Over the last several Shabbats, a subtext to our conversations has been a running discussion concerning who ‘all the congregation of the sons/children of Israel’ is. Initially, I had a tentative assertion that the ‘congregation’ was the heads of houses, or men in position of authority. Israel is, after all, a patriarchal, tribal people. Some were in agreement, while there were others offering mild pushback.
The initial passage that set off our discussion was Exodus 35:1
Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, “These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do:Ex. 35:1 NASB
Many translations say, ‘children of Israel’. See NKJV, KJV, ASV, Darby, among others. Some variants say ‘people’ or ‘community’ of Israel.
Hebrew, being a gender specific language, refers to any group of people that has a single male in the masculine form. So, a group of 99 women and one man would properly be referred to in the masculine. Therefore, many argue that ‘bney Israel’ doesn’t mean ‘sons of Israel’, as in ‘men’, but ‘people,’ ‘children,’ or ‘community.’
As I’ve studied God’s authority structure and written numerous articles and a book on the subject, I have come to an increasingly firm understanding that in most cases, unless context clearly indicates otherwise, ‘bney Israel,’ or ‘sons of Israel,’ means men!
My initial assumption for the conversation in our fellowship was that indeed ‘congregation of the sons of Israel’ means ‘the responsible men.’ It was based on three major points:
- The headship and patriarchal study I have published
- The sheer improbability of direct communication with 2.4 million +/- people (see image above)
- The fact that Moshe had leaders of 1000s, 100s, 50s, and 10s through whom he could best communicate
I knew there were about 600,000 fighting men, so I assumed that Moshe would meet with the 600 leaders of 1000s, then they in tern would pass along the commands taught to the leaders of 100s and 50s, meaning their meetings would be about 30, then those men would relay the information, or teaching, to their leaders of 10. Very military. Very structured, Very logical.
But, I didn’t have evidence, and when pressed I could not definitively nail down who the ‘congregation of the sons of Israel’ was!
24 All the gold that was used for the work, in all the work of the sanctuary, which was the gold of the wave offering, was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 25 And the silver of those of the congregation who were counted was a hundred talents and 1,775 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary; 26 a beka a head (that is, half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary), assessed to each one who passed over to those who were counted, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men.Exodus 38:24-26
The number ‘603,550’ in association with ‘the congregation who were counted’ triggered something. I knew that number was significant in Numbers 1 and 3! But first, I wanted to understand ‘counted’ because my chain reference Bible said, ‘mustered.’
In addition to ‘number’ or ‘muster,’ the word, פָּקַד or paqad (H6485), can also mean ‘overseer, set over, entrust, commit for care’ which is pretty precise for what these 603,550 were to be doing. Their qualifications in Exodus 38 include men, over twenty years of age.
Numbers 1, however, is much more specific concerning these men. Here are the relevant verses.
Now the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, 2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head 3 from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall count them by their armies. 4 With you, moreover, there shall be a man of each tribe, each one head of his father’s household….
16 These are the men who were called from the congregation, the leaders of their fathers’ tribes; they were the heads of divisions of Israel.”17 So Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name, 18 and they assembled all the congregation on the first day of the second month. Then they registered by ancestry in their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, head by head, 19 just as the Lord had commanded Moses. So he counted them in the wilderness of Sinai…………..
44 These are the ones who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron counted, with the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each of whom was of his father’s household. 45 So all the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go to war in Israel, 46 all the numbered men were 603,550.Numbers 1, select verses
Definitively, verses two and three say the congregation of the sons of Israel is the numbered men who are twenty or more years old and able to go to war. These men function as representative heads for their families in the congregation of the sons of Israel. I would add the very soft addition that after a man was beyond fighting age, his having served means he continues in the congregation as an elder or ‘sage.’ His mettle and willingness to lay down his life for the congregation proved he was qualified. I see this because there is no upper limit on the age of this numbering, while Leviticus 27:3 reduces the (work) value of a man over sixty years old.
This leads to multiple points of application and understanding:
- Uncovered women, i.e., not under the headship of a man, were not represented in the congregation. As we have discussed on multiple occasions, divorcees and widows were in a bad place, explaining one reason why God allowed, and in cases commanded, plural marriages.
- Men have more responsibility in their families than is commonly taught by our feminized matriarchal culture. They represent their family in the congregation.
- When Paul says women are to be silent in the assembly (1 Cor. 14:34-35), this is likely one of his guiding principles/truths in establishing that fact.
- Men who are emasculated are not to be in the assembly (Deu.23:1-2), likely because they could not produce seed and could not go to war (short on testosterone).
- Men who could not or were not able to put their lives on the line for their families and Israel as a whole, were not qualified to make decisions for the Assembly. (Consider, in America, only land owners were initially able to vote as they were regarded as having a vested interest in the welfare of the nation.)
- The men are and were primarily responsible for the commandments being taught in their homes and enforced. Moshe taught the men who in turn exercised the authority and responsibility they have in their home. (Only with exceedingly rare exception does God violate His own authority structure. See 1 Cor. 11:3)
- This explains why nearly every command, even the laws of motherhood (Lev. 12), are given to the ‘sons of Israel.’
- The responsibility for ‘kol Israel’ resting on the men also explains why in multiple judgment passages, it is the men who are judged more harshly and die in greater number. (e.g., Ex. 32:25-29; Is. 3:14, 25; 24:6)
- This further explains why families are judged or saved based on the actions of the man. (eg. Numbers 16:25-35; 12:26-29; 25:10-13; Josh. 7:16-26; Acts 16:31..) The man represents his family in the Congregation.
I believe there are more points of application and understanding, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind.
The Congregation/Assembly/Qahal/Ekklesia was and is the ‘sons of Israel.’
Again, Israel was/is a patriarchal tribal people. I make no apology for the ways of my King! We, as a people, need to put our inherited lies of feminism, egalitarianism, matriarchy, etc away and intentionally walk toward God’s authority structure and His way of dealing with every member of Israel.