The Household in Ancient Israel

The Household in Ancient Israel November 7, 2018

This blog and the next are brief word studies on the family in Ancient Israel.[1]  The household is the center of society, something that may have been forgotten by all of us with time.

Household in Israel

The first thing we need to understand is that there are a couple of predominant themes when we talk about the role of the household in ancient Israel.  These are core themes throughout the Hebrew Bible.  Solomon says:

Unless the LORD builds the house,

the builders labor in vain. (Psalm 127.1, NIV)

Sandra Richter says Israel is tribal.  We have to keep that in mind.  We’re not talking about America, or current Israel, but ancient Israel.  Ancient Israel is a tribal culture.

In the tribal culture, the family is central.  Richter says the family is the very, “axis of the community.”[2]  The entire community revolves around the family.  It’s not quite like that in America.

i. Family Leadership

Families in Israel are typically Patriarchal, centering on the oldest living father in the family.

The personal identity of the individual is different than in Western culture.  Our culture revolves around me, my wishes, my hopes, my dreams, the things I want to establish, and the name I want to make for myself.

Not so in Israel.

Personal identity starts with your relationship with the Patriarch, with the family father.  You are you, but you are you in relation to the Patriarch.

You are also you in relation to the clan, your particular line of descent, your father.  Your Patriarch might be your grandfather or great-grandfather.  Your identity starts with him, then your lineage, your parents, your family, and your clan.

Then your identity expands to the tribe of all of our related family members.  Identity expands into the nation.[3]  This is how the nation of Israel is set up.

ii. Family Economy

Israel’s entire economy based on the Patriarch and the family.  The Patriarch, the one in charge of the tribe, is responsible financially for the clans.  He is responsible to make sure they are cared for.

The Patriarch is responsible to personally take care of any orphans or widows in the family.  For example, if someone’s parents pass away, the Patriarch makes sure he receive his inheritance, and the care he needs if he’s young.  The Patriarch is responsible for every member.

All the land that is sold or transferred in Israel has to be transferred only one way.  It’s not just sold off to this person or that, just because they want or need it.  Land is only transferred by inheritance.[4]

That’s putting your money where your mouth is where the family is concerned.

The family and the household are central to the way Israel thinks, and the way Israel operates as a nation.

Are the family and household central to the way we think and operate?


[1] as previously published: Rev. Jared V. Ingle, Psalm 127: Unless the LORD builds the house (sermon, MT. ZION Family Worship Center, Traverse City, MI, July 26, 2014). [2] Sandra L. Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 25.
Amazon: Epic of Eden
[3] Ibid., 26. [4] Ibid., 25.

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