Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, A The Counting, 2 The Camp, Text: 2:1-34

Studies in Numbers, I Faithfulness, A The Counting, 2 The Camp, Text: 2:1-34


Today we look at the Israelite encampment in Chapter 2 of Numbers. The arrangement is dictated by the Lord and it is very orderly. God is a God of order. The Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 14:33 & 40 that Everything must be done decently and in order,  For God is not a God of disorder but of peace...Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. Organization is important and in Corinth the worship was chaotic. Some churches are like that, simply disorganized like Linus of “Peanuts” fame. In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy demands that Linus change TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he doesn't. "What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?" asks Linus. "These five fingers," says Lucy. "Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold." "Which channel do you want?" asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?" On the other hand there are churches that pride themselves on how organized they are but they have lost the gospel message, or have they have lost the fervor of their first love. There was a reading in the “Daily Bread” devotional some years ago that exposed the folly of organization without substance. In his book Harvest of Humanity, John Seamands told this story: "A German soldier was wounded. He was ordered to go to the military hospital for treatment. When he arrived at the large and imposing building, he saw two doors, one marked, 'For the slightly wounded,' and the other, 'For the seriously wounded.'" "He entered through the first door and found himself going down a long hall. At the end of it were two more doors, one marked, 'For officers', and the other, 'For non-officers.' He entered through the latter and found himself going down another long hall. At the end of it were two more doors, one marked, 'For party members' and the other, 'For non-party members.' He took the second door, and when he opened it he found himself out on the street." "When the soldier returned home, his mother asked him, 'How did you get along at the hospital?' 'Well, Mother,' he replied, 'to tell the truth, the people there didn't do anything for me, but you ought to see the tremendous organization they have!'" I am glad to be able to tell you that the description of Israel’s encampment in our study is both well organized and also full of substance and truth. We see here three characteristics which tell us what God is like and what his people should people should be like, harmony, holiness, and honor.


The tribes are arranged in a huge square with three on the north, three on the south three on the west and three on the east. There are 12 tribes representing the 12 sons of Jacob, but two of them are Ephraim and Manasseh  both the sons of Joseph because the tribe of Levi, the priests are not in the mix. They are segregated, and we shall say more about that shortly, suffice it to say that the order and arrangement is important. The entirety of chapter 2 is devoted to a careful explanation of this and that reminds us of the importance of being where the Lord puts us. We read then, The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: The Israelites are to camp around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family.” On the east, toward the sunrise, the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard. The leader of the people of Judah is Nahshon son of Amminadab. His division numbers 74,600. The tribe of Issachar will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Issachar is Nethanel son of Zuar. His division numbers 54,400. The tribe of Zebulun will be next. The leader of the people of Zebulun is Eliab son of Helon. His division numbers 57,400. All the men assigned to the camp of Judah, according to their divisions, number 186,400. They will set out first.  On the south will be the divisions of the camp of Reuben under their standard. The leader of the people of Reuben is Elizur son of Shedeur. His division numbers 46,500. The tribe of Simeon will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Simeon is Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai. His division numbers 59,300. The tribe of Gad will be next. The leader of the people of Gad is Eliasaph son of Deuel. His division numbers 45,650. All the men assigned to the camp of Reuben, according to their divisions, number 151,450. They will set out second. Then the Tent of Meeting and the camp of the Levites will set out in the middle of the camps. They will set out in the same order as they encamp, each in his own place under his standard. On the west will be the divisions of the camp of Ephraim under their standard. The leader of the people of Ephraim is Elishama son of Ammihud. His division numbers 40,500. The tribe of Manasseh will be next to them. The leader of the people of Manasseh is Gamaliel son of Pedahzur. His division numbers 32,200. The tribe of Benjamin will be next. The leader of the people of Benjamin is Abidan son of Gideoni. His division numbers 35,400. All the men assigned to the camp of Ephraim, according to their divisions, number 108,100. They will set out third. On the north will be the divisions of the camp of Dan, under their standard. The leader of the people of Dan is Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai. His division numbers 62,700. The tribe of Asher will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Asher is Pagiel son of Ocran. His division numbers 41,500. The tribe of Naphtali will be next. The leader of the people of Naphtali is Ahira son of Enan. His division numbers 53,400. All the men assigned to the camp of Dan number 157,600. They will set out last, under their standards. These are the Israelites, counted according to their families. All those in the camps, by their divisions, number 603,550. The Levites, however, were not counted along with the other Israelites, as the Lord commanded Moses. So the Israelites did everything the Lord commanded Moses; that is the way they encamped under their standards, and that is the way they set out, each with his clan and family. We read in verse 17 that the order of encampment was also the order of march. In other words this formation was constantly maintained with the tribes on the east leading, the tabernacle always in the center with 6 tribes in front of it and six tribes following, and according to chapter 10:33-35 the ark went before all, So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.  Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Rise up, O Lord! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.” It is also important to note that this arrangement is the order of the city of God, the New Jerusalem. This Jerusalem which is above as well as below is the people of God, and the apostle John  describes it in Revelation 21:10–16 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. We note that the city is square as in the wilderness and it has three tribes inscribed on each side. This is a signal indication of the unity of God’s covenant of grace in all ages.


The centrality of the tabernacle reinforces the idea of holiness. God is in the center of the camp and therefore in the center of their lives. He condescendingly manifests his presence in the Shekinah which is a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. This manifestation is in the holy place in the tabernacle in the  center of the camp when they are at rest, but when they move the ark is carried by the priests and the Shekinah goes before them in the march. In general the order of the camp was maintained in the march. Three things emphasize the holiness of God present in their midst. The first is that they were to maintain a buffer zone around the tabernacle as Moses is told that the Israelites are to camp “around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it.” The second indication is that no tribe except Levi camped immediately around the tabernacle. In other words the priests and Levites separated the rest of the people from the holy place. The third indication is that the penalty for entering the forbidden places was, according to Numbers 1:51, death. God was in their midst and He is holy.


Now one might think that in the arrangement of the tribes the midst important thing would be how large or numerous they were. What we find however upon closer analysis, is that blood relations are grouped closer together. That is the children of Jacob by Rachel are together, as are the children of her handmaid, Bilhah, and the the Children of Jacob by Leah and the children by her handmaid, Zilpah are also grouped together. Up to this point there is no discernible honor in their arrangement. Descendants of Leah, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon are leading the column and the descendants of Rachel, Benjamin, and the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh are bringing up the rear.The others are arranged three on each flank. Thus neither order of birth or size and strength dictate this order. In order to see this we must go back to Genesis 49:1-28 and Jacob’s final prophetic blessing upon his sons. In verse 1 we read, Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. And in  verse 28 at the end we read, All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him. We cannot look at all of these blessings today, but the one that we must examine is the blessing on Judah in verses 8-12, Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk. Reuben is the firstborn, but the place of preeminence, indeed, the position of ruler over all, is assigned to Judah. And from Judah will descend David the King, and from David will come Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Highest. God promised David that his son would sit upon his throne forever. Thus on the day of Pentecost Peter explained the phenomenon of the Holy Spirit’s advent to the gathered crowd in these words in Acts 2:29-36 Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Thus we learn today that our sojourn in this wilderness as the people of God should be characterized by three things, First harmony between the brothers; second God’s holiness as the guiding principle in our worship; and finally, honor to those to whom honor is due and to God in whatsoever we do. Sola DeI Gloria