Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “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 facing it.”
It might seem odd that God had a particular order for the tribes of Israel to camp in. The order and who camps where and what the symbols are for the various tribes is a lengthy study and far outstrips the time I have available of a morning. But there are a few things that seemed noteworthy to me about the camp.
First, the tribe all camped around the tent of meeting facing it. The center of their lives was to be God’s house; the place where they could commune with the LORD. So, too, must the center of the life of the believer be God and His presence and communion with Him. Everything else must necessarily be arranged around that central thing.
Second, the first tribe to camp and to set out when the Israelites struck camp is Judah. The name Judah means praise. The beginning of every enterprise, whether it be settling down or moving on, ought to be praise.
Third, the last group to get moving is gathered under Dan. The name Dan means judge or judgment. Everything ends in a judgment. For the believer. the judgment is of what we did with the resources God gave us. Our works are judged and we are rewarded accordingly. For the non-believer, judgment is rendered on their rejection of Jesus Christ’s work at the cross.
Fourth, the arrangement of tribes could form a cross. The number of men of war camped in eastward is 186,400 (v 9); southward 151,450 (v 16); westward 108,100 (v 24); northward 157,600 (v 31). If each of these groups camped in a column going in their respective directions, this would form a roughly cross-shaped camp with the Levites and the tabernacle in the middle. There is nothing that I can see that mandates that camping arrangement, I simply find it fascinating that it is possible with the prescribed arrangement.
Fifth and final, the standards mentioned are interesting. According to tradition, Judah’s standard is a lion; Ephraim’s an ox; Reuben’s a man; Dan’s an eagle. Each of these tribes include others gathered under their standards, but these four are the primaries. These four standards happen to coincide with the four faces of the cherubim — the angels that surround God’s presence — as seen in Ezekiel’s visions (Ezekiel 1 and 10).
All interesting, but how it applies to me in the here and now must be addressed. And I have a couple bits of application.
The fact that Judah; praise is the first to set out and the first to camp is telling. God wants me to begin my journey and end my journey with praise. When He bids me stop somewhere , I should praise Him. When He tells me that it is time to move along, I should praise Him still. My family and I are in the midst of striking camp. We have been in one place for several years and the time has been good and the relationships formed here well worth maintaining. That said, I can praise Him because He has good things over the horizon where I cannot yet see them. Sure, there are challenges, but these draw us closer to Him and make us stronger.
The fact that God went to all the trouble to embed symbols and pictures in how the Israelites camped means that He will use any and all means possible to get His message across to me and anyone else who has trouble hearing things the first time around (or the second or the twelfth). I can rest in the knowledge that He will get through to me; He will make any effort to communicate with me so long as I am willing to look and see and listen and hear.
Father, let praise lead me out and be my response when You bid me rest. Give me eyes to see what You would show me and ears to hear what You would say to me. Thank You for these pictures — even the ones that might or might not be present. To know that they could be there still makes me smile.