Corporate Identity in The Pentateuch

Corporate Solidarity, if you recall, is this notion that the many (individuals) unite to the one over them by their identification with that one. This view differs from federal headship (where the corporate is represented by the head of the covenant) and corporate personhood (where the individual is subsumed in the identity of the one person). I decided to look at the Pentateuch to see if it would play with these sorts of categories with the name “Israel”. I chose the Pentateuch because it was far enough ahead before any national references and because this is where we see Israel coming into that position.

The search was vast. The term “Israel” comes up some 586 times in 582 verses(NASB95) but I decided to remove most of the references from the mix. Whenever the text listed “sons of Israel” I classified that as a descriptor referring to who the people were (they are the children of their ancestor Israel) rather than who the people were identifying with. This wasn’t arbitrary. “sons of Israel” (373 times) occurs in every context—from rebellion, to instruction, to the fact they increased—whatever. It was targeted to the descendants so much that it seemed to focus on their mandate as part of that family but not in any solidarity sense. For this reason I also removed “son of Israelites” (Lev 24:10, 11)

Israelites might have been a good term for looking at some sort of solidarity and that term occurs once (Exocdus 35:29) where the Israelites, all the men and women, whose heart was moved to bring materials for the Lord’s work.

I also noted that once we get to Deuteronomy, the corporate term of referring to Israel (the whole) as an individual, it comes up more often. Starting in Deut 1:38 we see the text say that He (God) shall cause Israel to inherit the land—and then it just explodes from there ( Deut 6:,3, 4; 9:1, 12; 11:6; 13:11; 17:4, 12, 20; 18:1, 6; 19:13; 20:3; 21:21; 22:21; 25:6, 7,10; 27:9; 29:2; 32:45; 31:1, 11; 33:10, 34:10,12).

Some of the references occur in the context of one another.

  • Exodus 5:1, 24:10, 32:27, 34:23: God is introduced as the God of Israel—which appears to be more of a national reference ala Deuteronomy.
  • Exodus 4:22 The Lord says “Israel, my son; my Firstborn son.” He’s not speaking of Jacob, but instead speaking of the corporate nation in the singular. But the singular isn’t necessarily Jacob (He was a twin) which the nation is subsumed under, but it’s not even them identifying in one individual.
  • Exodus 9:7 the Livestock of Israel was protected. Could be a national reference but it could also be pitting the individual Israel against the individual Pharaoh.
  • Exodus 12:15: Cut off from Israel by not keeping the feast of unleavened bread. This is likely a national reference but it’s interesting how the individual ceases to identify with that nation.
  • Exodus 14:30, 31 The Lord saved Israel from Egypt and Israel saw the destruction of the Jews. I like this. The reference is surely corporate (Israel rescued from Egypt) but it refers to Israel doing singular things (being saved, seeing the dead Egyptians) and then breaks it down into the individual people (they believed in the Lord and in His servant).
  • Exodus 17:8, 11 Amalek came and fought against Israel and as Moses lifted his arms Israel prevailed. I like this one. Amalek and Israel are presented as nations, surely, but also as two battling individuals. Amalek comes out and fights against Israel and Israel (singular) prevails as Moses holds up his hands and then (verse 11) breaks it down to Israelites and Amalekites.
  • Exodus 18:1,8,9, 25 and the choosing of Elders from the blessed Israel based on Jethro’s rejoicing and advice. It seems pretty clear that it’s being used in a national sense  but I like how it uses the individual term with the corporate descriptor: Israel His people.
  • Exodus 34:27 God has made this covenant with Moses and with Israel.
  • Num 19:13 That person is cut off from Israel
  • Num 20:14, 21 Moses writes to Israel’s “brother” Edom. But Edom refuses Israel passage. This one is pretty good since it presents Edom as the individual brother of Israel and Edom is constantly refusing Israel before coming out in force.
  • Num 21:1, 2 The Canaanite heard Israel was coming and fought against him. Israel makes a vow to the Lord that he will utterly destroy their cities if delivered. I like this too since the corporate is reflected speaking in an individual voice.
  • Num 21:17 Israel sings a song “Spring up o well”.
  • Num 21:23-25, 31 Israel sends messengers to the Sihon of the Amorites then attacks Sihon for not letting him pass through the border. They wind up living in their land. This is cool, because even when Sihon is written to, the text records him summoning his people and Israel striking him.
  • Num 22:2 Balak saw all that Israel had done to the Amorite.
  • Num 23:7 Curse Jacob; denounce Israel. The comparative term keeps coming up in Balak’s speeches (a singular reference to Jacob and Israel but referring to the whole)
  • Num 23:10 who can count the dust of Jacob; the quarter of Israel.
  • Num 23:23 No omen against Jacob; no prophecy against Israel
  • Num 24:1, 2, 5, 17, 18 Balaam sees Israel camping and notes the Lord is happy blessing them, blesses their tents and then says the Scepter to rise from Israel will crush Moab and perform valiantly over Edom.
  • Num 25:1,3,4  Israel remains in Shittim and joins themselves to Baal and the leaders are to be executed so that the Lord’s anger turns away,
  • Num 32:13 The Lord’s anger burned against Israel
  • Num 32:22 Israel shall be free of obligations.

In the end, it was an interesting search but I don’t think I can draw any real conclusions about this beyond the few places where there is a truly singular sense being used of the corporate body—the situation with Amalek, Sihon, and Edom specifically.

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