Immediately after the Midianite women’s seduction of the sons of Israel, God commanded Israel to destroy the Midianites “to execute the Lord’s vengeance” (Numbers 31:3, NASB). When this was done, the captains of the army realized that not a single man had been lost! After the spoils of victory were distributed to the soldiers, a huge offering of gold was voluntarily brought to Moses and Eleazar “to make atonement for ourselves” (31:50).
God had given them victory; they gave him their worldly gold as a “memorial” (31:54) to acknowledge their sins and become clean. The first Memorial Day was for the soldiers to honor God, a right that is rapidly being erased from the American military today.
Israel quickly demonstrated its inability to remember what God expected of them as they prepared to cross the Jordan to invade the Promised Land of Canaan. The Cycle lurks, ready to start again, even after glorious moments of gratitude to God.
In Chapter 32, temptation strikes the tribes of Gad and Reuben, who craft a scheme of disunity to avoid having to go to war and make the ultimate sacrifice for Israel. Instead of invading Canaan as one nation under God, as commanded by God, they proposed to settle in Gilead, where they could raise their livestock and live peacefully apart from the rest of Israel.
Moses’s response ordained the second Memorial Day for Gad and Ruben – remembering how to avoid the mistakes of the past. Read his passionate response right now (32:6-15) and remember always what God expects of his children: Follow me fully (wholeheartedly and without exception) and do what you promised to do. Joshua and Caleb were the only ones from the previous generation who had done that, in comparison to those who spent 40 years wasting in the wilderness, condemned never to see the Promised Land.
Israel needed to remember. America needs to remember. The church of Jesus Christ needs to remember. How do we end the Cycle before it is too late?
In the face of Moses’s rant that Gad and Reuben were doing exactly what their fathers had done and exposing their people to the same death in the wilderness, they humbly repented and promised that their men would fully support the commands of God to occupy the land of Canaan and would not return home until this was completely accomplished.
Give Reuben and Gad credit. They did not sneak off and enact disunity. They petitioned God through Moses, were rebuked, repented, and were restored to perfect unity with God.
This is how the Cycle is supposed to work. How do the first two Memorial Days compare with issues facing the Christian church and America today?