Today we begin Chapter One of Exodus.
For the Complete Jewish Bible, click here.
For the King James Version, click here.
“These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.”-Exodus 1:1-5
At the risk of being redundant, I remind you that the Bible uses numbers as symbolic approximations.
70 here is being used as a symbolic number to indicate totality.
So we should interpret this number as symbolic that all of Israel went down to Egypt.
No one was left behind.
Also, only the male offspring were used to make up the count of seventy here.
Under normal circumstances, there would have been at least as many females, actually probably much more because the men in ancient populations died in battle or were fatally injured during hard labor.
The actual number of Israelites who went down to Egypt including the females would have been around 200.
Now just as earlier I gave you some important background information about ancient Egypt, in this post I would like to share the basic nuts and bolts concerning how Hebrew society was structured in these ancient times.
This is important to know because from this point on to the last chapter of the Old Testament, the Bible takes it for granted that we already have an understanding of how ancient Israel’s society was structured.
So let’s get started.
First, we have the NATION of Israel.
Second, we have the 12 TRIBES of the nation of Israel.
Third, the sons of the 12 tribal leaders each formed their own CLANS.
Fourth, the offspring of these clans would go on to form separate HOUSEHOLDS.
Fifth, the offspring of these households would go on to form what the Bible calls “MAN-BY-MAN”.
Okay, so here’s a question for you.
Which one of these do you think most equates to our modern idea of the nuclear family?
I bet most of you said “HOUSEHOLDS“.
However, the answer is “MAN-BY-MAN“.
“MAN-BY-MAN” is not talking about single men or eligible bachelors.
“MAN-BY-MAN” specifically means a father, mother and their children as one unit.
So in modern English, “MAN-TO-MAN” basically means a “family” as we are familiar with it in the West.
However, one problem we sometimes face is that many Bible translators who don’t know any better will mistakenly call both a “CLAN” and a “MAN-TO-MAN” a “FAMILY”.
Again, the breakdown is as follows:
NATION=all of Israel
TRIBE=12 tribes of Israel
Okay, let’s peel a few more layers off of this onion.
The leader of each tribe was called a “PRINCE“.
The leader of each clan was called a “CHIEF”.
The leader of each household was called the “HEAD”.
So since there were 12 TRIBES of Israel, there were 12 PRINCES of Israel.
Simple enough I think.
Now a few points about a “PRINCE”.
First, they ruled supreme over all the people in their tribe and every subdivision thereafter.
So every clan, household, and family was obligated to obey the prince of the tribe to which they belonged.
The prince’s word was law.
Second, a PRINCE could ONLY have become a PRINCE by inheriting his position.
Under no circumstances whatsoever could a foreigner ever become a PRINCE.
While it was possible for a foreigner to eventually become a member of a tribe, he would never be permitted to become a prince.
This was the one position where hereditary traceable not just back to Jacob, but to a proper original son of Jacob (in other words, a proper tribe) was of utmost importance.
So understand that a Prince’s position was permanent, unless something drastic like an assassination occurred.
So keep this structure and these terms in mind as we move forward.
All of this played an important role in many of the decisions that took place within Israelite society.
When we come across words like “household” and “clan” or “prince” and “chief“, remember they are NOT to be viewed as synonyms.
They represented very specific and important roles in Israelite society.