The Half Tribe of Manasseh

The Half Tribe of Manasseh” by Kyle Sanders

Upon arrival to the land of Canaan half of the tribe of Manasseh, along with Gad and Reuben, were given their inheritance on the East side of the Jordan River (Josh. 13:8). Interestingly, these three groups of Israelites were given this portion of land upon request in Numbers 32, granted they would not abandon their Israelite brothers on the west side of the Jordan River (where most of Israel would eventually dwell) during the coming conquest of Canaan. “but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place” (Num. 32:17a).

Indeed, the half-tribe of Manasseh, along with Gad and Reuben, did cross over to aid their Israelite brethren during the conquest of Canaan (Josh. 4.12). They, like the rest of Israel, were faithful to what they had promised for many years, beginning first at the conquest of Canaan and continuing even until the time of Saul.

In 1 Chronicles 5 we find the half-tribe mentioned again, but many years have elapsed since the conquest of Canaan. Within the extensive tribe-by-tribe genealogy/summary given in the first nine chapters of the book, we find the record of what happened to the half-tribe of Manasseh. The account starts of rather well: “They were very numerous from Bashan to Baal-hermon, Senir, and Mount Hermon” (1 Ch. 5.23b). The “rams of Bashan” are mentioned during the song of Moses in Deut. 32, alluding to the excellent livestock of this region (which would also account for the “strong bulls of Bashan” reference in Ps. 22:12). The suitability of the terrain to raising large flocks of livestock is the very reason why this portion of land was chosen originally by the tribes of Reuben and Gad (Num. 32:1-5).

Not only this, but the heads of their father’s houses are listed: “These were the heads of their fathers’ houses: Epher, Ishi, Eliel, Azriel, Jeremiah, Hodaviah, and Jahdiel, mighty warriors, famous men, heads of their fathers’ houses” (1 Ch. 5:24). Not only are there seven heads of the fathers’ houses (typically a good sign), but they are mighty in battle and well known! Everything they could have asked God for was provided to them, and more! A beautiful land, the peace of living “in their place” and never having to sojourn again, victory in battle and most of all, a loving, benevolent, mighty and merciful God!

So what happened? The next verse indicates that the half-tribe of Manasseh fell to the same fate as the rest of Israel: “But they broke faith with the God of their fathers, and whored after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them” (1 Chron. 5:25). The phrase “broke faith” (ESV) is translated “transgressed” in the KJV and NKJV, and “acted treacherously” in the NASB. Consider the irony of the last phrase: the half-tribe of Manasseh had been given victory over the Hagrites (1 Chron. 5:19-20) by God, and instead of remaining faithful to God they turned to the gods of the peoples God had conquered!

Paul describes in Romans 1 this sort of behavior: “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21). As a result, the Assyrians came and conquered the nations on the east side of the Jordan, and eventually all of Israel save Judah and Benjamin. The wonderful promises God had made the Israelites given their faith in Him were granted, and the terrible afflictions promised the Israelites if they broke faith in Him were sadly also granted.

The account of the half-tribe of Manasseh, as does the accounts of the entire nation of Israel, serves to teach us the nature of God and His promises, as well as the incredible importance of our faith. If we will serve Him faithfully, He is faithful to deliver His promises of salvation and eternal reward (Heb. 11:6). Likewise, if we break faith in Him by abandoning His teachings and turning instead to this world, He is faithful to deliver the awful prize of His judgment as well. “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Rom. 2:6-8).