Rather, we did this out of anxiety, because we thought, ‘Sometime in the future, your descendants might say to our descendants, “You don’t have anything to do with The LORD, the G-d of Isra’el, because The LORD made the Yarden the border between us and you, so you descendants of Re’uven and Gad have no share in The LORD.”’ In this way your descendants could make our descendants stop fearing The LORD. So we said, ‘Let us now make preparations and build ourselves an altar, not for burnt offerings or sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you, and between our generations who will come after us, so that we may perform the service for The LORD in his presence with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and peace offerings — so that your descendants will not say to our descendants at some future time, “You have no share in The LORD.”’
“We did this out of anxiety.” That’s never a good way to start, most anything.
As I recall Moshe was concerned that Reuben, Gad and M’nasheh were not intending to go with the rest of Israel across the Jordan. There was a healthy skepticism that staying on the other side of the Jordan would cause them to separate themselves from Israel proper. We see here in Y’hoshua that the suspicion holds. Thankfully, the three tribes are able to convince the rest that they simply want to establish a legacy and an ongoing recognition that despite their distance, they are one people.
Even though I alluded to anxiety-based decisions being less than desirable, I understand them. Perhaps Stern didn’t use a great word when he went with “anxiety” here. Anyway, it isn’t so much the feeling of anxiety that is the problem. It is, like most things in life, all about what you do with it. We could conjecture that Moshe felt anxiety about the three tribes who wanted to stay on the other side of the Jordan. He went to them and pointed out the issue, then had them swear to stay loyal and fight alongside their brethren. In Y’hoshua, Israel prepared to go to war against itself. Again the issue was addressed and an agreement was made. I think there is an important takeaway here: listen to your feelings, but don’t let them rule you.
Moshe could have cursed them, but he didn’t. Y’hoshua and Israel could have destroyed them, but they didn’t. They had a conversation with them, came to an understanding and set parameters for their future interactions. To take this one step further, I suggest that the three tribes should have had a conversation with themselves and taken note of their motives and actions. Recall when they said they wanted to make provisions for their flocks and families before going in to take the Land, that Moshe corrected them saying that they were to make provisions for their families and their flocks. They reflected his language after that. These narratives makes me wonder if there was a blind spot in the three tribes. Did they realize they made a bad call when they chose to stay on the other side of the Jordan? It made them anxious, it made them feel like they could one day be rejected. They had an opportunity with Moshe to affirm that they would cross into Israel to possess it along with their brethren, but they didn’t.
Our maker gave us our hearts and feelings to help guide us. We need to work to align ourselves with His will and trust that what we feel matters. Our emotions shouldn’t master us, but they should matter to us.