Yellow Balloons Devotional Series: Advent

Numbers 2:18-24

The book of Numbers is the fourth of the five books of Moses that comprise the Torah, which means “Law.” It gets its English name from the Greek Old Testament called the Septuagint (or LXX). The LXX named this book, “Arithmoi,” meaning “Numbers.” Its Hebrew name means “in the desert” or “in the wilderness.” Both names are appropriate. The Hebrew name is appropriate because Numbers covers the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness (or “desert”) from Sinai to the plains of Moab. The Greek name is also appropriate because of the many lists, and the numbers within those lists.

At the beginning of the book, the Israelites had been camped at Mount Sinai for about a year. The book of Exodus covered their escape from Egypt and their journey to Sinai. The LORD commanded Moses to organize the people in preparation to leave Sinai and go to the Promised Land. The book covers around 38 years of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, and describes many of Israel’s failures, including mutinies against Moses and outright disobedience to the word of the LORD. In Numbers, the LORD declares that the generation that left Egypt would die in the wilderness due to their disobedience. Only two, Joshua and Caleb, were allowed to enter the Promised Land, due to their faithfulness. Even Moses died without entering the Land due to disobedience.

The book of Numbers can be outlined in many ways. The most general outline involves the generation that leaves Egypt and the one after it, as seen below:
• Events Involving the Exodus Generation (Num. 1 – 25)
• Events Involving the Second Generation (Num. 26 – 36)

Another outline sees the book having three major divisions based on the major encampments of the Israelites:
• Israel at Sinai (Num. 1:1 – 10:10)
• Israel at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 10:11 – 19:22)
• Israel on the Plains of Moab (Num. 20:1 – 36:13)

Still another outline (the one followed here) is as follows:
• The Exodus Generation in the Wilderness (chaps. 1 – 25)
◦ The Israelites Prepare to Leave Mount Sinai (1:1 – 10:10)
◦ The Israelites Depart to Kadesh Barnea (10:11 – 14:45)
◦ The Israelites Journey to the Plains of Moab (15:1 – 22:1)
◦ The Israelites Are Confronted by Balaam the Prophet (22:2 – 25:18)
• The Second Generation Prepares to Enter the Promised Land (26:1 – 36:13)
◦ The Rules Concerning Inheritance (Num. 26:1 – 27:11)
◦ The Provision for Moses’ Successor (Num. 27:12 – 23)
◦ The Laws Concerning Offerings (Num. 28:1 – 29:40)
◦ The Laws Concerning Vows (Num. 30:1 –16)
◦ The LORD’s Judgment Against the Midianites (Num. 31:1 – 54)
◦ The Inheritance of the Eastern Tribes (Num. 32:1 – 42)
◦ The Review of the Journey to Canaan (Num. 33:1 – 56)
◦ The LORD’s Instructions Before Conquering Canaan (Num. 33:50 – 36:13)

There are two themes that flow from the book of Numbers. The first concerns the LORD’s infinite grace in light of the people’s many failures and transgressions. There is hardly a book in the Bible where the LORD had to exercise His grace to His people more often than this one. The book of Numbers contains a record of Israel’s failure after failure and the LORD’s gracious forgiveness after forgiveness. Even when He judged them, there was grace.

Second, and related to the first, the book stresses the importance of obedience. God chose the Israelites unconditionally; they were the LORD’s chosen people regardless of their behavior. However, He demanded obedience to show His people that their obedience results in blessing. God set forth a way of life for His people in the covenant He and the people entered into at Sinai (Exodus 19:5-8). The Ten Commandments made it clear that God would make the law, and that the pinnacle requirement of His law was for the people to respect and serve one another. The strong were to serve the weak. This was in stark contrast to the surrounding cultures, which centered around the strong exploiting the weak (Leviticus 18). God’s judgment brought discipline upon Israel in order to shepherd them toward living in harmony and service to one another.

The second chapter of the book of Numbers describes the arrangement of the tribal camps around the tabernacle. It describes where each tribe was to be when camped, and it specifies the order in which each tribe was to embark when marching to the Promised Land. The LORD did not want His people to go to the Promised Land as an unorganized, chaotic mass of people. Instead, with the tabernacle in the center, the camps of the other tribes are assigned to a specific place around the tabernacle. This was not only orderly, but also practical, as the fighting tribes were on the exterior, and the square formation would be difficult for an enemy to attack.
Numbers 2 can be outlined as follows:
–The LORD Commanded Moses to Arrange the Camps (Num. 2:1 – 2)
–The Tribes Placed on the East Side (Num. 2:3 – 9)
–The Tribes Placed on the South Side (Num. 2:10 – 16)
–The Tent of Meeting in the Midst of the Camps (Num. 2:17)
–The Tribes Placed on the West Side (Num. 2:18 – 24)
–The Tribes Placed on the North Side (Num. 2:25 – 31)
–Summary of the Arrangement (Num. 2:32 – 34)

The three tribes assigned to the west side of the tabernacle were Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. These tribes were to move out third when the Israelites made their way through the wilderness.

The three tribes who were to camp on the west side of the tabernacle were to gather around the standard of the camp of Ephraim. Thus the three tribes on the western side were to bear the name “camp of Ephraim.” Ephraim was the second son of Joseph (Genesis 41:52). Though Manasseh is the firstborn of Joseph, Ephraim was given priority over Manasseh by his father (Genesis 48:5 – 20). This priority is reflected here in the fact that Manasseh was to camp with the “standard” of Ephraim. The two sons of Joseph took the place of Joseph and Levi as tribes numbering twelve, among the fighting tribes of Israel. The tribe of Levi was exempted from military service since the Levites were exclusively to serve as priests of the tabernacle.

The scripture has a pattern of the second son being elevated over the first, as Ephraim was elevated over Manasseh. Adam and Eve’s second son Abel was more righteous than Cain. The secondborn Jacob was blessed above the firstborn Esau. The second king David’s dynasty supplanted the first king Saul’s. This pattern likely foreshadows the elevation of Jesus (the second Adam) above the first Adam (Romans 5:14). Jesus the God-man was honored for His faithfulness by being granted all authority (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 3:21). The church might also be considered as fitting this pattern, as it is to reign with Christ as His bride, and be elevated over the angels, which were created prior to humans (Psalm 8; Hebrews 2; Ephesians 5).

Like the others, these tribes on the west were arranged by their armies. Each tribe was an army, so there were three armies guarding each side. The leader of the sons of Ephraim was then named: Elishama the son of Ammihud. This agrees with what was stated in Numbers 1:10. The size of his army, even their numbered men, was 40,500. This is the same number that was given in Numbers 1:33.

The second tribe to camp on the east as a part of the camp of Ephraim, which were to camp next to him shall be the tribe of Manasseh. The leader of the sons of Manasseh was Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur (Numbers 1:10). The size of his army, even their numbered men, was 32,200. This is the same number that was given in Numbers 1:35.

The third in line on the western side was the tribe of Benjamin, and the leader of the sons of Benjamin was Abidan the son of Gideoni (Numbers 1:11). The size of Benjamin’s army, even his numbered men, was 35,400 (v. 23). This is the same number that was given in Numbers 1:37.

So, the total of the numbered men of the camp of Ephraim was 108,100, by their armies (v. 24). This was the total number of troops on the west side of the tabernacle. And they shall set out third, meaning that they would march immediately behind the tabernacle surrounded by the Levites. The camp of Ephraim’s 108,100 troop count compared to a troop strength of 151,450 for the camp of Reuben on the south side, and 186,400 for the camp of Judah, who walked first in line, and camped on the east side of the tabernacle.

Biblical Text

18 “On the west side shall be the standard of the camp of Ephraim by their armies, and the leader of the sons of Ephraim shall be Elishama the son of Ammihud,19 and his army, even their numbered men, 40,500.20 Next to him shall be the tribe of Manasseh, and the leader of the sons of Manasseh: Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur,21 and his army, even their numbered men, 32,200.22 Then comes the tribe of Benjamin, and the leader of the sons of Benjamin: Abidan the son of Gideoni,23 and his army, even their numbered men, 35,400.24 The total of the numbered men of the camp of Ephraim: 108,100, by their armies. And they shall set out third.