Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,2. The Camp Put in Order
1. The command (Numbers 2:1-2)
2. The east-side: Judah, Issachar and Zebulun (Numbers 2:3-9)
3. The south-side: Reuben, Simeon and Gad (Numbers 2:10-16)
4. The position of the Levites (Numbers 2:17)
5. The west-side: Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin (Numbers 2:18-24)
6. The north-side: Dan, Asher and Naphtali (Numbers 2:25-34)
The camp is now divinely arranged and put in order. Nothing was left to themselves. Jehovah spoke and gave the instructions, how every man of the children of Israel was to pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father’s house over against, round about the tabernacle. The tabernacle where Jehovah dwelt was in the midst. Around this center the tribes were grouped in four camps, an east side, a south side, west side and north side, three tribes on each side. Rabbinical tradition adds many interesting details which may be true. According to this tradition each had its own standard with the crests of its ancestors. On the east, above the tent of Nahshon, there shone a standard of green, because it was on an emerald (the green stone) that the name of Judah was engraved upon the breastplate of the high priest. Upon this standard was a lion, according to the words of Jacob, “Judah is a lion’s whelp.” Towards the south, above the tent of Elizur, the son of Reuben, there floated a red standard, the color of the Sardius, the stone upon which Reuben’s name was written. Upon his standard was a human head, because Reuben was the head of the family. And Reuben means, as we saw in Exodus, “Behold a son,” typical of Him who became the Son of man. On the west, above the tent of Elishama, the son of Ephraim, there was a golden flag on which was the head of a calf, because it was through the vision of the calves or oxen that Joseph had predicted and provided for the famine in Egypt; and hence Moses, when blessing the tribe of Joseph (Deuteronomy 33:17) said, “his glory is that of the first-born of a bull.” Towards the north, above the tent of Ahiezer, the son of Dan, there floated a motley standard of red and white, like the jasper, in which the name of Dan was engraven upon the breastplate. In his standard was an eagle, the great foe of serpents, because Jacob had compared Dan to a serpent; but Ahiezer had substituted the eagle, the destroyer of serpents, as he shrank from carrying an adder upon his flag. This, we remind our readers, is Jewish tradition, and very interesting.
A little diagram will bring the camp more vividly before us.
The Lord, we repeat, arranged the camp, with Judah facing towards the sunrise; this indicates the promised goal and also reminds us of the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, the coming of the Lord, when the wanderings of His people will end. And Jehovah was in the midst of His people to guide and protect them, to supply their needs. He is still the same. His New Testament people are also put in order by Him, and He is in the midst. However, there are not different standards around which His people gather, but there is only One, which is Christ. We do not think it profitable to enter into some of the rationalistic objections made in connection with this camp and its enormous number of occupants. They say, among other things, that such a mass of people could not possibly have lived for any length of time in the peninsula of Sinai, inasmuch as the natural produce of the desert could not have sustained them. But they forget that the book of Numbers does not say they lived upon what the desert yielded, but that they were miraculously sustained. These objections, whether they come from a vile French infidel or a cultured, higher critic, are the offspring of an unbelieving heart.