I am going through the book of I Chronicles for my weekly quiet time in the Scriptures. Today, I will talk about I Chronicles 5.
This chapter focuses on the Israelite tribe of Reuben, which dwelt in the Transjordan, but it also touches on the other tribes in the Transjordan, namely, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh.
The chapter opens by saying that Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob, but he did not get the birthright because “defiled his father’s bed” (KJV) , presumably by sleeping with his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22). The birthright then passed on to Joseph, yet Judah was the most prominent because Judah had the king, David. What was the birthright that was passed on to Joseph? According to Deuteronomy 21:15-17, the firstborn was entitled to receive a “double inheritance” of property (Roddy Braun’s words in the Word Biblical Commentary). That, in a sense, is what Joseph received, for he got a double portion of land in Israel. His sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, each counted as separate tribes and were given large pieces of land; they also had a sizable population. In terms of property, Joseph got more than the other tribes. That was its birthright.
So Reuben lost out. Moreover, some argue that Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh made a mistake when they chose to settle in the Transjordan rather than receiving property across the Jordan, with the other Israelites (Numbers 32). In I Chronicles 5:26, we read that the Assyrians took away into captivity the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and E.W. Bullinger says that the lesson is that it is better that our lot be chosen by God than that we choose our own lot, as the Tranjordanian tribes did, placing themselves closer to the enemy. But I do not thoroughly buy that. I Chronicles 5 talks about the blessing and military success that the Transjordanian tribes had. They depended on God, and God blessed them accordingly. They fell to the Assyrians, according to I Chronicles 5:25, because they went whoring after the gods of the land that God had destroyed. What land is this? Were these Transjordanian tribes tempted by the Canaanite religion of the Cisjordan, when the Jordan river was separating them from the Cisjordan and they probably kept to themselves? I suppose that is possible, but maybe they were tempted by the religion of the Transjordanian nations that they had supplanted: the regions that Sihon and Og ruled.
There are a variety of spiritual lessons that I get from this chapter. One is that God can still have a plan for us, even if we botch things up and lose what we had. Another is that we can depend on God and receive God’s blessing, even if we go out on our own. I would not say that the Transjordanian tribes separated themselves completely from the rest of Israel, for they still helped the other Israelites conquer the Cisjordan. Moreover, there is the possibility that the Transjordanian tribes were helping the rest of Israel in other battles—-that, when they were triumphing over the Hagrites in I Chronicles 5, they were not just winning local skirmishes but were contributing to the victory of all of Israel. In Psalm 83, the Hagrites threaten all of Israel. The Transjordanian tribes were closer to the Hagrites in location, and so perhaps they got to make their own unique contribution to the well-being of Israel in fighting the Hagrites. It is good when we can contribute to a body or cause larger than ourselves, in our own unique way or in other ways; still, we don’t have to succumb to group-think in order to be loved and blessed by God. And, even if we feel alienated from or within organized religion, we can still have a personal relationship with God.