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God’s Word for You

1 Chronicles 5:7-10 “upon the whole face of…”

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, October 20, 2023

7 Their relatives by clans, as listed according to their genealogical records: Jeiel the chief, then Zechariah, 8 and Bela son of Azaz, the son of Shema, the son of Joel. They lived in the area extending from Aroer to Nebo and Baal Meon. 9 To the east they occupied the land up to the edge of the desert that extends to the Euphrates River, because their livestock had increased greatly in Gilead. 10 During Saul’s reign they waged war against the Hagrites, who were defeated at their hands. Then they occupied the tents of the Hagrites throughout the entire region east of Gilead.

This passage has three parts: (1) the names of the chiefs, (2) the region they occupied, and (3) their most significant contribution to the possession of the land as commanded by God.

As for the names of the chiefs, the records were kept, and the more important names are here preserved, but since Reuben was taken captive by Tiglath-Pileser in the 700s, there was no need for additional detail. If any Reubenites were to reappear after the time of the writing of Chronicles (some two hundred and fifty years later, or more), those Reubenites would be able to supply what was missing. There seem to be three important chiefs listed here: Jeiel “the chief,” then Zechariah (perhaps his son), and then Bela, who was the great-grandson of the Joel who was first mentioned in verse 4.

The region that the tribe occupied was the area settled by all Israel during the final encampment before they entered Canaan. The upper half of the Dead Sea is roughly rectangular in shape, a long, ten-mile wide by twenty-mile long (from north to south) section of the lake, with the River Arnon emptying into the eastern shoreline, and the lower half of the lake extending, in those days, for another thirty or so miles to the south with the salt-peninsula that juts into the center of the lake from the east and that gives it its distinctive shape, which always reminds me of the silhouette of a man shouting. The village of Aroer sits above the gorge of the Arnon river on the north side. From this landmark, the Reubenites occupied the land north to Mount Nebo, which is ten or so miles from the northern shore of the lake. Baal Meon lies between, up in the mountains of Abarim, “in the desert that faces Moab toward the sunrise” (Numbers 21:11). The whole region towers above the Dead Sea on the eastern side, known simply as “the plateau” (Jeremiah 48:21).

The Moabites pushed against Reuben in the days of the Judges and of the kings. This is evident from the words of Isaiah, who talks about Nebo as part of Moab (Isaiah 15:2) as well as”the fords of the Arnon” (Isaiah 16:2). But the Reubenites simply spread out eastward, looking for pasture to graze their flocks and herds. During the reign of King Saul (1050-1010 BC), the Reubenites went to war against the Bedouins who shared the land with Moab, the group known as the Hagrites (Psalm 83:6). This war will be described again later in this chapter (1 Chronicles 5:19-22), but we will note here that when the Reubenites claimed their spoils of war, they were content with “the dwellings (tents) of the Hagrites.” They occupied all of the grassland on the plateau right up to the edge of the Arabian Desert, the one that extends eastward to the Euphrates River.

The Hebrew phrase in verse 10 for “throughout the entire region” is al-cal-peney, “upon the whole face of…” This rare phrase occurs just four times in the Bible:* Genesis 19:28 (when Abraham looked at all of the land around the Dead Sea rising in smoke after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah), Genesis 41:56 (when the famine of the seven lean years had spread across all the land of Egypt), here when the Reubenites occupied all of the plateau to the desert of Arabia, and again in Ezekiel 34:6, in a prophesy about the people of Israel “scattered over the whole earth” with no shepherds looking after them.

So the Reubenites had extended their land all the way “to the River,” or as far as they could up to the impenetrable sand dunes of Arabia, just as God has said: “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the River (that is, the Euphrates, Exodus 23:31). But Reuben was exiled to Assyria on account of their idolatry, “prostituting themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them” (1 Chronicles 5:25). If only God’s people would remain faithful to God after his blessings come to them! It is the cruelty of the devil to attack us whether we are up or down, elated or miserable, successful or defeated. He finds a way to tempt fallen mankind in every circumstance. He is the primary cause of sins in mankind. God permits these attacks on us. Why? Is it to find out how much we love him? He already knows this, and testing us to find this out would be like testing school children in math to find out whether they want to learn math or not—it’s not the right question. God permits us to be tempted so that we will see just how weak we are; just how lifeless our love and obedience can be. He wants us to understand that we are powerless to be righteous on our own. At the same time, he wants us to marvel and be in awe of our Savior, whose compassion covered the guilt of our sin with his own blood, and who also lived the holy, perfect and blameless life God requires of us, and he did it all in our place. What a thrill to be loved by Jesus! What an honor to be shown through God’s holy word that nobody is righteous apart from faith in Jesus, “not even one” (Romans 3:10). “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground, he makes me dwell in darkness” (Psalm 143:3), but Jesus Christ lifts us up, one by one by one, purifies us through baptism and the preaching of the gospel, and sets us neatly and lovingly in the good pasture of the holy Christian church, the communion of saints. No matter what happens to us today, living as we do as strangers here, heaven is our home.

* Mm 2928

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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