Numbers 2 Devotional
by Pastor Lawrence Bowlin
Once all the fighting men had been counted in Israel to determine the overall troop strength, the next command was to arrange the camp in an orderly manner. When organizing a great number of people such as the Israelites, it was important to utilize flags of various kinds to ensure that if the people couldn’t hear the commands, they could, at least, see their particular unit moving and follow along. Thus each tribe had its own banner, and every three tribes had their own standard to follow, so that everyone knew their place.
Jewish tradition teaches that there was both a particular sign and a color associated with each of the tribes of Israel. Many of the signs stemmed from the prophetic blessing that Jacob pronounced upon each of his sons before he died (Gen 49)—Judah’s being a lion, Benjamin’s a wolf etc. And the colors of each tribal banner were associated with the precious stones on the breastplate of the high priest representing the twelve tribes of Israel as described in Exodus 28:17ff.
Each triad of tribes, excluding the tribe of Levi, was to camp on a particular side of the tabernacle and set up and take down their own tents in a particular manner. The honor of the vanguard was given to the Lion of Judah who, along with Issachar and Zebulun, camped on the east side of the tabernacle leading the Israelites into battle. Reuben and his brothers camped on the south side. Ephraim and his unit on the west side, and Dan and his people on the north, with the Levites camping in the middle immediately surrounding the tabernacle to keep some distance between the Tent of the Lord and the other tribes.
There are two very important truths that we can learn from this chapter. The first is that God does everything in a decent and orderly way arranging all things according to his own purposes determining our place and rank in advance. Judah did not volunteer to go first; it was the Lord’s doing, for ultimately the messiah would come out of the tribe of Judah, and He would be the forerunner leading the way into the Promised Land. Everyone knew their place and their calling and, at least for a time, were content to fill that role for the Lord’s sake whether as the commander of God’s troops or as the doorkeeper to the house of the Lord.
Then secondly, everything and everyone was peripheral to the tabernacle of the Lord. Whether the Israelites were camping or whether they were on the march, the tabernacle was always in the center. And when they put down their stakes into the ground each night, their tents always faced the presence of the Lord. Most of the earliest towns built in America were arranged in this same manner with the Church taking the central location as a reminder to its inhabitants to keep the Lord at the center of their thoughts, always before their minds. The late R.C. Sproul was well known for emphasizing in his ministry the Latin phrase Coram Deo, which translated means “in the presence of God,” to remind God’s people that they are continually living in God’s presence, under his authority and for his honor and glory. God arranged the camp of Israel in just such a way in order that they might always live in His presence.
Christianity is not a hobby. It is not an extra-curricular activity. It is a life ordered by God, directed by God and submitted unto God in every way through faith in Jesus Christ. Any other life is a disordered one seeking to place ourselves at the center—it is like a never-ending wandering in a desert that only leads to death. On the other hand, a good ordered life lived continually in the presence of God demonstrates the firmness of our faith in Christ (Colossians 2:5).