Israel’s 12 tribes, of which Gad was one, were named for Jacob’s children (or grandchildren, in the cases of Ephraim and Manasseh). “Israel” was God’s name for Jacob (Genesis 32:22-30); therefore, the phrase “children of Israel” is a way of referring to Jacob’s descendants. Jacob’s son Gad was one of three children born in Paddan Aram to Jacob’s first wife’s maidservant, Zilpah (Genesis 35:26). When Jacob blessed his 12 sons, he said, “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels” (Genesis 49:19). Later, Moses blessed the tribe of Gad, saying, "Blessed is he who enlarges Gad’s domain! Gad lives there like a lion, tearing at arm or head. 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 33:20-21).
Mostly, what we learn from this tribe is that we are rewarded when we obey and honor God (Numbers 32:16-19). During the conquest of the Promised Land, Joshua gave Gad the best of the new land because they obeyed God and punished Israel’s wicked enemies (Deuteronomy 33:20-21). Gad was one of the tribes especially dedicated in the fight to conquer the land as God commanded.
The tribe of Gad was one of three (Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh were the others) to fight for and be awarded lands east of the Jordan River, the gateway to the Promised Land. (Joshua 12:6; 13:8-13). The Gadites fought valiantly for this land but did not stop there. They crossed the Jordan with the other tribes and assisted them in following God’s order to take the inheritance He provided. Gad could have stopped fighting once they had received their own dwelling place, but they did not: “We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance” (Numbers 32:18). The tribe demonstrated how we should not focus simply on our own needs and desires, but commit to the larger picture and promise that is God’s plan for us. Gad was obedient to God: “We your servants will do as our Lord commands” (Numbers 32:25b).
Another lesson for us is that honoring God can present difficulties. After the tribes had settled into their lands, they were shocked to hear that Gad had built an altar in its territory across the Jordan. The other tribes took the altar to be a sign that the Gadites were breaking from the worship of God in Shiloh, and plans were made to attack Gad for its transgression. Prior to battle, however, a delegation went to Gad to learn more about its action and rebuke the tribe for its sin. The emissaries discovered that Gad had constructed the altar to honor God and to prevent the Jordan River, a significant geographical divide between Gad and the majority of the other tribes, from spiritually dividing God’s people (Joshua 22:10-34). “And the Reubenites and Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us that the LORD is God” (Joshua 22:34). War was averted, but we are reminded that differences in how we choose to honor God may result in misunderstanding, discord and strife, even among believers.
Gad, along with all the other northern tribes of Israel, was sent into exile in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 15:29 – 17:41). Gad’s specific circumstances, triggered by the half-tribe of Manasseh’s unfaithfulness to God, are described in 1 Chronicles 5:11-26.
Perhaps the most important lesson we learn from Gad (and all the other tribes) is to recognize the need for complete faith and trust in God. God commanded Moses to remind the Israelites to “carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do” (Deuteronomy 29:9). “Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison” (Deuteronomy 29:18).