Question: "Why did Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh want to live on the east of the Jordan?"
Answer: The Israelites were poised to enter Canaan. Before they crossed the Jordan River and moved west, God spoke to Joshua some words of encouragement. Included was a promise of even more land later (Joshua 1:4). For the time being, though, the land they would inherit would be west of the Jordan (Joshua 1:2). Yet, when the land was divided, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh wanted to live east of the Jordan.
Number 32:1 reveals one reason why: “The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock.” The land east of the Jordan River was seen as a prime area for raising livestock.
At first, Moses was opposed to the idea. He thought these tribes were attempting to avoid helping their fellow Israelites in the military campaign to settle the area west of the Jordan. These tribes responded with a pledge to help: “We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children. But we will arm ourselves for battle and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place” (Numbers 32:16–17).
Upon receiving their pledge, Moses accepted their request to settle the land east of the Jordan. The chapter concludes with the land given to these tribes: “Moses gave to the Gadites, the Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan—the whole land with its cities and the territory around them” (Numbers 32:33).
In the final blessing of Moses upon the tribes of Israel, he gave this blessing to Gad, one of the tribes that settled east of the Jordan: “He chose the best land for himself; the leader’s portion was kept for him. When the heads of the people assembled, he carried out the LORD’s righteous will, and his judgments concerning Israel” (Deuteronomy 33:21). This land was clearly a choice area that was considered a blessing to those who lived in it.
Moses’ blessing also included positive words concerning Joseph, the father of both Ephraim and Manasseh. The words apply to the lands where both tribes of these brothers would settle, including the land east of the Jordan. In Deuteronomy 33:13–16 we find, “May the Lord bless his land with the precious dew from heaven above and with the deep waters that lie below; with the best the sun brings forth and the finest the moon can yield; with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills; with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness and the favor of him who dwelt in the burning bush.”
There was a strategic reason for these tribes to request the land east of the Jordan, and the Lord blessed them in their inheritance. Thus, God’s blessing extended even beyond the Jordan River to areas where God’s people would live and worship Him in the land provided by the Lord Almighty.