The order of the tribes in their tents.
Before Christ 1490.
Numbers 2:2. Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch, &c.— The tribes being mustered, registered, and formed into distinct troops; the next order given to Moses and Aaron is about the regular form of their encampments. Their general camp is appointed to be in the form of an oblong square, of twelve miles in compass, according to the Jews; each side to consist of the united bodies of three tribes, nearest related in blood to each other, to pitch at such a distance from the tabernacle, which stood in the midst of them, as might bespeak their reverence to that sacred place, and make their whole camp a general fence and guard to it. This distance was about 2000 cubits, as is inferred from Joshua 3:4 and was left for the priests and Levites to pitch their tents within, next to the tabernacle: the two strongest bodies, those of Judah and Dan, were to march in front and rear; the standard, by which they were to pitch, is thought by some to have been the common banner, under which every three tribes were united: besides which, each tribe seems to have had a separate ensign, in the nature of our colours. How these standards were distinguished, is uncertain. The learned Dr. Gregory Sharpe quotes Aben Ezra in testimony of his opinion, that the four cherubic animals formed the four standards of Israel. "There were figures in each standard," says Aben Ezra; "and our ancients said, that, in the standard of Reuben, there was the figure of a man; which they argue from the mandrakes: in the standard of Judeah was the figure of a lion, to which Jacob his father has compared him: in the standard of Ephraim, the figure of a bullock; from the text, his glory is like the firstling of his bullock: and in the standard of Dan, there was the figure of an eagle; in order that they should be like the cherubim seen afterwards by the prophet Ezekiel." See the Rise and Fall of Jerusalem, p. 34. The Jews tell us further, that in the midst of Judah's standard was inscribed, in large characters, Let Jehovah arise, and his enemies shall fly before him: and to the same purpose in the other standards. The best comment on this subject, will be an inspection of Lamy's print of the camp of the Israelites, to which we refer the reader: as also to book 1 Chronicles 7 sect. 6 of the Universal History. Dr. Beaumont upon this verse observes, that, "according to the manner of this encamping, the Christian church is described, Revelation 4:4; Revelation 4:11 as a throne in the midst; and the temple is God's throne, Ezekiel 43:4-7. The elders are double the number of these tribes here encamping, because the church is increased, Isaiah 54:2. Between the throne and the circuit about it, are four living creatures, the ministers and watchmen of the church; as here the Levites in four quarters: Thus, the church, are those who are round about the Lord; Psalms 76:11."
REFLECTIONS.—Order in their march and encampments is here prescribed. They were a military body, moving to the promised land. God's Israel, like them, are fighting the good fight of faith, and waiting to change the tabernacle of the body for the city of God. Each tribe was encamped under the ensign of his squadron; and each man posted under his own standard, among his own relations. Thus mutual love would be cultivated, and mutual assistance be given.—Each squadron had a different ensign, but all served in the same cause. The different denominations of real christians, though their standards differ, are engaged in the same warfare. The tabernacle was in the centre: for God is the strength of his Israel; their courage and success is from him. And each of their camps at a respectful distance; not so near, as to disturb the solemn service; nor so distant, as to make their attendance inconvenient. Note; Our wilderness-state is short: yet a little while, and we shall encamp around the throne of God in glory; and Jesus, the captain of our salvation, will spread over us the banner of his everlasting love.
Numbers 2:4. His host, and those that were numbered of them, were, &c.— Our translation is awkward here, as well as in the subsequent verses, where the same thing is spoken of. Houbigant renders it, with his army, and with those who were numbered, threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred. It might be with his army, even those who were numbered, being, &c.
Numbers 2:17. The tabernacle of the congregation, &c.— See chap. Numbers 10:17; Numbers 10:21.
Numbers 2:34. So they pitched— The order here enjoined was so regular, that the camp of Israel, seen at a distance, must necessarily have appeared very beautiful; and accordingly we find Balaam speaking of it as such. How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob! and thy tabernacles, O Israel! &c. Numbers 24:5; Numbers 24:25.
REFLECTIONS.—When God himself settles the precedence; there is no room left for dispute among themselves. Those whom God honours, we may not envy. Judah leads the van, with Issachar and Zebulun, each under captains of their own tribes. Subordination in rank and station is God's appointment, and must be observed. Judah was the tribe whence Shiloh was expected, and therefore justly preferred to lead the way to Canaan; as Christ his offspring was to be the captain of eternal salvation to his people. Reuben, who encamped on the south, followed next with Simeon and Gad. Levi encamped within, between the rest of the tribes and the tabernacle, and marched in the midst of them, defended before and behind. Of all things dear to us, the church of God should be the first, and best guarded; and her ministers especially respected. Ephraim, with Manasseh and Benjamin, encamped westward, and followed the tabernacle; whilst Dan, with Asher and Naphtali, encamped on the north, and in the march closed the rear; he, next to Judah, was most numerous, and therefore fittest for the post assigned. God's dispositions are always wise, and just, and good. Obedience really and cheerful was paid to all these orders. God's word must thus regulate our march, as God's providence does our station; and when the one is cheerfully submitted to, and the other carefully followed, then we are sure of the divine blessing, and may go forth boldly, conquering and to conquer all our spiritual enemies.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 2". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany