The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD told Moses and Aaron, 2“Tell the Israelites to camp around the meeting tent, but to keep a distance away from it. Each family must camp under the banner of their tribe.
3“Judah is to camp under their banner on the east toward sunrise. Their leader is Nahshon son of Amminadab, 4and they number 74,600. 5Next to them will be Issachar. Their leader is Nethanel son of Zuar, 6and they number 54,400. 7Zebulun is next. Their leader is Eliab son of Helon, 8and they number 57,400. 9These three comprise the camp of Judah, numbering 186,400. They will break camp first.
10“On the south will be the camp of Reuben under their banner, under the leadership of Elizur son of Shedeur. 11They number 46,500. 12Next to them will be Simeon, led by Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai, 13and their number is 59,300. 14Gad will camp next to Simeon. Their leader is Eliasaph son of Reuel, 15and they number 45,650. 16Reuben’s camp will total 151,450, and they will be the second to break camp and set out.
17“After them, the Levites will set out under their banner with the meeting tent.
18“Ephraim camps on the west under their banner. Their leader is Elishama son of Ammihud. 19They number 40,500. 20Manasseh is next to them, under the leadership of Gamaliel son of Pedahzur. 21They number 32,200. 22Benjamin, under the leadership of Abidan son of Gideoni will be next to them, 23numbering 35,400. 24The total number in the Ephraim group is 108,100, and they will be the third group to set out.
25“On the north will be the group led by the tribe of Dan, under their banner. Their leader is Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai, 26numbering 62,700. 27Asher will camp next to them, under the leadership of Pagiel son of Ocran. 28They number 41,500. 29Next to them will be Naphtali, led by Ahira son of Enan, 30numbering 53,400. 31The total number in the camp led by Dan is 157,600, and they will be the last to set out.”
32So the Israelites, counted according to their tribes, numbered 603,550, 33not including the tribe of Levi, as the LORD commanded Moses.
34The Israelites arranged themselves according to the instructions the LORD gave to Moses. Thus, they camped under their banners and thus they set out in their tribal groups.
1-2: The ten tribes plus two “half-tribes” are divided into four groups of three each and positioned around the tabernacle. An “order of march” is established for when they are on the move. The names of the leaders of each tribe given here are the same as the leaders who participated in the census-taking in the last chapter, and the numbers given here correspond to the census results.
3-9: Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun camp on the east side, and are the first to break camp. These three tribes together are now referred to as the “camp of Judah.”
10-16: The “camp of Reuben” is made up of the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad, and they are to camp to the south of the sanctuary.
17: The sanctuary, here called the “meeting tent,” is in the center of the total encampment of all the tribes. The encampment of the Levites is also in the center to care for the sanctuary, protected in every direction by the other tribes.
18-24: The “camp of Ephraim”, consisting of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin are on the west. These are the descendants of the sons of Jacob by his wife Rachel — Joseph and Benjamin. Joseph’s sons were Manasseh and Ephraim, so the tribe of Joseph is divided into these two so there will be a total of twelve tribes surrounding the meeting tent. The twelve tribes who will settle the “promised land” do not include the Levites, who are set apart for religious duties and will not be given land in what will become the nation Israel.
25-31: The “camp of Dan,” including the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali, are assigned the northern flank.
32-34: The order of march is established.
This makes for rather tedious reading, but we have to marvel at the careful arrangements of the tribes around the sanctuary, protecting the sanctuary and the Levites who take care of it. One interesting observation: although the tribes are arranged beginning with Judah protecting them on the east side, much of their travel over the next forty years toward the promised land will be northward as well as eastward.