Viewed from their new standpoint on the edge of the Promised Land, the eastern side of the Jordan looked good. Perhaps it wasn’t exactly flowing in milk and honey, but it certainly seemed better than the desert through which they had come. Moses tried to dissuade the two and a half tribes, but they insisted that it was what they wanted, so he allowed them to stay on the “outside” of the Promised Land, except for fulfilling their responsibility to help the other tribes in the conquest.
So under Joshua’s leadership, the men of the “Transjordan” tribes had to leave their wives and families and go with the other tribes to fight the inhabitants of Canaan (Joshua 1:12-16). When the dust settled, the men of the two and a half tribes were able to return to their homes, but they had seen first-hand the choice areas they could have inherited had they not chosen second best. Ironically, they still had to fight even though they had relinquished any part of the “first place” prize. But worse than that, the second place area they accepted was not as well protected, and was on the border of several of Israel’s enemies, the Ammonites, Edomites and Moabites. Their prize just wasn’t as good as it could have been.
In what areas of our lives do we accept “second place” without pushing for the best prize? In school or college we can accept less than what we could accomplish in assignments or grades if we just pushed a little harder. As young adults we may accept second best if we marry the first person who comes along. As spouses and parents we take second in one of life’s most important areas if we stop trying to develop our relationships with our mates and children. And as older people we take second best if we presume we are past doing anything much productive with our lives. We can be unconsciously accepting second best in any area of our physical lives if we accept what is “OK” but not great.
Just as importantly, in our relationship with God, do we settle for second place in being content with where we feel we are in our development at any particular point, just keeping up a comfortable routine? Or do we keep looking for ways we can keep growing, helping, pushing to accomplish more of what really matters?
Every runner knows that as a race progresses, if you stop pushing harder, you start falling back. Perhaps that analogy is worth keeping in mind. In the ancient Olympics and other athletic games and contests, there were no “second place winners” – only the first place finisher for each event was considered a victor. The names of those achieving second and third place were not even recorded. This is why the apostle Paul wrote: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). We should run our Christian lives as though there were only a first place prize; we should live as though we will not settle for less. Like the ancient two and a half tribes of Israel, we will still have to keep fighting even if we do settle for less. So if we are going to have to run anyway for second place, why not run that bit harder, as Paul urges us, for first? And remember, in the Christian race we are really only competing against ourselves. So why settle for second place when everyone can win?