And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
Verse 1. - The Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron. Probably when they had finished the census, and brought the results into the tabernacle.
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.
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.
And on the east side toward the rising of the sun shall they of the standard of the camp of Judah pitch throughout their armies: and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall be captain of the children of Judah.
Verse 3. - On the east. The van, the post of honour. The general direction indeed of their march was northwards, not eastwards; but nothing can obliterate the natural pre-eminence given to the east by the sunrise, the scattering of light upon the earth, the daily symbol of the day-spring from on high. The standard of the camp of Judah. Judah led the way not because he was the greatest in number, for the order of the tribes was not determined by this consideration, but because of his place in prophecy, and as the ancestor of the Messiah (Genesis 49:10). According to Aben Ezra and other Jewish expositors, the device upon the standard of Judah was a young lion, and this agrees with Revelation 5:5. The same authorities assign to Reuben a man, to Ephraim an ox (cf. Deuteronomy 33:17), to Dan an eagle. If it were so, we should find in these banners the origin of the forms of the living creatures in the visions of Ezekiel and St. John (Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 10:1; Revelation 4:4-6), unless, indeed, the devices on the standards were themselves taken from the symbolic forms of the cherubim in the tabernacle, and these in their turn borrowed from the religious art of Egypt. But the tradition of the Jews is too fluctuating to carry any weight. The Targum of Palestine assigns to Judea the lion, but to Reuben a stag, to Ephraim a young man, and to Dan a basilisk serpent.
And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred.
And those that do pitch next unto him shall be the tribe of Issachar: and Nethaneel the son of Zuar shall be captain of the children of Issachar.
Verse 5. - Next unto him. Whether the leading tribe occupied the center or one extreme of its own side of the encampment is a matter of mere speculation.
And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were fifty and four thousand and four hundred.
Then the tribe of Zebulun: and Eliab the son of Helon shall be captain of the children of Zebulun.
And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were fifty and seven thousand and four hundred.
All that were numbered in the camp of Judah were an hundred thousand and fourscore thousand and six thousand and four hundred, throughout their armies. These shall first set forth.
Verse 9. - These shall first set forth. No order to set forth had been given, but the necessity of doing so was understood, and is here anticipated, as in Numbers 1:51.
On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Reuben according to their armies: and the captain of the children of Reuben shall be Elizur the son of Shedeur.
And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were forty and six thousand and five hundred.
And those which pitch by him shall be the tribe of Simeon: and the captain of the children of Simeon shall be Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai.
And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were fifty and nine thousand and three hundred.
Then the tribe of Gad: and the captain of the sons of Gad shall be Eliasaph the son of Reuel.
Verse 14. - Reuel. Probably an error of transcription for Deuel, which actually appears here in many MSS. The Septuagint, however, has Raguel (see Numbers 1:14; Numbers 7:42, etc.). The error is utterly unimportant, except as proving the possibility of errors in the sacred text.
And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were forty and five thousand and six hundred and fifty.
All that were numbered in the camp of Reuben were an hundred thousand and fifty and one thousand and four hundred and fifty, throughout their armies. And they shall set forth in the second rank.
Then the tabernacle of the congregation shall set forward with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camp: as they encamp, so shall they set forward, every man in his place by their standards.
Verse 17. - Then the tabernacle... shall set forward. Thus it was provided that, whether at rest or on the march, the Divine habitation should be exactly in the midst of Israel.
On the west side shall be the standard of the camp of Ephraim according to their armies: and the captain of the sons of Ephraim shall be Elishama the son of Ammihud.
And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were forty thousand and five hundred.
And by him shall be the tribe of Manasseh: and the captain of the children of Manasseh shall be Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur.
And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were thirty and two thousand and two hundred.
Then the tribe of Benjamin: and the captain of the sons of Benjamin shall be Abidan the son of Gideoni.
And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were thirty and five thousand and four hundred.
All that were numbered of the camp of Ephraim were an hundred thousand and eight thousand and an hundred, throughout their armies. And they shall go forward in the third rank.
Verse 24. - All that were numbered of the camp of Ephraim. All the descendants of Rachel, forming at this time the smallest of the four divisions, although destined to become very numerous. Their association in the camp was continued in the promised land, for the greater part of their territory was coterminous. Subsequently, however, the great division of the kingdom separated Benjamin for ever from his brethren. In the third rank. Immediately behind the tabernacle. This position is clearly alluded to in Psalm 80:1, 2.
The standard of the camp of Dan shall be on the north side by their armies: and the captain of the children of Dan shall be Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai.
Verse 25. - The standard of... Dan. In the light of its subsequent history, it is remarkable that this tribe should at this time have been so prominent and so honoured. Dan is, so to speak; the Judas among the twelve. In history he ends by melting away into the heathen among whom he intruded himself. In the sacred writings he ends by being omitted altogether; he has no part in the new Jerusalem - perhaps on account of the idolatry connected with his name (see Judges 18; Revelation 7).
And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were threescore and two thousand and seven hundred.
And those that encamp by him shall be the tribe of Asher: and the captain of the children of Asher shall be Pagiel the son of Ocran.
And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were forty and one thousand and five hundred.
Then the tribe of Naphtali: and the captain of the children of Naphtali shall be Ahira the son of Enan.
And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were fifty and three thousand and four hundred.
All they that were numbered in the camp of Dan were an hundred thousand and fifty and seven thousand and six hundred. They shall go hindmost with their standards.
These are those which were numbered of the children of Israel by the house of their fathers: all those that were numbered of the camps throughout their hosts were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty.
But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel; as the LORD commanded Moses.
And the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses: so they pitched by their standards, and so they set forward, every one after their families, according to the house of their fathers.
Verse 34. - So they pitched. The Targum of Palestine (which embodies the traditional learning of the Palestinian Jews of the 17th century) says that the camp covered a space of twelve square miles. Modern writers, starting from some measurements of the Roman camps given by Polybius, compute the necessary space at three or three and a half miles square. This would require the strictest discipline and economy of space, and makes no provision for cattle; but supposing that the women and children were closely packed, it might suffice. It is, however, evident that there would be very few places in the wilderness, if any, where more than three square miles of fairly level ground could be found. In the plains of Moab the desired room might perhaps have been found, but scarcely anywhere in the wilderness of Paran. We must conclude, therefore, that this order of encampment was an ideal order, beautiful indeed by reason of its faultless regularity and equality, but only to be attained in practice as circumstances should permit, more or less. Indeed, that the foursquare symmetry of the camp had an ideal meaning and significance more really, because more permanently, important than its actual realization at the time, is evident from its recurrence again and again in the Apocalyptic writings (see Ezekiel 48:20, and especially Revelation 21:16). It is impossible to help seeing that the description of the heavenly Zion is that of a city, but of a city modeled upon the pattern of the camp in the wilderness. Here is one of those cases in which the spiritual significance of an order is of such importance that it matters comparatively little whether it could be literally carried out or not.