Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Numbers 1:17-31 Eastern and Southern tribes

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, May 20, 2021

Today’s devotion covers a large section of text. This is because of the redundancy of the passages, and this will be a procedure that we will follow at other times in Numbers. It is my hope and prayer that reading and covering the text in this way will do justice to the Word of God and yet not be too repetitive or burdensome day after day for the reader.

17 Moses and Aaron brought together these men, who had been designated by name. 18 They assembled the entire community on the first day of the second month, and they recorded the people’s ancestry by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, listing the names of those who were twenty years old and up, one by one. 19 Moses registered them in the Wilderness of Sinai, exactly as the Lord commanded him.

In Genesis, there are ten “accounts” or Toledoth sections. These are the places where Moses says, “This is the account of…” (Genesis 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 37:2). Here in Numbers, a form of that same word is used for “ancestry” (or pedigree). During the census, they didn’t just take down a tally of the soldiers, or even just list their names. They recorded the ancestry of each man. This shows the literacy of the nation at the time, since there would have been work for many scribes to write all this down in an organized way. The clan was what we would call the tribe, and then the man’s name and his father’s name. We have already seen a dozen examples of this registration in the previous verses, so that each line would have resembled this one: “from Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab” (Numbers 1:7). The totals of this tally are given next, with two clear sentences for each of the twelve tribes:

20 The male descendants of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, were registered from their family records, according to their clans, according to their fathers’ houses, listing one by one the names of every male twenty years old and up, all who were of age to serve in the army. 21 Those who were registered from the tribe of Reuben totaled 46,500.

The tribe of Reuben was seventh in size overall. Later they would be assigned the primary position of the southern group when camped, and they would take the lead of the second group when marching. The more famous Reubenites later in the Scriptures were Dathan and Abiram, who rebelled against Moses and Aaron (Deuteronomy 11:6). But there was also Adina, one of David’s mighty men (1 Chronicles 11:42).

    22 The male descendants of Simeon were registered from their family records, according to their clans, according to their fathers’ houses, listing one by one the names of every male twenty years old and up, all who were of age to serve in the army. 23 Those who were registered from the tribe of Simeon totaled 59,300.
    24 The male descendants of Gad were registered from their family records, according to their clans, according to their fathers’ houses, listing the names of those twenty years old and up, all who were of age to serve in the army. 25 Those who were registered from the tribe of Gad totaled 45,650.

Also encamped on the south and marching with Reuben were the tribes of Simeon (third largest overall) and Gad. We will read the shocking account of a wicked Simeonite named Zimri later in Numbers (Numbers 25:6-18). A large armed force of Simeonites slaughtered a band of Amalekites in the hill country of Seir in the days of King Hezekiah of Judah (1 Chronicles 4:42-43). Eleven Gadites defected from King Saul to David and were said to be “as swift as gazelles in the mountains” (1 Chronicles 5:8). These tribes were in many ways obscure, but they had been blessed by God.

26 The male descendants of Judah were registered from their family records, according to their clans, according to their fathers’ houses, listing the names of those twenty years old and up, all who were of age to serve in the army. 27 Those who were registered from the tribe of Judah totaled 74,600.

Judah was given the leading position of the tribes encamped to the east of the Ark, and they took the leading position of the first rank when the nation marched. At this time, Judah was by far the largest tribe in all of Israel. Judah’s most famous descendants were David, Solomon and all the rest of the kings of Judah, and of course our Lord, Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-2). At this time, a man of Judah named Caleb would soon rise up as a fearless believer (Numbers 14:6-9). His brother Othniel was numbered as the first of Israel’s Judges after the death of Joshua (Judges 3:9-11)

28 The male descendants of Issachar were registered from their family records, according to their clans, according to their fathers’ houses, listing the names of those twenty years old and up, all who were of age to serve in the army. 29 Those who were registered from the tribe of Issachar totaled 54,400.

Issachar camped next to Judah on the east side of the tabernacle and was the middle clan of the first rank when Israel was on the march. A famous descendant of Issachar in later years was Tola, one of the Judges (Judges 10:1-2). A more infamous descendant was King Baasha, whom God lifted up to be king of the northern tribes but who did not remain loyal to God and was condemned for it (1 Kings 15:27-16:7).

30 The male descendants of Zebulun were registered from their family records, according to their clans, according to their fathers’ houses, listing the names of those twenty years old and up, all who were of age to serve in the army. 31 Those who were registered from the tribe of Zebulun totaled 57,400.

Zebulun was one of the largest tribes at this time. They camped next to Issachar and marched after them. The Judge Elon came from Zebulun (Judges 12:11-12), and when David set up his first throne in Hebron, the tribe of Zebulun sent more warriors to him than any other individual tribe: 50,000 warriors, “experienced soldiers prepared for battle with every type of weapon, to help David with undivided loyalty” (1 Chronicles 12:33).

These details have given us a little bit of context and history for half of the tribes, those that would camp to the south and to the north of the tabernacle, with the Ark of God’s presence in the centermost point of God’s people. For each tribe, the evidence of God’s blessings are clear, counted in great detail, and abundant. How God’s people had multiplied! In 1898 BC, Joseph was sold by his wicked brothers and ended up a slave in Egypt. In twenty years, by 1878, he had risen to the position of second in the land of Egypt, and in 1876 his father, his brothers, and their families moved to northeastern Egypt, seventy people in the land of Goshen. That was 430 years in the past. In Pastor Paul Kuske’s People’s Bible on Numbers, a simple table shows the way that such a group could grow in a little over 14 generations (each generation being about 30 years) from 53 males to more than 600,000:

GenerationNumber
153
2107
3214
4430
5865
61,739
73,495
87,025
914,120
1028,382
1157,047
12114,665
13230,477
14463,260
14⅓617,680

This is the gospel of God’s grace, giving his people a cradle in Egypt to grow and multiply. When conditions became intolerable because of the wickedness of one or two Pharaohs, God had rescued them and brought them out, promising a return to Canaan where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had once lived. Now they were on the way. It isn’t always easy to remember the hand of God in our lives as we cope with each day’s hurdles and problems. But if I take a breath and remember the ways in which God brought me to where I am today, the blessings and the rescue and the forgiveness he gives so lavishly for my sins, I can’t help but thank him and recognize the priceless value of his blessings. Without God at the center of my life, I would be nothing. But he lets you and me serve him with our lives. Maybe you’re doing laundry today, and you have sandwiches and lunches to make for the kids later. Or maybe you’re nursing a sore back today because you strained it at work. Or maybe you’re about to graduate from High School. Or maybe you’re getting ready to deliver a baby. Remember Christ your Savior, and do whatever today’s labor will be, all to his glory and praise.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

 

Browse Devotion Archive