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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 2

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



With respect to the area of this camp there is much difference of opinion. If it were so arranged as to be completely filled, we could approximate its area by assigning a requisite number of square feet to each person. But there was an unoccupied space between the tabernacle, with its Levitical custodians, and the sides of the quadrilateral. Since the breadth of this space is not given in the plan of the camp, we are left to conjecture its size. The camp was probably larger relatively than the Roman military castra, which were always fortified. The Hebrews never fortified, and hence had not the same reason for compression. It is evident from Numbers 10:2-8, that every part of the camp was to be within the sound of the silver trumpet. They could all see the brazen serpent lifted up on a pole near the tabernacle. Numbers 21:9. It is supposed that the length of the sabbath-day’s journey was fixed at two thousand cubits, because this was the distance from the tabernacle to the extremities of the camp, but there is no scriptural proof of this. Nor does the statute granting to the Levites a strip of land two thousand cubits wide around their cities (Numbers 35:4-5) prove that there was exactly this space between the tabernacle and the side of the camp. The Jewish writers do not agree, but the most common opinion among them is, that the circumference was twelve miles. Scheuchzer makes its area twelve square miles.

An inspection of Solomon’s temple and its successor, with the outer and inner court, and its temple proper, ο ναος , divided into the holy and the most holy place, will show that it is but a crystallization of this fluent camp. But this typifies more than the structure reared on Mount Moriah. Its antitype, or, rather, its eternal ideal and archetype, is the “holy city, the new Jerusalem, having the glory of God, and a wall great and high, and twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” This is “the camp of the saints.” Revelation 20:9.

The camp in the wilderness, before reaching the table-lands of Moab, was seldom laid out in the regular manner here indicated, on account of the unevenness of the ground. But when Balaam gazed upon it from “the top of the rocks,” spread out upon the plain, its symmetry and beauty extorted from his unwilling tongue these words of admiration: “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob! and thy tabernacles, O Israel!” Could the eyes of unbelievers in modern times be anointed to see the inner, spiritual beauty of the “camp of the saints, the family of God on the earth, the Church of the firstborn written in heaven,” similar exclamations of wonder and praise would burst from their lips.

Verse 1


1. The Lord spake unto Moses… Aaron We are not to suppose that Jehovah utters all the words of this chapter. Divine commands relating to the order seem to alternate with human statements of the numbers. This should be borne in mind by the reader. Jehovah relieved Moses of the delicate duty of establishing the order of the camp, and of making distinctions among his brethren by giving some the post of honour. He did what all generals claim as their prerogative, deeming it necessary to their success. He selected his own division, and subordinate commanders, and assigned each battalion its post in camp and on the march. We see no reason why Aaron should be addressed with Moses in this chapter, and Moses alone in the first. The reverse of this would have been natural, inasmuch as duties are enjoined on the Levites in the first chapter, but none in the second.

Verse 2

2. Every man… standard See Numbers 1:52, note.

Ensign There were banners for the subdivisions of the tribes as well as for the tribe. It would be difficult for every man to see the tribal ensign, hence smaller groups were marked by their own banners. How the ensign ( Hebrews, oth) differs from the standard (Hebrews, degel) we know not. It was probably smaller. “As the Israelites were commanded to encamp, ‘each by his own standard, with the ensign of their father’s house,’ the direction has been considered as implying that they possessed three varieties 1,) the great tribal standards; 2,) the ensigns of the subdivisions; 3,) those of families or houses.” JAMIESON.

Far off Rather, opposite to the tabernacle on all sides, thus making a hollow square, with the sacred tent in the centre.

Verse 3

3. On the east Or, in front of the door of the tabernacle. Nearest to the tents of Moses and Aaron and the priests, and situated toward the sunrise, was Judah’s standard, planted with the first grand army corps of 186,600 soldiers, to constitute the van of the ponderous column. Issachar and Zebulun and Judah are all sons of Leah, hence there is the strongest motive for harmony. By birthright, Reuben’s was the right of precedence, or the hegemony, as the Greeks called it; but he had forfeited it by a very flagrant crime against the peace and order of his father Jacob’s house, and especially insulting to him. See Genesis 35:22; and Genesis 49:4. His sin dis-crowned him, as sin will dis-crown every impenitent soul. Nahshon, the phylarch or captain of the tribe, with the captains of the other tribes, were those whom Jehovah chose to assist Moses and Aaron in the census.

Numbers 1:5. It is probable that Nahshon outranked not only the two captains of his division, but all the others also, being next to Moses and his vicegerent Joshua. These are doubtless the same men who were assembled by Moses and Aaron in Exodus 4:29, as “all the elders.”

Verse 4

4. Those that were numbered These words are simply explanatory of his host. The better translation would be his host, even those of them who were mustered. Good generalship always puts the strongest battalion in the van, to receive without faltering any sudden attack from the front, and also places a strong rear-guard for the same reason. This accounts for the position of Dan’s grand division, next in strength to Judah’s.

Verse 5

5. Issachar was encamped next to Judah on one side, and Zebulun was probably on the other. By arranging them thus the standard of Judah would be in the centre of the line, and opposite to the door of the tabernacle, and very near to the marquee of Moses, the commander in chief under Jehovah. An inspection of the annexed diagram will show the post of honour for Judah.

Click image for full-size version

Verse 9

9. These shall first set forth Literally, pull up (stakes) first: the first to break up camp and march was to be Judah’s grand division. Mr. Bush, following Rosenmuller, inclines to the opinion that these are the words of Moses, and cites grammatical authority for the use of the future for repeated or customary action “These uniformly set forth first.” But the future is more frequently used as a mild imperative. Moreover, if it was worthy of God to say any thing about the order, it was of the first importance that he should establish the question of precedence in the march, a point on which victory or defeat might turn.

Verse 10

10. Camp of Reuben Or, host of Reuben. This tribe was the head of the second army corps, situated on the south of the tabernacle. Simeon, his own brother, son of Leah, and Gad, son of Zilpah, her handmaid, are members of this division. Reference to relationship was had in the entire arrangement of the camp, and finally, in some degree, in the allotment of the Promised Land.

Verse 17

17. The camp of the Levites is fully described in Numbers 3:14-39. The tabernacle itself, transported by the Gershonites and Merarites, had not its position in the column behind Reuben, but immediately in the rear of Judah, so as to be set up early for the reception of the sacred vessels and furniture, carried by the Kohathites in this central position in the rear of Reuben, for their better protection. See Numbers 10:17.

Verse 18

18. The camp of Ephraim came next, on the west side of the tabernacle. Here the descendants of Rachel, the tribes of Joseph’s two sons and the tribe of Benjamin, his favourite younger brother, reared their standard. They were near neighbours in Canaan, though the Jordan divided Manasseh. In the days of the monarchy they were intimately associated. “Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up thy strength.” Psalms 80:2.

Verse 25

25. The camp of Dan… on the north completes the square. It is composed of the tribes of Asher the son of Zilpah, and of Dan and Naphtali, sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid. Dan, second in strength to Judah, guards the rear of the column. The van and the rear, the posts of danger, are strongly guarded, while the weaker tribes and the non-combatant Levites are wisely placed in the middle of the column when on the march, and the Levites in the center of the square when encamped.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 2". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/numbers-2.html. 1874-1909.
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