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David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible

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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.

a. Israel has 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 must take the next step in organization: Ordering themselves.

b. 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.

a. Judah was first, and closest to the tabernacle itself; then Issachar and Zebulun following. These tribes would order themselves after the standard (the banner or flag) of Judah, which was said to be a lion.

b. The total number of available soldiers among the eastward tribes was 186,400.

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

a. Reuben was first, and closest to the tabernacle itself; then Simeon and Gad following. The tribes would order themselves after the standard of Reuben, which was said to be a man.

b. The total number of available soldiers among the southward tribes was 151,450.

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

a. 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, orderly group.

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

a. Ephraim was first, and closest to the tabernacle itself; then Manasseh and Benjamin following. The tribes would order themselves after the standard of Ephraim, which was said to be a calf.

b. 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.

a. Dan was first, and closest to the tabernacle itself; then Asher and Naphtali following. The tribes would order themselves after the standard of Dan, which was said to be an eagle.

b. The total number of available soldiers among the northward tribes was 157,600.

7. (32-34) Summary: Israel's order around the tabernacle.

a. The total of 603,550 available soldiers is ordered around the tabernacle; the number excluding the tribe of Levi.

b. 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 isn't 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 God's 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 God's order and organization is almost always the product of simple selfishness - wanting to do things our own way, instead of the Lord's. For slaves, it is simple - slaves are always told what to do and don't 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. "According to rabbinical tradition, the standard of Judah bore the figure of a lion, that of Reuben the likeness of a man or of a man's head, that of Ephraim the figure of an ox, and that of Dan the figure of an eagle." (Keil-Delitzsch)

b. God's order is never arbitrary, or just made up on a whim. It is after His own heavenly pattern. We must always accept God's order and organization, even when we don't understand it.


Copyright Statement
David Guzik's Commentaries on the Bible are reproduced by permission of David Guzik, Siegen, Germany. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Guzik, David. "Commentary on Numbers 2". "David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?book=nu&chapter=002>. 1997-2003.  

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