Numbers 2 begins to tell us the story about the arrangement of the camp into four corps. Why is this important? Because we learn in Gen 1.2 that the natural state of creation was chaos, not order. The Torah tells us that the maintenance of order is not a natural act, it is an act of the will, all the time. When we are not engaged in something then chaos will soon follow. Look at a house that is not properly maintained. In a short time it will look very run down and chaotic.
The arrangement of the camp not only talks about order, but it alludes to biblical eschatology, or in other words, the study of the Messiah and the Redemption. We will develop this out later. Now, how many warriors are there at this point? They had 603,550 according to Num 1.46 and 2.32. There were 500,000 in Operation Desert Storm and at the height of the war in Vietnam. If you were a little desert town or tribe and you saw this horde coming your way you might be a little afraid. Then you begin to hear the rumors about what happened to Pharaoh and Egypt, and now you are very afraid.
Israel was organized and they have power, numbers and leadership. Being in this camp meant “life.” Being outside of this camp meant “death.” Now, that is an important concept that needs to be remembered because it will relate to many Scriptures because being put out of the camp meant death. No enemy could penetrate them and they could move as a unit. This unit was made up of four corps with twelve divisions. Units win wars, not individuals.
Num 1.54 says, “Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all which the Lord had commanded, so they did.” That is the definition of humility right there. They know their place. This Torah portion describes the arrangement of the tribes, so what’s the big deal?
Tradition says that God arranged the tribes according to how the twelve sons carried Jacob out of Egypt in Gen 50.6-11. We have already shown you how this procession followed the same basic path Moses would take leading Israel to Canaan in Concepts in Genesis. Already, the people are clear about their place in the tribes of Israel.
The lesson here is to know your place and anything else doesn’t work. Arrogance is like idol worship. True humility means living with the reality that nothing else matters except doing the right thing. Humble people are not dependent on the opinion of others. Doing the right thing isn’t always popular or consistent with or ego needs. An arrogant person is not concerned about right and wrong, only himself and how things will turn out for them. The attitude is, “I am all that counts.” Humility knows its place. If you are in a position to lead, then lead. If not, defer to others and follow. The problem, as we shall see, comes when others want to usurp a position where they don’t belong. When others want to lead and they are not sent to lead, can cause problems unless the true leaders steps up and fulfills his role. Humility can be found in Num 1.1. Can you find it?
The desert symbolizes emptiness. That means to receive the Torah (instruction) we must first “open up” to the living waters. To shrink back, you are no longer in the wilderness, or desert, but a “deserter.” Why did the Lord wait till the second year to number the tribes and put them under separate banners? Because the central focal point that would rally the tribes was the Mishkan and the services. It was not completed until just before Passover of the second year. When we unite around the Torah, Messiah and the service of God, then our differences complement one another and help us reach our goal, which is to know Yehovah (Jer 9.23-24).
In the book of Numbers, or “B’Midbar” (in the wilderness), we learn some lessons about congregational life. When we go camping with someone, we learn some things about each other. It can build unity when you know someone. It’s like going through boot camp with someone. You get to know what the other person is made of. That’s why Marines feel a kinship to other Marines even if they don’t know them. They have been through the same tough times. Class reunions can be like that. One can form bonds with people and you want to see them again. On the other hand, if one does not form these bonds you don’t go camping with them or to class reunions.
Congregational life should be like that. The word used for Israel in the wilderness is “kahal” or “assembly” (Deut 9.10, 10.4, 18.16). They were an assembled congregation. They had to serve one another, creating bonds. They helped one another through tough times, worked on projects together and fought the same battles. How can we tell we are “in the wilderness?”
We will get lonely with no signs from the Lord on what to do. Its easy to get lost and our “tracks” will disappear fast. We think we won’t survive without a map or compass. We have no water and are aimless. Everybody goes through it, so hang in there. Keep praying, studying and keep well watered on the Word of God. You will come out of it eventually. A man was once asked to come up with a statement that would fit any occasion. He thought for a minute and then said, “This too will pass.” Being in the wilderness may be exactly where you should be but it won’t be forever. There is a line from the movie “Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston. Moses has been taken to the wilderness and let go by Pharaoh. He is struggling to survive and the narrator says, “And he was led into the wilderness where holy men and prophets are purged and cleansed, until after all human strength is gone, he made as strong as metal and is ready to be used in the service of his Maker.”
We can learn a lesson from B’Midbar to help us if we are starting a bible group or congregation, our “flag or tribe” so to speak. First, the road must be mapped out. The stones are removed from the way and all involved know their place. Next, you identify the leaders. They are the “sons of God” like the leaders in Num 1.5-45 were “sons” of someone. We must always use the principles of theocracy (The Lord is the head). Then we set up a routine and make it obvious. Set the the standards and order to that routine, like meeting times, what the service will look like and who does what, and when. Organization avoids anger and offending someone. You must always stay mobile and be prepared to move. The Lord has taught us basic routines in the services. You can go into any Torah based congregation that keeps the Sabbath and commandments and feel right at home. There is a unity and a bond.
In Num 2.1-34 we have the account on how Israel camped around the Mishkan. We will have three tribes camping on the east, west, north and south. How these tribes camped and their names will be very eschatological, and we will pick up there in Part 3. We will tell you which tribe was where and how their names relate to prophecy about the coming of the Messiah and the False Messiah in the Day of the Lord.