In the order of birth that we have been following from Genesis chapters 29 and 30, the next son after Napthtali is Gad. ‘When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife’, Gen. 30. 9. The last time we thought about Leah’s children, she was praising God. It seems that it didn’t take much for that joy to fade. She will not mention God again until He graciously provides Issachar some time later.
Just how long it took for her to take this drastic course of action we cannot be certain. In all probability she wouldn’t have waited long. Although the list in Genesis chapters 29 and 30 appears to be following a steady sequence, there is room in the text for thinking that the various pregnancies and births may have coincided. Some readers will be aware that several commentators hold to this view.1 The expressions regarding ‘when’ Rachel and Leah became aware of their barrenness opens up this possibility. This would also explain how despite Leah’s period of barrenness, thirteen children were born to Jacob in seven years, including Dinah. The point to ponder is whether the order of names is chronological, or more designed to highlight the intense struggle between the two matriarchs. It should never cease to amaze us that God graciously worked amidst it all to work His purposes out.
As you scan scripture to survey the history of the tribe of Gad, one of the things that particularly marks them out is capability in warfare. Moses refers to the tribe as a crouching lion, ‘[tearing] the arm with the crown of the head’, Deut. 33. 20. He also implies that they may have taken a leading role in battles, 33. 21; cp. Num. 32. 29; Josh. 4. 12. The Chronicler speaks of eleven Gadite warriors who dug in with David when he was on the run from Saul. They are described as ‘men of might’, ‘men of war’, having the ‘faces of lions … swift as the roes upon the mountains’, 1 Chr. 12. 8-15. Today, we would call them special forces, highly capable individuals prepared for the most challenging assignments. Scripture has left these, and other similar accounts, on record and we do well just to ponder the harsh realities of battle expected of the people of God. Lives were on the line in order to work out His purposes. What about you and I? Whether it is the battle for truth, 2 Tim. 2. 3, the battle for souls, 2 Cor. 5. 20, or the battle for devotion, Gal. 5. 17, what do we really know of these things? How much are we contending for them?
We noted when looking at Reuben that his tribe settled east of the river Jordan. Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh joined him and Gad’s western border ran the length of the Jordan. These were lush plains, ideal pasture grounds for the tribes’ flocks and herds. Ideal for other peoples as well; ideal for the Ammonites who occupied the territory east of Gad. Sure enough, the Ammonites spent eighteen years relentlessly oppressing the tribes in the Gilead region, cp. Deut. 3. 12, 13, reaching and crossing the plains of Jordan, Judg. 10. 7-9. Yet they were only able to do so because God permitted it on account of the wickedness of His people. We are reminded that God’s people are never truly vulnerable when walking in His will. But the flesh is always hungry for territory; there is an inevitable battle going on for our devotion and we must strive to remain single-hearted towards our God.
Within Gadite territory, an important place was fortified under Jeroboam’s reign. It was Penuel, where Jacob had prevailed with God. Jacob clearly saw a little of himself in Gad, for his closing words to his son were of his tribe being overcome, ‘but he [Gad] shall overcome at the last’, Gen. 49. 19. Despite Gad’s exploits in the land, they ultimately abandoned the one who fought for them. They fell with their trans-Jordanian comrades when Assyria rose to power. They were truly overcome and they have yet to recover. There is a nod to them in New Testament times, with the city of Gadara, in what would have been Gadite territory. But today, their territory falls under the Kingdom of Jordan. Israel may contend for the territory, but it will take God to see to it that Gad, like all Israel, shall finally prevail. Praise God that though we are sometimes overcome, though we do sometimes fall, we will ultimately, by God’s grace, overcome at the last.