Numbers 2 - The Camp of Israel

 

A. The tribes of Israel arranged around the tabernacle.

 

1. (1-2) The command to arrange around the tabernacle.

 

And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: "Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father's house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting.Ē

 

a. Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard: Israel had been on this Exodus journey for more than a year, and had assembled just about any way they had pleased. But now, ready to enter into the Promised Land, they had to take the next step in organization: Ordering themselves.

 

b. They shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting: At the center of this order was the tabernacle itself. The tribes would arrange themselves to the east, south, west, and north in relation to the tabernacle. Since the tabernacle was symbolically the presence of God with them, this meant all order in Israel began being centered around God Himself.

 

2. (3-9) The tribes camped to the east of the tabernacle.

 

"On the east side, toward the rising of the sun, those of the standard of the forces with Judah shall camp according to their armies; and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall be the leader of the children of Judah." And his army was numbered at seventy-four thousand six hundred. "Those who camp next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar, and Nethanel the son of Zuar shall be the leader of the children of Issachar." And his army was numbered at fifty-four thousand four hundred. Then comes the tribe of Zebulun, and Eliab the son of Helon shall be the leader of the children of Zebulun." And his army was numbered at fifty-seven thousand four hundred. All who were numbered according to their armies of the forces with Judah, one hundred and eighty-six thousand four hundred; these shall break camp first."

 

a. On the east side, toward the rising of the sun, those of the standard of the forces with Judah shall camp according to their armies: Judah was first, and closest to the tabernacle itself.The tribes of Issachar and Zebulun followed in order after Judah. These tribes would order themselves after the standard (the banner or flag) of Judah, which was said to be a lion.

 

b. And Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall be the leader of the children of Judah: God recognized a specifically called leader for the tribe of Judah (and for the other tribes following). The order and organization God called Israel to required leadership, with leaders both recognized by God and respected by the people.

 

c. One hundred and eighty-six thousand four hundred: The total number of available soldiers among the eastward tribes was 186,400.

 

d. These shall break camp first: There was an order to the encampment and the marching for the tribes. They were to move as an orderly army, not as a mob.

 

3. (10-16) The tribes camped to the south of the tabernacle.

 

"On the south side shall be the standard of the forces with Reuben according to their armies, and the leader of the children of Reuben shall be Elizur the son of Shedeur." And his army was numbered at forty-six thousand five hundred. "Those who camp next to him shall be the tribe of Simeon, and the leader of the children of Simeon shall be Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai." And his army was numbered at fifty-nine thousand three hundred. "Then comes the tribe of Gad, and the leader of the children of Gad shall be Eliasaph the son of Reuel." And his army was numbered at forty-five thousand six hundred and fifty. "All who were numbered according to their armies of the forces with Reuben, one hundred and fifty-one thousand four hundred and fifty; they shall be the second to break camp."

 

a. On the south side shall be the standard of the forces with Reuben according to their armies: On the south side of the tabernacle Reuben was the first tribe, and set closest to the tabernacle itself. Then the tribes of Simeon and Gad followed in order. The tribes ordered themselves after the standard of Reuben, which was said to be a man.

 

b. One hundred and fifty-one thousand four hundred and fifty: The total number of available soldiers among the southward tribes was 151,450.

 

4. (17) The tribe in the middle, with the tabernacle: Levi.

 

And the tabernacle of meeting shall move out with the camp of the Levites in the middle of the camps; as they camp, so they shall move out, everyone in his place, by their standards.

 

a. With the camp of the Levites in the middle of the camps: The priestly tribe was in the middle of the camps, closest to the tabernacle and surrounded by the other tribes.

 

b. So they shall move out, everyone in his place, by their standards: Apparently, this was not only the way Israel was to make their camp, but also they way they were to order their march. The taking of Canaan would not be accomplished by a mob, but by an organized and orderly group.

 

5. (18-24) The tribes camped to the west of the tabernacle.

 

"On the west side shall be the standard of the forces with Ephraim according to their armies, and the leader of the children of Ephraim shall be Elishama the son of Ammihud." And his army was numbered at forty thousand five hundred. "Next to him comes the tribe of Manasseh, and the leader of the children of Manasseh shall be Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur." And his army was numbered at thirty-two thousand two hundred. "Then comes the tribe of Benjamin, and the leader of the children of Benjamin shall be Abidan the son of Gideoni." And his army was numbered at thirty-five thousand four hundred. "All who were numbered according to their armies of the forces with Ephraim, one hundred and eight thousand one hundred; they shall be the third to break camp."

 

a. On the west side shall be the standard of the forces with Ephraim according to their armies: Ephraim was first, and closest to the tabernacle itself on the west side. Following the tribe of Ephraim were the tribes of Manasseh and Benjamin. The tribes ordered themselves after the standard of Ephraim, which was said to be a calf.

 

b. One hundred and eight thousand one hundred; they shall be the third to break camp: The total number of available soldiers among the westward tribes was 108,100.

 

6. (25-31) The tribes camped to the north of the tabernacle.

 

"The standard of the forces with Dan shall be on the north side according to their armies, and the leader of the children of Dan shall be Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai." And his army was numbered at sixty-two thousand seven hundred. "Those who camp next to him shall be the tribe of Asher, and the leader of the children of Asher shall be Pagiel the son of Ocran." And his army was numbered at forty-one thousand five hundred. "Then comes the tribe of Naphtali, and the leader of the children of Naphtali shall be Ahira the son of Enan." And his army was numbered at fifty-three thousand four hundred. "All who were numbered of the forces with Dan, one hundred and fifty-seven thousand six hundred; they shall break camp last, with their standards."

 

a. The standard of the forces with Dan shall be on the north side according to their armies: Dan was first, and closest to the tabernacle itself on the north side. Following the tribe of Dan were the tribes of Asher and Naphtali. The tribes ordered themselves after the standard of Dan, which was said to be an eagle.

 

b. All who were numbered of the forces with Dan, one hundred and fifty-seven thousand six hundred: The total number of available soldiers among the northward tribes was 157,600.

 

7. (32-34) Summary: Israelís order around the tabernacle.

 

These are the ones who were numbered of the children of Israel by their fathers' houses. All who were numbered according to their armies of the forces were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty. But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel, just as the Lord commanded Moses. Thus the children of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses; so they camped by their standards and so they broke camp, each one by his family, according to their fathers' houses.

 

a. These are the ones who were numbered of the children of Israel by their fathers' houses: The total of 603,550 available soldiers is ordered around the tabernacle; the number excluding the tribe of Levi.

 

b. So they camped by their standards: Each tribal group was arranged after the standards of the tribes, and they broke camp and marched in that same order.

 

B. Observations.

 

1. God is a God of order; here, before Israel can take the Promised Land, He requires they order themselves also. Not only is it more efficient and useful, but it also simply more like God - ordered and organized.

 

a. There is a limit to what we can be and what we can do for the Lord without order and organization. It isnít that order and organization are requirements for progress in the Christian life; they are progress in the Christian life, becoming more like the Lord.

 

b. Nothing is accomplished in Godís kingdom without order and organization. While it may seem so to us, it is only an illusion - behind the scenes, God is moving with utmost order and organization, though we cannot see it.

 

2. God orders things according to His wisdom, not ours. In the arrangement of the tribes, He did not place the largest tribes closest to the tabernacle (as if bigger was always better); Ephraim, the closest westward tribe, is the third smallest tribe. Nor did He place all the large tribes on the outward perimeter for greatest protection (Benjamin, the second smallest tribe, is on the outer perimeter). God always has order and organization, but it may not make sense to us.

 

a. Our resistance to Godís order and organization is almost always the product of simple selfishness - wanting to do things our own way, instead of the Lordís. For slaves, it is simple - slaves are always told what to do and donít need to be ordered and organized. But free men must be taught order and organization, and must submit to it.

 

3. Everything was positioned in relation to the presence of God, the tabernacle. God could have described where the tribe of Judah was in relation to the tribe of Dan, but He did not. The reference point was always God Himself.

 

a. It is hard to underestimate the trouble people get into in their walk with God because they position and measure themselves in reference to other people. God is to be our focus, not other people.

 

4. The tribes of Israel camped around four banners, which were said to be a lion, a man, a calf, and an eagle. We find the same four creatures surrounding the throne of God in Revelation.

 

a. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. (Revelation 4:7)

 

i. ďAccording to rabbinical tradition, the standard of Judah bore the figure of a lion, that of Reuben the likeness of a man or of a manís head, that of Ephraim the figure of an ox, and that of Dan the figure of an eagle.Ē (Keil-Delitzsch)

 

b. Godís order is never arbitrary, or just made up on a whim. It is after His heavenly pattern. We must always accept Godís order and organization, even when we donít understand it.

 

© 2004 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission