4. The Transjordan Tribes (5:1–26)

(1) The Tribe of Reuben (5:1–10)

1The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, 2and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph)— 3the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel:

Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron and Carmi.

4The descendants of Joel:

Shemaiah his son, Gog his son, Shimei his son, 5Micah his son, Reaiah his son, Baal his son, 6and Beerah his son, whom Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria took into exile. Beerah was a leader of the Reubenites.

7Their relatives by clans, listed according to their genealogical records:

Jeiel the chief, Zechariah, 8and Bela son of Azaz, the son of Shema, the son of Joel. They settled in the area from Aroer to Nebo and Baal Meon. 9To the east they occupied the land up to the edge of the desert that extends to the Euphrates River, because their livestock had increased in Gilead.

10During Saul’s reign they waged war against the Hagrites, who were defeated at their hands; they occupied the dwellings of the Hagrites throughout the entire region east of Gilead.

By the time of the Chronicler the tribes which originally lay in Transjordan were remote from Judah and had probably lost a lot of their tribal identity. Yet descendants of the “sons of Israel” lived in Transjordan as part of “all Israel.” An interesting comment on the Moabite Stone refers to “the men of Gad.” So Mesha, King of Moab in about 830 B.C. was aware of one of the Israel tribes in Transjordan in the middle of the ninth century B.C.

Up to this point the Chronicler has dealt with Judah and Simeon. But following his scheme of giving the total tribal picture built around the three central tribes of Judah, Levi, and Benjamin who remained faithful to the Davidic kingship and the temple, he needed to give attention also to the other tribes. The first of these in his order was the tribe of Reuben (5:1–10). We may postulate that the Chronicler had a source which preserved some personal details about Reuben and his descendants and brief notes of a very localized nature concerning pastures for their flocks.

5:1–2 Normally the firstborn son would have taken precedence. But Reuben, Jacob’s eldest son, born to Leah (Gen 29:32; 35:23; 49:3; Exod 6:14; Num 1:20; 26:5) defiled his father’s bed (Gen 35:22; 49:4b) and was displaced from the first place in favor of Judah. Further, Reuben was associated with Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. As a result, Reuben was not listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright. Perhaps another factor that influenced the Chronicler in dropping Reuben from his place in the tribal list in favor of Joseph was that Joseph was the firstborn son of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. Fathers could determine who was the “eldest” son, especially when the normal heir had committed an offense.

The birthright was given to Joseph’s sons. The Northern Kingdom was thus preserved within the whole family of Israel. Yet Judah became strong among his brothers, and a ruler (nāgîd) came from him, namely David (cf. 11:2; 17:7; 2 Sam 5:2; 6:21; 7:8).

5:3 The list of the sons of Reuben follows Num 26:5–6.

5:4–5 This is a brief fragment which cannot be tied into the main genealogy of Reuben. The name Baal points to a northern link where the name Baal was well known, especially in names which had more than one element.

5:6 The list extends down to the days of the Assyrian conqueror Tiglath-Pileser III (745–727 B.C.). A number of communities in Transjordan were carried captive at the same time (2 Kgs 15:29).

5:7–8 The relatives are given in a list that refers back to Beerah. In the region of Reuben, lists were evidently preserved. The area where these settled was from Aroer, which stood perched on the edge of the Wadi Arnon (Deut 2:36), and northwards to Nebo and Baal Meon (Num 32:38; Josh 13:15–18). According to the Moabite Stone these areas fell into the hands of the Moabite ruler, Mesha.

5:9 Reuben expanded eastward up to the edge of the desert under the pressure of pastoral expansion.

5:10 It was during Saul’s reign that Reuben became involved in a war with the Hagrites (cf. vv. 19–22; Ps 83:6). This campaign is not recorded elsewhere. According to Ps 83:7 they, with Moab, Edom, the Ishmaelites, and others were enemies of Israel. Other details are not known. Verses 9–10 reflect the unsettled conditions that prevailed in these areas occupied by Reuben. Reuben was eventually absorbed by Gad.

(2) The Tribe of Gad (5:11–17)

11The Gadites lived next to them in Bashan, as far as Salecah:

12Joel was the chief, Shapham the second, then Janai and Shaphat, in Bashan.

13Their relatives, by families, were:
Meshullam, Sheba, Jorai, Jacan, Zia and Eber—seven in all.

14These were the sons of Abihail son of Huri, the son of Jaroah, the son of Gilead, the son of Michael, the son of Jeshishai, the son of Jahdo, the son of Buz.

15Ahi son of Abdiel, the son of Guni, was head of their family.

16The Gadites lived in Gilead, in Bashan and its outlying villages, and on all the pasturelands of Sharon as far as they extended.

17All these were entered in the genealogical records during the reigns of Jotham king of Judah and Jeroboam king of Israel.

The discussion on Gad is short, a mere seven verses. It does not contain material from the lists of Gen 46:6; Num 26:15–18 or from the list of those in David’s army in 1 Chr 12:9–13. The Chronicler must have had access to an independent source. The list contains some important geographical information and an account of the Hagrite war.

5:11 The genealogy opens with a geographical note, the only one to do so. Their area was Bashan and Gilead. They lived “over against” Reuben.

5:12 Their leaders were Joel, the chief; Shapham, the second; and Janai, who was a judge.

5:13–15 The kinsmen are listed by families, seven in all.

5:16 The Gadites lived in Gilead, a rather elastic term. A word used in several places in the Old Testament appears here to describe “outlying villages,” literally, “daughters.” The reference to Sharon must be to a place mentioned on the Moabite Stone (line 13) and not to the coastal plain.

5:17 We are informed that these names were entered into the genealogical records in the days of King Jotham (742–745 B.C.) of Judah and King Jeroboam II (786–746 B.C.) of Israel. This provides information about some of the sources of the Chronicler’s material and also about the fact that Judah and Israel preserved records, guaranteeing the historical integrity of the Chronicler’s records. Jotham, of course, ruled as co-regent after his father Uzziah contracted leprosy (2 Kgs 15:5), although Gad was part of the Northern Kingdom. How these records about Gad came to be found in records in both Judah and Israel is a matter of debate.

(3) The Transjordan Wars with Arab People (5:18–22)

18The Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh had 44,760 men ready for military service—able-bodied men who could handle shield and sword, who could use a bow, and who were trained for battle. 19They waged war against the Hagrites, Jetur, Naphish and Nodab. 20They were helped in fighting them, and God handed the Hagrites and all their allies over to them, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him. 21They seized the livestock of the Hagrites—fifty thousand camels, two hundred fifty thousand sheep and two thousand donkeys. They also took one hundred thousand people captive, 22and many others fell slain, because the battle was God’s. And they occupied the land until the exile.

In v. 10 reference is made to a war waged against the Hagrites. The Chronicler gives more details in these verses and wedges these details in between his account of Gad (vv. 11–17) and his account of the half-tribe of Manasseh (vv. 23–26). This was appropriate because Reuben and Gad were associated with the people of Manasseh in this campaign.

The report of the battle follows the pattern of other battle reports (cf. 2 Chr 13:13–19; 14:9–15; 18:31; 20:1–27; 26:7; 32:7–8, 20–22). Though not all elements are present in every report, they characteristically include an ambush (the battle being before and behind Israel), the trumpets and the battle shout, the course of the battle (5:20–22), the booty and captives, and the attribution of success to God (v. 21).

5:18 The numbers 44,760 represent the combined forces of the three groups. This seems to us to be a very large force. Questions arise about the meaning of the terms “thousand” and “hundred,” which often stand for military groupings rather than for numerical values (cf. 1 Chr 12). By comparison with Numbers 1 and 26, however, the numbers here are considerably less. It would seem that the Chronicler had access to military census figures of some kind. We are given a glimpse of the composition of these military forces in three descriptions: “men who could handle shield and sword,” “who could use a bow,” and “who were trained for battle.”

5:19 For the Hagrites see v. 10. The other groups were evidently Arab tribes (Gen 25:15 lists Jetur and Naphish as sons of Ishmael).

5:20 What is transparent from this report is that the impressive military credentials of the Transjordan tribes were not the deciding factor in their victory. God’s response to their prayer prompted his intervention and their final victory (cf. 2 Chr 6:34–39). Here is another piece of evidence collected by the Chronicler to demonstrate his ardent belief that kingship was not necessary for Israel to regain its lands and restore its good fortunes. What was required was a people devoted to God. A feature of the Chronicler’s theology was that when God’s people called on God in the day of battle, he helped them and handed their foes over to them. They cried out to God, they trusted him, and he answered their prayers.

5:21 The numbers of animals captured seem to be very great. We may have here another example of the use of the terms “thousand,” “hundred,” and “fifty,” which represent groups rather than arithmetic realities.

5:22 The same applies to the figure of 100,000 captives. Many were killed also. “The battle was God’s.” The phrase implies that the armies of Israel were victorious because God’s favor was with them. When the people are in sin, God does not go out with them, and defeat follows. The tribes of Israel occupied these areas until the exile. The exile in question probably is the deportation of Transjordanian tribes in 734 B.C. (2 Kgs 15:29) in the days of Tiglath-Pileser III (745–727 B.C.). No date for this campaign can be given, and independent records are lacking. Perhaps it is a general picture of prolonged skirmishings in the region between rival settlers. Postexilic readers surely would have received here encouragement to trust God alone and to look to him for deliverance from Gentile domination. As the following verses indicate, exile resulted from failure to trust God.

(4) The Half-Tribe of Manasseh (5:23–26)

23The people of the half-tribe of Manasseh were numerous; they settled in the land from Bashan to Baal Hermon, that is, to Senir (Mount Hermon).

24These were the heads of their families: Epher, Ishi, Eliel, Azriel, Jeremiah, Hodaviah and Jahdiel. They were brave warriors, famous men, and heads of their families. 25But they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers and prostituted themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. 26So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria (that is, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria), who took the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh into exile. He took them to Halah, Habor, Hara and the river of Gozan, where they are to this day.

Manasseh is dealt with again in 7:14–19. How the two parts of the Manasseh record came to be separated is not now known.

5:23 The people of the half-tribe of Manasseh were, in any case, numerous and were settled in northern Transjordan from Bashan to Senir, which is Mount Hermon (Deut 3:9).

5:24 The seven tribal leaders mentioned here are not otherwise known. The descriptions of these men as “brave warriors, famous men, and heads of their families” are well known, but the first two names regularly have military associations. It is possible that the material came from an old military list.

5:25 Because they were “unfaithful to the God of their fathers and prostituted themselves to [local gods],” they went into exile at the hands of the Assyrians. The Chronicler here sets up a contrast to 5:20, which records a victory by the tribes across the Jordan during the reign of Saul (5:10). Why were they victorious over the Hagrites and yet taken captive by Assyria? The obvious answer might be that the Assyrians were a greater power than the Hagrites, but this would not be the correct answer. The real reason for the demise of the Transjordan tribes is that instead of calling on the Lord as they had done some three hundred years earlier (5:20), they committed apostasy against him. These two incidents form a microcosm of the Chronicler’s philosophy of history.

5:26 King Pul of Assyria is here identified as Tiglath-Pileser III (745–727 B.C.; cf. 2 Kgs 15:19, 29). The Chronicler notes that representatives of the three Transjordan tribal groups were led into exile. Other lists of the areas to which they were exiled come in 2 Kgs 17:6 and 18:11 although Hara is absent from these lists, and many commentators delete Hara as a corruption of “the river of” or “the mountains of Maday [Media].” But Halah, Habor, and the river of Gozan are well known in Upper Mesopotamia. These exiles were still there in the days of the Chronicler. Unfaithfulness (v. 25) has an inevitable consequence, the judgment of God.

—New American Commentary