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Chapter thirty-two adds an interesting bit of detail to the story of Israel’s preparing to enter Canaan. God had already promised to give the land over to Israel, by helping them defeat the pagan nations that already lived there. Additionally, he had said that they were to parcel the land according to the size of each tribe. As the nation was camped on the east side of the Jordan River, the tribes of Reuben and Gad noticed that it was a rich land that could easily support their many herds, so they asked Moses if they could stay there instead of entering the land (Numbers 32:1-5). Moses’ pushback against that idea was that they would be getting an inheritance without having to help fight the Canaanites with their brothers (Numbers 32:6-15). He believed that they were just trying to get out of the war, and he compared it to the previous generation who had refused to enter and take Canaan in chapter fourteen.
They responded that this was not their intent at all (Numbers 32:16-19). Rather, if Moses permitted, they promised to establish their families and flocks in the cities they took from the Midianites, from Sihon, and from Og, then send their warriors into Canaan to fight alongside their brothers. Moses was satisfied with this plan and made them swear to not stop fighting and return home until the entire conquest was complete, which they agreed to do (Numbers 32:20-32). If they followed through, they could keep the eastern border of the river; if they did not, they would be required to enter the land can take their inheritance from there.