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God’s Word for You

Numbers 1:5b-16 Obedience to authority

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, May 19, 2021

from Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur;
6 from Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai;
7 from Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab;
8 from Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar;
9 from Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon;
10 from the sons of Joseph:
from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud;
from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur;
11 from Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni;
12 from Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai;
13 from Asher, Pagiel son of Ochran;
14 from Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel;
15 from Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan.”

16 These were the men chosen from the community, the chiefs of the tribes of their fathers. They were the heads of Israel’s divisions. (EHV)

Daniel means “God is my judge.” Timothy means “He honors God.” Elijah means “My God is the LORD.” Names like these that have God’s name or title in them are call theophoric. Most of the names in this list of Israelite leaders are theophoric. Three of the father’s names even include the element shaddai “almighty” (see Genesis 17:1; Job 5:17, etc.). The meanings of the names of the twelve leaders are these:

Elizur = My God is a Rock.
Shelumiel = God is my salvation (or Recompense).
Nahshon = The astronomer.
Nethanel = God has given or Gift of God.
Eliab = God is my Father.
Elishama = My God hears.
Gamaliel = God is my reward.
Abidan = My Father is Judge.
Ahiezer = My brother is my help.
Pagiel = God meets me (or God is my fate).
Eliasaph = God will add.
Ahira = My brother is my friend.

The third name, Nahshon, is the man who is in the line of the Savior in Matthew 1:4 (see also Ruth 4:20). He was also Aaron’s brother-in-law (Exodus 6:23). Some readers may notice that the element -yah or -jah does not appear in this list at all. This would represent the name Yahweh (the LORD). This supports our understanding of Exodus 6:3, where God says to Moses, “By my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.” God’s people had known of God’s name the LORD all along (Eve uses it in Genesis 4:1, as does Noah’s father Lamech in Genesis 5:29). But the significance of that name was not made manifest to God’s people until God brought them out of Egypt, so few proper names contain the -jah/-iah ending or jo- element. This also shows that the references to people here are authentic and ancient. There are no Elijahs, Zechariahs, Jonathans, or Joels here. Notice the many uses of -el, -iel, or eli- (God / my God) in these names. This practice continued into period of the Judges, where we find an Othniel, Elimelech, and Samuel, but it not really until the late period of the Judges and into the monarchy that we begin to find names like Jonathan (“The LORD gave”) and Adonijah (“the Lord is LORD”).

In chapter 10, we will see that these twelve men would become commanders of their family army divisions. We would certainly call them generals, and probably high-ranking generals at that, in our armies of today. Each man led his entire tribe as they marched, and in military terms the tribes were each between 40,000 and 75,000 soldiers, as we shall see. Such units are larger than what our military would call a division, and correspond more to an entire corps. At the moment, the US Army has five active Army corps. To have twelve of these marching together, moving across the desert of the Sinai peninsula, would have been frightening, unnerving, and even terrifying, to the Canaanites.

It takes a special set of administrative and social skills, not to mention some real charisma, to lead soldiers in units of this size. When some of these men are mentioned later in the Scriptures, it surely had an emotional impact on those who knew their stories, just as hearing about U.S. Grant or Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf stirs the hearts of those who know about their leadership and brilliance. When God gives leaders, their position is governed by the Fourth Commandment. We owe them our respect and obedience. We must recognize that the examples of government in the book of Numbers are different from our government today because Moses was not the head of a secular government. Moses was called and commanded by God, and Moses spoke directly and frequently with God. God said about Moses, “With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD” (Numbers 12:8). When we consider modern, secular government, there are some important differences, but one thing remains the same: “There is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1). Using the example of David’s submission to King Saul’s wicked government, Professor Daniel Deutschlander wrote:

  “David did not start a revolution! He did not try to assassinate Saul. Even when it seemed to his friends that the moment was ripe to strike Saul, David refused (1 Samuel 24, 26). Saul had become cruel, wicked, and a persecutor of the church (1 Samuel 22:6-19). Still David refused to act against him. For God stands behind his established government, even when it fails to carry out its divinely intended purposes.
  “David also refused to yield to Saul’s injustice. David did not just lie down and die because that’s what the government wanted. He resisted the evil of the government without falling into the evil of revolution. That is an important and enduring principle. Revolution against even a godless government is wrong; it is a sin against God. To help the wicked in power carry out their evil intent also is wrong; it also is a sin against God.” (Civil Government, NPH 1998, p. 26).

Pray for our leaders, in the church and in the state. They are in God’s service, whether they acknowledge him or not. No matter what society’s fashion of the day declares, our obedience to government, to leaders of the church, and to our parents, is not earned by them, but commanded by God. Now, it may well be that when such leaders have failed us or sin against God, our obedience may heap burning coals on their heads (Proverbs 25:21-22; Romans 12:20). Pray for those who are in authority, support them, and admonish them when necessary. But in everything give glory and honor to God. Some of us remember to do that because it’s the right thing to do, and some might even remember it because it’s what our very name means.

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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