In the first chapter of Numbers we find the Lord instructing Moses to take a census of the people. This is primarily for the purpose of forming and organizing an army, as we discussed yesterday. The census has a secondary purpose too, because God is going to parcel out territories in the promised land according to Israel's tribes and it's going to be very important for the citizens to be able to trace back their lineage and claim familial association with the correct tribe and the correct property in case any disputes or litigation come up in the future regarding land ownership. I believe there is yet another purpose for keeping track of this lineage and we will be discussing that at the end of our study today.
The Lord doesn't expect Moses to complete the enormous task of the census alone. He is appointing Moses' brother Aaron and a man from each tribe of Israel to help him. "You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army. One man from each tribe, each of them the head of his family, is to help you." (Numbers 1:3-4)
The Lord calls these men by name. "These are the names of the men who are to assist you: from Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur; from Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai; from Judah, Nashon son of Amminadab." (Numbers 1:5-7) We will stop here in the list to point out that the Lord skips over the tribe of Levi. Levi's name would have appeared between the names of Simeon and Judah but Moses and Aaron aren't to count any men from the line of Levi for military service. The tribe of Levi is the priestly tribe and the men of this tribe are not expected to be warriors. Also the Lord won't be giving farmlands to the tribe of Levi but instead will give them cities and towns. This is because their work will revolve around the tabernacle (and later the temple) and not around growing crops or shepherding flocks and herds.
Another thing I want to point out is that Nashon, the descendant of Jacob's son Judah, is a direct ancestor of Jesus. Jesus is from the tribe of Judah and is descended from the family line of Nashon, according to the genealogy provided in Matthew 1.
"From Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar; from Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon; from the sons of Joseph: from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur." (Numbers 1:8-10) The genealogy of Jacob's son Joseph is reckoned through Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, because on his deathbed Jacob adopted the two as his own, saying to Joseph, "Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine." (Genesis 48:5) Jacob was saying, "These two sons of yours, Joseph, are going to be as much my sons as my two firstborn biological sons."
Why did Jacob do this? Perhaps because Joseph had become, for all intents and purposes other than his worship of the one true God, an Egyptian. Joseph was going to die in Egypt and be given a royal Egyptian funeral long before the Israelites would be enslaved by a wicked pharaoh and long before the Lord would miraculously rescue the Israelites from slavery. If Jacob had not formally adopted Joseph's sons as his own, perhaps the tribes descended from Jacob's other sons would have tried to exclude the descendants of Joseph from their company. There was a history in this family of a hatred for Joseph and there was a plot to kill Joseph (when his ten older brothers were so jealous of him they wanted him dead but settled for selling him into slavery instead) and it's possible that this same type of animosity toward Joseph and his family line would have persisted throughout subsequent generations if Jacob had not given Ephraim and Manasseh equal standing with his own biological sons.
"From Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni; from Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishadi; from Asher, Pagiel son of Okran; from Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel; from Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan." (Numbers 1:11-15) In Numbers 2:4 the one called "Deuel" is referenced as "Reuel". The shape of the Hebrew letters for the "D" (daleth) and the "R" (resh) are so extremely similar in appearance that the discrepancy in the spelling of this man's name is easily explained by a copying error. This does not represent an error in the Scriptures or an error of Biblical doctrine so we won't get hung up on it. To provide a modern example, this is like a typo made on a computer. It's as minor of an issue as if someone typed a letter to me and in typing the name "Kim" accidentally hit the letter "N" on the keyboard instead of the letter "M" and inadvertently misspelled my name as "Kin".
"These were the men appointed from the community, the leaders of their ancestral tribes. They were the heads of the clans of Israel. Moses and Aaron took these men whose names had been specified, and they called the whole community together on the first day of the second month. The people registered their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one, as the Lord commanded Moses. And so he counted them in the Desert of Sinai." (Numbers 1:16-19)
This census is invaluable to the nation of Israel, not only for the purpose of forming an army, but also for the purpose of maintaining family lines and keeping track of property ownership. In addition, this census is invaluable to anyone who has accepted or has even considered the claims of the writers of the New Testament (and the claims that Jesus made about Himself) that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. If this census had not been done, we wouldn't even know the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth. We wouldn't know that He was descended from the tribe of Judah on both His mother Mary's side of the family and on His step-father Joseph's side of the family. If we didn't have the record of Jesus' family line, there would be no proof that His lineage fulfills the prophecies regarding the lineage of the Messiah. No man's claim to be the Promised One was worthy of being given the time of day if he couldn't prove he was from the royal line of Judah and that he was a direct descendant of King David. The genealogies from Adam on down to the men whose names we've studied today, and the genealogies from the men we've studied today on down to Jesus of Nazareth, are of the utmost importance. They were important for the people of ancient Israel and they are important for everyone who is descended from the twelve tribes of Israel. They are important for everyone of any nation who believes that Jesus of Nazareth, of the line of King David, of the line of Jacob's son Judah, is the Son of God.