Characters In The Shadows: Naomi

In the preceding posts we read about Nahshon, Shalmon and Boaz, three generations of leaders in the young nation of Israel. This family, as we saw, was well connected and held in high esteem in the nation.

It’s not too much of a reach to surmise that the uncles, aunts and cousins of Israel’s first family were probably regarded highly as well. You’ll recall from the previous thrilling episode of As The Lion Turns that every Jewish mother worth her salt probably was trying to find a way to get her daughter to marry Boaz, who steadfastly withstood the relentless onslaught.

Well, if Boaz wasn’t the marrying type, then the next best option would be his brothers and cousins, right? It’s probably fair to assume that only the upper echelons of society figured they had a chance to have their daughter marry into the extended family of Shalmon and Boaz.

Elimelech

We know of one of those close relatives. His name was Elimelech, meaning “God, King,” or God is King. From the end of the story and the sequence of redemption, we can conclude Elimelech was a first cousin of Boaz, with an older brother (also Boaz’s cousin) who refused to redeem.

With the background we have, it’s easy to think Naomi was not just a common girl. In order to be selected to marry into the elite of the nation, she had to have been remarkable enough to set her apart from the competition. She was probably their culture’s equivalent of the smart cheerleader, who happened to be good looking and have a pleasant disposition — quite the catch, in other words. Who knows? She may even have been proposed as a potential bride for Boaz himself, before being let down as gently as Rahab could.

On Elimelech and Naomi’s wedding day it’s easy to imagine great expectations all around. But the subtleties in the narrative kind of lead us to believe things went downhill from there.

Famine

All the Bible tells us is there was a famine. Now, I’ve heard several preachers link things like famine to sin in the land, but that’s not accurate. Yes, there were times when the Lord sent a famine in response to something. But there are also other times when famines just happened in the normal course of life. Abraham had two famines so severe he had to leave the country, but nowhere in the Bible is there any suggestion that God was punishing Abraham for anything.

Famines, then, are part of the course of nature: they happen every now and then. In our times, we can think of recessions as the modern equivalent of famines: shortages brought on by forces beyond our control. And part of life.

Although a famine affects everyone, it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Here are two cousins: Boaz and Elimelech. The same famine struck both, but one prospered and the other lost his property.

From what we know of their society, Elimelech went into debt as the famine caused his revenues to dip below his expenses, and he used his property as security. When he defaulted on the debt, Elimelech had two choices: go into slavery to work off the debt, or flee. He fled.

Moab

To Naomi, this had to be a bitter blow. The homecoming queen had to face the equivalent of bankruptcy, and had to leave her circle of well-heeled friends in shame. Moreover, the place they went to, Moab, was the place of Balak, who called on Baalam to curse Israel not too long before.

Naomi no doubt hoped that Elimelech would find a job or some source of income with which to repay his debts back in Bethlehem. That clearly didn’t happen, and the years went by in Moab. Naomi went from somebody to nobody: a homecoming queen on the fringes of Israel’s first family to a struggling stranger in the land of a traditional enemy of her nation.

It got worse. When the time came for their oldest son to get married, Elimelech and Naomi selected a local girl. We read that in the Bible and move right along.

No.

Stop.

This is not a trivial thing. The right and proper thing would have been for the parents to make an effort to find a good girl from Israel.

And they didn’t.

If you have a mental picture that Elimelech and Naomi moved to the end of the earth, think again. From where they lived, a good Jewish girl was no more than about 10 miles away — an easy day’s walk. Abraham sent his servant way further than that to find a bride for Isaac. Ten miles is nothing. In all likelihood it would have brought them to someone from the tribe of Manasseh, so it’s not like they would have had to face the shame back in Bethlehem. Why didn’t they do that? Or at least try? We will never know. All we know is: they didn’t.

The picture we get of Elimelech is not a flattering one. If Boaz could not only survive the famine but prosper, why not Elimelech? And the others? We don’t read of anyone else leaving the country. Neither do we get the inference that the famine was unusually severe.

And now he was allowing his sons to marry into the enemy.

Naomi

This all had to be hard on Naomi. But, it seems, she did the best she could with the hand she was dealt. We get the impression that she got along well with her neighbors and, more importantly, her two daughters-in-law.

To no avail. One by one, her meal tickets literally died. In those days there was no Rosie the Riveter. Women depended on their husbands and their sons to earn a living. When all three died, Naomi’s world, second class as it had become, ended.

She had no choice but to return home, face the shame (“Oh, look at poor Naomi! Marrying into the top family of Judah, and look where that got her!”) and accept the provisions the welfare system allowed widows.

It’s easy to see why Naomi, when she returned, said, “Listen, don’t call me Sweet (Naomi). My name is Bitter (Mara). I’m a different person now. God has dealt harshly with me and, as a result, my identity, my nature, has changed.”

The Bible writer(s) ignored her wish, and kept on calling her Sweet.

We know why. Because we know how the story ended.

When they got back, Naomi still had a good working knowledge of how to snag the top bachelor in the nation, and wasted no time getting Ruth hooked up.

Happily Ever After

And Ruth and Boaz lived happily ever after.

But… so did Naomi. When she hit rock bottom, the Lord provided for her in the most miraculous fashion. She went from the poorhouse of Moab, right into the granny apartment Ruth made sure Boaz built for her. And she no doubt returned right back to having tea with her old acquaintances from way back.

It’s interesting to me how God reached out and took care of Naomi, even though she broke every rule in the modern charismatic book: she made one negative confession after another, had absolutely no faith, insulted God and even went so far as to change her name to reflect her bitterness.

God, though, is so much bigger in his His love and grace, isn’t He? Even when we mess up, even when we do everything wrong, even when it looks like we blew every chance we got… even when we give up looking and just resign ourselves to the misery we think is unchangeable, God can reach down and with a flick of His finger set our feet back on a rock and reinstate us back into the best place of our lives.

Simply because He loves us sooooo much!

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Characters In The Shadows: Shalmon’s Son

The Firstborn

If you look back in the history of Israel, you can’t help noticing their tradition that the oldest son has a special place in the home, and in their society. In fact, the parents had to buy back their oldest son from the Lord, to whom the firstborn belonged.

However, you also can’t help noticing how often that didn’t work out as planned. In the case of Israel, it was even more pronounced: he had to disqualify not one, but three of his oldest sons before settling on Judah as the de facto oldest son in his household and in the subsequent nation. And lest you think Judah was lily white, he ended up losing his two oldest sons and maintained the royal line only through some subterfuge by his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Aaron’s two oldest sons had an even more dramatic fate: they were killed by no less than the Lord Himself, together with all their families, and Eleazar, who actually was Aaron’s third son, became the next high priest. And we think today’s soap operas are far-fetched.

It’s reassuring, then, to see that during the time Israel crossed the Red Sea, traversed the Sinai wilderness, conquered Jericho and settled Canaan, the leaders of the tribe of Judah were not blowing it royally, and the firstborn of each generation took his rightful place, right on schedule.

But that almost ended with Shalmon and the first family the royal line raised in Bethlehem.

The House of Shalmon

If you understand just little bit of Hebrew culture, you can picture the scenario. In this new town, Bread City (which is what Bethlehem means) the unquestioned leader was Shalmon, head over the entire tribe of Judah, one of Joshua’s spies, and the hero who married Rahab.

Every Jewish mama in a hundred mile radius had one goal: to have her daughter be the one chosen to marry Shalmon’s son. What honor that would bring to their family! Being the in-laws, they would be invited to join at the seat of honor reserved for the greater Shalmon clan. Married into the Main Man’s dynasty: every mother’s dream.

And so, it’s not hard to imagine the jostling and positioning, subtle and often not so subtle, Rahab had to endure as all these Jewish mamas threw each of their daughters’ hats into the ring. The more strong willed ladies would no doubt have laid the guilt trip on Rahab with a shovel: “Look, lady, don’t think you’re someone. We know where you came from. Now, if you want to stay in our good books, you just make sure little Becky here gets to meet your son, and you make sure to tell him what a nice girl she is and what a great mother she’ll make for your heirs. And if you’re even thinking of getting uppity, we’ll make your life a living nightmare.”

Rahab, you can imagine, probably had to think “Oy!” by herself many a time. But she couldn’t complain. This was the price you paid for the place of honor in the community, the ultimate backhanded compliment.

In time, as her son grew up, Rahab must have screened out many candidates out of hand, but she also must have felt honored to have her son be in such demand. It certainly beat the alternative.

As time went by, the line of prospective brides continued, but… something was not right in the home of Happily Ever After, Bread City.

The Problem

We don’t know why, but Shalmon’s son never married.

In the beginning, it probably didn’t surprise anybody. Look what happened to Prince Charles and Lady Di. You can’t be too careful with these things. This isn’t just the family next door, this is the Big Line. We have to choose carefully. And so everyone probably commended the young man for not jumping at the first pretty face brought to him for approval.

After a few years, though, approval must have turned to concern. At first, the mothers of the rejected daughters probably whispered that the Shalmons were getting big heads. “What? Our girls are suddenly not good enough for them any more? Who do they think they are, anyway?

Rahab, I’m sure, had many talks with her son, trying to figure out what the problem might be. The Bible doesn’t tell us what the problem was, but (romantic that I am) I think it was as simple as the young man simply didn’t meet anybody he liked. Were his standards too high, perhaps? We will never know.

I think that as the nation settled in to its new identity of a free nation under God, with its own country, Gen FLIP (Finally Living In Peace) might very well have decided they don’t want to just be told what to do. That was so “slave-identity.”

This we do know: Shalmon didn’t raise an idiot. His son might not have married, but he knew how to take care of his affairs, and he was highly honored and very successful in his financial dealings. The time came when the area experienced  a severe famine. Others, even one of his cousins, lost it all. Some even had to leave the country. His cousin did, a broken man, in order to avoid slavery in his own nation. Shalmon’s boy, though, thrived, and became wealthy. Not only was he from the right stock, he was smart, honored… and filthy rich as well.

You can just imagine the conflict this caused in their society. This was their first and best opportunity to fill the land, as the Lord commanded, and the number one bachelor in the nation was not doing his part. What was his problem?

The famine in the land ended, and Shalmon’s son just grew richer… and older.

How many evenings did he and his mother sit around the dinner table talking about this? Hundreds of times, is my guess.

Happily Ever After

Then, one night, everything changed. Rahab must have noticed the bounce in his step, and over dinner, she must have said, “Okay, Son, spit it out. What happened today?”

“Mom, I think I may have met someone.”

“So? How? Who?”

“It’s a foreign girl. Quite pretty!” I’m sure his eyes glowed. “She just showed up today and asked to work in my field!”

But then his eyes clouded over. “But I don’t know. I mean, she’s not an Israelite. What will people say?”

“Oy!” Rahab must have replied, rolling her eyes. ” What are you doing to me?”

The next few nights, over dinner, you can just imagine the dialogue continuing, covering the dilemma from every angle. Shalmon’s son must have been a fairly headstrong fellow, given the hundreds of marriage proposals he turned down, and he was not letting go of this notion that seems to have entered his head.

The mothers in the community must have gotten wind of this new development, hoping it would blow over, as all their previous attempts at match making had blown over.

Who knows? Maybe Rahab’s son was so old they just resigned themselves to the fact that Shalmon’s line was not destined to continue.

As the days passed, though, it became evident that the stubborn son was getting more and more set on the notion that maybe, just maybe, this foreign girl was The Girl for him. And, who knows, Rahab may have sat with the women of the town, and lamented. “Golda, what can I do? I’m the last person on this earth to tell my son to forget about marrying a foreign girl! I’m Rahab, for goodness’s sake, who am I to talk like that?”

And, a few days later, I can imagine Rahab saying, in an exasperated voice, “So, Boaz, my son, who is this foreign girl you’re thinking about marrying, then?”

“Her name’s Ruth, Mom. Remember cousin Elimelech, who got wiped out in the famine a few years ago? Well, it turns out he and Naomi went to Moab and their sons married local girls there. Then, when all the men died, Naomi came back and Ruth came back with her. You remember the land Elimelech pawned to raise money? Because I’m his cousin, I’m second in line to redeem his land, and Ruth comes with it. How cool is that?”

Well, you know the rest of the story. Shalmon’s son, this week’s character in the shadows, is none other than Boaz, gread-grandfather of King David.

Amazing how God puts pieces of the puzzle together.

Hey, who knows, He might even be putting something together with you…

Characters In The Shadows: Freedom Identity

Two posts ago you met Nahshon, leader of the tribe of Judah and Israel’s tribal council, and last week you met his his son, Shalmon.

Reading about the camp and these leaders in the shadows, it’s easy to overlook something else, something bigger, that was happening during the time of these two men. And, before we continue reading about Shalmon’s son (who is, by the way, an extemely interesting person, as you’ll hopefully see soon) I wanted to take a time-out to ponder that “something else.”

Nation

Where were you 400 years ago? Where was your nation in 1613? Did it even exist? Four hundred years is a long, long time. That’s how long Israel spent in Egypt.

One man’s family disappeared from view like a caterpillar spinning into its cocoon. (The Bible has no history, or even genealogies, covering this 400 year period). Then, what disappeared as a caterpillar family emerged from that cocoon as a fully fledged nation.

But what kind of nation? When you mention nations like Spain, China, Brazil or the United States, each one brings a different identity to mind. No two nations are the same, not even close. Nations, even ones less than 400 years old, have distinct personalities — identities — which were forged by their histories, environments and the leaders they produced.

Israel arrived in Egypt with parties all around. One of his sons was the Vice-President of Egypt, and the king actually got into his limousine chariot to come and pay the patriarch a courtesy visit. The family settled in a fruitful land and they prospered like crazy — the Bible’s version of “happily ever after.”

Then things changed. Israel wasn’t a slave family when they moved to Egypt, but slaves they became… through no sin of their own. It was “just circumstances.” They lived in peace, raising their livestock when, next thing you know, they were slaves.

For a very long time. Exactly how long, we don’t know, but at least a couple of generations.

Then, as we know, the Lord rescued them in a way that makes even Hollywood look like amateur hour. All of us have seen a nature program where one animal chases another one for dinner. Our sympathy almost universally goes to the antelope or rabbit, frantically running for its life. “Run, rabbit run!” And we can’t help but break out in a cheer when dinner makes that final leap to safety, and stands there, wide-eyed, panting, nervously looking around for the next threat to its life.

Israel’s escape from Egypt was just as frantic, if not more so.

Can you imagine the scene when the waters covered the Egyptian army, as the nation stood on the banks of the Red Sea, panting and sweating, debating whether to continue running or keep looking?

Identity

What an escape… by a bunch of slaves.

Someone recently told us something interesting: almost all people who win the lottery end up back where they were before they hit the jackpot. And millionaire businessmen who lose it all are millionaires again after about ten years or so.

There’s something in us, some nebulous thing we call “identity” that shapes our values, which in turn shape our decisions, which over time bring about our destiny. Millionaires have something inside of them that made them millionaires and, when you take away their money, that innate something that caused them to be millionaires once will cause them to repeat.

This identity thing runs deep, very deep. It’s hard for us to even put our finger on it, let alone change it. With God all things are possible, of course.

And so it was with Israel. All they knew as an identity was “being a slave.” They weren’t used to owning anything, and they were certainly not used to thinking for themselves.

The miracle of the Red Sea was a physical miracle, but it ushered in so much more. One of the big miracles that happened slowly, over several centuries, was that thing of becoming a nation.

The second miracle was the shedding of a slave identity, and mentality, and putting on the identity of freedom.

Freedom

Freedom is a twofold thing:

  • freedom from something and
  • freedom to do something.

This was new to Israel. God, in His infinite wisdom, sent Moses to Kingdom Training School at the biggest and best run kingdom in the world at the time, and Moses set about instructing the nation on how to live and behave as a nation of free men under God, and not a bunch of hooligan slaves running amok.

Transition

If we look at recent American history, we can see how the generation of the 60s broke away from the values and beliefs of the generation before them. And it seems each successive generation acquires its own unique identity. Terms like Generation X or Y are becoming commonplace.

Israel, likewise, had to transition from Generation Slave to Generation Free Wanderer, to Generation Land Possessor, to Generation Finally Living In Peace (Gen FLIP).

In the genealogy of the tribe of Judah, then, Amminadab was probably from Gen Slave, Nahshon from Gen Free Wanderer and Shalmon from Gen Land Possessor. Being one of Joshua’s two spies, he no doubt was part of the army that settled the land.

And it was Shalmon, then, who probably was the one who staked out the clan’s land around Bethlehem, and did what no generation had done for centuries: build a home.

This is not a trivial thing. Imagine nobody in American having their own home since 1613. Now, for the first time, they were able to have a home of their own. Some they built, but most were already built for them by the Canaanites.

All they had to do was move in.

Settlement

Now you have a mental picture of the peaceful scene in Israel, as the new nation settled into the new land, the land of milk and honey, the land the Lord promised them, a land with cisterns, houses and vineyards all prepared just for them.

This was the first generation that was able to raise their kids in a home of their own. And this generation, Gen FLIP, was the first generation EVER in this new nation that grew up in this new-fangled notion: a parents’ house.

Can you imagine the joy throughout the nation? What a dream come true! Your own property, your own home, your own vineyard, flock of sheep, and orchard.

This, then was the setting for the home Shalmon and Rahab made for their kids. Shalmon was still the leader of the tribe of Judah, and still The Man at the annual Leadership Conference the fledgling nation held.

But he was the first one in the long line of Judah that had a permanent home, in a permanent, promised land, in which they raise a family. His oldest son, Bar-Shalmon, may have been born by the time they moved in, but he was the first generation in the new nation that actually grew up in “our house.”

Next time we’ll see how that turned out for the young man, the next in the royal line of Judah…

Characters in the Shadows: Shalmon

We’re all human, aren’t we? That means we’re imperfect and deal with imperfection all around us. However, the Lord never lets that get in his way. He accomplishes His plan with imperfect people, living and working in imperfect circumstances.

Imperfect doesn’t mean bad, though. It simply means we don’t know everything and can’t do everything… but God accomplishes His purposes anyway.

We’ve seen before in this series how God lifted imperfect Leah out and established His royal line through her, and not the beautiful, winsome Rachel.

Ever hear the saying: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know? Well, I’ve often wondered: how do you get to know “who you know?”

Knowing The Right People

Shalmon, Nahshon‘s oldest son, was someone who knew the right people.

How?

Remember the diagram of Israel’s camp? (Click the image for a larger picture.)

Israel camp

This layout shows how about 2 million people lived. Even today, that’s not a small city. As a comparison, greater Denver has about 2 million people, and it’s easily 10-15 miles from one side to the other in any direction. And this is without all the cattle, sheep and whatever other animals traveled with them.

When that many people live together, neighborhoods develop naturally. When you step outside of your tent, the first people you meet and interact with are your neighbors. Why would you walk three hours across a hot desert to hang out with someone when you have your immediate family and neighbors at your doorstep?

The diagram shows that Nahshon’s clan had probably the most privileged location in the tent city, given that their tents butted right up against those of Moses and Aaron.

Shalmon grew up rubbing shoulders with the mucky-mucks of Israel in a most natural and comfortable way. Aaron was his uncle by marriage, and Eleazar, the new high priest, was his cousin.

Joshua, being from Ephraim, lived all the way on the other side of town, and was the only person who had to walk a long way to work every day, to be with Moses, his boss. Looking at the camp layout, it’s no surprise that Joshua would forego a 3-4 hour round trip for lunch and just hang out in the tent of meeting between assignments. That, in turn, makes it easy to see that Joshua got to know Shalmon as he and Eleazar chased each other between the tents, growing up before his eyes.

And so, as Moses, Aaron and Joshua looked around them to see who the next generation of leaders would be, it’s easy to see how Eleazar and Shalmon knew the right people, and were in the right place. They couldn’t plan it that way, it just happened in the “natural” course of events.

The Spy

The Bible doesn’t name Joshua’s two spies. However, I believe one of them was none other than Shalmon, and here’s why:

Authority

Did you notice that when one of the spies spoke to to Rahab, he spoke not as a youth, chosen for his athleticism and bravery? It had to have been someone senior, with authority. When he interacted with Rahab, he spoke for, and bound, the entire nation: if you do this, we (the mighty nation) will do that. He didn’t send a fax or carrier pigeon back to camp to ask for authorization. He just spoke up on the spot, and he spoke with authority, committing the entire leadership of Israel to save and incorporate a woman about whose character some question might have existed, and her family, into their nation. Not a trivial matter.

Nahshon by this time was dead, because everyone of the earlier generation died before the Jordan crossing, which meant that Shalmon was one of the leaders in the tribal council. The pair in Jericho…

  • … knew the will and ways of the Lord.
  • … knew the will and ways of the nation’s leadership.
  • … had the confident authority that they could speak for both.
  • … had confidence that the Lord and the leadership would back them up.

Who in the nation but Eleazar and Shalmon had that? (The romantic in me just believes Eleazar was the other guy, and he went undercover with his cousin, and that’s why their names aren’t recorded — it wouldn’t do for the high priest to be known to have gone undercover on this exciting mission, would it? But that’s just me.)

Rahab

The narrative in the book of Joshua omits the end of this particular story, but the genealogies caught it. Call me a romantic, but I believe that when Shalmon and his coworker wandered around Jericho, there had to have been at least the tiniest little spark, that spontaneous thing none of us can explain, between Shalmon and Rahab.

What!? How can you say that?

Why would someone give shelter to the enemy, at great risk to the lives of her entire family? How did Shalmon happen to even strike up a conversation with a woman? (Jesus at the well tells us what a no-no that was back in the day.)

But, biggest evidence of all: who married Rahab, the foreigner, the stranger, the non-Israelite? None other than… Shalmon! My imagination says that’s because he got to know her, in a time of great stress, when our characters get revealed. And he loved her. He had the option to marry anybody in the nation, being he was the number one bachelor in the entire nation at the time. But he married Rahab.

Shalmon

Shalmon, then, emerges as one of those characters in the shadows, unnamed for the most part, who simply did his part, trusting the Lord in all he did, and living in unity with and submission to the authorities of his day.

His faith in the Lord made him do outrageous things, like volunteer to go inside the enemy’s camp, and make outrageous promises, fully persuaded that he was doing the right thing and that he would be backed up by his leaders.

And he got a remarkable woman as his wife. How remarkable? When everyone in her city cowered with fear, she saw the works of Jehovah, the God of Israel, and she believed. So much so that she, a foreigner,  made it into the Hebrews 11 “hall of faith.”

What a remarkable couple that must have been.

Imagine growing up in their house.

Hmmm… that sounds like a great idea. Let’s do that next time. 🙂

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. Jacob’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…