A quick note: as I write this, the death toll from a tornado outbreak in Oklahoma stands at over 50 (most sources) and that number includes too many children. Honestly, it includes too many killed in one place at one time. Two observations: 1) Christian people, pray that God would bring comfort and ease suffering; 2) Any of you who are so callous as to politicize this in either direction earn the contempt of any decent human being in doing so. This is neither the time to talk budgets (thought that is legitimate later), guns, global climate change, or any other attempt to take people’s tragedies and have your view benefit from it. If all you can say is to re-prognosticate on your personal politics, then stick a sock in it or turn off your computer/tablet/phone and go away. Human beings care for one another, so either join humanity or crawl back into your hole. This includes you, even if you agree with me on 98% of everything else.
Numbers 2. On the surface, it’s a lovely expression of the camp location arrangements and the strategic planning for the defense of the mobile people of Israel. Each tribe is allotted a specific location for their camping, with the Tabernacle in the center of the camp.
There is a theological idea here, that God is at the center of the camp. If this were the retinue of a king or an army on the march, then the most important person would be in the center: the king or the commander. With the people of Israel, they are both: the King’s traveling company and the Army of the Lord. So, His Tabernacle goes in the middle. This is more than just logical, it is standard behavior.
Seeing that God is King and Commander of Israel, as He is King and Commander of Believers, is seeing truth. But there is more to see here…
God is at the center of the camp. No tribe is particularly closer to the Tabernacle than any other, except for the Levites whose job is to serve at the Tabernacle. There was no sense in which one tribe could earn, through valor or devotion, a closer place to God. Neither could a tribe forfeit, through cowardice or apathy, their place of proximity to God.
Seeing that God is accessible to all of His people, based on His assignment and not their merit, is seeing the truth as it remains today. God’s people come before Him because of His grace, not their worth. But there is more to see here…
God is at the center of the camp, and I think ESV’s translation in Numbers 2:2 is likely the best here, “They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side.” The tribes do not encamp as prepared for war, facing out and ready for the battle. Rather, they encamp as prepared for worship, facing inward toward God. It is certainly likely that wise leaders stationed guards looking out, but the focus of the community was on worship, not the surrounding issues.
See that God is the focus, not the battles, not the challenges, not the surrounding environment, is seeing truth that is critical today. God’s people should be more focused on Him than anything or anyone else. All else will fall in line. But there is one more thing I want to point you to…
God is at the center of the camp of the nation, but the camps of the tribes center around the family units. The ideal of Scripture is that loving families work together to sustain those within the family, support those within the community, and share with those in need. It all starts, though, with a family that is able to live life together, serving God and learning holistically what it is to follow Him.
This is something that we have lost in too many ways in the modern American world. Not that it went perfectly in Israel, either, but we have trouble with this. We have families that fail their members, and then communities that do not fill those gaps. We have families that draw the line of help at their door, and stay self-involved, and that is also not a good behavior.
The reality is that, as God’s people, the righteous stand together. First, they stand with those of their family that will stand with them. Second, it grows from their into their local community of faith. Then, on to those who are near and ultimately to those who are far who stand for what God desires: righteousness, true justice and real mercy, true care and proper responsibility.
Note, but not a nerd one: There are ample examples of failure on this, and reasons why people need to separate from biological families and failed spiritual families. This post is not meant to advocate that one should ignore sin or submit to abuse for the sake of family. Far from it: find those who will support righteousness and justice.