When I first visited West Africa, one of the things that surprised me was that Africans, upon meeting each other, politely asked, “How de body?” (How are you?) and then, the second question was invariably, “What tribe are you from?”
And they would readily tell each other, “Temne!” “Yalunka!” “Kuranko.” “Mende.”
And they were so proud and glad to say so!
Please notice: There is NOTHING SIMILAR in America. They weren’t asking WHERE the other person was FROM. They were asking WHO the other person was from.
TRIBES are a source of identity there (and occasionally… genocide).
When God designed a nation to house His plan of salvation and to bring forth His Son, He set it into motion by giving Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, 12 sons. After giving him 12 sons, God changed his name to Israel, and his 12 sons became the NATION of Israel.
Each son ended up being the head of a tribe. The word TRIBE in Greek comes from the root PHU-oh, which means to puff, like when you take a dandelion head, and BLOW on it.
The Israelites lived (by God’s design) in 12 tribes, begun when Jacob had 12 sons.
EVERYONE in Israel knew what tribe they were from. It was who they WERE just as much as the fact that they were Israeli.
When they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they traveled AS TRIBES! They set up tents within their ASSIGNED SECTIONS of the camp. Every single time, every single evening … the same:
- Dan, Asher, and Naphtali on the north side of the camp. (That was 157,600 men, plus their wives and children!) Then Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon on the east side of the camp. (That was another 186,000 men, plus THEIR wives and children.) Gad, Simeon, and Reuben on the south side of the camp (151,400 men). Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin on the west side of the camp (106,000).
- In the center were the Levites, surrounding the Tabernacle in the very center of everything. And those Levites in the center were divided into four clans: Merari on the north edge of the Tabernacle, Moses and his sons on the east edge of the Tabernacle, Kohath on the south edge of it, and Gershon on the west. (This added another 27 THOUSAND men, plus their wives and children.)
When they would pack up and begin to travel, the eastern camps would ALWAYS set out first, following Moses. Next the southern camps would move. Then the Tabernacle and the priests. Then the western camps would follow the Tabernacle group. And finally the northern groups would bring up the rear. ALL OF THIS WOULD TAKE TIME!! (So I would want to be in the NORTHERN-camping tribes, because they probably got to sleep in another hour or so before they had to be ready to set out.)
They followed the same routine EVERY time. Every SINGLE TIME. What was the result? Even though there were 2,000,000 people moving across the landscape (THINK OF THE CITY OF HOUSTON ON THE MOVE), you WALKED with your same groups throughout the day, and you lived EVERY NIGHT in the same neighborhood, so to speak (even though you were miles away from where you slept the night before) … interacting with the same small sub-groups of clans and families.
LIKE ASSIGNED SEATING.
EVERYONE knew what tribe they were in. Within each tribe, EVERYONE knew what clan they were in. Within each clan, EVERYONE knew what family they were in.
EVERYONE KNEW WHERE THEY FIT. It was their identity.
When they finally got to the Promised Land, God allotted them each their portion where they would live ACCORDING TO TRIBES.
Since each tribe had their own place to live, they were NOT separated from everyone they had known. They remained together. And again, each tribe was separated into clans, and each clan got their own city or cities to inhabit. And each clan was comprised of families.
YOU WENT THROUGH ALL OF YOUR LIFE AS A COHORT!!
WHEN THEY WENT TO WAR, THEY FOUGHT IN THEIR OWN TRIBES AND CLANS AND FAMILIES (unlike today, where you are drafted and sent wherever the military, in its brilliant wisdom or lack of wisdom, decides).
I think that this represents the genius of God. Who wouldn’t fight harder surrounded by his own brothers and cousins and father and uncles?
After the exile, Nehemiah took the small group of people who returned to rebuild Jerusalem, and … you guessed it … he arranged them around the city by families, to each rebuild and defend their portion of the wall.
IT IS GOD’S WAY. The only reason that Jesus was born in Bethlehem was because He was from the tribe of Judah. Judah was the MORNING PEOPLE, so to speak. They were up and at ’em and LED whenever Israel was on the move. The name Judah comes from YADAH … PRAISE. The armies of Israel marched in the footprints of the PRAISERS, and JESUS was the ULTIMATE praise to God.
He is the FIRSTBORN from among the dead. The FIRST ONE up and at ’em into ETERNAL LIFE.
Even in heaven, Jesus is referred to as the Lion from the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). His TRIBAL IDENTITY is preserved FOREVER!!
IN HEAVEN, WE WILL ALL SURROUND THE THRONE … like the tabernacle. John said he saw people from every TRIBE, every NATION, every PEOPLE, and every LANGUAGE.
He didn’t just say, “I saw all the believers in the world from all time gathered together.” He SPECIFIED the four groups. Language groups broken down into people groups broken down into national groups, broken down into tribal groups.
It makes me wonder: What if we remain — EVEN IN HEAVEN — living closest to our “tribes” in some way?
We instinctively believe that we will be REUNITED with our loved ones in heaven. It sure doesn’t sound like heaven to just enter a city of 10 billion strangers you don’t know and start to make friends.
Since the God of the Old Testament is the ruler of heaven, and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, there will be STRUCTURE and ORGANIZATION and ASSIGNED PLACES in heaven.
It’s not “Pick out a spot anywhere where you want to spend eternity.” It is “I have prepared a place for you. If it were not so, I would have told you.”
WHEN DAVID’S NEWBORN SON DIED, HE SAID, “He cannot return to me, but I shall go to him” (2 Samuel 12:23).
NOT “I shall go to the super-city he lives in someday.”
So, what does all of this have to do with us?
A few applications:
- You have a RESPONSIBILITY to your tribe. No one can love everyone in the world. But you are placed EXACTLY where you are, by God’s Master Plan.
From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. – Acts 17:26 (NIV)
You have a LOVE ASSIGNMENT.
God plays 3-D chess. You are placed in three dimensions. The PLACE dimension. Living exactly where you live at any particular moment is by His plan, so you are RESPONSIBLE for that place!!
The TIME dimension. You are not living in that place when the settlers lived there or the American Indians before them. You are responsible for YOUR GENERATION in that place!!
And then God placed you within your PEOPLE-GROUP. You have a responsibility to love those nearest to you RELATIONALLY. And then branch out from there.
- You need to ATTEND to those relationships. If somebody new moves into the neighborhood, they are THERE for a reason, and it is YOUR JOB to handle it. If somebody new moves into your FAMILY, whether through birth or through marriage, you are RESPONSIBLE to be the Jesus Welcome Committee to them. You can’t shirk your responsibility! THE STRENGTH OF YOUR TRIBE IS YOUR ASSIGNMENT!
- When you are at the Judgment Seat of Christ, you will not be evaluated for reward based on how EVERYONE ON EARTH responded to the gospel. You can ONLY BE ANSWERABLE for your tribe, but you WILL be responsible for your work in your tribe!
Ask the Lord Jesus to make you a faithful minister of His grace to your tribe.