Developing the Theme of Family through the Torah Portions. Number Thirty-Four.

Dr Clifford Denton.

B’Midbar: Numbers 1:1-4:20.

8th June 2024/2 Sivan.

Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male individually.

(Numbers 1:2)

Picture by Helen McNeill

From time-to-time God instructed Moses to take a census. This was more than a statistical exercise. The central emphasis is repeated over and over. With recognition of God’s structure of authority, based on male leadership and responsibility Israel was ordered by individual and by family. As we read through the early Chapters of the Book of Numbers, we will see that tasks were to be assigned, with the Levitical Priesthood mainly in focus, whether ministering at the altar or fetching and carrying, especially when the Tabernacle had to be dismantled and transported. Those numbered from the other eleven Tribes were listed as men of war, according to age.

God did not ask Moses’ opinion or take a democratic decision as to how to define a society. What we read is how God wants to structure the community of His own holy people. Because this is the account of Israel in a bygone day and in the unique position at Mount Sinai, in the wilderness, because the names we read are not familiar, and because there is much repetition, we might skip too quickly over these important chapters of Torah. But we will miss much if we do this.

If, instead, we pause and reflect as we read, we will visualise a wonderful, ordered community camped around the Tabernacle by tribe, family and individual, secure in God’s pattern of life. It is important to see, first, how important each individual is, not only counted but named, known to God and assigned a personal responsibility. Then it is important to recognise how the family structure of God’s people is the way society is intended to be organised. Pause and prayerfully consider how relevant this is to our day as well as theirs.

The role of the Priesthood is made clear. This is the Levitical Priesthood who ministered to God on behalf of all the people and to the people on behalf of God.

When we cross-reference to the New Covenant, the emphasis on the importance of each individual continues, as does the family structure at the foundation on which the believing community is built (read, for example the Book of Ephesians). However, what has changed is the nature of the Priesthood. The Book of Hebrews explains how Yeshua, our High Priest is of the order of Melchizedek. The High Priestly role, of Aaron and his descendants, becomes a type and shadow to be fulfilled in New Covenant terms. All who are saved by faith in Yeshua become part of His priesthood. As Peter wrote (1 Peter 2:9):  But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.  

Only the Levitical Priests could enter the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Now, all God’s people are counted among the Priests of the New Covenant and can enter the Holy place of Heaven through faith and through the abiding presence of Yeshua HaMashiach. This is an awesome privilege and responsibility in our lives, day by day.

We are also called to be warriors, as in the days of Moses but, as Paul explained, our warfare is now more clearly against spiritual powers of darkness, than against physical enemies:

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4-5)

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

When we read this portion of Numbers, therefore, we find great relevance for our day. We are called into the community of faith, counted by God and known to Him by name, important as individuals, each with a specific purpose for our life. We enter a battle on this earth in the Lord’s army, not as in the wilderness, but to the saving of souls and the strengthening of God’s people, built together through our families.

Ultimately, we are called to be a gathering of God’s people, not around the Tabernacle but around the throne in Heaven. It is pictured in Revelation Chapter 7:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)

We must wait to see how Yeshua orders His eternal Kingdom, which in some way will reflect the order of His earthly Kingdom of people. Meanwhile, we have a task to do on this earth as individuals, encouraging and strengthening one another within our families and thereby in the believing community as a whole.

How wonderful it is that each of us is recognised individually and identified by families. In anticipating the eternal future whilst living out our mortal life, two old hymns come to mind. One reflects on the final roll call of all those who are accounted worthy of the eternal Kingdom, written by James Milton Black in 1893. It begins:

When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more
And the morning breaks eternal bright and fair
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

The other hymn was written by Ada Abershon in 1907. It reflects on the hope that one’s family circle will be complete in the eternal Kingdom, with no-one missing. It begins:

There are loved ones in the glory

Whose dear forms you often miss.

When you close your earthly story,

Will you join them in their bliss?

Will the circle be unbroken

By and by, by and by?

Is a better home awaiting

In the sky, in the sky?

How wonderfully encouraging that such hymns can be sung as we go on through our generation with eternity in sight, affirming that the order of God’s people shown in the Book of Numbers is both for us today and for all eternity.