Q&A: Diversity among the Tribes of Israel

Diversity among the Tribes of Israel

In what ways would the Joseph stories have fostered diversity among the tribes of Israel in Moses' day?

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Answer

As important as the theme of unity among the people of God is in the story of Joseph and his brothers, we have to also remember that the reason unity is emphasized is because they were diverse. And diversity, in fact, in this story of Joseph and his brothers, is not just negative, it's also positive. For instance, in chapter 48 and 49, these are the times when Jacob gives his blessings to his children. Chapter 48 is about Joseph, and it's divided. In fact, Joseph gets the double portion of Ephraim and Manasseh. Ephraim and Manasseh are grandchildren of Jacob, and they're treated as equal to the other tribes. Now, that's diversity, a problem for all the other uncles, as it were, of the other tribes who should have been treated as doubly important as Ephraim and Manasseh by common sense. But chapter 48 tells it very plainly that this is what God and the patriarch Jacob ordained.

And then, when you go through chapter 49, you find that every single one of the tribes is given a particular role, a particular place, certain things are said about them, positive and negative. And these blessings that Jacob gave to his sons, actually, in many respects, establish the fact that there's going to be diversity among them, and if the people of God, as they move toward the Promised Land in the days of Moses, are going to live according to what God wants for them, they're not just going to be together as if all of them are going to be the same, as if all of them are going to be living in exactly the same place with all the same responsibilities and all the same privileges. The words of Jacob, both to Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh in chapter 48, and then in chapter 49, to the rest of the sons of Jacob, those chapters prove that there's going to be diversity among them. But in that diversity, they are to be unified, as the rest of the story tells us.

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.