Then Joshua called together the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. He told them... “Your wives, children, and cattle may remain here on the east side of the Jordan River, but your warriors, fully armed, must lead the other tribes across the Jordan to help them conquer their territory.” — Joshua 1:12, 14
Some people think that God gave Israel two commandments when He told them to love their neighbors as they loved themselves. Command number one: love yourself. Command number two: love your neighbors. The argument goes, that as some people have a low self-image, they need to learn how to love themselves before they can love anybody else. But apart from the fact that Scripture says nothing of the sort, common sense tells us that everybody, however low his or her self-image, is governed to a certain extent by self-interest and instincts for self-preservation. The reality is that self-interest is behind much that makes the world go ‘round.
Self-interest was a reality in the ancient world, too. On their way to the Promised Land, the children of Israel passed through and conquered territory that lay on the eastern shores of the Jordan River. Some of the men involved in the fighting decided that they would prefer to stay there rather than go ahead with the rest of the people, crossing the Jordan and starting the slow and painful task of occupying the land God had given them. After all, they had large flocks and herds, and it was good land that was there for the taking! So they asked to be excused from the occupation of Canaan and to be allowed to settle down, secure their families, and get on with the business of living their lives. Self-interest was ruling supreme!
Moses was not at all pleased when he heard their request, and he told them in no uncertain terms that they were just like the people who had turned back from entering the land 40 years earlier. He called them “a brood of sinners, doing exactly the same thing” (Numbers 32:14). Moses also said, “Do you mean you want to stay back here while your brothers go across and do all the fighting?” (32:6). He obviously suspected self-interest was at work.
But the tribesmen replied, “We simply want to build sheepfolds for our flocks and fortified cities for our wives and children. Then we will arm ourselves and lead our fellow Israelites into battle until we have brought them safely to their inheritance” (32:16-17). Since they were willing to bear their share of the burden of fighting, Moses agreed to their proposal. Joshua reminded them, the tribesmen kept their promise, and self-interest was subsumed by the Lord’s interest and the interests of others. And this is how they loved the Lord and their neighbors as they loved themselves.
The instinct for self-preservation is fine; self-interest is here to stay. But self-absorption has to be seen for what it is—immaturity run rampant. Caring for and loving others sacrificially is the only way to grow.
For further study: Joshua 1:1-18
Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.