The total of the numbered men of the camp of Judah: 186,400, by their armies. They shall set out first.
There were a couple of things that struck me about how the camp of Israel would set up and set out. Reading Numbers 2, Levi and the tabernacle are in the middle of the camp of Israel — literally. Three tribes east, three tribes south, three tribes west, three tribes north. This was meant, I think, to be a very visual and kinesthetic reminder of where God belongs in the life of His child: right in the middle. But there is something else. The name Judah means “praise”. So, every time the Israelites broke camp and got moving, they led with praise. The other camps are just as interesting with Reuben (“Look, a son!”), Levi (“joined to”), Ephraim (“fruitful”), and Dan (“judge”) following in that order. If I were going to get all metaphorical (and I am), I would point out that everything starts with praise. Praise leads the worshiper to see the Son. The Son is able to join the believer to Himself and make the believer fruitful. And that fruit from the believer’s life will be judged: the good will remain and the bad be thrown out. Which results in still more praise and looking to the Son and the cycle repeats.
More than that, Judah is consistently referred to as a leader; a lawgiver; a ruler in the nation of Israel. Jacob.Israel prophesied as much in Genesis 50. The psalms are replete with references to Judah being a leader or lawgiver (just taught on one such reference yesterday … it’s in Psalm 60). Who is it that leads the believer into the promises of God? The Lion of the tribe of Judah. None other than Jesus. The order of the tribes could also be understood in reference to Jesus being the representative of Judah and leading the children of God (“Behold how great a love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God”) to be joined to Himself and the Father and the Holy Spirit (“by which we cry ‘Abba! Father!'”) so we can be fruitful and judgment will be behind us.
Order is important. While the metaphorical notions I’ve written down have probably been discussed before (and likely will be again) and may or may not have merit (don’t claim to be inspired, just thinking in text), God is a God of order and He has no proclivity toward doing anything without reason. In order to work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, He must be orchestrating the agreeable as well as the disagreeable to ultimately end in good. To make so many occurrences end in good, God cannot leave anything to chance. So I doubt very seriously that the order in which the tribes made camp and set out when they broke camp was left to chance. In fact, the order was prescribed by God. From thirteen possible names and meanings, God chooses five to, I think, communicate something to His people. How right or wrong these musings are is God’s to determine (it’s His book), but the statement that it all begins with praise is, I think, worthwhile. There are passages in scripture (in Job, I think) where it says that the angels sang praises while God created the world. It all begins with praise. Do I want to see the Son? I must start with praise. Do I want to be in communion; be joined to God? Then I must start with praise. Do I want to be fruitful? Praise is where it all begins. I can even praise God for His judgments, because they are just.
One last thought. Praise need not be song. I praise my daughter when she does well by word. I tell her that she’s doing well and encourage her to continue doing well. For those of us who cannot carry a tune in a bucket, praise can simply be telling God how amazing He’s doing at running things. It is the words and the heart behind them that constitute praise. Not the melody or the musicality. Melody and musicality are well and good and have their rightful place, but we should never let our own limitations in either of those hold us back from praising our Maker.