Today our reading begins with the Book of Number and the rules for locating the tribes in the camp.
Numbers picks up where Leviticus left off – recounting events that happened one month later than what is recorded there (40:; Num 1). The Israelites have been free from the Egyptians now for a year, have entered into a covenant with the Lord, and have received God’s law through Moses. As a result of Israel’s national sin the people descended from Israel (Jacob) would wander in the wilderness for forty years. Numbers covers the period from their departure from Sinai (1:1) to their arrival by the Jordan across from Jericho (36:13). They are on the verge of entering the Promised Land.
Chapter 1 –
Once the Israelites were living under a covenant with the Lord, it was time to set out for the promised land. But first, of the two million souls had to be organized into a coherent and orderly traveling community. As it turns out they would also need chastening, cleansing, repentance, and restoration in order to live in the presence of a holy God.
The twelve tribes listed all descended from the sons of Jacob except Ephraim and Manasseh (1:32-35) who replaced the Levites, these two tribes descended from Jacob’s son Joseph. The Levites received no land inheritance since they were to serve the as the Lord’s priests and temple servants.
The census revealed 603,550 of those twenty years old and more. Again it is noted the Levites were not counted in case of war they worship continued.
The Israelite camp was laid out in a cross shape with three tribes grouped on each side of the tabernacle, which was situated in the middle. The Levites camped around the tabernacle within the perimeter of the camp and stood between the people and God. Note what happens to a person who approaches the tabernacle (1:51).
Chapter 2 –
The twelve tribes were to camp around the tent of meeting at a distance from it. This gave the Levites room to camp around it.
The placement of the tribes around the camp , three tribes to a side generally followed groupings by Jacob’s sons.
The three tribes on the east side were Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, all sons of Jacob and Leah. The east was the direction the tabernacle faced. This meant they led the way as the procession moved.
The next tribes on the south were Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. Rueben was Jacob’s first born with Leah, Simeon was Leah’s second son. Gad was the son of Leah’s maidservant Zilpah they replaced the Levites.
The west side of the camp included the tribes of Benjamin, Manasseh, and Ephraim. Benjamin and Manasseh were the sons of Jacob represented the two sons of Rachel; they were Jacob’s youngest sons. Benjamin’s tribe ultimately becomes absorbed into the tribe of Judah and it was the smallest of the tribes,
The last group and on the north side was the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali who would move out last. Dan and Naphtali were the of Bilhah while Asher was the son Zilpah.
Here we read The Israelites did everything the Lord commanded.