When the children of Israel were entering the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad took a liking to the land on the east side of the Jordan, when God was guiding the people to the west side of it. When these two tribes approached Moses about the possibility of them staying in this land, he rebuked them because he thought they were trying to get out of going up to the Promised Land (it wouldn’t have been the first time some Israelites had tried that! You can see the rebuke in Numbers 32).
They weren’t trying to get out of it, though: they genuinely liked the land. Furthermore, they weren’t even trying to get out of the work of conquering new lands. In part of their response to Moses’ rebuke they said: “We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance.” In response, Moses essentially said “Alright, if you’re telling the truth that’s fine. If you’re not, “be sure your sin will find you out.”
Moses recounts this experience in Deuteronomy 3; but I appreciate the slightly different wording here: “All your men of valor shall cross over armed before your brothers, the people of Israel…until the Lord gives rest to your brothers, as to you, and they also occupy the land that the Lord your God gives them beyond the Jordan. Then each of you may return to his possession…” (verses 18-20)
So how long were they supposed to work, to fight? “Until the Lord gives rest to your brothers, as to you.”
Just because they had their possession, and their children and wives were safe, and their livestock had land, and they had no personal reason to keep going, they were commanded to do so. Until their brothers could share in their experience of rest.
Coming from a very individualistic culture, this is a paradigm shift. I’m not supposed to work hard until I have peace — but until everyone does. I see this applying in a lot of different ways.
Systematic racism, for one. Just because I have peace and no one is bothering me doesn’t mean that there isn’t work that I can do. I’m to secure the same rest for others around me, as much as lies within my power.
Salvation, for another. Just because I have the peace of knowing Christ and am secure in my identity in Him doesn’t mean other people have the same experience. I’m to keep fighting, keep sharing, keep speaking, keep going until I can secure that same knowledge and peace and assurance for others around me, as much as lies within my calling and my power.
The truest fulfillment of this, though, is found in Christ Himself.
He had all of heaven. He had peace on every side, the adoration of hosts of angels, perfect bliss and peace within that heavenly sphere. But even though He had peace and our sin didn’t have to affect Him, He chose to let it — He chose to risk it all, clothe Himself in humanity, to show God’s character unmistakably; to die the death that we deserved; to keep urging, wooing, loving, and entreating us until all might have peace and salvation in Him — as much as lies within His power.
Unlike Cain, we must recognize that we are our brother’s keeper. May God help us to see the ways that, like Christ, we can labor for our neighbor, for our brothers and sisters, that we may all have rest on every side. And may we be tireless in our efforts and love until that time comes.