"The Gadites and Reubenites replied, 'What the Lord has spoken to your servants is what we will do. We will cross over in battle formation before the Lord into the land of Canaan, but we will keep our hereditary possession across the Jordan.' " (Numbers 32:31, 32 HCSB)
My old boss man, when asked the question, "How are you?" would reply, "I'm doing tolerable." I heard him say it many times. By that he meant--fairly well--not great, but not bad. Mr. McDuffie didn't feel like turning cartwheels, but wasn't bedfast either. He was tolerable.
So, was the choice made by two of Israel's tribes--Reuben and Gad. They saw the potential of the the pastureland on the wilderness side of the Jordan, and after some tense negotiations with Moses, where they promised to cross the Jordan and fight alongside their brethren, they would settle for an inheritance outside the land of Canaan. It was a tolerable decision.
Why was it less than the best? It was a choice to lean more on reason than revelation. They chose to walk by sight, rather than walk by faith. God had promised His people an abundant life in a land overflowing with milk and honey--on the other side of the Jordan. Rather than pursue that, they looked at those plains and thought, "This is good enough."
It made sense. They had many flocks and herds and so what could be better? They didn't think about what the consequences of the choice might bring. It is so reminiscent of the motivation of Lot in choosing the rich grazing fields near Sodom (read Gen.13:5-13). That didn't turn out very well, did it? Lot's choice exposed him and his family to spiritual peril and they were sucked into that vortex of vice. He was a man always willing to accept the tolerable. The end result would be good enough for him--Lot would make it to heaven--barely. But, he wouldn't take anyone with him. He met the minimal requirements, but just enough. That's good--but not great.
This was the nature of Reuben's descendants. Jacob had spoken prophetically from his deathbed, when he summoned his twelve sons, who would birth the twelve tribes, and said of Reuben, "Turbulent as water, you will no longer excel..." that is, accepting the minimal instead of pursuing the maximum. Jacob warned of the sad result when he spoke to Gad, "Gad will be attacked by raiders..." (Genesis 49:4, 19 HCSB). It is what compromise brings.
Do you see then, the result of the decision of the Reubenites and Gadites? Any soldier worth his salt knows that an army with a river between them and their enemy has a natural barrier to help protect them, but a body of water behind them is an extreme peril--your back is "up against the wall" so to speak.
That would be the fate of these people. Israel would always find herself surrounded by enemies. Any ancient empire on the march--whether the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians or some other would lead their armies through the plains on the way to their attempt to conquer the world. Guess who would be the first to face those fierce foes? The tribes of Reuben and Gad--in an indefensible military position--the Jordan behind them and separated from their brethren who might have helped them.
Neither was the danger only from an overt attack, but from a covert operation--and not just physical danger, but spiritual consequences. They were too close to the world, too far from the house of God and the fellowship of their brethren--and it was a short distance to compromise with idolatry and immorality. Living on the edge, they found it easy to slip and fall in. That would prove to be the sad reality of this willingness to be tolerable.
It is less than what God has for us.
This attitude is what many of God's people have been willing to accept. It is what Scripture means by "an escape through fire." Paul wrote, "For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one's work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one's work. If anyone's work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire." (1 Corinthians 3:11-15 HCSB) That is a picture of someone wakened from sleep by a fire engulfing their house. They jump out of bed and run for their lives. They escape, but are able to salvage nothing of value. Everything else is lost. Many in the church at Corinth had accepted the tolerable--they were saved, but that was about it.
A little girl was overheard praying, "Lord, make me good--but not too good--just good enough not to get a spanking!" We may not voice that prayer, but actions speak louder then words. Spiritually speaking, would you honestly say, "I'm doing tolerable." On the scale, you aren't a one or two--a wicked backslider--but neither a nine or ten--a spiritual champion. You are about a five--somewhere in the middle--not on fire, but certainly not ice cold. It could be better, but that's not bad is it? Consider these words of our Lord and then decide:
"Write to the angel of the church in Laodicea:
'The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Originator of God's creation says: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, "I'm rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing," and you don't know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me. The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne.'
Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 3:14-22 HCSB)
Should you tolerate doing tolerable?