Who are God's chosen people?
Yahweh enters into a covenant with Man in a few places in the Bible. In the story of Noah, Yahweh’s covenant is that He will not destroy the earth by flood again. In His covenant with Abraham, Yahweh promises to make a great nation out of his family. The covenant which is crucial to the tabernacle generation is found in Exodus 19:5-6 where Yahweh says to Moses, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” The Jews being Yahweh’s chosen people is contingent upon them keeping the covenant.
This covenant relationship was formed with Israel during their stay at Mount Sinai. During this time, the leaders of the tribes took a census and Yahweh gave details about how the Israelites should camp around His presence (Numbers 1:1-16).
There have been many depictions of the Israelite camp. Doing a quick search on the web, you may come across something like the following image…
…But this style of camp is scripturally inaccurate. Let’s take a look at what scripture has to say about the layout of the camp. Below is a section from Numbers directing the orientation and make-up of the camp of Judah.
Arrangement of the Camps - The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle), but at a distance. Those who camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah, by their armies; and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall lead the sons of Judah, and his army as numbered totaled 74,600. Next to Judah [on the east side] the tribe of Issachar shall encamp; and Nethanel the son of Zuar shall lead the sons of Issachar, and his army as numbered totaled 54,400. Then [also on the east side] the tribe of Zebulun; and Eliab the son of Helon shall lead the sons of Zebulun, and his army as numbered totaled 57,400. The total of the numbered men [in the three tribes on the east side] in the camp of Judah was 186,400, by their armies. They shall move out first [on the march]. - Numbers 2:1-9
The Census of Israel's Encampment
For the full section covering the rest of the camp of Israel, read Numbers 2. I have summarized the details of the census in this slide in order to help visualize the camp.
The Levites camped in the center of the Israelites, but they were considered separate from the Israelites (Numbers 2:32-33). The camp of Levi will be covered in more detail in another article.
Before going further, I would like to highlight Numbers 1:3 in where it is noted the census numbers are obtained by counting the "men older than 20, able to go to war." The count of these men make up the body of Israel whom Yahweh considered as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” provided the Israelites “obey [Him] fully and keep [His] covenant.” (Exodus 19:5-6) What is essentially the physical representation of Yahweh’s covenant to other nations is the strength of Israel. The representation must be mighty and strong and just. They must also keep Yahweh’s covenant. People who do things in “the name of God” which do not line up with Yahweh’s covenant are using Yahweh’s name in vain. There is very much a difference between a Jew and a follower of Yahweh as there is also a difference between a Christian and a follower of Jesus. I digress… I think it is interesting that the representation of Yahweh’s covenant are able-bodied men who will fight for their wives, children, and those not capable if need be.
The Standards of Israel
The Jewish religious community upholds certain texts as sacred. Where the Torah (The Law) is regarded as scripture with a divine origin, the Talmud (The Study) is considered a supplement to the former. The Talmud, a contemporary text to the Torah, contains commentaries and expositions on the passages. These commentaries are also known as midrashim. (Britannica) One such midrash explains the “banners of the [Israelite’s] households” mentioned in Numbers 2. According to the midrash and later rabbinical teachings, the camps of Israel would gather around the banners which would have images or words on it representing their family. Think of it like a family crest. There is some debate if the banner had images or words. This is due to the Hebrews being warned to not worship idols. Images of animals may or may not come close to the line depending on how strictly this commandment is observed.
The book of Numbers mentions 4 camps made of divisions with 3 tribes each being arranged at cardinal sides of the tabernacle. During the census, the 3 tribes of each camp is assigned to a camp’s standard. The camp’s standard or banner used is the first tribe mentioned in each camp’s census. Below is a table to better list each camps’ information.
|Camp's Name||Position to Tabernacle||Standard||Scriptural Reference*|
Genesis 49:1-2, 8-12 & Balaam's blessing Numbers 24:9
Genesis 41 & Deuteronomy 33:1, 13-17 & Balaam's blessing Numbers 24:8
Below are slides I made depicting the camps with divisions, their census numbers, their leading banners, and their orientation to the tabernacle.
Based on the scriptures, the tribes were to dwell in cardinal positions to the tabernacle. A camp in the southwest would break a placement rule. So, you can see why the image previously mentioned in the article is not scripturally accurate.
In order to scale out what the body of Israel would look like given their census numbers, I have included more slides. The orange tent represents 10,000 men whom are older than 20 and able to fight. The purple tents represent the remainder which is less than 10,000 men for that camp. You may notice a familiar shape start to take form once it is flipped on its side.
The Throne of God
Later in the Bible, we are told the Israelites, “…serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: 'See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.'” (Hebrews 8:5) If the tabernacle “is a copy of what is in heaven” and Jesus is fulfilling the Law by bringing Heaven to Earth…would it not make sense for Yahweh to model his sanctuary after His throne room? And for that matter, to design it to mirror His future, earthly throne (i.e. the cross)?
What is in a name?
One of the reasons the Bible is upheld as the divine word of Yahweh is because of the planning it would take to organize all of the smaller details. Something as unassuming as a person’s name could have a large role to play in the events of history. As Dennis Prager puts it in The Rational Bible: Exodus, “This is how things usually work: God’s ‘signs’ —His interventions in individuals’ or nations’ lives—are seen most clearly in retrospect.” One such detail found in the arrangement of the tabernacle are the names of the tribes of Israel.
Before looking at the names in detail, Craig Hill has this to say about ancient Hebrew naming conventions.
Excerpt from The Ancient Paths by Craig Hill
What’s In A Name?
One Important way of blessing children in the ancient Hebrew culture was through the given name. In that culture, a person’s name was very important. It was given by the parents after carefully seeking the Lord and it usually contained worthy character qualities and often even a job description. The name was announced in a ceremony and celebration which honored the child on the 8th day after birth. Since the job description was often in the name which the parents had received from God, many people had knowledge of their calling and purpose in life right from the 8th day. They did not have to strive and struggle to do something important to create value in their adult life or spend several decades attempting to discover their life purpose.
Elijah is a good example of a man whose name contained a job description. Elijah came on the scene during the reign of King Ahab in Israel. Ahab had taken unto himself a foreign wife by the name of Jezebel from the land of Sidon (modern day Lebanon). Jezebel’s people, the Sidonians, worshiped the idolatrous gods. During the reign of King Ahab over Israel, his wife, Jezebel, was single-handedly able to cause almost the entire nation of Israel to forsake God-Jehovah and worship Baal.
When Elijah was named on the 8th day after birth, he also received in his name his calling in life. Elijah means “Jehovah is God” His job as a prophet was to turn the nation from Baal worship back to serving the living God, Jehovah. Every time that Elijah’s name was spoken, it was a declaration that Baal is not God, but Jehovah is God. Even when he was a little boy, and his parents would call, “Elijah,” they were speaking forth his purpose: to declare that Jehovah is God.
“Come here, Jehovah is God.” “No, no, Jehovah is God.” Every time Elijah’s name was spoken, his life’s purpose was stated. As Elijah came into his adulthood, I’m sure that there was no question in his mind who he was and what his purpose was. That was an established image on the inside of him. It didn’t matter what other kids called him at school or what anybody else thought. His purpose and calling in life had been imparted to him from God through his parents from the 8th day after birth and were unshakable within him.
Because of his confidence in God and the calling on his life, Elijah was able to challenge and defeat 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and turn the nation of Israel back to God. (I Kings 18) Elijah’s name was, indeed, a great blessing to him. (Hill)
As was mentioned by Craig Hill, naming conventions of ancient Hebrew peoples were held as sacred within the religious community. It was a time to bless a person. To reaffirm their purpose. This is something we could all use a little more of in our day-to-day lives. The blessing of a child’s name occurred on the 8th day after birth. The 8th day is also when a male child would be circumcised (Leviticus 12:3). This blessing would occur on the same day that a previous covenant with Yahweh was reaffirmed through the act of circumcision. This prior covenant also came with the ceremony of renaming, in this case, Abram to Abraham. (Genesis 17)
The Significance of the Names of Israel’s Tribes
I’ve compiled the following table and slide to better visualize the next point. Looking at the heads of the tabernacle encampment of Israel within the structure of the cross, scripture reveals:
|Hebrew Tribe||Translates to...||Scriptural Reference||Position to Tabernacle||Position on Cross|
To be fruitful
head of the cross
Judgment, he judged
foot of the cross
Behold a son
Attached, pledged, joined to
What does this mean to me?
If you were to look at the meaning of the Hebrew names and overlay them on the cross of Jesus you may come up with something like the following:
Ephraim / Fruitful
The head of Christ is God. To love the head of Christ is to obey His covenant. In loving God, we will be fruitful.
Reuben / Behold a son
We strive to be obedient, to follow the steps of Christ and be on the right side of God. If we keep His covenant, we will be redeemed as proper followers or sons of Yahweh.
Dan / Judgment
Judgment waits those who do not keep his covenant.
Judah / Praised
We shall praise Christ at his feet. In order to do this we must kneel before Him and in so doing, we place Him higher than ourselves. We recognize His authority and His sovereign leadership.
Levi / Pledged
We should pledge ourselves to Him, for Christ pledged Himself to the cross. He died to atone for our sins thereby granting us salvation.
This means so much to me as a follower of Christ.
Given that Levi means attached I would assert that the body of Israel is attached to something or rather something is attached to Israel. (Spoiler Alert: It’s Jesus.) But before we get to what is attached, in the next article, we will investigate what comprises the bonding agent of Levi and how their encampment is arranged.