Good morning! Today we start the book of Numbers, which (despite its title) actually holds some interesting narratives alongside lists of people, tribes and instructions. The Hebrew name for this book is more suggestive, meaning something like, “Into the Wilderness”. This book begins at Mount Sinai and ends near the Jordan River entry into Canaan, after almost four decades of wandering in the wilderness (a trip that would not have taken nearly as long if they had been going directly). Along the way we are treated to stories of miracles, more grumbling in the wilderness, divine judgment, and other fodder for reflection. I’m looking forward to it—certainly more than Leviticus! 🙂
First though, we do have some lists. Chapter 1 lets us know that these events begin in the second year after the Exodus from Egypt—perhaps it took them awhile at the base of Mount Sinai to receive all the laws from God and construct the tabernacle, etc. The census that’s ordered of all the adult men aged twenty or older is like the Selective Service registry. It confirms how many people are on hand to go to war. The fact that a warrior’s eligibility started at twenty is a bit unusual, since adulthood was considered to begin closer to 12-14 years old. Perhaps they started to count at twenty so that those who were still newly married or fathering children would be exempt? Total speculation, but I wonder. The tribe of Levi is left out, set aside from war for the sake of their service to the tabernacle.
Chapter 2 describes the geographic arrangement of tribes around the tabernacle in the middle, and sets the order by which they set out. Interestingly, the arrangement of tribes according to the compass directions roughly matches a map of where the tribes end up when they settle in the land of Canaan. If the tabernacle were put in the middle of the settled tribes, this arrangement would mostly still hold. Note also that the tribe of Joseph’s younger son Ephraim is closer to the tabernacle than the tribe of his elder brother Manasseh (in keeping with Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim with his more-significant right hand). The Levites hold the center of this tribal arrangement, protectively insulating the tabernacle as described at the end of chapter 1.
That’s what I’ve got for finding meaning in these lists, but I look forward to your insights as well. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Numbers 3-4. Thanks for reading!