The thousands of Israel, having been mustered in the former chapter, in
this are marshalled, and a regular disposition is made of their camp,
by a divine appointment. Here is,
I. A general order concerning it,
II. Particular directions for the posting of each of the tribes, in
four distinct squadrons, three tribes in each squadron.
1. In the van-guard on the east were posted Judah, Issachar, and
2. In the right wing, southward, Reuben, Simeon, and Gad,
3. In the rear, westward, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin,
4. In the left wing, northward, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali,
5. The tabernacle in the centre,
III. The conclusion of this appointment,
|The Stations of the Several Tribes.
||B. C. 1490.|
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
2 Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own
standard, with the ensign of their father's house: far off about
the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch.
Here is the general appointment given both for their orderly encampment
where they rested and their orderly march when they moved. Some order,
it is possible, they had observed hitherto; they came out of Egypt in
rank and file
(Exodus 13:18), but now they were put into a better model.
1. They all dwelt in tents, and when they marched carried all their
tents along with them, for they found no city to dwell in,
This represents to us our state in this world. It is a movable state
(we are here to-day and gone to-morrow); and it is a military state: is
not our life a warfare? We do but pitch our tents in this world, and
have in it no continuing city. Let us, therefore, while we are pitching
in this world, be pressing through it.
2. Those of a tribe were to pitch together, every man by his own
standard. Note, It is the will of God that mutual love and
affection, converse and communion, should be kept up among relations.
Those that are of kin to each other should, as much as they can, be
acquainted with each other; and the bonds of nature should be improved
for the strengthening of the bonds of Christian communion.
3. Every one must know his place and keep in it; they were not allowed
to fix where they pleased, nor to remove when they pleased, but God
quarters them, with a charge to abide in their quarters. Note, It is
God that appoints us the bounds of our habitation, and to him we
must refer ourselves. He shall choose our inheritance for us
and in his choice we must acquiesce, and not love to
flit, nor be as the bird that wanders from her nest.
4. Every tribe had its standard, flag, or ensign, and it should seem
every family had some particular ensign of their father's house, which
was carried as with us the colours of each troop or company in a
regiment are. These were of use for the distinction of tribes and
families, and the gathering and keeping of them together, in allusion
to which the preaching of the gospel is said to lift up an ensign,
to which the Gentiles shall seek, and by which they shall pitch,
Note, God is the God of order, and not of confusion. These standards
made this mighty army seem more beautiful to its friends and more
formidable to its enemies. The church of Christ is said to be as
terrible as an army with banners,
Song of Solomon 6:10.
It is uncertain how these standards were distinguished: some conjecture
that the standard of each tribe was of the same colour with the
precious stone in which the name of that tribe was written in the high
priest's ephod, and that this was all the difference. Many of the
modern Jews think there was some coat of arms painted in each standard,
which had reference to the blessing of that tribe by Jacob. Judah bore
a lion, Dan a serpent, Naphtali a hind, Benjamin a wolf, &c. Some of
them say the four principal standards were, Judah a lion, Reuben a man,
Joseph an ox, and Dan an eagle, making the appearances in Ezekiel's
vision to allude it. Others say the name of each tribe was written in
its standard. Whatever it was, no doubt it gave a certain direction.
5. They were to pitch about the tabernacle, which was to be in the
midst of them, as the tent of pavilion of a general in the centre of an
army. They must encamp round the tabernacle,
(1.) That it might be equally a comfort and joy to them all, as it was
a token of God's gracious presence with them.
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved. Their camp
had reason to be hearty, when thus they had God in the heart of them.
To have bread from heaven every day round about their camp, and fire
from heaven, with other tokens of God's favour, in the midst of their
camp, was abundantly sufficient to answer that question, Is the Lord
among us, or is he not? Happy art thou, O Israel! It is probable
that the doors of all their tents were made to look towards the
tabernacle from all sides, for every Israelite should have his eyes
always towards the Lord; therefore they worshipped at the tent-door.
The tabernacle was in the midst of the camp, that it might be near to
them; for it is a very desirable thing to have the solemn
administrations of holy ordinances near us and within our reach.
The kingdom of God is among you.
(2.) That they might be a guard and defence upon the tabernacle and the
Levites on every side. No invader could come near God's tabernacle
without first penetrating the thickest of their squadrons. Note, If God
undertake the protection of our comforts, we ought in our places to
undertake the protection of his institutions, and stand up in defence
of his honour, and interest, and ministers.
6. Yet they were to pitch afar off, in reverence to the sanctuary, that
it might not seem crowded and thrust up among them, and that the common
business of the camp might be no annoyance to it. They were also taught
to keep their distance, lest too much familiarity should breed
contempt. It is supposed (from
that the distance between the nearest part of the camp and the
tabernacle (or perhaps between them and the camp of the Levites, who
pitched near the tabernacle) was 2000 cubits, that is, 1000 yards,
little more than half a measured mile with us; but the outer parts of
the camp must needs be much further off. Some compute that the extent
of their camp could be no less than twelve miles square; for it was
like a movable city, with streets and lanes, in which perhaps the manna
fell, as well as on the outside of the camp, that they might have it at
their doors. In the Christian church we read of a throne (as in the
tabernacle there was a mercy-seat) which is called a glorious high
throne from the beginning
and that throne surrounded by spiritual Israelites, twenty-four elders,
double to the number of the tribes, clothed in white raiment
(Revelation 4:4), and the banner over them is Love; but we are not ordered, as
they were, to pitch afar off; no, we are invited to draw near, and come
boldly. The saints of the Most High are said to be round about
God by his grace keep us close to him!
3 And on the east side toward the rising of the sun shall they
of the standard of the camp of Judah pitch throughout their
armies: and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall be captain of
the children of Judah.
4 And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were
threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred.
5 And those that do pitch next unto him shall be the tribe of
Issachar: and Nethaneel the son of Zuar shall be captain of the
children of Issachar.
6 And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were
fifty and four thousand and four hundred.
7 Then the tribe of Zebulun: and Eliab the son of Helon
shall be captain of the children of Zebulun.
8 And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were
fifty and seven thousand and four hundred.
9 All that were numbered in the camp of Judah were an hundred
thousand and fourscore thousand and six thousand and four
hundred, throughout their armies. These shall first set forth.
10 On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of
Reuben according to their armies: and the captain of the children
of Reuben shall be Elizur the son of Shedeur.
11 And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were
forty and six thousand and five hundred.
12 And those which pitch by him shall be the tribe of Simeon:
and the captain of the children of Simeon shall be Shelumiel
the son of Zurishaddai.
13 And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were
fifty and nine thousand and three hundred.
14 Then the tribe of Gad: and the captain of the sons of Gad
shall be Eliasaph the son of Reuel.
15 And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were
forty and five thousand and six hundred and fifty.
16 All that were numbered in the camp of Reuben were an
hundred thousand and fifty and one thousand and four hundred and
fifty, throughout their armies. And they shall set forth in the
17 Then the tabernacle of the congregation shall set forward
with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camp: as they
encamp, so shall they set forward, every man in his place by
18 On the west side shall be the standard of the camp of
Ephraim according to their armies: and the captain of the sons of
Ephraim shall be Elishama the son of Ammihud.
19 And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were
forty thousand and five hundred.
20 And by him shall be the tribe of Manasseh: and the captain
of the children of Manasseh shall be Gamaliel the son of
21 And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were
thirty and two thousand and two hundred.
22 Then the tribe of Benjamin: and the captain of the sons of
Benjamin shall be Abidan the son of Gideoni.
23 And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were
thirty and five thousand and four hundred.
24 All that were numbered of the camp of Ephraim were an
hundred thousand and eight thousand and an hundred, throughout
their armies. And they shall go forward in the third rank.
25 The standard of the camp of Dan shall be on the north side
by their armies: and the captain of the children of Dan shall
be Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai.
26 And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were
threescore and two thousand and seven hundred.
27 And those that encamp by him shall be the tribe of Asher:
and the captain of the children of Asher shall be Pagiel the
son of Ocran.
28 And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were
forty and one thousand and five hundred.
29 Then the tribe of Naphtali: and the captain of the children
of Naphtali shall be Ahira the son of Enan.
30 And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were
fifty and three thousand and four hundred.
31 All they that were numbered in the camp of Dan were an
hundred thousand and fifty and seven thousand and six hundred.
They shall go hindmost with their standards.
32 These are those which were numbered of the children of
Israel by the house of their fathers: all those that were
numbered of the camps throughout their hosts were six hundred
thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty.
33 But the Levites were not numbered among the children of
Israel; as the LORD commanded Moses.
34 And the children of Israel did according to all that the
LORD commanded Moses: so they pitched by their standards, and so
they set forward, every one after their families, according to
the house of their fathers.
We have here the particular distribution of the twelve tribes into four
squadrons, three tribes in a squadron, one of which was to lead the
other two. Observe,
1. God himself appointed them their place, to prevent strife and envy
among them. Had they been left to determine precedency among
themselves, they would have been in danger of quarrelling with one
another (as the disciples who strove which should be greatest);
each would have had a pretence to be first, or at least not to be last.
Had it been left to Moses to determine, they would have quarrelled with
him, and charged him with partiality; therefore God does it, who is
himself the fountain and judge of honour, and in his appointment all
must acquiesce. If God in his providence advance others above us, and
abase us, we ought to be as well satisfied in his doing it in that way
as if he did it, as this was done here, by a voice out of the
tabernacle; and this consideration, that it appears to be the will of
God it should be so, should effectually silence all envies and
discontents. And as far as our place comes to be our choice our Saviour
has given us a rule in
Sit not down in the highest room; and another in
He that will be chief, let him be your servant. Those that are
most humble and most serviceable are really most honourable.
2. Every tribe had a captain, a prince, or commander-in-chief, whom God
himself nominated, the same that had been appointed to number them,
Our being all the children of one Adam is so far from justifying the
levellers, and taking away the distinction of place and honour, that
even among the children of the same Abraham, the same Jacob, the same
Judah, God himself appointed that one should be captain of all the
rest. There are powers ordained of God, and those to whom
honour and fear are due and must be paid. Some observe the significancy
of the names of these princes, at least, in general, how much God was
in the thoughts of those that gave them their names, for most of them
have El, God, at one end or other of their names. Nethaneel,
the gift of God; Eliab, my God a Father; Elizur, my God a rock;
Shelumiel, God my peace; Eliasaph, God has added; Elishama, my God has
heard: Gamaliel, God my reward; Pagiel, God has met me. By this it
appears that the Israelites in Egypt did not quite forget the name of
their God, but, when they wanted other memorials, preserved the
remembrance of it in the names of their children, and therewith
comforted themselves in their affliction.
3. Those tribes were placed together under the same standard that were
nearest of kin to each other; Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, were the
three younger sons of Leah, and they were put together; and Issachar
and Zebulun would not grudge to be under Judah, since they were his
younger brethren. Reuben and Simeon would not have been content in
their place. Therefore Reuben, Jacob's eldest son, is made chief of the
next squadron; Simeon, no doubt, is willing to be under him, and Gad,
the son of Zilpah, Leah's handmaid, is fitly added to them in Levi's
room: Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, are all the posterity of Rachel.
Dan, the eldest son of Bilhah, is made a leading tribe, though the son
of a concubine, that more abundant honour might be bestowed on that
which lacked; and it was said, Dan should judge his people, and
to him were added two younger sons of the handmaids. Thus
unexceptionable was the order in which they were placed.
4. The tribe of Judah was in the first post of honour, encamped towards
the rising sun, and in their marches led the van, not only because it
was the most numerous tribe, but chiefly because from that tribe Christ
was to come, who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and was to
descend from the loins of him who was now nominated chief captain of
that tribe. Nahshon is reckoned among the ancestors of Christ,
So that, when he went before them, Christ himself went before them in
effect, as their leader. Judah was the first of the twelve sons of
Jacob that was blessed. Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, were censured by
their dying father; he therefore being first in blessing, though not in
birth, is put first, to teach children how to value the smiles of their
godly parents and dread their frowns.
5. The tribes of Levi pitched closely about the tabernacle, within the
rest of their tribes,
They must defend the sanctuary, and then the rest of the tribes must
defend them. Thus, in the vision which John saw of the glory of heaven,
between the elders and the throne were four living creatures full of
Civil powers should protect the religious interests of a nation, and be
a defence upon that glory.
6. The camp of Dan (and so that tribe is called long after their
settlement in Canaan
because celebrated for their military prowess), though posted in the
left wing when they encamped, was ordered in their march to bring up
They were the most numerous, next to Judah, and therefore were ordered
into a post which, next to the front, required the most strength, for
as the strength is so shall the day be. Lastly, The children of
Israel observed the orders given them, and did as the Lord commanded
They put themselves in the posts assigned them, without murmuring or
disputing, and, as it was their safety, so it was their beauty; Balaam
was charmed with the sight of it: How goodly are thy tents, O
Thus the gospel church, called the camp of saints, ought to be
compact according to the scripture model, every one knowing and keeping
his place, and then all that wish well to the church rejoice,
beholding their order,