The word of God from Numbers 32:
The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon – the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel – are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. 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.”
They looked, they saw, they wanted. Before the Israelites ever set foot in the promised land, the leaders of those tribes asked Moses to give them the territory east of the Jordan River. They desired land that looked good in their eyes without considering that what God had in store for them on the other side of Jordan was far better.
Some five hundred years before that took place, in Genesis chapter 13, the herds and flocks of Abraham and Lot had outgrown the pasture lands where they lived and the land could no longer support them both. The time had come for Abraham and Lot to separate, so Abraham basically said to Lot, “Whichever way you choose to go, I’ll go the other way.” According to Genesis chapter 13 verse 10, Lot looked and saw that the whole plain of the Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt.
The land that the Reubenites and Gadites desired was east of the Jordan River, roughly to the northeast of the Dead Sea. The land that Lot set his eyes on is believed to have been somewhere southeast of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea itself is a relatively small body of water, only about 30 miles or so in length. So the lands that were settled by the Reubenites and Gadites (along with the half tribe of Mannaseh), and the land where Lot and his family settled are only separated by a distance of 30 miles, give or take.
Though separated by time, Lot and the Reubenites and Gadites all had the same thing in common: They saw something that looked good to them and they wanted it. People are no different today. We are attracted to people, places, or things that are visually appealing. It’s not necessarily sinful to want something because of the eye appeal. But so very often, the desire for the person, place, or thing that catches our eye can lead us down the path to sin when, according to James, a person is lured and enticed by their desire, and that desire gives birth to sin. In other words, it becomes sin when there’s nothing a person won’t do to get what their eyes desire. That was exactly what led to David’s sin with Bathsheeba. It also becomes a problem when a person is willing to make compromises to get what they desire, the way Lot did when he chose to live among the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
I checked out that region east of the Dead Sea on Googlemaps. When you look at the satellite image, it’s hard to imagine how any of that land could have ever supported life. It appears to be some of the most hostile and uninviting land on the planet. There is a small area on the very southern tip of the Dead Sea that looks like farmland. One can only assume it’s irrigated by the waters of the Jordan or Dead Sea, which would be possible thanks to modern desalinization technology that can turn salt water into fresh water. But aside from that small area, the land where Lot is believed to have settled and the former territory of the Reubenites and Gadites appear to be one huge wasteland.
But that’s God. God can do that. He can make land fertile, or He can make it barren. As we know, Lot and his family eventually settled in Sodom. The sin in Sodom and Gomorrah had become so great that even the very land itself came under judgement when God caused fire and sulphur to rain down from Heaven when He destroyed those two cities. As for the Reubenites and Gadites, and the half tribe of Mannaseh, after they helped their fellow Israelites subdue the Promised Land, according to Joshua 22, they returned to the land Moses gave them. After that, there is little else written about them in the Bible until 1 Chronicles chapter 5 where we’re told that they were conquered and carried into exile by the Assyrians.
Speaking of the exile, we know why God brought about the exile of the Israelites, starting with the northern kingdom of Israel and finishing sometime later with the southern kingdom of Judah. The sin that was so egregious to God was the sin of idolatry. Over and over again the Israelites chased after the foreign gods of the neighboring countries. It was the sin of idolatry that in turn led to sins of gross immorality that were part of the barbaric worship practices associated with false gods. They had abandoned the God of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and pursued the foreign gods of the nations around them just as God had warned them not to do. So God brought judgment and had them carried off into exile. As far as I can decipher, when God first began bringing His judgment against the northern kingdom, the tribes of Reuben and Gad seem to have been the first to be carried into exile.
The sin and corruption that went on in those places is undeniable. It’s spelled out in Scripture. With that knowledge and with the knowledge that even creation itself (that is, the physical universe in which we live) waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19), with the knowledge that creation itself was subjected to futility (Romans 8:20), and knowing that creation itself waits to be set free from the bondage of corruption (Romans 8:21) and has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth (Romans 8:22), I can’t help but wonder if the reason why that once fertile area looks so barren today is because it was subjected to the judgment of God that was brought on by the corruption of sin thousands of years ago. The Bible makes it very clear that creation does in fact suffer from the effects of sin. Like I said, it does make me wonder.
I mentioned how God can make land fertile and productive, or He can make it dry and barren. He can do that to a nation, and He can do that to the very ground on which that nation is built, and He can do that to its people. Anyone who has been in the faith for any length of time knows that every believer will go through peaks and valleys in our walk with Jesus Christ. There are times when we are productive in our walk with the Lord, and yet we also experience those inevitable dry seasons.
Sometimes, not always, but probably more often than we care to admit, the dry seasons that we go through are a result of unrepentant sin in our lives. As a result, God brings on a dry season to get our attention, to get us to repent, to get us turn away from whatever it was that caught our eye…..and turn back to Him. One of my favorite passages in the Old Testament is from 2nd Chronicles chapter 7, where the word of God tells us: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.” For me, that passage affirms what I’ve been trying to convey all along, that sin is destructive on God’s creation and God’s people alike. The effects of sin on a nation, on the very land on which that nation is built, and on the people of that nation are inseparable. They are intertwined. When people sin, they suffer, the land suffers, the nation suffers.
However, we know that God’s promises do not change. The promise of God in that passage from 2nd Chronicles 7 is just as relevant today as it was when it was written thousands of years ago. God said that if His people repent and turn away from wickedness, He will not only forgive the people, He will heal the land. W.A Criswell, in his preaching on that same passage, said “A nation cannot be healed until that nation repents. A nation cannot repent until its people repent. And the people cannot repent until….I repent.” which simply means, the revival of a nation must begin with its people and in turn the revival of the people must begin with the individual. It begins with you. It begins with me.
Yes, it is true. Christians stumble. We fall. We struggle at times. We often say we’re in a spiritual drought. We can become as barren and unproductive in our walk with Christ as the land east of the Dead Sea is barren today. But, as the farmers where I grew up used to say, you can always count on it to rain at the end of every dry spell! John tells us how to bring the rain in his first epistle. According to the word of God in 1 John 7, the Bible tells us: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and His word is not in us. God’s promises are trustworthy and unchanging. We do not need to remain in a spiritual drought. But to end the dry spell, we must ask for forgiveness, we must ask confess our sin.
Finally, there will come a day when we will no longer be distracted by the desires of our eyes. One day, this world will pass away and there will be a new Heaven and a new earth. When we see the beauty and majesty of the new Heaven and the new earth, we will very quickly forget about the old earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind, according to Isaiah 65 verse 17. And when we see the beauty and Majesty of Jesus Christ, I believe He is all we will ever want to set our eyes on, forever and ever!
In the glorious name of Jesus…