Characters In The Shadows: Nahshon

Genealogies — how do you feel about them? I happen to love them, because they contain so many little story nuggets… and I’m just a sucker for God stories! The genealogies often contain what I’ve come to call characters in the shadows: people the Lord used in significant ways, but whose contributions are kept out of the headlines. It’s as if the Lord put them there, in the shadows, as a reward for those who take the time to sniff out the fullest extent of His wonders He buried in His Word.

Nahshon is someone I stumbled upon as I was looking at something else. Who in the world was Nahshon? And why would anyone care about him?

The Unknown Leader

Nahshon, believe it or not, was the #1 dude in the young nation of Israel as they crossed the Jordan and entered the wilderness. 1 Chronicles 2:10 calls him the prince of Judah.

Number one in Israel? What about Moses and Aaron? Well, okay, Moses was the leader of the nation at the time, and Aaron, of course, was the high priest. But after them, Nahshon was the main guy.

To understand why Nahshon is such an important dude, let’s go back to Israel himself (Jacob). We all know his history, how he went to Laban, fell in love with Rachel and worked seven years to get her. We also know that Laban did a Jacob on him to make sure Leah was cared for. And Leah, as you may recall, was the first character in the shadows we looked at. (You can read her story here.)

It appears that God cared for Leah from the sons He gave her. Jacob’s firstborn son came from Leah. In those days and in that culture, the firstborn son had a place of honor and privilege in the family. The family line, honor and inheritance went through the oldest son. Leah, then, had a certain position of honor because she was the wife who gave Jacob his firstborn. The Lord also saw it fit to give Leah the next three sons as well.

Typical of the Lord, there was a reason for this.┬áJacob’s oldest son Reuben, disqualified himself from the privileges of the oldest son by sleeping with one Jacob’s concubines. Next in line was Simeon, but he and son #3, Levi, disqualified themselves by acting deceitfully toward the men of Shechem and killing them. And so it happened that Jacob’s fourth son, Judah, inherited the status, honor and rank of the oldest son.

And therefore we can see it’s no coincidence that the Lord caused Leah to bear all four oldest sons: even though the first three all disqualified themselves, that still left her fourth, Judah, as the heir of the family line. As the de facto eldest, his would become the royal tribe of the nation of Israel.

The Royal Tribe

The tribe of Judah didn’t come to prominence because King David happened to be from the tribe of Judah, Judah was the preeminent tribe from the time of Jacob’s passing away. Even though Jacob gave Joseph a special blessing by bestowing a double portion upon him, by taking his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own, Judah was still Number One.

There appears to be a cloak of secrecy over the genealogies of the tribes of Israel for the few hundred years they were in Egypt. It’s almost as if the caterpillar of Jacob’s family went into a chrysalis and emerged as the fully fledged nation of Israel when they crossed the Red Sea.

And so it was that after one of God’s greatest miracles, Moses brought some organization to the new nation. Whether Moses being raised in the court of a successful government was one of God’s hidden plans of preparation is something we can speculate on; the Bible never says so explicitly. Whatever the case, Moses displayed a keen sense of leadership and government in the way he organized the priesthood and the nation.

Status In A Picture

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s look at this somewhat crude drawing of the way the camp was laid out every time the new nation set up camp. (Click image to enlarge)

Israel camp

Israel’s twelve tribes in Moses’ camp layout

The names of the tribes are in the grey shaded boxes. The names of their leaders are listed right next to the tribe names. Nahshon here is seen as the leader of Judah.

A couple of other subtleties also emerge from the way the tribes were set up:

  • The position of honor, next to Moses and Aaron, on the east side, the side of the entrance to the tabernacle, is held by Judah, and Leah’s next two sons.
  • Rachel’s tribes are grouped together on the west (far) side of the tabernacle.

This diagram also contains the whole leadership structure of Israel: in addition to Moses and Aaron, there was a council made up of the leaders of the tribes. The Bible doesn’t mention any details, but it’s not hard to imagine that Nahshon would have been the leader among the tribal leaders in that council.

And, as things go in the realms of power and authority, it’s probably no coincidence that Aaron’s wife was none other than Nahshon’s sister, Elisheba (Exodus 6:23 if you want to look it up yourself).

And Aaron’s son and successor, Eleazar therefore was cousin to Nahshon’s son Shalmon, who is (not by coincidence) the subject of the next look at characters in the shadows series.

Till then, keep your eyes open to all the wondrous blessings of the Lord. Sometimes those not flashing in the neon of the headlines are the best ones…