Numbers
1-2 The Camp 3-9 Those Who Camp on the East Side 10-16 Tribes on the South Side 17 The Tribe of Levi 18-24 Tribes on the West Side 25-31 Tribes on the North Side 32-34 All Is Done According to the Command
The Camp

1Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2“The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance.

Everything in battle revolves around the tabernacle that is the center of the army, here called “the tent of meeting” (cf. Num 1:50,5350But you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle.53But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no wrath on the congregation of the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony.”). The testimony of God in this world is given by the church, especially when the church meets. This is a particular target of the attacks of enemy. That is why it must be protected. To do this, each tribe must take its place around it. Every believer must know his place with regard to the coming together of God’s people.

To order the camp indicates the importance of the place that each tribe occupies. Every member of the tribe must know where that place is. It is important not only as a numbered person to belong to the army, but also to know what his place is in relation to the dwelling place of God. The counted protect the tabernacle.

God gives each tribe its own place. In this way He also gives us our own place around Himself (cf. 1Cor 12:1818But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.). We are called personally, Israel by tribe. Tribes cannot exchange tribes. Whoever belongs to a certain tribe cannot change tribe as he likes. The place that God gives us in His church, He gives us because He can best use us there.

Three tribes are linked together in a special way, under one standard. In this way, local churches are also connected in a special way by their location. It is also important to keep an eye on the people as a whole.

Standards hoisted in Christianity do not work unity, but divisiveness. There are those who raise a standard with the name of a human being or the name of a doctrine. All those who agree, gather under that standard. Every standard is a standard that distinguishes itself from others and that is not what God wants. There is only one center for God that He has set: the Lord Jesus, the true tabernacle, around whom He wants to gather His scattered children into one. The Lord Jesus is “outstanding above ten thousand” (Song 5:1010“My beloved is dazzling and ruddy,
Outstanding among ten thousand.
).

Believers are not called to go through the wilderness on their own. God has not redeemed just individuals who all go their own way. All who are redeemed belong together. In the New Testament they together form the church. They are brought together in ‘tribes’. We can apply this to local churches.

But also as a local church we are not separate from other local churches. Nor should we forget that as a local church we only represent a part of that local church when we meet. The local church consists of all the true believers in that place, although there are some who delimit themselves by church walls. Yet they are part of it. We should also think about this when we come together as a church.

It is important to maintain unity as a tribe and unity with other tribes in the immediate vicinity and unity with all tribes of the whole people. That unity may not be a unity according to one’s own thoughts. It should be the unity of the whole people and not a sectarian one, looking only at their own tribe or the tribes that belong under the same standard. Sectarianism makes the unity smaller than the unity that God wants to make visible.


Those Who Camp on the East Side

3Now those who camp on the east side toward the sunrise [shall be] of the standard of the camp of Judah, by their armies, and the leader of the sons of Judah: Nahshon the son of Amminadab, 4and his army, even their numbered men, 74,600. 5Those who camp next to him [shall be] the tribe of Issachar, and the leader of the sons of Issachar: Nethanel the son of Zuar, 6and his army, even their numbered men, 54,400. 7[Then comes] the tribe of Zebulun, and the leader of the sons of Zebulun: Eliab the son of Helon, 8and his army, even his numbered men, 57,400. 9The total of the numbered men of the camp of Judah: 186,400, by their armies. They shall set out first.

The tribes must camp in relation to the tabernacle according to the wind directions. The four standards lie in four directions from which the influences come from outside and which the people of God must face in the power of Him Who dwells in their midst.

The first side mentioned is the east side. On the east side is the entrance to the tabernacle and it is the side where the sun rises. These two aspects we can apply to (1) entering the sanctuary and (2) looking forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus.

These aspects may be expressed in the church, in the God’s people. The tribe of Juda takes the lead. Judah means ‘praise’. The spirit of praise is the spirit of power (2Chr 20:2222When they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed.). The main purpose of the meeting of the church is to praise and worship God, to offer Him sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. That should be the effect of every meeting.

On the east side Issachar and Zebulun have to camp as well. Together with Judah they are the fourth, fifth, and sixth son that Leah gave birth to Jacob. From the sins of Reuben, Simeon and Levi, the three older brothers (Gen 49:3-73“Reuben, you are my firstborn;
My might and the beginning of my strength,
Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
4“Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence,
Because you went up to your father’s bed;
Then you defiled [it]—he went up to my couch.5“Simeon and Levi are brothers;
Their swords are implements of violence.
6“Let my soul not enter into their council;
Let not my glory be united with their assembly;
Because in their anger they slew men,
And in their self-will they lamed oxen.
7“Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce;
And their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will disperse them in Jacob,
And scatter them in Israel.
), Judah becomes the first among his brothers (Gen 49:88“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.
). He becomes the royal line from whom the Messiah will be born (Gen 49:1010“The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him [shall be] the obedience of the peoples.
; Rth 4:18-2118Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez was born Hezron,19and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab,20and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon,21and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed,). In the genealogy in Matthew 1 (Mt 1:1-161The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:2Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.3Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram.4Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon.5Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse.6Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.7Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa.8Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah.9Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.10Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah.11Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.12After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel.13Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor.14Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud.15Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob.16Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.) we see that Nahshon, the leader of the tribe, is counted among the ancestors of the Lord Jesus (Mt 1:44Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon.).


Tribes on the South Side

10“On the south side [shall be] the standard of the camp of Reuben by their armies, and the leader of the sons of Reuben: Elizur the son of Shedeur, 11and his army, even their numbered men, 46,500. 12Those who camp next to him [shall be] the tribe of Simeon, and the leader of the sons of Simeon: Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai, 13and his army, even their numbered men, 59,300. 14Then [comes] the tribe of Gad, and the leader of the sons of Gad: Eliasaph the son of Deuel, 15and his army, even their numbered men, 45,650. 16The total of the numbered men of the camp of Reuben: 151,450 by their armies. And they shall set out second.

The second side is the south side. South side is literally ‘the right side’. The right side speaks in the Scriptures of dignity of position. The Lord Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:33And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,; 8:11Now the main point in what has been said [is this]: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,; 10:1212but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God,; 12:22fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.). In a spiritual sense this means that the believer who camps on the south side knows the position of the Lord Jesus. That believer also knows that this is his own position, because he is in Christ. God has “seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:66and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus,).

Reuben is the leader on that side. Reuben means ‘see, a son’. When the church meets, believers come together who know that they are sons of God and that they owe it to the Lord Jesus, the Son, Who is their life.

Then Simeon and Gad have to camp on the south side. Reuben and Simeon are the oldest sons of Leah. Levi is not counted. In his place comes Gad, the first son of Zilpa, the maid of Leah.


The Tribe of Levi

17“Then the tent of meeting shall set out [with] the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; just as they camp, so they shall set out, every man in his place by their standards.

After two of the four standards are set out, the tent of meeting is set out. The tent of meeting is the center of the people. That is what the whole people should be aiming for, from there come their march orders.

First we talk about “camp”, then “set out”, but both actions take place in agreement with each other. There must be set out to continue travelling in the same way as the people have camped. One is not separate from the other. Both in worship and approaching God – for which they camp – as well as in defense and protection –which must happen when they set out with the camp – it is about the relationship of God with His people. In these activities the Levites have their own specific task. They are seen as inseparable from both services.


Tribes on the West Side

18“On the west side [shall be] the standard of the camp of Ephraim by their armies, and the leader of the sons of Ephraim [shall be] Elishama the son of Ammihud, 19and his army, even their numbered men, 40,500. 20Next to him [shall be] the tribe of Manasseh, and the leader of the sons of Manasseh: Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur, 21and his army, even their numbered men, 32,200. 22Then [comes] the tribe of Benjamin, and the leader of the sons of Benjamin: Abidan the son of Gideoni, 23and his army, even their numbered men, 35,400. 24The total of the numbered men of the camp of Ephraim: 108,100, by their armies. And they shall set out third.

The third side is the west side. The three tribes that have their camp there are closest to the ark of the testimony. West side is literally ‘side of the sea’. This is the side that speaks of trials and difficulties in the life of the believer. In those trials they produce fruit for God (Gen 1:20-2320Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.”21God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good.22God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”23There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.). Life in connection with the tent of meeting also has its trials. Do we know them? Through these trials God wants to work fruit for Himself in the meetings.

Ephraim is the leader of this group of three. Ephraim means ‘double fertility’. It is a fitting ‘standard-bearer’ for the west side. With him Manasseh and Benjamin also camp on the west side of the tent of meeting. These three are descendants of Rachel, where we see that Joseph is represented by his two sons.

These three tribes are also mentioned in Psalm 80 (Psa 80:33O God, restore us
And cause Your face to shine [upon us], and we will be saved.
). The psalmist asks God to lead them in the last days of Israel’s affliction and to reveal His power as in the days of Israel’s wilderness journey (Num 10:3535Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said,
“Rise up, O LORD!
And let Your enemies be scattered,
And let those who hate You flee before You.”
).


Tribes on the North Side

25“On the north side [shall be] the standard of the camp of Dan by their armies, and the leader of the sons of Dan: Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai, 26and his army, even their numbered men, 62,700. 27Those who camp next to him [shall be] the tribe of Asher, and the leader of the sons of Asher: Pagiel the son of Ochran, 28and his army, even their numbered men, 41,500. 29Then [comes] the tribe of Naphtali, and the leader of the sons of Naphtali: Ahira the son of Enan, 30and his army, even their numbered men, 53,400. 31The total of the numbered men of the camp of Dan [was] 157,600. They shall set out last by their standards.”

The north side is the darkest side, furthest from the sun. The north is literally ‘hiding’. This represents the gloomy side of the testimony of God on earth. The light of God cannot penetrate there. So it may be that through hidden sins there is no power to come together to the glory of God. The meetings do take place, but without conviction, out of pure habit.

The leader on this side is Dan. Jacob calls him in his blessing “a serpent” (Gen 49:1717“Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
A horned snake in the path,
That bites the horse’s heels,
So that his rider falls backward.
), by which he links Dan to the devil. The descendants of Dan, the Danites, have the doubtful honor of being the first to introduce idolatry early in the history of Israel (Jdg 18:3030The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land.).

Together with Asher and Naphtali they set out last. They are all three sons of maids. Then Bilhah’s first son is the maid of Rachel. Asher is the second son of Zilpa, the maid of Leah. Naphtali is Bilhah’s second son.


All Is Done According to the Command

32These are the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households; the total of the numbered men of the camps by their armies, 603,550. 33The Levites, however, were not numbered among the sons of Israel, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 34Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, every one by his family according to his father’s household.

The number of Numbers 1 fighters counted is repeated here. It corresponds to the tribes. Every warrior has taken his place in his own tribe. Each tribe has taken its own position in relation to the tent of meeting under the standard appointed by God. When Balaam sees this order, he comes to the outcry: “How good are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings, Israel! (Num 24:5).


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