Understanding the Old Testament

The Census and the Camp

All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

Before leaving Mount Sinai, the Lord directed Moses to take a census of the male Israelites who were at least twenty years old and able to go to war. (Numbers 1:1-3) That last criterion presumably excluded those who were elderly or disabled. The Levites were omitted from this census; they would be numbered separately. (Numbers 1:47-49, 2:33, and 3:14-39)

The most numerous tribe was that of Judah, with 74,600 men of fighting age (Numbers 1:26-27 and 2:3-4), while the smallest tribe was that of Manasseh with only 32,200 potential warriors (Numbers 1:34-35 and 2:20-21).

The Tabernacle was placed at the center of the Israelite camp, surrounded by the priests and 22,000 Levites. (Numbers 1:53 and 3:38-39; see also Numbers 3:23, 3:29, and 3:35)

Judah was on the east side of the Israelite camp, along with the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun, where they could protect the priests and the Tabernacle entrance. (Exodus 26:22 and Numbers 3:38; see also Numbers 3:23) These three tribes led the Israelites whenever they broke camp to move (Numbers 2:9), perhaps because their combined strength outnumbered that of the tribes on the other three sides of the Tabernacle.

These three tribes were followed by those of Gad, Simeon, and Reuben, who camped on the south side of the Tabernacle. (Numbers 2:10-16)

Next came the Levites, who transported the Tabernacle and its contents, including the Ark. (Numbers 2:17) As in the camp arrangement, the Ark, the Tabernacle, and the Levites were well protected by being placed in the center of the Israelites' marching formation.

After the Levites came the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, who camped to the west of the Tabernacle. The tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali camped north of the Tabernacle, broke camp last of all, and protected the Israelites' rear. (Numbers 2:18-31)

Questions to ponder or discuss: Why do you think the priests and the Levites camped between the Tabernacle and the rest of the Israelites? How does Numbers 1:51 affect your answer?

Copyright 2017 by Don Davidson

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