The influence of family did not just end with immediate family only. God ordained not just the family, but the extended family, known in Hebrew as Abba’s House. A nuclear family consisted of father, mother, married sons, and grandchildren living together in the same house. Extended families were aunts, uncles, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, the mother’s parents, as well as countless cousins. Abba’s House was not just an extension of family, but also a continuation of instruction in Torah as well as a place of safety and protection that existed beyond the nuclear family. Wilson says that the Jewish home has good reason for its survival. “The home has had stability and permanency because the traditions and values of the home have brought self-understanding and direction to its members” (p. 214). This is true for the extended family as well. Abba’s House was an expanded place of protection for the nuclear family, and a place of provision in lean times. During the three pilgrimage feasts to Jerusalem, extended family often traveled together to afford a greater level of protection.
Abba’s House represented provision and protection that went beyond the nuclear family. Extended family was always considered an honored guest in the home. This explains an ancient Jewish tradition referred to as threshold covenant. When an honored guest arrived at a house, a lamb was killed and blood was placed upon the threshold of the entry door. Once an honored guest or extended family member stepped over the blood on the threshold they were afforded the protection of the patriarch of the house. Trumbull states:
“If you know that one is coming whom you would honor and welcome, you must make ready to have the blood on the threshold when he appears. In case an honored guest arrives unexpectedly, so that there is no time to prepare the customary sacrifice, salt, as representing blood, may be sprinkled on the threshold, for the guest to pass over. Crossing the threshold, or entering the door, of a house, is in itself an implied covenant with those who are within…. But if he enters the house in some other way, not crossing the threshold, there is no such implied covenant. It would seem to have been in accordance with this primitive law of the East that Jesus said: ‘He that entereth not by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber’” (John 10:1) (Trumbull, pp. 5-6).
Threshold represented blood covenant. An honored guest at a house who crossed the blood on the threshold was afforded the protection of the father of that house even to the harm of his natural-born children (See Genesis 19). To cross the blood of the threshold without invitation was a breach of covenant that could result in death. A thief or robber, knowing that crossing the blood-soaked threshold would result in death if caught, would go in through another way to steal ensuring that if caught he would be punished but not killed. A mezuzah hung on the door took the threshold covenant to a more powerful level. Mezuzah on the door not only fulfilled Deuteronomy 6:9, “And thou shalt write them (these words) on the posts of thy house, and on thy gates,” but represented that God was the ultimate authority of that house and those that entered were entitled to the protection of the owner of the house and God Himself. Thus the letter ש (shin) on the mezuzah represented the Name of God, and He was the ultimate authority of the house. When in danger, a person would look for a house with the mezuzah on the door. It represented Abba’s House, a place of protection and provision.
Thirdly, God ordained the tribe. If the father was to teach the children how to walk out Torah in community; and Abba’s House was to be a place of additional learning as well as a place of safety, protection, and provision; tribe was intended to be that force designed by God to be a protection against a totalitarian or godless type of government (nation). Tribes were intended to be a rational balance to protect against a government of the nation that is neither in economic balance or centric in its approach to God. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin states:
“The Torah teaches us that a nation comprised of different and distinctive tribes has both negative and positive possibilities. On the one hand, a particular tribe can be desirous of unilateral control (shevet), initiating a rivalry and even war … but to centralize governmental power can turn unity into uniformity and produce all of the tyranny of a totalitarian Tower of Babel. Different tribes, each with its own flavor, temperament and specific points of view, can provide a unity with diversity, an orchestra comprised of many individual instruments, as long as there is one conductor who recognizes, respects and knows how to orchestrate the different sounds into one magnificent symphony” (Riskin, para. 7).
The leaders of the Twelve Tribes with a central leader over them governed the Israelites of the early Old Testament period. The purpose of the tribe was to provide a broader base of support of provision and protection than could be afforded by the nuclear family or Abba’s House. The tribe had a unique function established by God, which would bring balance and safeguards to ensure that the nation as a whole responded to the specific call of God, to be a light unto the nations of the world. If the tribes functioned in competition, jealousy, arrogance, or pride, it became destructive to the nation as a whole and to the call of God that was upon the nation. The tribes were to be a check and balance between Abba’s House and the nation. They were to guard the interests of Abba’s House and family to ensure that the nation was walking in holiness before the Lord by protecting their interests. Provision of the family was not left solely to the central government, but government was to respond when the need of family, Abba’s House, and tribe was beyond their ability as in the case of famine. Each tribe had a patriarchal leader, which adequately and properly represented the interests of the tribe in the nation. Continue Reading