Bible Readings for April 24th
Students in most any kind of classroom, if they pay careful attention, can learn a lot about the teacher within the first few minutes of the very first day of class. For example, some teachers allow students to sit anywhere they like, while others come prepared with a detailed seating chart for every person in their class. And if you have a seating-chart teacher, everyone intuitively understands right from the beginning that rules, structure, and order will play an important part of your relationship with your teacher.
In the book of Numbers, God is like a seating-chart teacher, arranging Israel’s camp around his tabernacle as they move through the wilderness toward the Promised Land, and in this way, Numbers exhibits continuity with many of the themes that we have seen so far in our study. But Numbers also places a different emphasis than we have seen in Genesis, Exodus, or Leviticus. It is still the case that God is holy and that the people of Israel are sinful, but here God’s chief concern is to organize the physical space within the camp of Israel.
The book of Genesis traced the story of God’s raising up one man, whose family would bless all the nations of the earth. In Exodus, God redeemed his people Israel out of slavery in Egypt, renewed his covenant with them, gave them his law, and instructed them to build a tabernacle so that he could dwell in their midst. In Leviticus, God set the rules and regulations that would govern the purity and cleanness of Israel as they dwelt near to Yahweh.
But in Numbers, God begins his lessons for his people by rolling out a detailed seating chart. The tabernacle would be placed at the very center of the camp, and the members of the tribe of Levi would directly surround it (Num. 1:53). All the other tribes would set up camp around the Levites (who were themselves camped around the tabernacle), tribe by tribe (Num. 1:52). God gives more specific instructions for which tribe would camp in which position around the tabernacle in Numbers 2, but Numbers 1 functions as the overview for the whole arrangement.
For now, don’t miss the gravity of this arrangement: “When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death” (Num. 1:51).
And again: “But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony” (Num. 1:53).
What’s the big deal? Why is this arrangement of the camp so important to God?
We’ll begin to answer those questions tomorrow.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.