Receiving an Early Inheritance
Moses says in Deuteronomy 3:12 and 13,
12 So we took possession of this land at that time. From Aroer, which is by the valley of Arnon, and half the hill country of Gilead and its cities, I gave to the Reubenites and to the Gadites. 13 And the rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh, all the region of Argob (concerning all Bashan, it is called the land of Rephaim.) 14 Jair the son of Manasseh took all the region of Argob as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and called it, that is, Bashan, after his own name, Haavoth-jair, as it is to this day.
The final statement is Ezra’s, Fenton tells us. He renders it, “… Yair’s Towns—as they are to this day,” that is, in the days of Ezra after the Babylonian captivity. These lands east of the Jordan River were given to Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben. Moses called it “the land of Rephaim” (Deut. 3:13, NASB).
Inheriting East of Jordan
The lands of Gilead and Bashan were given to the family of Machir, the firstborn son of Manasseh (Deut. 3:15; Joshua 17:1). The daughters of Zelophehad received their inheritance in the tribe of Manasseh across the Jordan River in the land of Canaan itself (Joshua 17:3-6).
Because this territory was not even in Canaan proper, it represents prophetically the work that is to be done even before our Jordan crossing. In other words, it is the work of spiritual warfare that we are called to do before receiving our actual inheritance—the glorified body—at the fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles.
We are not called to sit and wait for the final inheritance, i.e., “Canaan.” There is much work to be done here and now. There is land to be taken, giants to be conquered, and preparations to be made for future conquests. Continuing in Deuteronomy 3, we read,
18 Then I commanded you at that time, saying, “The Lord your God has given you this land to possess it; all you valiant men shall cross over armed before your brothers, the sons of Israel. 19 But your wives and your livestock (I know that you have much livestock) shall remain in your cities which I have given you, 20until the Lord gives rest to your fellow countrymen as to you, and they also possess the land which the Lord your God will give them beyond the Jordan. Then you may return every man to his possession, which I have given you.”
The conquered territory east of the Jordan River became Israel's staging area for the Canaanite wars. Verse 20 shows that inheriting the land had to do with entering into “rest.” There are important implications of this, as seen in Hebrews 3 and 4.
It also suggests that on some level, there will be some who enter into this place of rest before others. Yet those who do are called to assist the remaining body until they too inherit the land.
The Body Principle
The tribes of Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben received their inheritance first, but this cannot be interpreted to mean that they came fully into “rest” ahead of the others. Moses told them in Numbers 32:6,
6 But Moses said to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here?
The leaders of Reuben and Gad then assured Moses that they would not rest until the others had received their inheritance:
16 Then they came near to him and said, “We will build here sheepfolds for our livestock and cities for our little ones; 17 but we ourselves will be armed ready to go before the sons of Israel, until we have brought them to their place, while our little ones live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until every one of the sons of Israel has possessed his inheritance.”
If we consider Moses to be a type of Christ, then his words should have application to us under the New Covenant as we consider the idea of believers inheriting the fulness of the Spirit ahead of the body in general. It appears that we may indeed receive some portion of the inheritance early, but not fully.
In this way, we see the “body” principle in action. Though God certainly deals with individuals and gives them both gifts and portions of their inheritance individually according to their faith, even they must wait for the rest of the body to inherit fully. God is not content with saving individuals, but works to save the whole body in the end. And no individual who is saved can consider himself to be a full inheritor apart from the rest of the people.
This basic concept has enormous relevance when pondering the salvation of individuals and balancing it with the salvation of the whole world (1 John 2:2).
Moses then continues by telling the Israelites about the land given to the families of these three tribes.
15 And to Machir I gave Gilead.
Numbers 26:29 tells us that Machir was one of the sons of Manasseh.
16 And to the Reubenites and to the Gadites, I gave from Gilead even as far as the valley of Arnon, the middle of the valley as a border and as far as the river Jabbok, the border of the sons of Ammon; 17 the Arabah also with the Jordan as a border, from Chinnereth [Sea of Galilee] even as far as the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea [Dead Sea], at the foot of the slopes of Pisgah on the east.
The Sea of Galilee was originally known as Chinnereth (“harps”), because it was in the shape of a harp. Hence, when we read in Revelation 15:2 of the overcomers “standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God,” we can see this scene prophesied by the Sea of Galilee, or Chinnereth. After Jesus walked on the stormy sea, when Jesus stepped into the boat with the disciples, it became suddenly calm, like a sea of glass (Mark 6:51).
Moses continues in verses 18-20,
18 Then I commanded you at that time, saying, “The Lord your God has given you this land to possess it; all you valiant men shall cross over armed before your brothers, the sons of Israel. 19 But your wives and your little ones and your livestock (I know that you have much livestock), shall remain in your cities which I have given you, 20 until the Lord gives rest to your fellow countrymen as to you, and they also possess the land which the Lord your God will give them beyond the Jordan. Then you may return every man to his possession, which I have given you.
Under the Old Covenant, the Kingdom of God in Israel did not fulfill this word completely. When the other tribes were given their inheritance, there were yet seven tribes that had no land (Joshua 18:2). Nonetheless, the men of Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben returned to their families on the east side of the Jordan River and settled into their inheritances.
Even if we consider the land to have been fully conquered in the days of King David, it is clear that Canaanites continued to dwell among them. The Philistines were put to tribute, but they were not converted, nor were they expelled from the land. The Israelites adopted the religion of the Canaanites among them and were finally expelled from the land by divine judgment.
The promises largely failed under the Old Covenant, as God intended and as Moses foretold. The promises could succeed only under the New Covenant—not only because it was a “better” covenant, but also because God intended to increase the scope of the covenant to include the entire earth. Thus, the first covenant had to fail to make room for the larger plan that includes the entire creation, when every man returns to his possession (Lev. 25:10).
Hence, when we study the command under Moses that the three tribes could not rest in their inheritance until the other tribes had received theirs, we see instruction under the New Covenant in a little different way. We may indeed receive an inheritance before others, but we know that God’s work will not be complete until the whole earth is full of His glory.