Numbers 32:1-42 (Part 1) – “They Just Don’t Get It”: An Essay on Understanding the People You Lead

Posted: November 13, 2016 in 04-Numbers

Numbers 32:1-42 (Part 1 of 2)

Some Tribe Settle East of the Jordan River

When in leadership at church, it is easy to get frustrated with people in your church, particularly in a medium-sized to large church. There is a certain amount of anonymity that comes with being a regular attendee of medium to large sized churches. You can lose yourself in the crowd and you don’t really have to do anything. It is easy to say “someone else will do it”. It is easy to say that I don’t have time. There is an old saying about churches and just about any organization – 20% of the people do 80% of the work. As a leader in the church, even the 20% can disappoint you at times. You plan meetings and only half the people that said they would show up actually do show up. You send out emails requiring a response and you get no responses. It just seems that church is just not that important to people. You can think that they just don’t see church as important as you do. You can think that people simply don’t care about eternal things and make things of this earth more important than the eternal. You can think that people see church as just one of many choices of what to do with their time. You can think that people just don’t get it like you do. You can think that they don’t get it that serving the Lord should be our top priority and not our fifth or sixth priority.


Serving the Lord should be the trump card to anything that is in our cards in our hands. We can think that people just don’t get it that serving the Lord should come before the kid’s unending sports activities. We can think that people just don’t get that serving the should come before our obsessions with our favorite college football team. We can think that people just don’t get that serving the Lord should come before weekend getaways, or NASCAR, or Pinterest, or shopping, or whatever it is that people seem to place as priorities than serving the Lord through our local church. We can become jaded as leaders by this constant struggle to just have enough people to have a meeting about an important upcoming event. It is all very easy to just throw your hands up in frustration and give up on people. It is easy to jump to conclusions about people’s motives when it comes to their relationship with the Lord and in their service to the Lord.


It is this idea of jumping to conclusions about people’s motives that I thought of this morning when I read through this chapter today (Numbers 32):


32 The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. 2 So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, 3 “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon— 4 the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel—are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. 5 If we have found favor in your eyes,” they said, “let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.”


6 Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, “Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here? 7 Why do you discourage the Israelites from crossing over into the land the Lord has given them? 8 This is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to look over the land. 9 After they went up to the Valley of Eshkol and viewed the land, they discouraged the Israelites from entering the land the Lord had given them. 10 The Lord’s anger was aroused that day and he swore this oath: 11 ‘Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of those who were twenty years old or more when they came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— 12 not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.’ 13 The Lord’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone.


14 “And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel. 15 If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the wilderness, and you will be the cause of their destruction.”


16 Then they came up to him and said, “We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children. 17 But we will arm ourselves for battle[a] and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place. Meanwhile our women and children will live in fortified cities, for protection from the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the Israelites has received their inheritance. 19 We will not receive any inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan, because our inheritance has come to us on the east side of the Jordan.”


20 Then Moses said to them, “If you will do this—if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle 21 and if all of you who are armed cross over the Jordan before the Lord until he has driven his enemies out before him— 22 then when the land is subdued before the Lord, you may return and be free from your obligation to the Lord and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the Lord.


23 “But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. 24 Build cities for your women and children, and pens for your flocks, but do what you have promised.”


25 The Gadites and Reubenites said to Moses, “We your servants will do as our lord commands. 26 Our children and wives, our flocks and herds will remain here in the cities of Gilead. 27 But your servants, every man who is armed for battle, will cross over to fight before the Lord, just as our lord says.”


28 Then Moses gave orders about them to Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun and to the family heads of the Israelite tribes. 29 He said to them, “If the Gadites and Reubenites, every man armed for battle, cross over the Jordan with you before the Lord, then when the land is subdued before you, you must give them the land of Gilead as their possession. 30 But if they do not cross over with you armed, they must accept their possession with you in Canaan.”


31 The Gadites and Reubenites answered, “Your servants will do what the Lord has said. 32 We will cross over before the Lord into Canaan armed, but the property we inherit will be on this side of the Jordan.”


33 Then Moses gave to the Gadites, the Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan—the whole land with its cities and the territory around them.


34 The Gadites built up Dibon, Ataroth, Aroer, 35 Atroth Shophan, Jazer, Jogbehah, 36 Beth Nimrah and Beth Haran as fortified cities, and built pens for their flocks. 37 And the Reubenites rebuilt Heshbon, Elealeh and Kiriathaim, 38 as well as Nebo and Baal Meon (these names were changed) and Sibmah. They gave names to the cities they rebuilt.


39 The descendants of Makir son of Manasseh went to Gilead, captured it and drove out the Amorites who were there. 40 So Moses gave Gilead to the Makirites, the descendants of Manasseh, and they settled there. 41 Jair, a descendant of Manasseh, captured their settlements and called them Havvoth Jair.[b] 42 And Nobah captured Kenath and its surrounding settlements and called it Nobah after himself.


Here in this passage, we see that three tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Mannasseh) wanted to live east of the Jordan River on land that the Israelites had already been conquered. Moses immediately assumed that they had selfish motives and were trying to avoid helping the other tribes fight for their land across the Jordan River. Moses, however, jumped to the wrong conclusion. In dealing with people, we must find out all the facts before making up our minds. We shouldn’t automatically assume that their motives are wrong, even if their plans sound suspicious.


For me, the takeaway today is that we cannot automatically assume the worst about people when we are in leadership at church. We can’t assume that they just don’t care. We may well be right about those that attend our church that are not saved to begin with or about those who are spiritually immature. However, we cannot paint everyone with a broad brush. We may not know that someone is struggling in their marriage and serving the Lord is something they wanna do but marital problems prevent it. Maybe someone is having to take care of an ailing parent almost 24/7 now. Maybe, they have a sick child this week. Maybe, they had a friend who just needed to talk that night of the meeting. Maybe, they were sharing the gospel with someone and got lost in the moment of someone coming to know Jesus Christ as their Savior. Sure, often people have priorities issues when it comes to choosing between serving the Lord and serving themselves or their own interests. It is very true and that is a discipleship issue that the church struggles with constantly. But we cannot automatically assume that they just don’t get it. They may be serving the Lord and there was a conflict between that and a meeting. They may be serving the Lord by caring for their elderly parent and that prevents them for this season from being fully available for important church stuff. And people may be going through stuff themselves that is consuming them. A bad marriage can suck the life out of you. A diagnosis of cancer can suck the life out of you. Financial troubles can suck the life out of you. We cannot take a broad brush and throw these people in with those who just don’t care.


Well, then, how do we know the difference between indifference and people who legitimately do care but something just got in the way. The one word that I have been thinking about this whole time that I have been writing is – relationships. We must get to know the people we lead. We must get to know that team of people that are underneath us as our team. We must make contact with them outside of asking them to do something for us. We must have coffee with them. We must eat dinner with them. We must get to know them. Instead of being exasperated, make contact and find out why they did not show up or did not fulfill a responsibility. Get to know them outside of the function they perform for you. We must get to know the people on our teams so that we can know of what’s going on in their lives.


I know you might say, why is it always on the leader to do these things. Why can’t those who follow make an effort? That’s why leaders are so few and followers so many. As leaders, the work is harder, the hours longer, and the rewards often fewer in relationship to the effort put out. However, God placed you in leadership not by coincidence. He placed you in leadership because He saw something in you. We have talents that He gave us and He placed us in this phase of life to shepherd others. Yes, it’s frustrating to be a leader a lot of the time. But, maybe, just maybe during the time that you are leading, you disciple one person to go from indifference to all-in for Jesus Christ, then all the frustration is worth it. One soul taking flight in their relationship with Jesus Christ under your discipleship is the reward of eternal value – even if it takes 5 to 10 years of leadership frustrations. We are not leading to serve ourselves. We are not leading because it is easy. We are leading to grow disciples and growing disciples starts with relationships.


Amen and Amen.

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