Moses' fourth speech, Part 15
Dec 08, 2012
The entire fifteenth chapter of Deuteronomy relates to the topic of Sonship, though it culminates with the final section. Sonship had been intricately linked to the release of slaves ever since God redeemed His first-born son (Israel) from bondage in Egypt. Exodus 4:22 and 23 says,
22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is My son, My first-born.’ 23 So I said to you, ‘Let My son go, that he may serve Me’.”
This same thought is expressed in the law allowing freed slaves to return to their master to become perpetual bond-servants, as we see in Deuteronomy 15:16-18. In that case, the perpetual bond-servant is the equivalent of the son, for he has learned to give up his own inheritance—his own identity in the flesh—and to identify with his new master.
So likewise, since Adam we have been slaves to sin (Romans 6:17) and forced by law to be obedient to the “old man,” the patriarch of all flesh. Jesus’ redemption did not set us free to do as we pleased, but rather bought us to become His bond-servants. His purchase gave Him lawful rights over us in the same way that the law had given the old man the right to tell us what to do. It is called the law of ownership, or the law of slavery.
When we study the laws of redemption and the historical manner in which God redeemed Israel from Egypt, we begin to understand the complexity of the process itself. That is our topic in this present study.
Who was Redeemed?
Some have said that only Israel was redeemed. That is only partially true, for Hebrews 2:16 says that Christ came to help the descendants of Abraham. However, He came not only as the seed of Abraham, but also as “flesh and blood” (Hebrews 11:14) in order to be a kinsman-redeemer to all flesh and blood. We are told that this was why He did not come to earth as an angel.
The Household of Faith
When we look at the history of Israel itself, we find that most of them were not originally the physical seed of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. They became Israelites by virtue of faith in the same God that the patriarchs worshipped. In other words, though they were not genetic sons of Abraham, they obtained the right to call themselves Israelites by virtue of their faith.
When Abraham left Ur and Haran to go to Canaan, he left with “the persons which they had acquired in Haran” (Genesis 12:5). No number is given until we come to Genesis 14:14,
14 And when Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.
None of these were Abraham’s physical children, for Abraham had no children at that time. Yet they were “born in his house,” which means they had parents other than Abraham and Sarah. When we study the meaning of numbers, we find that 318 refers to the overcomers, and so it is significant that these were not physically descended from Abraham. Instead, they are connected to those created in Genesis 1. The Bible starts out by saying, “In the beginning God,” which carries a numeric value of 999. If we draw a circle with a circumference of 999, its diameter is 318.
Likewise, Abraham’s head steward, Eliezer, led the 318 men in the battle to free Abraham’s nephew. He was a man of faith, as evidenced in Genesis 24 when he was led by the Spirit to find a wife for Isaac. The numeric value of his name is 318. Further, in searching for a bride for Isaac, he represented the Holy Spirit who has been sent to find and prepare a bride for Christ. His name means “God helps,” which is the equivalent of the New Testament concept of the “Helper” (John 14:26, NASB), or Comforter, the Holy Spirit.
The overcomers are called “the remnant” in the Old Testament, because they represent only a tiny minority. In Isaiah 7:3, the prophet named his son Shear-jashub, “the remnant will return.” The word jashub has a numeric value of 318. Hence, it could be read, “the remnant is 318.” All of this is relevant to us in this study, because Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2) was not a genetic son of Abraham, but yet he and his 318 warriors represent the overcomers in the household of faith.
Furthermore, the Hebrew name Eliezer is the equivalent of the New Testament Greek name Lazarus, which has a numeric value of 144. The term “the elect,” used in Romans 11:7 to describe the 7,000 “remnant” in the days of Elijah, also carries a numeric value of 144. This number refers to the resurrected ones, as the parable of Lazarus implies.
All were Circumcised with Abraham
For Abraham to field 318 men in time of war implies a town of perhaps 2,000 people. These men were all circumcised in Genesis 17:26 and 27,
26 In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son. 27 And all the men of his household, who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
All of the foreigners, including slaves were of Abraham’s household. Their circumcision meant that they were partakers of the covenant that God made with Abraham, for circumcision was the sign of the (old) covenant. This principle then carries into the New Covenant, where Paul says in Galatians 3:9, “So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.” Again, he says in Galatians 3:26-29,
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
When we compare Abraham to Christ, we see that both have a household, and in both cases the entire household are one body, “heirs according to promise.” Paul refuses to divide them into ethnicities such as “Jew nor Greek.” Neither are they to be considered “slave nor free man.” In fact, even gender is not an issue. The example of Christ’s household of faith is that of Abraham himself.
Having said that, it should also be made clear that Abraham’s son, Isaac, was the primary heir of the promise. That is, he was given leadership over the household, and Jacob after him. Jacob passed this down to Judah, of whom came David, the King. This right of rulership continued through one man in each generation until it rested upon Jesus Christ.
The rest of the men of Judah did not receive the scepter but were like the rest of their brethren in the household of Abraham’s faith.
The Population of Abraham’s Household of Faith
After the birth of Isaac, the household of faith continued in the land for another 190 years before going to Egypt. Genesis 35:28 says that Isaac lived to be 180, so Jacob and his sons moved to Egypt ten years after the death of Isaac. Meanwhile, Abimelech, king of the Philistines told Isaac in Genesis 26:16, “Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us.” The Hebrew word translated “powerful” is atsam, “to be vast, be numerous, be mighty.”
In other words, the household of Isaac outnumbered that of the Philistines. Yet Isaac had only two sons at that time: Jacob and Esau. But Genesis 26:14 says of Isaac,
14 for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.
We are given no numbers here, but we can be sure that after 190 years in Canaan, the household of faith had increased from about 2,000 to perhaps 10,000 or more. They were numerous enough to overwhelm the Philistines who had arrived earlier and had claimed the southern plain of Canaan.
Exodus 1:5 says that when Jacob moved to Egypt at Joseph’s invitation, there were just seventy “who came from the loins of Jacob.” This obviously did not include the rest of the household who came with them. Genesis 47:1 says that they took with them “all that they have.” Hence, no one was left behind. A generation or two later the Israelite nation had increased to the point where Pharaoh himself became alarmed, saying in Exodus 1:8 and 9,
8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Behold the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we.”
The word “more” is from rav, “much, many, great.”
The word “mightier” is from atsum, which is a variant spelling of atsam. Essentially, it is the same word used by the Philistine king to indicate that their population was greater than his own nation. Hence, we may conclude that the Israelites may have had a population greater than either the Philistines or the Egyptians.
When Israel left Egypt, they had increased to six million, according to most estimates, based upon the census that Moses took in Numbers 1-4. Were all of these direct descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? If so, they increased from just seventy to six million in just 210 years of their sojourn in Egypt. (It was 400 years since the birth of Isaac.) This is not possible.
Yet if Moses counted only the genealogical descendants of Jacob, where did the majority of the household go? It is evident that they were incorporated into the tribes of Israel by that time. Marriage itself would have brought about a gradual integration into specific tribal units, but it was not necessary to marry into an Israelite family to be considered part of the household. After leaving Egypt, they were registered among the tribes in Moses’ census.
Yet when they left Egypt, a new influx called the “mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:38) went with them. These were new converts from Egypt who saw the miracles of God in the ten plagues. Many were friends and neighbors who had lived in proximity to the Israelites. Most (if not all) of these had come to an Israelite family’s house for Passover, in order to spare their first-born sons from death. It is likely that each of them joined the tribe and family in whose house they were covered by the blood of the lamb. In other words, they joined the household of faith and were justified by the blood of the lamb.
Being Joint-heirs in a Tribe of Israel
In Moses’ census, all were registered according to tribal affiliation, and we do not find a separate accounting for the mixed multitude. Instead, the Israelite tribes were counted according to “their families, by their fathers’ households” (Numbers 1:2). This suggests that the mixed multitude had joined specific households of Israel in the same manner that had already occurred in the previous generations going back to Abraham.
There was, of course, just one prince of each tribe who carried the responsibility for the tribal unit itself. These heads of state were named in Numbers 7 at the dedication of the tabernacle. When they finally entered Canaan and received their land inheritances, the land was given to tribes and families—not to individuals (Joshua 15:1), the exception being Caleb, who was given Hebron (Joshua 14:13). Yet even he was the head of the tribe of Judah, so this was perhaps not really exceptional.
The point is that the land inheritances were enjoyed as a household, being held in trust by the family head, even as the tribal unit itself was led by the prince of the tribe. If men left the community to seek their own inheritance in other parts of the world, they could not take land with them, but could only sell what they themselves had accumulated or built.
Hence, also under the New Covenant, believers are joint-heirs with Christ, rather than independent inheritors of the Kingdom. Romans 8:16 and 17 says,
16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
In other words, we are inheritors and children of God only because we share in the inheritance of the Prince of the tribe of Judah—Jesus Christ. Apart from faith and loyalty to Him, we have no right to inherit the Kingdom, regardless of our genealogy.
The Law Trumps Genealogy
Our inheritance is not based upon our genealogy, for the law has the right to expel a tribal member for non-compliance with the law. For example, Leviticus 17:4 says that those who violate the law of sacrifice “shall be cut off from among his people.”
This means that law trumps genealogy when it comes to citizenship in the Kingdom, or tribe, or family household. Even as a non-Israelite may become an Israelite by lawful procedure, so also can an Israelite be expelled from his tribe for insubordination to the prince and the laws of the Kingdom.
This law finds its expression again in Revelation 21, which speaks of the New Jerusalem. This city has a wall and 12 gates (vs. 12). The purpose of the wall (i.e., the law) is not to keep people out of the city, but to channel them toward one of the 12 gates. The gates are open always (vs. 25), for the invitation is given to all equally, but if anyone wishes to enter the city and become a Kingdom citizen, they must comply with the law and enter through one of the 12 tribal gates.
This is how the household of faith in Abraham’s time came into the city that he sought while he was a stranger and pilgrim in Canaan (Hebrews 11:13). All who joined that household of faith eventually had to join a tribe, so that they could inherit the land as a community of faith under the authority of the prince of the tribe.
Being an Israelite, then, is not merely a case of genealogy, but is strictly regulated by law. Obtaining citizenship in Israel is not simply about being born into an Israelite family. Certainly they are included, but citizenship is ultimately a matter of law. The law provides citizenship by faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as we see in the case of Abraham’s household. But their citizenship was not their right, but a privilege that could be removed from them for disloyalty to God or to the divinely appointed prince of the tribe.
For this reason, when the Jews claimed Abraham as their father, Jesus was not impressed. He said in Luke 3:8,
8 Therefore, bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
Jesus was looking for fruit of the Spirit, not genealogy. Those who revolted against the Prince of the tribe of Judah were about to be expelled from the tribe, according to lawful procedure. The entire ministry of Jesus was set in the context of this dispute over the throne rights of Judah. Those who usurped His throne rights (as per Matthew 21:38) were judged in verse 43,
43 Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.
Paul tells us in Romans 2:28 and 29 that two groups were contending for the right to be called Judah. The larger group depended upon physical circumcision; the smaller group depended upon heart circumcision. Paul makes it clear that only believers in Christ can lawfully claim to be of Judah, for they remain loyal to the Prince of Judah and to the rightful Heir of the throne of David.
In this we see that Kingdom citizenship is not based upon genealogy. Only the Heir, the prince, the Messiah himself had to be of a particular genealogy. All others were members of His household by faith in the Messiah.
This is the fifteenth part of a series titled "Moses' Fourth Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones