Bible Readings for April 25th
Yesterday, we began to discuss the way God was at work arranging the physical space inside Israel’s camp in the book of Numbers. In Numbers 1:47–54, God laid out the basic seating chart: the Israelites were to set up their camp with the tabernacle at the very center of the camp, with the Levites directly surrounding the tabernacle to form a barrier between the tabernacle and the other tribes of Israel, “so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel” (Num. 1:53).
Now, in Numbers 2, God organizes the other tribes in the camp in an arrangement that doubled as the marching order for when Israel moved from site to site. On the east side of the camp—and the tribes at the front of the line when Israel marched to a new campsite—was first the tribe of Judah, and then Issachar and Zebulun (Num. 2:3–9). The east side was a place of primacy, not only because it was toward the sunrise (Num. 2:3), but also because the tabernacle itself faced east.
Then, on the south side (the second set of tribes to march) were Reuben, Simeon, and Gad (Num. 2:10–16). On the west side (the third set) were the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin (Num. 2:18–24). Dan, Asher, and Naphtali (the fourth set) camped on the north side (Num. 2:25–31).
But again, why does God arrange the camp this way?
As we have seen since the beginning of our study, God is a holy God who cannot dwell in the midst of a sinful people, lest his holiness be defiled. On the other hand, God loves his people and he wants to dwell in their midst. In Numbers, God is organizing the space, boundaries, and varying degrees of proximity required for his people to dwell near to him around his tabernacle without being consumed by his holiness.
But at the same time, God’s holiness is protected and guarded by the Levites, who surround the tabernacle. Just as the cherubim had been placed at the entrance of the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24), so the Levites here guard (Num. 1:53—same Hebrew word as in Gen. 3:24) the way into the tabernacle.
Merely by free grace does God condescend to dwell in the midst of his people, but God’s grace always upholds his holiness. By sending Jesus to die in our place, as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sin, God was guarding his holiness. God is not a corrupt judge who perverts justice when he forgives us because Jesus has already paid the penalty in full.
Through Christ, Yahweh both guards the purity of his holiness and opens up the way to the tree of life to those who believe upon him for salvation.
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.