God’s Word for You
Numbers 34:13-29 Lawful leaders
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, February 3, 2022
Tribal Chiefs Assigned for Dividing the Land
13 Moses commanded the Israelites, “This is the land which you will assign as a possession by lot, which the LORD has commanded you to give to the nine and a half tribes. 14 The tribe of Reuben’s descendants according to their fathers’ houses and the tribe of Gad’s descendants according to their fathers’ houses have already received their possession. Also half of the tribe of Manasseh has received its possession. 15 The two and a half tribes have received their possession east of the Jordan across from Jericho, toward the sunrise.”
Perhaps for us, reviewing the obvious can be tedious, but any parents with several children only need to think of what it’s like to take a trip in the car to understand why the Lord is frequent with his counts of Israel’s twelve tribes. Here, there is a distinction between the nine and a half tribes and the two and a half tribes: Most inside the boundaries of the land, but some outside, with permission. Some readers may wonder about Levi, but since Joseph’s family was now divided into three parts (Ephraim, half of Manasseh, and another half of Manasseh), we remember that Levi was not assigned land within Canaan. The Levites were priests and the priestly family, and they were to be looked after by the rest of the people.
To a modern parent, this paragraph is very similar to mom and dad counting up the kids in the back of the car, closing the door, buckling the seatbelts, and starting the car. We’re all here. We’re safe. Let’s get going. It was just about time to move into the Promised Land.
16 The Lord spoke to Moses: 17 These are the names of the men who will assign the land as a possession for you: Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun. 18 You will take one tribal chief from every tribe to assign the land as a possession. 19 These are the names of the men:
Caleb son of Jephunneh from the tribe of Judah;
20 Shemuel son of Ammihud
from the tribe of Simeon’s descendants;
21 Elidad son of Kislon
from the tribe of Benjamin;
22 Bukki son of Jogli,
a tribal chief from the tribe of Dan’s descendants;
A curiosity here is that these first men are described in slightly different ways. Caleb hardly needs any introduction at all. He and Joshua would be the oldest men to cross over. Shemuel is not called a “tribal chief” but just referred to with his name. The third name, Elidad, is simply said to be “from the tribe of Benjamin,” not “from Benjamin’s descendants.” This is very probably because the “Ben-” of Benjamin is the word “son” in Hebrew and is the same word throughout the rest of the list for “descendants.” So to avoid an awkward phrase, Moses says “from Benjamin” instead of “From Ben-Benjamin.”
23 from the sons of Joseph: Hanniel son of Ephod,
a tribal chief from the tribe of Manasseh’s descendants;
24 Kemuel son of Shiphtan,
a tribal chief from the tribe of Ephraim’s descendants;
25 Elizaphan son of Parnak,
a tribal chief from the tribe of Zebulun’s descendants;
26 Paltiel son of Azzan,
a tribal chief from the tribe of Issachar’s descendants;
27 Ahihud son of Shelomi,
a tribal chief from the tribe of Asher’s descendants;
28 Pedahel son of Ammihud,
a tribal chief from the tribe of Naphtali’s descendants.
29 These were the men whom the Lord commanded to assign the areas of possession for the Israelites in the land of Canaan.
Here we note that the chief of Ephraim is Kemuel, not Joshua (compare Numbers 13:6,8, where Joshua was chosen to be one of the twelve spies alongside Caleb). Joshua was already named as being in charge overall along with Eleazar the priest (verse 17).
This is a passage that many readers might pass over and wonder why the Holy Spirit makes a fuss about it. But these twelve princes (as Luther calls them, LW 9:162) were part of Israel’s secular government. There was Moses, to be succeeded by Joshua, there were these twelve princes, and seventy elders (Numbers 11:16), besides the fathers of all the families and clans. Each man was ruler of his tent, but each man was ruled, and each ruler was ruled. They had a government given to them by God. No man could say, “I don’t like what’s being done, and so I’m going to seize power, kill Moses, and take over for myself, and anyone who resists me will lose their head.” When men tried this, they were put to death by God, such as when Korah and Dathan were swallowed by the earth (Numbers 16:32; Psalm 106:17).
Sadly, we live in a world where our general prosperity and contentment sings us to sleep while many people in the world are not content at all, and certain tyrants will never be content. When tyrants and madmen try to overthrow governments, manipulate elections, threaten death to those who question them, invade other nations, or bypass the laws of their own countries, they will face judgment for it. A tyrant may never really understand his error in this lifetime, but there will be an eternity of punishment for him to understand just what it means to violate the Fourth Commandment, or as is the case with the Russians today, the Ninth. Pray for the leaders of our nations. There are Christians reading this devotion on six continents today, and perhaps seven, under flags that sometimes oppose one another. May our countries remember that God’s laws are to be fully obeyed (Psalm 119:4), but more than this, may our countries permit the peaceful spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that churches may thrive and grow, avoiding every evil, proclaiming Christ and his forgiveness for eternal life.
Pastor Timothy Smith