Day 53: The Twelve Tribes of Israel
Numbers 2:1-34 The tribes of Israel traveled and camped through the desert with three tribes occupying each of the four sides surrounding the tabernacle. The Levites would camp close to the tabernacle to oversee its upkeep and to lead the people in worship. Technically, there were THIRTEEN tribes, but only twelve would receive territory in the Promised Land; the Tribe of Joseph had been split into two tribes (because remember, before he died Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh instead of Joseph) which were named for his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. (CCC 1539-1541)
Deuteronomy 2:8-23 The Moabites and the Ammonites were descendents of LOT (remember how THAT happened? His daughters got him drunk,he passed out, and they raped him) Little is known about some of the other peoples mentioned, for example, Rephaites, Horites, Avvim, Caphtorim.
Psalm 85 The Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, razed the Temple, and exiled a significant portion of the population of Judah to Babylon in 587 B.C.; some sixty years later, the Persians conquered Babylon and allowed the people of Israel to return to their homes in the Promised Land. This psalm makes reference to the “return” of the people of Israel from this exile, but the Hebrew term also had a spiritual meaning: CONVERSION. Many Jews regarded the exile as a punishment for their infidelities and, likewise, saw their return as a fruit of their repentance. God had forgiven their transgressions.
Mercy and faithfulness...righteousness and peace: These are two characteristics of God that are revealed in his every work.
Faithfulness from heaven: This prophetic utterance refers to the redemption of the world gained through the Death and Resurrection of Christ. The gates of Heaven, which were closed due to the Fall of Adam and Eve, were opened by the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, the Son of God, who had assumed our human nature in his Incarnation. By his Resurrection he conquered sin and death and opened the pathway to eternal life. (CCC 214, 2795)
(*Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
The first four chapters of Numbers explain how Moses numbered and organized the twelve tribes into an orderly camp.
The tabernacle is placed in the center of camp, immediately surrounded by Levites, who act as a protection and buffer between God and the twelve tribes, who are placed three tribes each on the four sides of the tabernacle.
Similarly, when Israel is on the march, the Ark of the Covenant is in the center of the marching alignment, with Levites in front and in back of the Ark.
The tribe of JUDAH always leads the march, a position that points to the future role this tribe will play in the leadership of Israel.
What is striking is the central placement of the tribe of Levi, which is repeated throughout the instruction.
Levi’s role as a buffer between God and the people is a result of their priestly election, after the golden calf, when the firstborn sons of Israel forfeited their priestly status.
It is precisely this distinction between the priestly tribe of Levi and the lay status of the twelve tribes that is driven home throughout the camp instructions of Numbers 1-4.
The Levites alone, purified in their priestly role, can camp around the sanctuary.
In doing so, they provide a buffer to protect anyone else of the other tribes from coming too near the sanctuary without the necessary purification, lest the fire of God’s holiness consume the sinful people of Israel.
At the end of the census, all the tribes are numbered except Levi.
God sets aside Levi for priestly service and forbids Moses’ including Levi in the army or census.
Twelve tribes will serve in the army of the Lord, but the tribe of Levi will serve only in the sanctuary.
Recall that in Genesis 48, Jacob took Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own in Joseph’s place, raising to thirteen the number of tribes of Israel.
Thus, thirteen tribes minus Levi (who cannot be numbered in the census) result in the twelve tribes of Israel.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through the Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)
Numbers sure has a lot of numbers, eh?
For now, Numbers is the setup for the scene of the 12 Tribes gathered around the Tabernacle
In Deuteronomy, it is the STORY OF NUMBERS (think of it as a recap told by Moses to the Israelites) retold because Deuteronomy is the end of the wilderness journey
At first glance, Numbers is organizing how they camp and march
Remember, the Tabernacle is the center of camp
Right around the Presence of God in the Tabernacle are the Levites
To the East, West, North, and South are the 12 Tribes of Israel
We know the numbering of them, but also the order of the tribes which is IMPORTANT
The First of the tribes was Judah
You may even recognize the name of the leader of the Tribe of Judah who was Nashon, the son of Ammin’adab (Don’t feel bad, I didn’t recognize this name)
BUT…….if we read the Gospel of Matthew, the opening has the GENEALOGY of Jesus from Abraham to Joseph
We go through a list of names through the Tribe of Judah
Judah was the 4th of Israel’s sons
He wasn’t the first son, yet he was selected as the one who would receive the blessing that the whole world would eventually receive
The Tribe of Judah was first on the east next to the Tabernacle
The Tribe of Judah was the first to march into battle, into the wilderness
“Let Judah go up first”
The name Judah means PRAISE
That is so fitting for us
God is all about ORDER
These are people who were formally slaves with no order
We had the Levitical Law and now the Laws of Deuteronomy being proclaimed by Moses as they wander in the desert
Remember that God is making these former slaves into a NATION OF PEOPLE who have the strength to be free
Think how difficult it must have been to live as generations of slaves and all of a sudden you have your freedom (Remember, Brooks from The Shawshank Redemption)
What is FREEDOM?
Freedom is not what you may think it is.
“Freedom is not primarily a choice, but rather the shaping of desire so as to make the achievement of the GOOD first possible, then effortless”
- Bishop Robert Barron
And THAT is what God is training the Israelites towards
Then all of a sudden you are wandering in the wilderness
Then all of a sudden you are being reminded of who you are as a people
It is important that the Tribes of Israel are being divided up into the families of Israel
It reminds them of their identity
Not only are they a tribe of Israel, but now they know WHICH tribe they are
This is not a generic family
This is a SPECIFIC family under a SPECIFIC head of the family
There is something powerful about knowing your identity
God is giving them order
God is giving them their identity
They are ordered all around the Presence of God in the Tabernacle
The presence of God is at the center of everything that they are and everything that they do
Because they were formerly slaves and God is TRAINING them to be the kind of people who can live FREELY, people who can live WELL
The story is a lot bumpier than that as we will soon find out
But God is SHAPING THEM
God is FORMING THEM
Into the kind of people that can be FREE
Judah goes up first
PRAISE GOES UP FIRST
That’s a lesson for all of us when it comes to how we begin our day
It is so important for us to at least take a moment to PRAISE GOD and to let praise go up first
And also to praise His FAITHFULNESS
In Deuteronomy Ch 2 we have a number of times where Moses is recapping their journey and they go through the land of the Edomites
God tells them not to attack them
Because Edomites are the descendants of ESAU
Do you remember who Esau is?
He is the TWIN BROTHER OF JACOB AKA ISRAEL
So the edomites were their family and they were not to attack them
They will deal peacefully with them
Then they will pass through the land of the Ammonites
They will not attack them either because not only are they also family, but God gave them that land
GOD IS FAITHFUL
God will give the Israelites land as well, just not THIS LAND
This is so vitally important for all of us to understand
We can praise God for His faithfulness
One of the things that can bother us is that we will encounter violent battles
We are not necessarily accustomed to associating violence with God
WE HAVE TO BE COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE
There are ways to understand this
First, tell yourself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable
If you are not comfortable with how the Israelites will FIGHT for their Promised Land, be patient we will see why eventually what God is doing in the midst of a VIOLENT WORLD
God does not desire violence for its own sake AT ALL
God does not desire death
Book of Wisdom: “God does not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.”
We know that the heart of God does not rejoice in VIOLENCE or DEATH AT ALL
Remember, we live in a broken, violent world
We do this to each other
Second, be patient, hold on
There is an explanation coming
But, there is a lot of violence coming too
That is part of our story
It’s like how each of us are with our families
We have great times
We also have some big fights
We have some great people in our families
We also might have some scoundrels in our families
We have some glorious moments in our families
We also have some shameful moments in our families
THIS IS THE FAMILY OF GOD AND THIS FAMILY IS VERY VERY SIMILAR
In the meantime, LET JUDAH GO UP FIRST
In the meantime, LET PRAISE GO UP FIRST
In the meantime, we situate our lives like the Israelites situated their tents and their families and their tribes around the Tabernacle
We center God in the midst of our lives
When God is in the midst of our lives and praise goes up first, THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN STOP US
God is at the CENTER and we are on His side
Keep praying for each other
It gets easy to get bogged down, distracted, and off track
So let’s stay on track
Let’s give God the praise that is due today :)
Prayer by Fr Mike: “Father in Heaven, we thank you. We thank you for your Word. We thank you for trusting us, and entrusting your Word to us. We thank you for sharing who you are. We thank you for sharing that you are faithful to your promises, that you are faithful to your people. And we thank you for giving us the opportunity today to come into contact with you through the power of your Word Proclaimed. And we thank you in the midst of confusion. We thank you in the midst of not being inspired. We thank you or we thank you in the midst of clarity and in the midst of being illuminated and inspired and moved forward by your Grace and your Spirit. Because, Lord God, whenever your Word is proclaimed, whenever it is read or heard, we know that you are present. And we know that you are telling us something, you are revealing something of your heart to us. And you are revealing something of our hearts to ourselves. So, Lord God, where there is confusion, give us clarity. Where there is dullness, give us inspiration. Where there is a lack of zeal, give us a great joy and a love for you this day and everyday, Lord God. We ask this of you in the mighty name of your son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
Numbers 2 lays out the encampment of the tribes and their populations. Here are two possible layout of the encampment. At first I favored the left graphic because it didn't seem practicle to camp further away from the tabernacle when they could divide and camop around it. But then I realized the one on the right actually does make a lot of practical when considering all the tribes needed land near their camps to keep their livestock, and would provide space without their livestock surrounding the camp to roam off. Of course, if the right side is the historically accurate layout, how awesome that the encampment forms the shape of the cross!
Judah, the name meaning "praise, thanksgiving"- tied to the tribe of Judah going first out of the camp- "Give Thanks and Praise to God First"- ties to Jesus and the Eucharist (also means "thanksgiving") which he instituted at the Last Supper.
A chart showing the peoples God instructed Israel not to take land from, and which relatives they each descend from. The Amorhites, who God said to take possession of their land, did not come from relatives of Abraham.