A Thousand From Each Tribe

A Thousand From Each Tribe September 19, 2018

Here’s a connection I missed in my commentary on Revelation. One of hundreds.

In Numbers 31, the Lord instructs Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites. The vengeance is for the attack by the Balak of Moab, who joined the Midianites in attacking Israel. Initially, they tried to hire the prophet Balaam; when that failed, they seduced Israel to idolatry and sexual sin by sending Moabite women into the camp (Numbers 25).

Yahweh tells Moses to assemble a force consisting of 1000 from each of the twelve tribes (Numbers 31:4-6). It’s the only time in the Old Testament that such a force is assembled.

The parallel with Revelation, obviously, is the 144,000 who are sealed in Revelation 7. The numbers are different. In Revelation, there are 12,000 from each of twelve tribes, rather than a mere thousand. But in both cases, the company has the same number from each tribe, and in both cases the number is a multiple of 1000.

That bare similarity doesn’t mean much, but it fits neatly into the thematics of Revelation.

As in Numbers, there is a false prophet, a Balaam (cf. Revelation 2:14). As in Numbers, the church is seduced to idolatry (meat sacrificed to idols) and sexual sin (porneia). The Moabite seductresses appear in Revelation as the single harlot, who has the kings of the land as her regular clients. In Revelation as in Numbers, the Lord assembles a force to take vengeance against those who assault the people of God.

The great discontinuity is the method of vengeance. The force in Numbers 31 carries out a form of herem war, killing all the men, along with male children and women who are not virgins. The 144,000 of Revelation are a fighting force, but they fight by giving their lives in martyrdom. They overcome the false prophet and the harlot because they remain pure virgins and by offering their own bodies in sacrifice. It is a new covenant, cruciform version of herem.

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