The Other Side Of The Jordan


Numbers 32


ďOf all places to be, I was in Russia when I received the e-mail. The International Congress of Actuaries will be meeting in Cape Town in March, 2010. As I was planning the trip [that brought me into Russia], I was also preparing myself that [this trip] would be my last hurrah for major travel. But now, I wasnít even home yet, and I was already thinking of coming out of retirement. (Top that, Brett Favre!!)


ďSo I weighed my options: a trip to Cape Town, a destination that would have been impermissible 15-20 years ago; a chance to mingle with actuaries from over 100 countries; a chance to go on a safari; Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, just a plane-hop away; and a chance to meet some fascinating peopleÖ. The deliberation process was for style points only. The decision to go was effectively sealed before I went on to the next e-mail.Ē Ė Excerpt from my travel diaries. Emphasis added. Portions deleted.


Count it a confession on my part: The deliberation process was for style points only. I can report honestly that the deliberation process included prayer. But Iím honest enough to know that the decision was made before I even started.


I pick on myself primarily because I know nobody elseís heart. I donít want to pick on anybody elseís prayers. I donít know anyoneís heart. But I am familiar with the sensation I felt. And over the span of (say) 100 similarly situated prayers, a fair number of those 100 experience a similar sensation. I grew too fond of the thought of going that it would have required God to sanction a third testament to persuade me that the trip simply wasnít in Godís will.


Numbers 32 is a highly important passage Ė both for its historical effect, and for what it can teach us. Yet somehow it gets far too little attention. Itís not clear that all Christians Ė even all mature Christians Ė know the passage is there.


After forty years of wandering, Israel is knocking on the door of Canaan. Israel was at ďthe camp in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho.Ē (Numbers 31:12) They made it! All that was left were a few administrative items, one final pep rally which we quaintly call Deuteronomy, and one more of the 603,548 to die. (Moses himself was not cited as an exception to the judgment of the Kadesh Barnea rebellion.) All they had to do was go with the flow, and they would be part of the throng that passes into Canaan.


The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, ďÖ the country which the Lord defeated before the congregation of Israel [Numbers 31], is a land for livestock, and [we] have livestock.Ē Therefore they said, ďIf we have found favor in your sight, let this land [in Moab] be given to [us]. Do not take us over the Jordan.Ē Numbers 32:2-5 (In Numbers 32:33, a divided portion of the tribe of Manasseh joins the tribes of Reuben and Gad in this request.)


At this late stage, 2Ĺ tribes opted out of Godís will Ė for the benefit of livestock. It is true that they prayed about it as cited above. But God had been telling the people what His will was for forty years. God granted them permission to settle in Moab, but only after they joined the remainder of Israel in battle in Canaan. Their prayers were for style points only. The decision was already made.


When you make your decision, and then begin prayer, donít blame God if He chooses not to block you. There is a certain emotional fervor that surrounds many decisions, and your sensitivity to receiving a spiritual signal is impaired. Many (but not all) such prayers are pled knowing that Godís perfect will says otherwise. But the pray-er proceeds as though he can improve on Godís perfect will. As I chose to travel, I can honestly say I was not praying contrary to what I knew Godís will to be. I cannot be as generous as I give an account of Ruben, of Gad, and of half of Manasseh.


The following prayers may leave the pray-er exposed to praying for style points only.


         Dear Lord, you know how much Iíve prayed for a job. And I just got a great job offer, but it requires me to work on your holy day. Should I accept the job, or turn it down?


         He just asked me to marry him, and Iím so excited!! How should I respond?


         You know I need a new car, and I just tested this fantastic BMW. Itís about $10,000 more than what You and I agreed on. But itís a brand new BMW!! What do You think?


         If You show me how itís not in Your will, I will stay home and not go to Cape Town.


         If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession. Do not take us over the Jordan.


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