Numbers 1:17-19. “17 So Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name, 18 and they assembled all the congregation on the first day of the second month. Then they registered by ancestry in their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, head by head, 19 just as the Lord had commanded Moses. So he counted them in the wilderness of Sinai.” (Nu. 1:17-19).
The importance of the pedigree / heritage. A mixed multitude came out of Egypt (Ex. 12:38; Nu. 11:4). Only those who could identify their tribe and who were 20 years or older had the honor of fighting for the Lord to retake the Promised Land (Nu. 1:18). The book of Matthew begins with Jesus’ genealogy. His genealogy was important to His being accepted as the Messiah because it established His credentials as a descendant of the tribe of Judah (Micah 5:2). The Messiah was also prophesied to specifically come from David’s line (Jo. 7:42; Ps. 89:4).
Our pedigree / heritage. If you were asked to identify your pedigree or heritage in order to have the right to serve in Jesus Christ’s army (2 Tim. 2:3), what credentials would you be able to offer? By the Holy Spirit, you are now God’s adopted son (1 Jo. 3:2; Jo. 1:12; Gal. 3:26, 29; Rom. 8:14-17).
The importance of being God’s child. The Jews had nothing to fear as they assembled to fight to take over the Promised Land. God promised it to them. But fear eventually overcame the troops. They did not believe that they could prevail. Each tribe was weighed down by its past sins. As an adopted child of God, when you repent you do not need to fear going into battle for Him because your past sins are forgiven: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1). Are you letting your old sins hold you back? If so, this is not God’s voice in your head.
If the Jews had any reason to doubt God’s mercy and grace, they only needed to look at how He kept His promises to each of them in the past.
(1) Reuben. “20 Now the sons of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 21 their numbered men of the tribe of Reuben were 46,500.” (Nu. 1:20-21). Leah was Jacob’s unloved wife. Reuben was the son of Leah and Jacob’s first born son (Gen. 29:30-32). Normally, Reuben would be entitled to a double blessing as the firstborn, even if his mother was unloved (Dt. 21:15-17
His sins. Out of a lust for power, Reuben slept with Bilhah, Rachael’s maid servant (Gen. 35:22). Reuben, like Satan, was not content with his exalted position and wanted more power and pre-eminence (Is. 14:12; Ez. 28:12). Jesus warns that many who desire to be first or pre-eminent in power will become last in importance (Mk.10:31). Because God considered Bilhah to be a wife of Jacob, Reuben’s actions violated His Law: ‘“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.”’ (Lev. 18:8; Dt. 22:30; 1 Cor. 5:1). He was therefore cursed: ‘“Cursed is he who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s skirt.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.”’ (Dt. 27:20; Lev. 20:11). As part of his curse, he lost his firstborn status (1 Chr. 5:1-2). While in the wilderness, his tribe failed to learn from Israel’s rebuke. Leaders from the tribe of Rueben later joined in Korah’s rebellion against Moses, possibly to regain their pre-eminent role (Nu. 16:1). Reuben was said to be like “uncontrolled water” (Gen. 49:4). Like uncontrolled water, his tribe declined as it gave into various sins in the wilderness. While in the wilderness, the tribe decreased in size for its rebellion from 46,500 to 43,730 fighting men (Nu. 1:22; 26:7). Those who are like unstable water in their faith are warned that they should expect nothing from God (Jam. 1:6-8).
God’s mercy and grace. Under the Law, Reuben’s actions merited his death (Lev. 20:11). Yet, out of mercy and grace, Moses blessed him so that he might live and grow in number: “6 May Reuben live and not die, nor his men be few.” (Dt. 33:6). Reuben’s tribe, however, settled in modern day Jordan. His tribe did not want what God offered in the Promised Land. The outside world looked better to them. Just as Israel warned, the tribe never excelled by offering any leaders or judges for Israel. As Jesus warned, some who are first and misuse their privilege will become last in the Kingdom (Matt. 19:30). After the later exile of the Jews in Babylon, they had no land to return to. It became one of the lost tribes of Israel. The message in Moses’ blessing for believers is that God is a God of grace. He does not want any to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Like Reuben, you are a sinner. Like Reuben, God will rebuke sinners. Yet, also like Reuben, He wants you to live. The choice of every person is to accept the free gift of forgiveness that Christ offers (Jo. 3:16). Elizur, who was picked to lead this tribe, means “God is my rock.” Maybe you have come from a family suffering from a curse after they turned against God, a divorce, alcohol or drug abuse, or domestic abuse. Living in such a family can bring about the feeling that you are living under a curse. By Elizur’s example, mighty men or women of God can come out of a family that has turned against God. If you come from a broken home, are you looking to His mercy and grace?
(2) Simeon. “22 Of the sons of Simeon, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, their numbered men, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 23 their numbered men of the tribe of Simeon were 59,300.” (Nu. 1:22-23). Simeon was the son of Leah (Gen. 29:33). He was Jacob’s second son. After Reuben’s sin, he was entitled to receive the blessings of the firstborn.
His sins. While in Shechem in the land of Canaan, the teenage daughter of Jacob, Dinah, was raped. Simeon and Levi were the brothers of Dinah (Gen. 29:31-34). Hamor, the father of the rapist, tried to make restitution for the crime (Gen. 34:8-12). Simeon and Levi agreed to Hamor’s terms to reconcile if his men would be circumcised (Gen. 34:14-17). Simeon and Levi, however, used deceit to trick the people of Shechem to be circumcised. They then attacked them and killed them while they were in pain and unable to fight (Gen. 34:25-26). They then stole their flocks and looted their wealth (Gen. 28:27-29). They both violated the Sixth Commandment against murder (Ex. 20:13; Dt. 5:17). They both also violated the Eighth Commandment against theft (Ex. 20:15; Dt. 5:19; Eph. 4:28). The punishment for murder under God’s Law was death (Gen. 9:1-7; Ex. 21:12). Simeon and Levi, however, each received only a rebuke from Jacob. Yet, like Reuben, they also lost their chance to receive a double blessing as the firstborn tribe (Gen. 35:22; 49:3-4).
God’s mercy and grace. Unlike the tribe of Levi (Josh. 13:32-14:5), the tribe of Simeon never repented of their sins. Yet, despite their failure to repent, the tribe of Simeon grew to 59,300 fighting men (Nu. 1:23). This again shows God’s mercy and grace. Shelumiel, the leader of this group, means “at peace with God.” (Nu. 1:6). By His mercy and grace, the Simeon tribe could be at peace with God despite their prior sins. You also can find peace with God when you repent (1 Jo. 1:9). Yet, the Simeon tribe misused God’s mercy and grace. Zimri was a leader from the tribe of Simeon. He openly brought a temple harlot home for all to see after God began to punish the nation of Israel for its temple prostitution (Nu. 25:6, 14). Of the 24,000 people who died in God’s punishment (Nu. 25:9), most were believed to be from this tribe. While in the wilderness, Simeon went from 59,300 to 22,200 fighting men (Nu. 1:23; 26:14). This was a decrease of 37,100 or 62.56%. In absolute terms, Simeon went from being the third largest tribe to the smallest. When Moses blessed the 12 tribes at the end of his life, he had nothing to say about Simeon! (Dt. 33). The Simeon tribe continued to diminish in strength after entering Israel, just as God foretold. After the Jews defeated the Canaanites, they were then interspersed with the tribe of Judah (Josh. 19:9). The tribe was eventually absorbed by the tribe of Judah. If God has disciplined you, will you repent and turn back to Him?
(3) Gad. “24 Of the sons of Gad, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 25 their numbered men of the tribe of Gad were 45,650.” (Nu. 1:24-25). Gad was the son of Zilpah, Leah’s maid (Gen. 30:11). He was actually Jacob’s seventh son. He is listed out of order as the third son here in Numbers. With the exception of Gad, the children of all the maidservants were all listed at the end.
His sins. Gad was a child of the flesh, not of God’s promise. Leah had Jacob sleep with her maid Zipah out of jealousy to have more children than her sister Rachael. Gad, like his other brothers, was also guilty of selling Joseph into slavery out of jealousy. His tribe, like the others, was also guilty of building the golden calf while Moses was receiving the Law.
God’s mercy and grace. Despite the sins of his tribe, God grew it into a great tribe. By this time, the tribe had grown to 45,650 fighting men (Nu. 1:25). Yet, while in the wilderness, the fighting men of Gad declined from 45,650 to 40,500 (Nu. 1:25; 26:18). This was a decrease of 5,150 or 11.28%. By their decline, they likely participated with Reuben in Korah’s rebellion (Nu. 16:41-50), the complaints about the lack of water at Meribah (Nu. 20:2-5), the complaints against God’s manna (Nu. 21:5), and the Jews’ acts of temple prostitution (Nu. 25:1-9). Yet, God is gracious to those who repent, even after backsliding many times. Like Israel, Moses also prophesized that Gad would be a great tribe of warriors. God also promised to bless those who “enlarge” Gad’s domain: “20 Of Gad he said, ‘Blessed is the one who enlarges Gad; he lies down as a lion, and tears the arm, also the crown of the head. 21 Then he provided the first part for himself, for there the ruler’s portion was reserved; and he came with the leaders of the people; he executed the justice of the Lord, and His ordinances with Israel.”’ (Dt. 33:20-21). Yet, like Dan, Gad also did not seize God’s blessings. After receiving God’s many blessings in Jordan, the tribes of Reuben and Gad noticed that they had “an exceedingly large number of livestock.” (Nu. 32:1). They also noticed that the conquered land of Amorite Kings Sihon and Og east of the river Jordan “was indeed a suitable place for livestock.” (Nu. 32:1, 4). After realizing the comfort of God’s blessings, the tribes of Gad and Reuben pleaded with Moses: “do not take us across the Jordan.” (Nu. 32:5). They only sought after their own interests. Moses then chastised both tribes. In exchange for their agreement to help with the conquest of the Promised Land, Moses granted Gad and Reuben the lands of the Amorite Kings Sihon and Og east of the river Jordan (Nu. 32:16-27). Yet, centuries later after the tribes returned to Israel from Babylon, there was no land for the people of Gad to return to. They became a lost tribe. The lesson is that believers should never squander God’s spiritual gifts. God has blessed every believer with gifts of the Spirit. Like Gad, are you using your gifts for only yourself?
(4) Judah. “26 Of the sons of Judah, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 27 their numbered men of the tribe of Judah were 74,600.” (Nu. 1:26-27). Judah was Leah’s son and Jacob’s fourth child (Gen. 29:35). After the sins of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, the blessings of being firstborn fell to him.
His sins. Judah encouraged his brothers to sell Joseph to the Midianites, the descendants of Ishmael, out of jealousy (Gen. 37:27-28). Judah’s first son was named Er. God later killed Er for refusing to follow His directions (Gen. 38:7). Onan was the next in line to be the firstborn. But God took his life after he also disobeyed Him by refusing to give Er’s widow Tamar a son (Gen. 38:8-10). The law required that Onan give Tamar an heir who would receive the firstborn blessings (Dt. 25:5-10). Jesus in fact draws his genealogy through Tamar (Matt. 1:3). Judah later also broke the law by withholding his third son Shelah from her (Gen. 38:11, 26). Judah then negotiated with what he thought was a “temple prostitute” for sex. Tamar tricked Judah by dressing as a prostitute. He had no trouble knowing what the price was, suggesting that he was no stranger to this practice (Gen. 38:16-17). He also must have done this regularly to get caught in this manner. This meant that he was also guilty of fornication. Judah later also showed himself to be a hypocrite for saying that Tamar should be burned for what he thought was her adultery (Gen. 38:24). Judah was deserving of the same fait as Onan – death.
God’s mercy and grace. Judah later confessed his sins regarding Tamar: “Judah recognized them, and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.’ And he did not have relations with her again.” (Gen. 38:26). He then appeared before a disguised Joseph and confessed his sins against God and offered to give his life as a substitute to free Benjamin from captivity (Gen. 44:16-34). Because he repented of his sins, God let Judah keep his pre-emanate role (Gen. 49:8-12). By the beginning of the book of Numbers, Judah’s tribe had grown to 74,600 fighting men, the largest tribe (Nu. 1:27). Caleb, a hero of the faith, also came from this tribe (Nu. 13:6). His faith and his example allowed this tribe to grow. While in the wilderness, Judah’s tribe grew to be the largest tribe, going from 74,600 to 76,500 fighting men (Nu. 1:27; 26:22). Moses later blessed this tribe as a mighty force that would bring justice to Israel’s enemies: “7 And this regarding Judah; so he said, ‘Hear, O Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him to his people. With his hands he contended for them, and may You be a help against his adversaries.”’ (Dt. 33:7). The “ruler’s scepter” also belonged to Judah (Gen. 49:10; Nu. 24:17; Ps. 60:7; 108:8). David was a descendant of the tribe of Judah and inherited the role of the ruler’s scepter. Jesus later fulfilled all of Israel’s blessings to Judah. He became the King of Kings, He defeated God’s enemies and He blessed His people. He was later called the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” (Rev. 5:5). The fact that He would choose Judah to be His tribe shows that He can redeem any sin and use any sinner who repents. He will also remember your sins no more (Is. 43:25; Heb. 8:12). Have you confessed your sins so that Jesus can bless and use you?
(5) Issachar. “28 Of the sons of Issachar, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 29 their numbered men of the tribe of Issachar were 54,400.” (Nu. 1:28-29). Issachar was the son of Leah (Gen. 30:20). He was the ninth son of Jacob. His name also appears out of order here.
His sins. Issachar was amongst the brothers who wanted to kill Joseph before Judah convinced them to merely sell Joseph into slavery (Gen 37:27-28). According to Jesus, his hatred was an act of murder (Matt. 5:22). His tribe also participated in the worship of the golden calf. Both of these sins were punishable by death.
God’s mercy and grace. By this time, the tribe had grown to 54,400 fighting men. (Nu. 1:29). This again shows God’s mercy and grace. The tribe of Issachar grew from 54,400 to 64,300 fighting men (Nu. 1:29; 26:25). This was an increase of 9,900 or 18.19%. If you have been given a second chance like Issachar, are you using it for God’s Kingdom?
(6) Zebulun. “30 Of the sons of Zebulun, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 31 their numbered men of the tribe of Zebulun were 57,400.” (Nu. 1:30-31). Zebulun was the son of Leah (Gen. 30:20). He was the tenth child. His name also appears out of order here.
His sins. Like Issachar, Zebulun was amongst the brothers who wanted to kill Joseph out of jealousy (Gen. 37:27-28). His hatred was also an act of murder. His tribe also worshiped the golden calf. Both of these sins were punishable by death.
God’s mercy and grace. By this time, the tribe had grown to 57,400 fighting men (Nu. 1:31). This again shows God’s mercy and grace. Zebulun did nothing to earn God’s mercy and grace. In the wilderness, the tribe of Zebulun grew from 57,400 to 60,500 fighting men (Nu. 1:31; 26:27). This was an increase of 3,100 or 5.40%. You also cannot earn His mercy and grace. If you are thankful for your unearned mercy and grace, use that opportunity to grow in your walk the way that Zebulun did? (Ro. 12:1).
(7) Ephraim. “32 Of the sons of Joseph, namely, of the sons of Ephraim, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 33 their numbered men of the tribe of Ephraim were 40,500.” (Nu. 1:32-33). Ephraim was Joseph’s first son (Gen. 41:51). Although Judah was given the firstborn status, Joseph was given the true double blessing (1 Chr. 5:1-2). He was given two tribes to replace the role of Levi, which served as God’s priests.
His sin. Joseph was boastful or insensitive in sharing his vision to his brothers that they would bow down to him. He later married an Egyptian woman named Asenath. She was daughter of a pagan Egyptian priest of On named Potiphera (Gen. 41:50). Jews were not allowed to marry persons who were not Jewish (Dt. 7:3). Also, to be considered Jewish, the mother had to be Jewish. Thus, Ephraim was both a half-bread, and he wasn’t technically Jewish at all. His tribe also worshiped the golden calf.
God’s mercy and grace. Ephraim’s tribe grew to 40,500 fighting men (Nu. 1:33). This again shows God’s mercy and grace. Yet, Ephraim’s tribe sinned while it was in the wilderness. As a result, the fighting men in their tribe shrank from 40,500 fighting men (Nu. 1:33) to 32,500 (Nu. 26:37), a decrease of 19.75%. God, however, continued to bless this tribe. Joshua, a hero of the faith and the successor to Moses, was a member of the Ephraim tribe (Nu. 13:8; 14:6-9). Yet, the tribe’s blessings later became a source of pride. After Solomon’s death when the Kingdom of Israel separated into two, Ephraim was the dominant power in the north. Yet, the tribe of Ephraim was later condemned for its pride (Judges 8:1; 12:1). It was then also condemned for apostasy (Hosea 4:17; 5:3). Its pride led to its decline and eventual destruction. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Prov. 16:18). Pride is one of the few things that God “hates.” (Prov. 8:13). Have you become prideful based upon God’s blessings for you?
(8) Manasseh “34 Of the sons of Manasseh, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 35 their numbered men of the tribe of Manasseh were 32,200.” (Nu. 1:34-35). Manasseh was Joseph’s second son (Gen. 41:52).
His sin. Like Ephraim, Manasseh’s mother was an Egyptian woman named Asenath (Gen. 41:50). Like Ephraim, his tribe also worshiped the golden calf.
God’s mercy and grace. By this time, the tribe had grown to 32,200 fighting men (Nu. 1:35). Manasseh was the most obedient of all the tribes in the wilderness, and it grew the most. By the end of their 38-year-journey, their fighting men totaled 52,700 (Nu. 26:34). This was an increase of 20,500 or 63.66%. Yet, they squandered their inheritance in the Promised Land. Before entering the Promised Land, God blessed the Jews with the wealth from four wars. First, He defeated the Egyptians and allowed the Jews to loot their wealth (Ex. 3:22; 12:35-6). Second, He helped them defeat the Midianites (Nu. 31:7-11). From Midian alone, the Jews captured 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle and 61,000 donkeys (Nu. 31:36-37). Third, He defeated the Amorite King Sihon (Nu. 21:23-31; Dt. 2:24-37). Fourth, He defeat the Amorite King Og (Nu. 21:32-35). With the one exception of Moab in the south, the Jews controlled all of modern day Jordan. God gave the Jews these things to prepare them for the Promised Land. Yet, the tribes of Rueben and Gad assumed that God gave them this wealth for their own benefit. Like the servant who was given a talent and hid it, these tribes decided to bury their talents in a foreign land instead of watching them grow in God’s Promised Land (Matt. 25:14-30; Lk. 19:12-28). After receiving God’s many blessings, the tribes of Reuben and Gad noticed that they had “an exceedingly large number of livestock.” (Nu. 32:1). They also noticed that the conquered land that they were staying in “was indeed a suitable place for livestock.” (Nu. 32:1, 4). After realizing the comfort of God’s blessings, these tribes pleaded with Moses: “do not take us across the Jordan.” (Nu. 32:5). These lands would have been part of the Promised Land. Yet, Abraham brought Lot to Israel when God had not called him to do so. To avoid a conflict, Abraham later gave these lands to Lot’s descendants (Gen. 13:6-8). Moses later agreed to let these tribes live outside Israel. God cannot force people into His Promised Land if they don’t want to be there. Yet, the two tribes then enticed others to also give up on God’s land. Half of the Manasseh tribe joined them in living outside of Israel (Nu. 32: 33, 40-42). This is proof that “bad company” can corrupt a good individual (1 Cor. 15:33). Moses agreed to their request provided that they first fight to win the Promised Land. Yet, because these tribes chose not to live in the Promised Land, they never had a land to return to after the Jews went into exile. They became lost tribes.
The inheritance giving to the half of Manasseh which stayed in the Promised Land. Even though Manasseh split into two, God was faithful to bless the half tribe which stayed in the Promised Land. The Manasseh tribe shared a border on the north side of the Ephraim tribe in central Israel (Ezek. 48:5). Yet, their inheritance was mixed within the lands given to three other tribes; Issachar, Asher, and Napheth (Josh. 17:7-11). Seven of their cities were in other territories: (1) Beth-shean; (2) Ibleam; (3) Dor; (4) En-dor; (6) Taanach; and (7) Megiddo (Josh. 17:11). These seven cities symbolized the fact that they had a shared inheritance with the other tribes. Like believers, they needed to work with others to survive. Yet, the tribe of Manasseh inside the Promised Land also squandered its inheritance. They failed to drive out the Canaanites dwelling amongst them. They instead used the Canaanites as laborers: “12 But the sons of Manasseh could not take possession of these cities, because the Canaanites persisted in living in that land. 13 It came about when the sons of Israel became strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely.” (Josh. 17:12-13). Using the Canaanites as slave labor was also against God’s plan. He warned the Jews not to make peace with the people of Canaan because of the threat that they would pose to the Jews if left behind (Nu. 33:52-56; Dt. 7:1-2; 20:16-18). Because the Jews failed to drive out the Canaanites, they later grew to become a threat to the tribe of Manasseh.
(9) Benjamin “36 Of the sons of Benjamin, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 37 their numbered men of the tribe of Benjamin were 35,400.” (Nu. 1:36-37). Benjamin was the second and last son of Rachael. Rachael died during his birth. He was the last of the 12 tribes (Gen. 35:18).
His tribe’s sin. Unlike his other brothers, the Bible does not tell us about Benjamin’s sins. The only sin we are told of is that his tribe worshiped the golden calf. Yet, it was only because Moses prayed and intervened that they did not receive the judgment that they deserved – death.
God’s mercy and grace. By this time, the tribe had grown to 35,400 fighting men (Nu. 1:37). Through Benjamin’s example in the wilderness, God shows that believers can grow in their walk, even when they journey through the desert. While in the wilderness, the tribe of Benjamin grew from 35,400 to 45,600 fighting men (Nu. 1:37; 26:41). This was an increase of 10,200 or 28.81% in just 38 years. Moses later also blessed Benjamin as the protector of the place of God’s future Temple, represented as the “place between the shoulders.”: “12 Of Benjamin he said, “May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him, who shields him all the day, and he dwells between His shoulders.” (Dt. 33:12). This tribe, however, stumbled after it invaded the Promised Land. Jerusalem was originally promised to the tribe of Benjamin (Josh. 18:16, 28). Yet, because they lacked faith and trust in God, Benjamin could not drive out the new Jebusite king. Through the Holy Spirit, the task for taking Jerusalem then fell to its southern neighbor Judah (Josh. 15:8). Judah was then only temporarily successful in sacking and burning the city (Jdgs. 1:8). It remained a territory that was considered unsafe during that time of the Judges (Jdgs. 19:10-12). The Jebusites remained in the area and continued to threaten the Jews. Araunah the Jebusite is just one example (2 Sam. 24:16). They threatened the Jews until David defeated them (2 Sam. 5:6-10). The tribe had one high point when God appointed Ehud from the tribe of Benjamin as Israel’s second deliverer or judge. He assassinated the Moabite King Eglon and then inspired the Jews to rise up in rebellion against the Moabites (Jdgs. 3:15-26). Yet, the tribe of Benjamin slid back into sin after Ehud’s heroism. Judges chapter 19 documents the brutal gang rape and death of a Levite’s concubine in the Benjamite town of Gibeah. Judges chapter 20 documents the sad civil war that broke out between 11 of the tribes and the tribe of Benjamin as a result of this gang rape. As a result of this civil war, 65,700 people died. The tribe of Benjamin was almost exterminated with only 600 survivors (Jdgs. 20:36-48). Yet, because God is a God of mercy and grace, He gave Benjamin another opportunity to redeem itself. He appointed Saul from this tribe as the first king of Israel. Yet, Saul failed to live by the Spirit. The leadership mantle then fell back to the tribe of Judah through David. Again, the lesson for believers is not to become complacent with God’s blessings.
(10) Dan. “38 Of the sons of Dan, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 39 their numbered men of the tribe of Dan were 62,700.” (Nu. 1:38-39). Dan was the son of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid (Gen. 30:6). He was the fifth child. He is also listed out of order.
His sins. Like Gad, Dan was a child of the flesh. Rachael had him out of jealousy and a lack of faith. He later wanted to kill Joseph out of jealousy. His tribe later worshiped the golden calf. Jacob said that Dan would be like a serpent (Gen. 49:17).
God’s mercy and grace. Out of grace, Israel blessed Dan as a future tribe of mighty warriors who would judge the wicked amongst God’s people (Gen. 49:16-17). By this time, the tribe had grown to 62,700 fighting men (Nu. 1:39). Even though it had origins in the flesh, it used God’s grace to live righteously and grow in the wilderness. It grew from 62,700 to 64,000 fighting men (Nu. 1:39; 26:43). This was an increase of 1,700 or 2.71%. Like Jacob, Moses also blessed Dan as a tribe of mighty soldiers in God’s army: “22 Of Dan he said, “Dan is a lion’s whelp, that leaps forth from Bashan.” (Dt. 33:22). Yet, Dan failed to fully realize the blessings of Israel and Moses. After invading the Promised Land, the tribe of Dan not only lacked the faith to drive out the Amorites, its faith was so weak that the Amorites drove the tribe of Dan from its land (Jdgs. 1:34). They had to turn to the tribe of Ephraim to drive out the Amorites (Jdgs. 1:35-6). Samson, from the tribe of Dan, later emerged as God’s final judge (Jdgs. 13:2). Samson, however, was not trying to start a rebellion against the Canaanites. Instead, he was trying to marry into the Philistine nation. The tribe of Dan later failed to settle in its assigned territory in southern Israel. Its leaders stole idols and set up a counterfeit religion in the far north (Jdgs. 18:30-31). After Northern Israel broke away from Judah in the south, King Jerobaom turned the isolated city of Dan into a center of idolatry for the entire northern Israel with a pagan golden calf and a counterfeit priesthood (1 Kgs. 12:28-31). Dan’s counterfeit religion and its idolatry in turn brought God’s curse upon it (Dt. 27:15). The tribe is omitted from the 144,000 who are saved during the Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:5-8). Yet, Ezekiel reveals that the tribe will survive during the Millennial Reign (Ezek. 48:1-2). Thus, even when mankind is unfaithful, God remains faithful. Thus, for any prophecy that has not yet come true, the prophecies will come true during the Millennial Reign. Dan’s tribe was meant to be a nation of mighty warriors for God. Today, the battles believers fight are not against flesh and blood. They instead fight spiritual battles (Eph. 6:12). God is looking for soldiers for His army. Will you bless others by being a prayer warrior for God?
(11) Asher. “40 Of the sons of Asher, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 41 their numbered men of the tribe of Asher were 41,500.” (Nu. 1:40-41). Asher was a son of Zilpah, Leah’s maid (Gen. 30:12). His tribe was the eighth tribe. His tribe is also listed out of order.
His sin. Like Gad and Dan, Asher was a child of the flesh. Like Rachael, Leah had him out of jealousy and a lack of faith. He later wanted to kill Joseph out of jealousy. His tribe also worshiped the golden calf.
God’s mercy and grace. By this time, the tribe had grown to 41,500 fighting men (Nu. 1:41). The Asher tribe then used its grace and God’s gifts to seek after righteousness. While in the wilderness, it had the third highest growth in the wilderness. It grew from 41,500 to 53,400 fighting men (Nu. 1:41; 26:47). This was an increase of 11,900 or 28.67%. Moses responded to their righteousness by granting even greater blessings for Asher. Many who are last will be first (Matt. 19:30). It would walk in the Spirit and be favored by its brothers (Dt. 33:24-25). Yet, after the 12 tribes invaded the Promised Land, the tribe of Asher failed to defeat the Canaanites (Jdgs. 1:31-32). Their failure of faith would also threaten their existence. Asher was meant to be content with God’s gifts (1 Tim. 6:6). Yet, it also needed to walk in obedience to the Spirit. When you walk in obedience to the Spirit, you can be a blessing to others with God’s gifts. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ep. 2:1). Are you walking in obedience to the Spirit to bless others? Or, are you squandering the gifts that God has given you?
(12) Naphtali. “42 Of the sons of Naphtali, their descendants by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war, 43 their numbered men of the tribe of Naphtali were 53,400.” (Nu. 1:42-43). Naphtali was the son of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid (Gen. 30:8). He was the sixth son of Jacob. His tribe is also listed out of order here.
His sin. Like Gad, Dan, and Asher, Naphtali was a child of the flesh. Rachael also had him out of jealousy and a lack of faith. He later wanted to kill Joseph out of jealousy. His tribe also worshiped the golden calf.
God’s mercy and grace. By this time, the tribe had grown to 53,400 fighting men (Nu. 1:43). The tribe of Naphtali, however, abused God’s grace and His blessings. His tribe also declined from its sins while in the wilderness. It declined from 53,400 to 45,400 fighting men (Nu. 1:43; 26:50). This was a decrease of 8,000 or 14.98%. This tribe shows that some who are chastened in life will never use that humility to grow in the Lord. Their bitterness will instead merely fuel further acts of rebellion and their further decline. Yet, out of grace, Moses blessed the tribe with fertile farm lands in the Promised Land (Dt. 33:23). The tribe of Naphtali defeated the Canaanites in their land. They took the farm lands along the western edge of Galilee, which has some of the best farm lands in Israel. Yet, it lacked the obedience to kill the Canaanites as commanded (Jdgs. 1:33). As a result of this disobedience and the disobedience of the other northern tribes, they would eventually be swept away by their enemies (2 Kgs. 17:7-23). If God has blessed you with abundance, are you being faithful to use those resources for God’s Kingdom? Or, like Naphtali, are you using God’s blessings to enrich yourself?
Numbers 1:44-46. “44 These are the ones who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron counted, with the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each of whom was of his father’s household. 45 So all the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war in Israel, 46 all the numbered men were 603,550.” (Nu. 1:44-46).
God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises to make the Jews a mighty nation. The Jews left Israel to live in Egypt as a clan of only 70 people (Gen. 46:27; Ex. 1:5). These 70 persons symbolized the 70 nations which came out of Noah (Gen. 10). They spent approximately 400 years in captivity (Gen. 15:13- “400”; Ex. 12:40-“430”). After spending two years in the wilderness, God told Moses to assemble and count the men of fighting age who would invade the Promised Land (Nu. 1:1). At that time, the men of fighting age totaled 603,550 (Nu. 1:46). The total population including women and children would have been many times greater than this. Because God was faithful, He fulfilled His covenant by multiplying the Jews to be as numerous as the stars: “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” (Dt. 10:22; Heb. 11:12). This fulfilled a promise that God made to Abraham: “And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” (Gen 15:5; 17:2). “[I]ndeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.” (Gen. 22:17). This also fulfilled God’s similar promise to Isaac (Gen. 26:4). It also fulfilled His promise to Jacob (Gen. 28:3; 28:13-15; 35:11). To the Jews, they might not have felt blessed during their captivity or during their time in the wilderness. Yet, the growth of the Jewish nation showed that He is faithful to keep His promises. Even when it seems that you are in a hopeless place, do you trust God?
You also can trust God’s promises. If you have accepted Christ, you are part of Abraham’s descendants. “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:29). “You are an adopted child of God (Rom. 8:14-17). Like Abraham, God also promises to be faithful to you. He will bless and multiply you when you are faithful to Him (Lev. 26:9-10). These blessings include, but are not limited to, the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:21-22). Through faith and obedience, have you given God many reasons to bless and multiply your endeavors?
Numbers 1:47-54. “47 The Levites, however, were not counted among them by their fathers’ tribe. 48 For the Lord had spoken to Moses, saying, 49 “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not count, nor shall you take their [d]census among the sons of Israel. 50 And you shall appoint the Levites over the [e]tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over everything that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the [f]tabernacle. 51 So when the tabernacle is to move on, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle encamps, the Levites shall set it up. But the [g]layman who comes near it shall be put to death. 52 So the sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own [h]flag, according to their armies. 53 But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no divine wrath against the congregation of the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall be responsible for service to the tabernacle of the testimony.” 54 And the sons of Israel did so; in accordance with all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so they did.” (Nu. 1:47-54).
The role of the Levites. God gave the Levites responsibility for carrying the Tabernacle, assembling it, disassembling it, protecting it, and guarding it (Nu. 1:47-54; 3:25-39). If a layperson came near it, they would be put to death (Nu. 1:51). Yet, like the tribe of Simeon, the Levities did not deserve this role. Levi tricked Hamor to have his people be circumcised after Hamor’s son raped Levi’s sister (Gen. 34:14-17). Levi then killed the people of Shechem while they were in pain and unable to fight (Gen. 34:25-26). They then stole their flocks and looted their wealth (Gen. 28:27-29). This again shows God’s mercy and grace. This also shows that He can use you, even if there are major sins in your past. Are you stepping forward to serve? Or, are you letting sins that have been forgiven and forgotten hold you back?
Your role as part of God’s royal priesthood. All of Israel was meant to be God’s “firstborn,” set aside for His use: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.’” (Ex. 4:22). As God’s firstborn, Israel was meant to be a kingdom of holy priests: ‘“and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (Ex. 19:6). As a nation of priests, God meant for the Jews to be the light of His righteousness to the rest of the world: “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations,” (Is. 42:6). “He says, ‘It is too small a thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make you a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’” (Is. 49:6). “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Is. 60:3). The Jews, however, failed to fulfill God’s calling to be a light to others. After Jesus’ death, God called upon all Christians to be part of His holy priesthood: “you . . . are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood . . . But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Christ “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father--to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.” (Rev. 1:6). As part of God’s nation of priests, you are also to be a light to the lost: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matt. 5:14). If you fail to accept that you are part of God’s “holy priesthood”, you have not fulfilled your calling. Are you living your life as a role model and as a light for others who are weary and in need of hope? Or, are you hiding God’s light?