While I love watching and driving around following the setting sun (I have thousands of pictures to prove it!), there is NOTHING like watching the sun rise. I love to greet the Lord’s dawn with my song (Ps 57:8; 108:2). I will literally seek out places whether inside my house or someone else’s house, in a hotel, or somewhere out in nature where I can read my Bible and journal, soaking up the Son’s rays. Direct morning sunlight fills my soul like nothing else.
The other morning while basking in the Lord’s sunrise, I started reading through Numbers. While I have read the early chapters of Numbers numerous times, I have come to appreciate the beauty, wonder and order of the Lord even more!
Forgive me folks, I am NOT an artist in the least bit so this is my humble offering of a chart of Israel’s Wilderness Camp given in Numbers 1-3.
I have long known that Israel’s directional orientation faced east with her back being toward the sea and the setting of the sun. I never gave any thought as to what this looked like.
Although Judah was the fourth son of Leah, he was given pride of place as firstborn because of the sins of Reuben, Simeon and Levi. Judah was the head of the eastern triad and whenever Israel moved on from camp or went out to battle they led the way. Reuben led the southward triad and was given secondary honor. After the triad of Reuben moved out, “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 ESV). Ephraim, fulfilled Jacob’s blessing (Gen 48:5-20) and was the leader of the westward triad; the first to follow behind the Tabernacle when they moved from camp. The northward triad and the last to move were led by Dan.
Whether Israel was on the move or stationary in camp, the Tabernacle (or Tent of Meeting) was always in the center. I love what Allen says, “On the line of march the triads of Judah and Reuben would lead the community; next would come the tabernacle with the attendant protective hedge of Levites; then would come the triads of Ephraim and Dan. In this way there was not only the sense of the indwelling presence of God in the midst of the people, there was also the sense that the people in their families and tribes were protecting before and behind the shrine of his presence” (Numbers, REBC, 2012, p. 98).
It is truly significant that Moses no longer had to go outside of camp to meet with Yahweh (Ex 33:7-11). “There is a sense here of the progressive manifestation of the presence of God in the midst of the people. First he was on the mountain of Sinai; then he came to the tent outside the camp; then he indwelt the tent in the midst of the camp. One day he would reveal himself through the incarnation in the midst of his people (Jn 1:1–18); and, on a day still to come, there will be an even greater realization of the presence of the person of God dwelling in the midst of his people in the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:1–4). The story of the Bible is largely the story of the progressive revelation of God among his people…and the progressive preparation of a people to be fit to live in his presence” (R. Allen, p. 98). Numbers truly is a book about worshipping Yahweh!
I am a person who CRAVES order, structure, consistency and stability. In a world that is growing more tense, chaotic, unstable and hostile by the day, reading and meditating on these chapters have calmed my soul. “There is a sense in which the orderliness of these early chapters of Numbers is akin to the orderliness of Genesis 1. As God has created the heavens and the earth and all that fills them with order, beauty, purpose, and wonder, so he constituted his people with order, beauty, purpose, and wonder. And as the heavens and earth may “praise” God in their responses to his commands (Ps 147:13–18), so the peoples of God may praise him in their responses to his commands (Ps 147:19–20). Indeed, his people must praise him” (Allen, p. 93).
God cares about the order and manner in which He receives worship. In Numbers 3, Moses retells the story of Nadab and Abihu. The order of the tribe of Levi’s tents around the Tabernacle in 3:21-38 are given from least favored to favored (opposite of non-levitical tribes, favored to least).
Gershon to the west, away from the entrance of the tabernacle was responsible for the Tabernacle’s structure: tent, coverings, curtains and ropes. Kohath to the south was the largest clan and cared for: furnishings of tabernacle, ark, table, lamps, altars. Merari to the north cared for: frames, posts, bases, crossbars and supplementary materials. The Priests (Moses, Aaron and sons/descendants) had the honored position of being on the east, protecting the entrance of the Tabernacle.
“Moses and Aaron were not placed in the posture of arrogance on the eastern side of the tabernacle; they were placed there for a representational ministry (“on behalf of the Israelites”). Theirs was an exclusive work but beneficent to the community. Service in the tabernacle was an act of mercy, a means for the people to come before God. Yet it was marked by severity—all had to be done in God’s way! God receives the worship of his people only because of his mercy. The sovereignty of God was evident in his limitations on the means to approach him. The “stranger” could be a better man or woman, more pious and devout than a given descendant of Aaron; yet he or she would still face death in the case of actions based on presumption. The warning of death to the “stranger” is found four times in the book (see 1:51; 3:10, 38; 18:7)” (Allen, p. 111).
Near the end of Numbers 3 we read, “male Levites over the age of one month were to be regarded by Yahweh as “belonging to him” as the payment of redemption for the firstborn of the nation. The firstborn of animals were to be sacrificed to the Lord, but God never countenanced the sacrifice of persons on his altars. Hence a substitution was made. A male Levite was regarded as a substitution for the firstborn member of a family in a non-Levitical tribe. Notice that the firstborn of the livestock were also included in the substitutionary arrangement: Levite for firstborn of Israel, and Levite’s livestock for firstborn livestock of Israel” (Allen, p. 113).
The structure, detail and order given to Israel’s wilderness camp is so humbling and beautiful to me. For Christians today, we know that Jesus took on flesh and dwelt among sinful man. When we overlook these beginning chapters of Numbers we can miss seeing how Jesus is our sacrificial and substitutionary Lamb who redeemed us by His shed blood on the cross. Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who is already victorious but will come back to fight His enemies at the end of the age. Jesus is our great High Priest who is making intercessions on our behalf before the Father.
While our lives may be marked by disorder and dysfunction, we know that God is not chaotic nor disorganized. As God strategically and purposefully ordered Israel’s camp, setting them apart from the other nations, so too is God strategically and purposefully ordering our camp and steps. May we take comfort that the Lord Jesus Christ is in our midst and that the Holy Spirit will help us to live in a manner where we bring glory to God the Father.
Lord God, You absolutely amaze me. I am humbled by who You are and what You do. Lord God, in a world that is full of chaos and disorder I am thankful that You are stable, consistent, organized and purposeful. Lord God, Your presence and redemption are themes that run from Genesis to Revelation. Lord God, open this reader’s mind, heart, and hands to love and trust You and Your Word more. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.