As James Burton Coffman says, Moses recorded details of the arrangement of the camp of the Israelites in the wilderness. The camp was highlighted by the tabernacle in the center with the twelve tribes and their armies under the different banners organized around it. Hebrew – בְאֹתֹת says [that] every division shall have its own flag staff, with a colored flag hanging on it; the color of one being different from the color of any other. The color of each one was like the hue of its stone, set in the choshen [worn by the Kohen Gadol], and in this way, everyone could recognize his division. — [Rashi].
Yahweh was always in the midst of his people and even in the order of marching the tabernacle was in the center. The strongest forces were placed in the frontline – to the east, toward the sunrise – so Judah and his hosts led the way with Issachar and Zebulun following. Moses said that the total number of men assigned to Judah, troop by troop, was 186,400. They led the march. The host of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali, numbering 157,600, were placed in the rear. The first two `standards’ were to precede the tent of meeting and the last two would follow it. “When the cloud was seen departing, the Kohanim would sound the trumpets, and the camp of Judah would set off first. And when they traveled, they journeyed forward retaining the same positions in which they camped: the Levites and the wagons in the center, the division of Judah to the east, that of Reuben to the south, that of Ephraim to the west, and that of Dan to the north. The host of Reuben, Simeon and Gad numbered 151,450 and were on the south. The host of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin numbered 108,100 and were on the west.
Yahweh does things things in an orderly manner. For example, the sun, moon, and stars operate according to a fixed pattern and the comets move exactly as he intended they should through the heavens. He had an orderly and systematic plan for the camps and the way Israel was to move through the wilderness. All order was centered on Yahweh – represented by the tabernacle of meeting in the middle of the camp and the way it moved through the wilderness. Each tribe marched through the wilderness in the order in which they were camped.
The twelve commanders were the twelve leaders who assisted Moses and Aaron take the census.
Judah’s standard may have had a lion embroidered on it. Rueben may have had a man on his flag, Ephraim may have had a calf on his, and Dan may have had an eagle emblazoned on his banner; but this is just speculation. What we know is that Moses said that the twelve tribes camped under their respective flags; and they marched by tribe with their ancestral families.
David Guzik says Yahweh orders things according to His wisdom, not ours. Our resistance to his order and organization is almost always the product of simple selfishness – wanting to do things our own way, instead of Yahweh’s. For slaves, it is simple – slaves are always told what to do and don’t need to be ordered and organized. But free men must be taught order and organization, and must submit to it. He pointed out that everything in camp was positioned in relation to Yahweh’s presence as represented by the tabernacle. He could have described where the tribe of Judah was in relation to the tribe of Dan, but he didn’t. The reference point was always Yahweh himself. Yahweh must always be our focus.
Summary of chapter 2
Yahweh commanded Moses and Aaron to teach the Israelites how they were to pitch their tents, and raise the emblems of their fathers’ houses. Israel’s camp consisted of three main divisions. The the throne of Yahweh – the Tabernacle – was first. It was smaller, but the strongest and the most powerful, and was the center of the army. The second, the priests and Levites, surrounded the first – the Tabernacle. The third, and the farthest from the center, took in all the other tribes of Israel, about a mile from the tabernacle – according to Josephus, the nearest Israel ventured toward the Chest of Atonement, except during the time of worship was a distance of 2,000 cubits. Israel’s large army, composed of 600,000 soldiers, with their families, made about 3,000,000 souls, and would have needed a sizeable area of land. Their dwellings had to be distributed by rules of harmony that only Yahweh was capable of composing. There were four divisions facing the four quarters of the heavens, under four ensigns. They shaped the midpoint of Yahweh’s army. Judah was located on the east, and under him were Issachar and Zebulun. Reuben was on the south and Simeon and Gad were under him. Ephraim was on the west with Manasseh and Benjamin under him. Dan was on the north with Asher and Naphtali. Adam Clarke gave a detailed account of the government of Israel and its extensive layout.
Prayer: Lord, you are a great and mighty God. You guided Israel and gave them order and stability – and you produce harmony in my life. Lord, I pray, that the mind of Christ my Savior Yeshua ha Mashiach, who lives in me control all I do and say by His love and power. I pray that his/your word will dwell richly in my heart from hour to hour so that everyone around me will see you in my actions, words, and heart. I pray that the peace of Yeshua will rule in my heart so that I will be calm to comfort the sick and sorrowing around me. I pray that your love will fill me as the waters fill the seas so that you will be exalted in my life. I pray that you will help me to run the race set before me and face my foe with your strength – brave in the knowledge that you have already won the battles of this life. I pray that your beauty will rest upon me and reveal you through me.
Things to think about
- What does the organization of the camp Tell you about Yahweh?
- What do you think was the significance of the flags?
- Why do you think Yahweh arranged the cam and the marching order to the tribes were in a large circle with the tabernacle in the center?
- Why do you think there were tribes on the four corners of the earth/heavens – north, south, east, and west?
- Why do you think it was important for the people to march and live with their ancestral tribes?
- What did Israel need to learn to help them survive as free people after being slaves for so long? How does that relate to you and me today when we leave the slavery of sin and align ourselves with Yahweh and his freedom?
- How can you and I have harmony and stability in our own lives today?
 Descended from Leah
 Descended from Leah and Zilpah (Leah’s maid)
 Descended from Rachel
 Bilhah (Rachel’s maid) or of Zilpah (Leah’s maid)
 Revelation 4:7; “According to rabbinical tradition, the standard of Judah bore the figure of a lion, that of Reuben the likeness of a man or of a man’s head, that of Ephraim the figure of an ox, and that of Dan the figure of an eagle.” (Keil-Delitzsch)