Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bamidbar / Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

Bamidbar / Numbers
Bamidbar / Numbers 1:1 – 4:20
Parahsah 3, Bamidbar 2:1 – 34

            This portion of our reading is essentially HaShem speaking to Moshe and Aharon, and in doing so He is giving the camping and traveling assignments to the tribe of Israel.  As I have looked at this I recognized a couple patterns that were developing, or seemed to be developing in this portion.  Let’s dig in and see what nuggets He will reveal to us.  Remember though, undoubtedly there is much more to be mined from this portion than what I have the capability of knowing, let alone sharing.
            The very first piece of information we are given is that the people were to set up their own campsites some distance from the Tent of Meeting.  There is no prescribed distance given in this portion, but as we continue reading it is revealed that the Levites will be camped between the other twelve tribes and the tabernacle.  Interesting, are they not the tribe from whom some of their members, in officiating at the tabernacle, stood between the Lord and His people; they were to one degree or another the ones who had permission to approach?  Of course, only one could enter the Holy of Holies, and that only once per year.
            Verses three through nine relate the tribes that were to be situated to the east (the front) of the Tabernacle – Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon.  The numbers of those of fighting age were 186,400, the largest amount of any of the sets of three tribes.  What also struck me was that all three were Leah’s children.  In birth order Judah was #4 for Leah and #4 for the whole family, Issachar was Leah’s fifth, but ninth in the pecking order, and Zebulon was Leah’s sixth, and he entered as the ninth born of all.
            Also, Judah was the one who had the authority of leadership as a result of the previous missteps of his older brothers Reuben, Simeon, and Levi.  Furthermore it strikes me as no coincidence that both Issachar and Zebulon are paired here.  Beside the fact that they all have the same mother, these latter two brothers will be working closely together in the land of promise, as it is taught that Zebulon “worked” for both tribes so that Issachar, or some portion of them, could take time to study the Word.  I Chronicles 12:32 alerts us to Zebulon having 200 chiefs who “understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (NASB).  This makes complete sense to me since these three were to be the ones leading the way during travels as well as battles.  The knowledge of what to do fits in quite nicely with being on the front lines.
            From the east side of the tabernacle we move to the south side, as those three tribes were to move out second during any travels.  Reuben was the head of this group.  Along with Reuben was Simeon, also a disgraced tribe, and Gad.  Reuben and Simeon were the first and second of the sons of Leah while Gad was the seventh-born son, but the first of the Leah/Zilpah “combination”.  In Ya’akov’s blessing of the brothers he spoke of Reuben as having excess in dignity (exaltation, probably self-exaltation) and excess in ferocity and might.  He leads this small group, but he does not have the preeminence expected from the firstborn.  Of course we know that Simeon is cruel after the exploit they committed in retribution for their sister having been violated.  Lastly there is Gad.  Based on this description, they seem to be involved in a type of guerilla warfare.
            Why are these three together?  I believe one possibility is that they are better suited for protecting the mishkan, which is to travel behind them.  By reputation these three all seem to have the characteristics of ferocious fighters, which is the quality needed when defending that which is most revered.
            As just stated, the Levites, who are also carrying all the belongings of the mishkan parade out next.  The duties of the different families of the Levites are not delineated in this small portion, but they will be presented in the next two day’s portions.
            The western settlement is to travel next, right behind the mishkan.  The three tribes are Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin.  In essence these are all children of Rachel, and as such I have listed Ephraim as 1a while Manasseh is 1b, though Manasseh was born first, and both youngsters were younger than Benjamin.  Ya’akov many years prior had adopted these two lads, son of Yosef, as his own.  Through them Yosef, for all intents and purposes, was awarded a double portion of the inheritance.  With there having been numerous mentions of them being the head in Deuteronomy 33:13 – 17 along with Ya’akov’s blessing of Yosef in Genesis 49:22 – 26, where else would we expect this type of leadership to be, except in the vicinity of the Tabernacle?  Furthermore, regarding Benjamin, Genesis 49:27 shows him as an intense hunter versus the prey while Deuteronomy 33:12 states, “May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him, Who shields him all the day, and he dwells between His shoulders.”
            Dan, Asher, and Naphtali make up the remaining three tribes whose encampments are to be to the north of the Tabernacle.  Dan and Naphtali are full brothers, sons of Bilhah the maidservant of Rachel.  They were numbers five and six in the birth order of sons.  Asher, the second son of Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant, was son number eight.  Based on their descriptions they do not seem to be very warrior-like as a whole.  However, Dan is said to be like a serpent (horned snake – TwotOT #2448) biting the horses’ heels so that the riders fall backwards.  To me this sounds like they are an effective rearguard.  As I examine Naphtali I am reminded of those who spy out the area.  A doe is effective at getting from one place to another quickly and surreptitiously.  Returning with accurate information also fits with the giving of beautiful words.
            I need to admit that Asher has me somewhat stumped.  Are they the cooks for everyone?  I really doubt that.  What about their “locks” (bolts – TwotOT #1383d) being iron and bronze.  As I think about those terms I seem to think of a permanent, walled settlement, which does not seem to fit the scenario at this place.  The “leisurely walk” that he takes does not seem apropos at this time either.  I am open to all available thoughts.
            As I stated before, I am sure there are many more patterns that are apparent in this portion, but these are the ones that stick out to me on this day.
            Our portion is completed with the recognition that the Levites have not been counted, and that was at the Lord’s behest.  Additionally, the Israelites did as the Lord commanded.  May the spirit of obedience, swift obedience, permeate our lives as we continue to do battle with the “old man”.
            May His name be eternally lifted up in blessing and praise.  Shalom.

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