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B'Midbar/Numbers 1:2 Take a census of the whole assembly of the Children of Israel, as to their families, as to their fathers' house ...
This rather unliteral translation describes the first activity that Moshe is to carry out after the last big block of instruction; a practical step to move the people on and forward. The verb - the Qal ms imperative from the root , to lift, raise or carry - and the noun - head - would normally be translated "lift the head", but is almost universally used as a metaphor for "take a census"1. By lifting each man's head, seeing his face, everyone is known individually and individuality: personally.Isaac Arama calls attention to the "They were not just like animals or material objects, but each one had an importance of his own like a king or a priest and that indeed G-d had shown special love towards them and this is the significance of mentioning each one of them by name and status; for they were all equal and individual in status." Although the census will produce a bottom-line number, each individual within that overall count is important. Jacob Milgrom notes "that the phrase 'lift the head' is unique to priestly texts", presumably to suggest that since the priests were often the guardians of genealogy records2, Moshe and Aharon's Levitical heritage here dictated the metaphor.
Milgrom also notes that the two phrases, "as to their families" and "as to their fathers' house" are virtually synonymous; showing the closeness of the linkage between clans and households.Hirsch confirms that by commenting, "the individual members do not form the national congregation directly and immediately. The all-comprising national congregation consists of two concentric circles. The congregation is formed by tribes and every tribe by families. So that the men are to be counted in their belonging to a family, and the families belonging to a tribe, and the numbers contained in each tribe added together form the sum total of ." Without a family, you were without a clan, without a clan you were without a tribe and without a tribe you were not part of the Children of Israel.
Rashi and Ibn Ezra, following a discussion by the Sages in the Talmud (b. Bava Batra 109b), take the argument one stage further. In Rashi's words: "As to their fathers' house - One whose father was of one tribe, and his mother of another tribe, will arise with the tribe of his father." In other words, the Sages and later commentators confirm patrilineal descent as an important principle. This is why Yeshua - even though His mother Miriam was of Levitical or even priestly descent, because her cousin Elizabeth was described as "a wife from the daughters of Aaron" (Luke 1:5) - was classified as being from the tribe of Judah because his human father, Joseph, was descended from King David, of the tribe of Judah.
Parents are recognised as being the key figures of influence in a child's life. A child's father and mother share in not just the genetic makeup of the child, but also in shaping the child's personality and character. Psychologists tell us that a child already knows 80% of everything that it will ever know in the whole of its life by the time it is five years old. The overwhelming majority of that knowledge comes from the parents. Fathers, in particular, whether they like it or not, whether they are a good or a bad influence, are critical and foundational to that process. The child learns from the father, copies the father and, in time, will make choices - often subconsciously - like the father. Biblical Jewish tradition acknowledged that by following patrilineal descent for familial and tribal membership. Marriage customs in Bible times meant that the bride would go and join her husband's family and household, usually living in the same physical house, if perhaps with separate sleeping accommodation. The overall father figure of the family group, the patriarch, exercised influence over the whole multi-generational household, affecting all the descendant families within the household.
The Jewish writings, including in this respect the Bible itself, often reference people by their fathers. Yeshua referred to Peter as "Simon, son of John" (John 21:15); another disciple was "James the son of Alphaeus" (Matthew 10:3). The blind beggar whom Yeshua healed is called "Bartimaeus ... the son of Timaeus" (Mark 10:46); the text even explains that his name - 'Bartimaeus', bar-Timaeus - means "the son of Timaeus". The writings of the Sages are full of figures such as "Rabbi Simeon, son of Gamliel" (b. Niddah 63b) and "Jonathan son of Amram, your pupil" (b. Bava Batra 8a). It was a societal expectation that you were the son of your father; you were identified as distinct from all the other people who shared your personal name by appending the name of your father. It mattered who your father was; this was how people worked out who you were and where you fitted into society.
During the time of the later kings, Jerusalem - supposedly known as "the city of the great king" (Psalm 48:2) - was the centre of Jewish apostasy from the worship of G-d, where the kings had been obliged to bring the pagan and idolatrous worship of the nations into the Temple as part of the treaties and alliances they had contracted. Ezekiel was told to identify the behaviour of the city: "Thus says the L-rd G-D to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite" (Ezekiel 16:3, ESV). The way the city was behaving was telling the world who its parents were: not G-d, the Holy One of Israel, but the false gods of the nations that Israel had dispossessed from the Land.
In a discussion with the Pharisees, when Yeshua was being challenged about the evidence or witnesses who confirmed who He was, Yeshua told the Pharisees, "'I am the one who bears witness about Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness about Me.' They said to Him therefore, 'Where is your father?' Jesus answered, 'You know neither Me nor My Father. If you knew Me, you would know My Father also'" (John 8:18-19, ESV). Yeshua appeals to His Father and - since the Pharisees in question had no relationship with Him, so did not know who He was - they ask Him who "your father" is. They were looking for the name of a recognised teacher, rabbi, Pharisee or perhaps priest, someone that they would know and so be able to rank or place Yeshua within the hierarchy of authority. "No", Yeshua has to explain, "since you don't know Me or My Father, your question - and My answer - is meaningless." The Pharisees have no point of reference to anchor the answer that Yeshua has given them.
As the conversation goes on, Yeshua points out that their behaviour shows who their father is; they are copying the behaviour and attitudes of their father: "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did" (vv. 39-41, ESV). The Phariseess' reply is a double answer: "We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father - even G-d" (v. 41, ESV); it is not just that they are making a snide comment about Yeshua's reported birth to an unmarried mother, they are also saying that He has no authority to support His claims and teaching since He has no famous (human) father that they can recognise. Finally, Yeshua tells them what their behaviour and words have already told Him: "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (v. 44, ESV). He knows who their "father" is, because they are behaving like him.
What does our behaviour tell the people who see us today? Can they recognise our physical descent by the size of our ears, the length and shape of our fingers, or the colour of our eyes and hair? Just as clearly, people can tell whether we are children of the Kingdom of Heaven or children of the world. A few questions or listening to our conversation is all they need to know who we are. Camouflage is almost always ineffective as our true natures will reveal themselves despite our best endeavours. The truth will out - if we proclaim to be believers, but behave like the world, everyone will know.
1 - see also http://www.messianictrust.org/parashiyot/naso-1.htm, Naso 5764
2 - It is noticeable that the two NT genealogies of Yeshua are presented by Matthew, a Levite, and Luke, who some scholars (for example Rick Strelan, Luke the Priest, Ashgate Publishing 2008, 978-0-7546-6259-4) suggest was a priest.
Further Study: Ezekiel 16:44-47; John 5:36-38
Application: What picture does your life paint to those around you? Is there a disconnect between your words and your life? If so, now is the time to get your act together so that you are sending only one message. Get in touch with G-d today and ask Him to sort you out right now!
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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