The 12 tribes of Israel are Jacob’s 12 sons, right?
Actually, no. it’s correct that Jacob had 12 sons (and of his daughters only Dinah is mentioned in the narrative back in Genesis). But Levi and Joseph were two of his 12 sons. The priestly tribe of Levi was not included in the 12 tribes of Israel, and Joseph’s two sons Manasseh and Ephraim got blessed as Jacob’s inheritance instead. (Ephraim was blessed before Manasseh, despite being the younger one, remember?).
So here in Numbers 7, all the tribe leaders, representing the massed descendents of these brothers (and their 2 nephews) are being called to present their sacrifices to the lord. It might not mean much to us to see these names written down, but to the people of Israel, it would be a matter of great ceremonial, legal and spiritual importance that their clan’s leaders were recorded here. In one sense it is just a written record of a symbolic act. But as we’re all too aware, God’s children are inclined to forget their heritage, their identity, their vows and their calling.
Imagine finding a shopping list in your grandmother’s attic from 100 years ago. One one level, it’s fairly pedestrian information. But what it represents: the idea that people a hundred years ago had the same considerations and responsibilities as us…this is a slightly more profound thought worth appreciating.
Equally, a birth certificate might not make exciting reading, and neither does a wedding ring need to be a work of engaging beauty. But what they stand for is far more interesting and worthy of our meditation.
In this passage, think about what it meant for each tribe to have exactly the same details recorded…or what it meant to see the name of someone you knew recorded in this holy book of Law. Pray that God will help you to appreciate the “sign post” nature of these passages, and follow the trains of thought to their exciting and eminently relevant conclusion.