By the Numbers, 2

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Last time, we talked about the big census taken of Israel and the fact that the Levites were to be excluded from that census because God needed people to care for His Tabernacle and tend to the religious needs of the people and His priests. The Levites would not be counted upon to fight for Israel. But is was essential that each Israelite knew who he was and to what tribe he belonged.

Another reason for the big census was to organize the people for their journey. It is here, as at no other time in Israel’s history, that the first steps toward nationhood were taken. Prior to the census, Israel was very loosely knit and resembled a mob more than a nation. From this point on, however, there would be a definite structure to the camp and an “address” for each family of each tribe.

The interesting part of the story is that the people of Israel were divided up into four camps or neighborhoods by God Himself. The order and placement of the tribes had nothing to do with birth order or size. The tribe of Judah went first, but was the fourth son of Jacob and the tribe bringing up the rear was the largest tribe of all. The position of each tribe is of moral significance and full of spiritual meaning and application.

It is significant to the placement of each tribe that they surrounded the Tent of Meeting. The people were to never forget that “God was in the midst of His people” no matter where they found themselves. This is also significant:

Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father’s house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting. (Numbers 2:2 NKJV)

Let’s examine each standard of Israel and find out why they are important to us, today.

The standard of Judah, Numbers 2:3 – 9

Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun were the fourth, fifth, and sixth sons born to Jacob by Leah. It is common knowledge that Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son, so it is surprising that these tribes were the ones to lead the other tribes.

“Judah” means “praise the Lord.” That’s probably why they were to lead the way. The importance of praise cannot be overstated. The psalmist knew this:

Hallelujah! Yes, praise the Lord! Sing him a new song. Sing his praises, all his people. O Israel, rejoice in your Maker. O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King. Praise his name with dancing, accompanied by drums and lyre. For Jehovah enjoys his people; he will save the humble. Let his people rejoice in this honor. Let them sing for joy as they lie upon their beds. Adore him, O his people! And take a double-edged sword to execute his punishment upon the nations. Bind their kings and leaders with iron chains, and execute their sentences. (Psalm 149:1 – 9 TLB)

Yes, the “praising camp” should lead the way. Praise is the first, most obvious sign that a soul is right with God. When a believer thinks more highly of himself than is reasonable, there is no praise. Praise comes when a believer sees himself in light of God’s righteousness and holiness; when he sees an accurate picture of himself. Pride and praise don’t go hand-in-hand; humility is essential. It is only we see our own needy and guilty state, and by faith lay hold on God’s mercy and the all-sufficiency of Christ that we can praise God with a sincere heart.

Yes, they knew about him all right, but they wouldn’t admit it or worship him or even thank him for all his daily care. And after a while they began to think up silly ideas of what God was like and what he wanted them to do. The result was that their foolish minds became dark and confused. Claiming themselves to be wise without God, they became utter fools instead. (Romans 1:21, 22 TLB)

True, genuine praise can stop that from happening. It keeps the our focus where it should be: on God, not on ourselves. Praise keeps our priorities straight; it keeps our lives in proper perspective. Most of all, though, praising God keeps our minds clear.

Praise is indispensable in the life of the Christian. It may be all about God, but the benefit is all ours.

The standard of Reuben, Numbers 2:10 – 18

On the east was Judah, and to the south were Reuben and the tribes associated with it. Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son. “Reuben” means “behold a son.” Of all the relationships possible in life, sonship is the best relationship a believer can have. After praise comes the testimony of true sonship. All believers are children of God, but not all have the close relationship required in sonship. No wonder the testimony of true sonship follows praise.

How can you tell if a believer has a relationship as close as sonship demands? They are the ones whose lives are full of praise to God.

So, dear brothers, you have no obligations whatever to your old sinful nature to do what it begs you to do. For if you keep on following it you are lost and will perish, but if through the power of the Holy Spirit you crush it and its evil deeds, you shall live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. And so we should not be like cringing, fearful slaves, but we should behave like God’s very own children, adopted into the bosom of his family, and calling to him, “Father, Father.” (Romans 8:12 – 15 TLB)

Not every Christian can do this. Only those who have learned to yield themselves to the Holy Spirit within them. Only those who are living disciplined lives for God are able to praise Him as sons.

The standard of Ephraim, Numbers 2:18 – 24

To the west we have Ephraim the tribes with him. We might call this the “Rachel Neighborhood.” “Ephraim” means “double fruitfulness.” Abundant fruitfulness is sure to come after true praise and a life of devoted sonship. Bearing fruit is essential for the believer, it’s not an option even though a lot of Christians think it is. In the Kingdom of God, it’s not normal for a Christian to be barren; to be fruitless. In fact, it’s so abnormal there is only one cure:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1, 2 NKJV)

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.(John 15:6 NKJV)

That’s pretty serious! And it’s an expectation the Lord for all of us. We are to bear fruit. But how does that happen? Abundant fruit will definitely come after praise and a life of sonship. We praise God not because we are fruitful, but because in the atmosphere of praise, fruit will grow.

Under Jehoshaphat’s guidance, the people were able to sing and praise God and THEN He gave them the victory.

Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. (2 Chronicles 20:22 NKJV)

They praised God and He blessed them. We modern Christians have it all backwards; we won’t praise God until He blesses us. The next time you have a need or if you’re just feeling down, start praising God. You won’t feel like doing it, but do it anyway.  And when you do, you won’t believe how good you’ll feel.

The standard of Dan, Numbers 2:25 – 31

Finally, on the south-side came Dan and his tribes. “Dan” means “judging.” Of Dan it is said:

...they shall break camp last, with their standards. (Numbers 2:31b NKJV)

It’s not insignificant that the ones who “judge” come last. The privilege of judging isn’t for all. It’s the last thing a believer should be doing, only after he’s spent time with God in praise, in a life of consecrated sonship, staying connected to Jesus like a branch is to its vine.

What does all this have to do with us?

By finding and keeping to their designated places, the families of Israel were taught some important lessons vital to their survival as they embarked on their journey across the desert, facing perils of all kinds. They were taught discipline; taught to keep their places whether marching or standing still. They were taught to depend on each other for protection on all sides. They were taught to keep looking up – to keep their eyes on the standards and to pay attention to the voice of their leaders. And they were taught whether they were marching or standing still, they were following the will of God.

But the most important lesson of all was this one: Yahweh was their Covenant-making God and He was the God who fulfilled His Covenant and He, Yahweh, must be central to their lives.

That’s why the Tabernacle was in the center of the camp. It was put their by God’s design to be the intersection of all the day’s activities. It was to be the major focus of their attention; an ongoing reminder that God was with them, leading them and commanding their worship and authority.

As Christians, we are not Israel. We don’t have tribes or a Tabernacle. What God told them He isn’t telling us. But at the same time, we’re supposed to learn something. God is still in the business of making covenants with His people. He makes promises and He keeps them. By now, the children of Israel knew who they were and they knew their place. Do we? Do we know to Whom we belong? Do we know our place in the Kingdom? Is God at the intersection of our daily activities?

All believers, all members of the Body of Christ, have their appointed place.

Our bodies have many parts, but the many parts make up only one body when they are all put together. So it is with the “body” of Christ. Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But the Holy Spirit has fitted us all together into one body. We have been baptized into Christ’s body by the one Spirit, and have all been given that same Holy Spirit. Yes, the body has many parts, not just one part. (1 Corinthians 12:12 – 14 TLB)

When God put you in the Body of Christ, you were put there to serve. You are part of the church to do something with the spiritual gifts God has given you. As you exercise your gift or gifts, you are serving God in the place He has put you. Do you remember a woman called Dorcas? She was a seamstress; she made clothes. That was her place and her job in the Kingdom.

But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Dorcas,” and she opened her eyes! And when she saw Peter, she sat up! He gave her his hand and helped her up and called in the believers and widows, presenting her to them. (Acts 9:40, 41 TLB)

Why did Peter do this? It was because members of her church came and found Peter and begged him. Dorcas, a woman whose only talent was sewing pieces of cloth together but who used that talent in the context of her church, was seen as being so indispensable to the church that its members sought out Peter so that he would come, pray, and bring her back to life!

Find your place in the Kingdom – in your church – and be faithful to it. Do what God has called you to do.

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