1 Chronicles 5:18–21 (ESV)

18 The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had valiant men who carried shield and sword, and drew the bow, expert in war, 44,760, able to go to war.

The Chronicler now interrupts his listing of genealogical data to narrate the wars of expansion of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. These tribes’ opponents were Arab groups, named as Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab (1 Chronicles 5:19; Jetur = Iturea, Luke 3:1). Jetur and Naphish are understood to be Arabian tribes by virtue of their derivation from Ishmael (Genesis 25:15; 1 Chronicles 1:31). Nodab is otherwise unknown.1

This passage is probably a summary of expansion, presumably in the days of the united monarchy, by the two-and-a-half tribes of the Transjordan area. It should therefore not be seen as a single incursion but an ongoing battle against the Hagrites and their allies, the Moabites, Edomites and the Ishmaelites, all of which were traditional enemies of the Israelites east of the Jordan River (Psalm 83:6). The combined enrollment of 44,760 soldiers from Reuben, Gad, and eastern Manasseh is less than half of the military call-up number of the second post-exodus census for those tribes (136,930; see Numbers 26:7, Numbers 26:18, Numbers 26:34). The tally of soldiers for these tribes during David’s census was 120,000 (1 Chronicles 12:37).2

Although this portion of the narrative does describe resounding military success as a result of well-trained and well-equipped soldiers, this is not the primary purpose of its inclusion here. More importantly, the narrator is careful to point out that the secret of their prowess lay not in their 44,760 troops; rather, the men of Reuben, Gad, and eastern Manasseh put their trust in God and prayed to him. The battle, says the writer, belongs to the Lord (1 Chronicles 5:20), an unmistakable reference to the so-called holy war. The Lord answered their prayers by helping them to prevail in battle (1 Chronicles 5:20–21). The themes of trust in God, prayer in battle, and God’s help in gaining victory are repeated throughout Chronicles (1 Chronicles 12:19; 1 Chronicles 15:26; 2 Chronicles 20:15; 2 Chronicles 25:8; 2 Chronicles 32:10).3

In 1 Chronicles 5:21–22 the Chronicler describes the spectacular outcome of the battle. To reinforce his theological perspective of the event, he explains once again that many fell because the war was of God.

While the section on Reuben ends positively, this section on Gad changes suddenly: They lived in their place is qualified to note that they did so only until the exile. The reason for change is found in the following verses.4