Numbers 2:2
Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Numbers 2:2. His own standard — It is manifest there were four great standards or ensigns, which here follow, distinguished by their colours or figures; also there were other particular ensigns belonging to each of their fathers’ houses or families. Far off — Partly out of reverence to God and his worship, and the portion allotted to it, and partly for caution, lest their vicinity to it might tempt them to make too near approaches to it. It is supposed they were at two thousand cubits distance from it, which was the space between the people and the ark; and it is not improbable, because the Levites encamped round about it, between them and the tabernacle. It is observable, those tribes were placed together, that were nearest of kin to each other. Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun were the three youngest sons of Leah, and Issachar and Zebulun would not grudge to be under Judah, their elder brother. Reuben and Simeon would not be content with their place. Therefore Reuben, Jacob’s eldest son, is chief of the next squadron.

Simeon doubtless is willing to be under him. And Gad, the son of Leah’s handmaid, is fitly added to him, in Levi’s room. Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, are all the posterity of Rachel. Dan, the eldest son of Bilhah, leads the rest; to them are added the two younger sons of the handmaids. So much of the wisdom of God appears even in these smaller circumstances!2:1-34 The order of the tribes in their tents. - The tribes were to encamp about the tabernacle, which was to be in the midst of them. It was a token of God's gracious presence. Yet they were to pitch their tents afar off, in reverence to the sanctuary. The children of Israel put themselves in their posts, without murmuring or disputing; and as it was their safety, so it was their beauty. It is our duty and interest to be contented with the place allotted to us, and to endeavour to occupy it in a proper manner, without envying or murmuring; without ambition or covetousness. Thus the gospel church ought to be compact, according to the Scripture model, every one knowing and keeping his place; and then all that wish well to the church rejoice, beholding their order, Col 2:5.standard ... ensign - The "standard" marked the division, or camp (cf. Numbers 1:9, Numbers 1:16, Numbers 1:24, Numbers 1:31); the "ensign" the family. There would thus be four "standards" only, one for each "camp" of three tribes. The "standard" was probably a solid figure or emblem mounted on a pole, such as the Egyptians used. Tradition appropriates the four cherubic forms (Ezekiel 1:5-12; Revelation 4:7 ff), the lion, man, ox, and eagle, to the camps of Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan respectively; and this, as to the first, has a certain support from Genesis 49:9 (compare Revelation 5:5), and as to the third, from Deuteronomy 33:17.

Far off - See the margin, over against; i. e. facing the tabernacle on every side. The distance was perhaps 2,000 cubits or rather more than 14 mile: compare Joshua 3:4.

2. Every man … shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house—Standards were visible signs of a certain recognized form for directing the movements of large bodies of people. 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, which served as rallying points for the twelve large clans of the people; (2) the standards of the subdivided portions; and, (3) those of families or houses. The latter must have been absolutely necessary, as one ensign only for a tribe would not have been visible at the extremities of so large a body. We possess no authentic information as to their forms, material, colors, and devices. But it is probable that they might bear some resemblance to those of Egypt, only stripped of any idolatrous symbols. These were of an umbrella or a fanlike form, made of ostrich feathers, shawls, &c., lifted on the points of long poles, which were borne, either like the sacred central one, on a car, or on men's shoulders, while others might be like the beacon lights which are set on poles by Eastern pilgrims at night. Jewish writers say that the standards of the Hebrew tribes were symbols borrowed from the prophetic blessing of Jacob—Judah's being a lion, Benjamin's a wolf, &c. [Ge 49:3-24]; and that the ensigns or banners were distinguished by their colors—the colors of each tribe being the same as that of the precious stone representing that tribe in the breastplate of the high priest [Ex 28:17-21].

far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch—that is, "over against," at a reverential distance. The place of every tribe is successively and specifically described because each had a certain part assigned both in the order of march and the disposition of the encampment.

By his own standard, or ensign, by that to which he is allotted by the following order. It is manifest that there were four great standards or ensigns, which here follow, distinguished by their colours or figures, or otherwise; also that there were other particular ensigns belonging to each of their father’s houses or families, as is here said.

Far off; partly out of reverence to God and his worship, and the portion allotted to it, and partly for caution, lest their vicinity to it might tempt them to make too near approaches to it. It is supposed they were at two thousand cubits distance from it, which was the space between the people and the ark, Joshua 3:4, and it is not improbable, because the Levites encamped round about it between them and the tabernacle. Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard,.... Or banner, of which there were four, as appears from the following account, under each of which were placed three tribes; and so every man of each tribe was to pitch his tent in the tribe he belonged to, and by the standard under which his tribe was marshalled, and in the rank that he was placed:

with the ensigns of their father's house; which were either lesser standards or banners, somewhat different from the great standard or banner, which belonged to the camp consisting of three tribes, and which were peculiar to their several families and houses, and distinguished one from another, like flags in different regiments; or these were signs (f), as the word may be rendered, or marks in the standards or banners, which, distinguished one from another; so the Targum of Jonathan, the signs which were marked in their standards: but what they were is not easy to say; Aben Ezra observes, and Abendana from him, that their ancients were used to say, that there was in the standard of Reuben the form of a man, on account of the mandrakes, Genesis 30:14; and in the standard of Judah the form of a lion, because Jacob compared him to one, Genesis 49:9; and in the standard of Ephraim the form of an ox, from the sense of those words, the firstling of his bullock, Deuteronomy 33:17; and in the standard of Dan the form of an eagle, so that they might be like the cherubim the prophet Ezekiel saw, Ezekiel 1:10, which is not very likely, such images and representations not being very agreeable, yea, even detestable to the people of the Jews in later times, and can hardly be thought to be in use with their early ancestors: others, as Jarchi, fancy that those standards were distinguished by their colours, as our flags or ensigns are; which, if they stopped here, would not be much amiss, but they go on and say, that each was according to the colour of his stone fixed in the breastplate, so that there were three colours in every flag or standard; thus, for instance, in the standard of Judah, which is the first, were the colours of the three precious stones, on which were the names of Judah, Issachar, and Reuben, namely, the emerald, sapphire, and diamond; and so in the rest of the standards; but others say, the letters of the names of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, differently disposed of, were on those standards; but rather, one would think, the names of the three tribes under every standard were embroidered on them, which would sufficiently distinguish one from another, and direct where tribe was to pitch; but of those things there is no certainty:

far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch: a mile from it, according to Jarchi, or two thousand cubits, which is supposed to be a sabbath day's journey, Acts 1:12; and this distance is gathered from Joshua 3:4, and is not improbable.

(f) "in signis", Pagninus, Montanus; "sub signis", Tigurine version; "cum signis", Junius & Tremellius, Drusius; "apud signa", Piscator.

{a} Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch.

(a) In the twelve tribes were four principle standards, so that every three tribes had their standard.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2. Each tribe has a (?) standard; and each family has an ensign, or more strictly a sign, which may imply any kind of mark, such as a pole or spear or other object. Doughty (Arabia Deserta, i. 221) describes a Bedawin chief as striking his lance into the ground as a sign round which his people encamped. The meaning of the word deghel, rendered ‘standard,’ is doubtful. It perhaps denotes something looked at or conspicuous (cf. Song of Solomon 5:10, R.V. ‘chiefest’); and an Assyr. root formed of the same consonants has that meaning. And hence might be derived ‘banner’ (Song of Solomon 2:4)1 [Note: The verb in Psalm 20:6 [Eng. 5] cannot be safely used as evidence; many think that the passage is corrupt.] . In the present passage some would render it ‘company’ or ‘battalion,’ and so in Numbers 2:3; Numbers 2:10; Numbers 2:18; Numbers 2:25. This would certainly be more suitable in Numbers 2:3, where the literal rendering of the Heb. is ‘those that pitch … shall be the deghel of the camp of Judah,’ and it is supported by the LXX. (τάγμα), Syriac, and Targum. If this is right, deghel is used with a secondary meaning. Cf. the words maṭṭeh and shçbheṭ, each of which can denote both a ‘staff’ and a ‘tribe.’ Cf. also the Lat. vexillum, a ‘standard’ (Tac. Hist. i. 32) and a ‘company’ belonging to a vexillum (id. i. 70).Verse 2. - Shall pitch by his own standard. We are not told how they had pitched hitherto; the tribal and family order now enforced was the natural order, but in the absence of precise directions would sometimes be departed from. With the ensign. Rather, "ensigns" (othoth in the plural). Each tribe, it would seem (see verse 31), had its standard (degel), and each family in the tribe its ensign (oth). Far off. Rather, "over against," i.e., facing the tabernacle, with a certain space (perhaps 2000 cubits, Joshua 3:4) between. Moses was not to muster the tribe of Levi along with the children of Israel, i.e., with the other tribes, or take their number, but to appoint the Levites for the service of the dwelling of the testimony (Exodus 38:21), i.e., of the tabernacle, that they might encamp around it, might take it down when the camp was broken up, and set it up when Israel encamped again, and that no stranger (zar, non-Levite, as in Leviticus 22:10) might come near it and be put to death (see Numbers 3:10). The rest of the tribes were to encamp every man in his place of encampment, and by his banner (see at Numbers 2:2), in their hosts (see Numbers 2), that wrath might not come upon the congregation, viz., through the approach of a stranger. קצף, the wrath of Jehovah, breaking in judgment upon the unholy who approached His sanctuary in opposition to His command (Numbers 8:19; Numbers 18:5, Numbers 18:22). On the expression "keep the charge" (shamar mishmereth), see at Genesis 26:5 and Leviticus 8:35.
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