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God’s Word for You

Numbers 1:32-46 Northern and Western tribes

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, May 21, 2021

In this second half of the census, we look at the tribes who would camp to the north and west of the tabernacle.

    32 The male descendants of Joseph who were the descendants of Ephraim 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. 33 Those who were registered from the tribe of Ephraim totaled 40,500.
    34 Those who were male descendants of Manasseh 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. 35 Those who were registered from the tribe of Manasseh totaled 32,200.

Verse 32 begins with an additional phrase, because in the list Joseph’s family is counted twice. Levi is removed (the Levites served in a special way, as we will see in chapters 3-4), and to make up the twelve tribes, Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Manasseh are counted as brothers to the other tribes. At this point they numbered as two of the three smallest tribes (Benjamin falls between), but if they were counted together, “Joseph” would be second largest, second only to Judah in numbers.

One of the most well-known people to come from Ephraim was the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1), although at least one Judge (Abdon, Judges 12:13-16) was also an Ephraimite. Manasseh, the smallest tribe, would later divide into two groups and inhabit two regions in Canaan. Gideon the Judge came from Manasseh (Judges 6:11-16).

36 The male descendants of Benjamin 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. 37 Those who were registered from the tribe of Benjamin totaled 35,400.

Benjamin was also a small tribe at this time. Together, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin marched in the third line of the Israelites, and the three tribes would camp together to the west. Benjamin produced many well-known people that we know from the Scriptures, including the two Sauls: King Saul and his family (1 Samuel 9:1-2), and Saul in the New Testament who we also know as the Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:5).

38 The male descendants of Dan 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. 39 Those who were registered from the tribe of Dan totaled 62,700.

The Danites were the second-largest tribe after Judah. They took the lead place in the camp to the north of the tabernacle and formed the rearguard of Israel with Asher and Naphtali. The most well-known Danite is probably the Judge Samson (Judges 13:2,24). When they settled in Canaan, the Danites were given the territory of the Philistines. When they couldn’t drive them out, they went into the far north and captured the city of Leshem (Joshua 19:47). But of course, that was still many years in the future.

    40 The male descendants of Asher 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. 41 Those who were registered from the tribe of Asher totaled 41,500.
    42 The male descendants of Naphtali 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. 43 Those who were registered from the tribe of Naphtali totaled 53,400.

The tribes of Asher and Naphtali are the final ones in the count, and they would camp to the north of the tabernacle alongside Dan. These last tribes are later known for some important women. The Judge Barak was from Naphtali (Judges 4:6) and so may have been Deborah, the Judge who summoned him to war. There was also a woman from Naphtali who married a foreigner and whose son, Huram, was responsible for crafting all of the bronze work in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:13-46). Finally, the prophetess Anna was from the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36). She was there in the temple, a widow 84 years old, waiting for the birth of the Savior. She saw baby Jesus in the temple when he came for his dedication, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

44 These are the men who were registered by Moses and Aaron and twelve tribal chiefs of Israel, each representing his fathers’ house. 45 So all of the Israelite men twenty years old and up, who were of age to serve in Israel’s army, were registered according to their fathers’ houses. 46 Those who were registered totaled 603,550.

Six hundred three thousand, five hundred and fifty. More than half a million warriors. Israel was shown by God how great their strength had become, how massive an army they had. Until World War I, only Napoleon Bonaparte and Moses led armies of this size. Luther said: “They believed in the promised Christ, God’s Son, who led and guided them in the wilderness. Thus they were a very highly favored and holy people. But how long did that faith last with the great crowd? No longer than until they came into the wilderness. Then they quickly began to despise God’s Word, to murmur against Moses and God, to carry on idolatry, etc.” (LW 78:309).

Thinking just of this moment at the end of the census and not of Israel’s future, it is easy to see ourselves in this mirror. There were so very many things to come! So many blessings God would give! Yes, each one of us has setbacks, ups and downs and sins and failures and heartbreaks. But God is with us all along. But place yourself here, at this unique moment. Israel was still encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments and all of the Law of Moses had been given there. They were being prepared to enter into the Promised Land. God had commanded them to be counted, and now that was at an end. What would be next? In just nineteen days, they would begin to march (Numbers 10:11). Until then, there were commands to be given and carried out as to the orderliness and purity of the camp while stopped and while on the move.

What does God have in store for you nineteen days from now? Nineteen hours? You and I can’t know that, but we know that God has plans for us. Pray: “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end” (Psalm 119:33). He will be with you. He will bless you. Whether you think you should be first in line or last, don’t be dissatisfied with the place God has given you. “May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise” (Psalm 119:41). Learn to love his word, and learn that his love for you endures forever.

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.

 

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