Today we begin Numbers Chapter Four.
For the Complete Jewish Bible, click here.
For the King James version, click here.
The main theme of Numbers chapter 4 is all about what is usually called the 2nd Levite census.
The biggest difference between this census and the earlier one is the age range of the Levite men being counted.
In this census, only Levite males between the narrow age range of thirty years to fifty years old were to be counted.
The notion being expressed here is that in contradistinction to general military service (which begins at age 20), the maintenance of the Tabernacle requires elaborate training and a certain degree of emotional and spiritual maturity in addition to the physical strength needed to lift the heavy objects and even defend God’s sanctuary in a physical confrontation if the situation called for it.
Now before we dive into our text study, I want to address the number one CULTURAL DIFFERENCE between the Bible and modern western civilization, which also happens to be the number one reason why us modern folk and especially Westerners have difficulty understanding Torah as well as the other books in the Old Testament.
In one word, the biggest cultural difference between the Bible and modern western civilization is “tribalism“.
What are some of the attributes of “tribalism”?
First, not only was tribalism the de facto societal structure for most of the ancient world but tribalism globally dominated well until the European medieval era.
Second, tribalism is held together by what are considered to be unbreakable family and blood ties.
The saying “blood is thicker than water” no doubt is a reflection of a tribal way of thinking.
Third, the most powerful unit within a tribal organization is the “clan” which was an extended family unit that depending on its size would even have its own working economy and government.
A clan’s identity was traced back to its founder and loyalty to the clan could stretch back for hundreds of years.
However, over the ebb of time, some clans dominated over the others with the weaker, less influential clans being swallowed up by the others.
In fact, whenever we hear about “tribal warfare” taking place in some Middle Eastern country, what is actually happening is NOT one tribe fighting another but one clan fighting another clan WITHIN a given tribe.
So what are some of the differences between Tribalism and modern western society?
Without a doubt, the biggest difference is how each civilization defines what a “family” is.
In the west, a family is basically considered to be the “nuclear family” consisting of only a father, mother and their children.
In the West, grandparents as well as aunts, uncles and cousins are considered “distant” relatives.
This is not the case with tribalism where loyalty and bonds over bloodlines stretch back over generations.
This is one of the reasons why Islam clashes with the West.
The modern West has become a secular civilization where its societal structures are based on economics whereas civilizations that have retained tribalism are based on blood lines and common religious beliefs.
Incidentally, it was the rejection of religious identity in a movement known as the “Enlightenment” that led to the demise of tribalism in the West.
This movement which occurred in 17-18th century Europe basically replaced religious identity with an atheistic philosophy that led to the establishment of secular governments.
I don’t want to talk too much about the enlightenment here.
The main point I want to get across is that your average Westerner knows very little or terribly misunderstands “tribalism” and “tribalism” IS the culture of the Bible.
So just remember that as we move forward in our Torah studies.
If you don’t understand the structure and underlying mindsets of tribalism, you’re NOT going to understand the Bible, period.
And especially here in the Book of Numbers, the unique attributes of tribalism manifest themselves all over the place.