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh.
As the majority of those who returned from Babylon were from the tribe of Judah, this was where their chief interest lay. Therefore, while the history of these tribes received some mention, minute details were unnecessary. Nevertheless, there are important lessons for us to learn from this settlement which occupied the east bank of Jordan, both with respect to bible history and practical application.
1: The Formation to the East Bank Settlement
The area to the east of Jordan was sometimes known as Gilead and remained in the possession of Israel until the Assyrian captivity. This region, however, did not play a huge role in Jewish history. This probably due to its more remote location on the periphery of the nation, across the Jordan. The most famous person to arise from the territory was Elijah, as his village it is believed, came from the territory of Gilead.
Arthur Pink’s description of Gilead helps us to not only understand the character of this place but also the uncouth unsophisticated manner of Elijah:
“Gilead lay east of the Jordan: it was wild and rugged; its hills were covered with shaggy forests; its awful solitudes were only broken by the dash of mountain streams; its valleys were the haunt of fierce wild beasts.”
In later years a considerable Jewish population would continue to inhabit this region. Perea, known as the land beyond the Jordan in the Gospels which included the town Ceasaera Philippi, was under the direct control of King Herod, as was Galilee.
It rather striking that Rueben occupied this territory that was not within the natural boundaries of the Promised Land. This was the fulfilment of Jacob’s prediction concerning this tribe:
“Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel” (Genesis 49:4).
This is the likely reason why the Holy Ghost prompted writer begins this chapter with an explanation for this side-lining of Rueben, the eldest son of Jacob. Rueben was passed over because of the moral sin which stained his character and affected his family forever.
Therefore, “Judah prevailed and of him came the chief ruler…”. This is another nugget from these genealogies revealing Christ, the chief among ten thousand, the lion of the tribe of Judah.
Concerning Rueben, however, Jacob’s words proved prophetic because five paltry verses trace the ancestry of Rueben’s family (5:3-8). In truth, he did not excel!
The history of the east bank settlement goes back to the time when the children of Israel were passing through this region as they neared the borders of the Promised Land Numbers 32). Rueben and Gad, especially, enjoyed immense material prosperity possessing a vast multitude of cattle. They, therefore, asked for the land east of Jordan because of its suitability. Moses granted their request on condition that they assist the children of Israel in their conquest of Canaan. Joshua eventually released these tribes to return across the Jordan after they had fulfilled their obligations (Joshua 22).
2: The Battle for the East Bank Settlement
While these tribes were on the periphery, they were not unimportant in the sight of God. While they did not enjoy a place of prominence they continued to enjoy a purpose according to divine providence. The chronicler is especially interested in a battle which
the east bank settlement fought in the days of King Saul which he mentions in v10 and then describes with more detail in v18-22.
Whether we are prominent in the eyes of men or not, is of little consequence. Like Rueben we may even be marginalised fairly because of our failings, yet God will continue to fulfil His purpose in our lives. We likewise will continue to have spiritual battles until the day when we rise to our heavenly rest.
The description of the battle fought is most instructive. The warriors of Rueben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh were certainly skilled and brave and while these qualities were important the true reason for their success lay in the confidence that they had in God:
“…they cried to God in the battle, and he was intreated of them: because they out their trust in him.”
This reads like a spiritual revival in a day of terrible conflict. As the forces of atheism, humanism, secularism and liberalism are arrayed against the church today we need to be skilled in the word but ultimately, we must renew our confidence in the God of our fathers. The victory was won “because the war was of God.” It is not God’s will for us to surrender the Word of God and our Gospel heritage. We must stand for truth against the world, the flesh and the devil, this battle will always be the Lord’s.
3: The Collapse of the East Bank Settlement
V25-26 describe another day, a black day, when the east bank descended into apostasy going after other gods. After the division of the kingdom in the days of Rehoboam, this territory formed part of the northern kingdom which became spiritually apostate. Jeroboam 1st established the golden calves in Bethel and Dan. In the centuries that followed the departure from God continued unabated until the God sent the Assyrian King to conquer and take Israel into captivity. The words at the close of the chapter are telling; “unto this day”.
After the tribe of Judah returned to Jerusalem to re-establish themselves as a people Rueben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh were still in the land of bondage. A society had collapsed because of sin.
A salutary warning indeed!