Numbers 1-2 The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard

From Numbers 1-2

As they moved through the wilderness Israel marched in a formation. There were four sides to their formation: east, south, west and north. Importantly they all surrounded the tent of meeting which was in the center. Do you know where your place is in God’s purposes?

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

The book of Numbers is much like a travel diary. It records Israels journey through the wilderness until they reach the border of the promised land. They traveled for a long time. In today’s passage we read something about how they traveled.

2 The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2 “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side. (Num 2.1-2)

‘Own standard’. Each of the groups were to be identified by their own standard. Some sort of flag or bearing which distinguished them from the other groups. The largest group was the tribe. Tribes were broken down into clans. Clans broken down into houses, extended families.

‘Tent of meeting’. While they were distinguished by their families. They all shared the presence of the LORD who had made them his people and dwelt among them.

Hubbard, S. et al. with Logos Bible Software and KarBel Media, 2012. Faithlife Study Bible Infographics, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

3 Those to camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah by their companies, the chief of the people of Judah being Nahshon the son of Amminadab, 4 his company as listed being 74,600. 5 Those to camp next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar, the chief of the people of Issachar being Nethanel the son of Zuar, 6 his company as listed being 54,400. 7 Then the tribe of Zebulun, the chief of the people of Zebulun being Eliab the son of Helon, 8 his company as listed being 57,400. 9 All those listed of the camp of Judah, by their companies, were 186,400. They shall set out first on the march. (Num 2.3-9)

‘East side’. Four sides are listed: East, south, west and north. The order communicates value. The tribe of Judah given the most prominence and so was the first named tribe in each section. These were Judah, Reuben, Ephraim and Dan. This order also reflected their marching order.

If we skip ahead a little the description of the tent of meeting is given after the east and south sides and before the west and north sides.

17 “Then the tent of meeting shall set out, with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; as they camp, so shall they set out, each in position, standard by standard. (Num 2.17)

‘In the midst’. The tent of meeting, therefore the presence of the LORD was in the midst of the camps.

They were not alone, the LORD traveled with them.

We don’t have space for the whole account. But it finishes with;

32 These are the people of Israel as listed by their fathers’ houses. All those listed in the camps by their companies were 603,550. 33 But the Levites were not listed among the people of Israel, as the LORD commanded Moses.

34 Thus did the people of Israel. According to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, each one in his clan, according to his fathers’ house. (Num 2:32-34)

‘Listed’. The purpose of this encampment isnt made explicit. But considering the historical context we know it is a war camp. They are mobilised to invade other nations and conquer. The numbers of the census are fighting aged men. Women and children are not listed.

‘Not listed’. While the Levites were not numbered in the census, the recorders included them. The two chapters note a few times how Israel followed the LORD’s commands.

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.

The census and organization of Numbers 1–2 were important steps to make a mob of ex-slaves into a focused, disciplined, conquering army. Around the fully functioning sanctuary of the divine King at the core of the war camp, every able-bodied man was in his place and accounted for. All was in order for efficient and effective deployment. Why should the Lord be concerned with order and efficiency? After all, hadn’t he promised to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites by his own power? To begin with, the Bible portrays the Lord God as a God of order. …

Through the instructions of Leviticus, he taught his model community how to interact with and emulate him at every level of life and society. In this way he sought to establish a holy New World Order that was really a beachhead for restoration of his Original World Order. (Roy Gane, Leviticus, Numbers, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 503–504.)

Story of Jesus

The Israelite camp displayed both distinction and a common center. The distinction was each of the tribes of Israel. The center was the LORD himself.

Our modern culture prides itself on individuality and independence. While these have some value, today’s passage reminds us if we are not centered on the LORD we will lose our place.

14 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn 14.1-6)

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