The Tabernacle, the Priests, and the Men of War – Part 1

TODAY’S READING: NUMBERS 1-2

Numbers 1 and 2 are very interesting chapters. However, they can’t be fully and correctly understood without connecting them to Numbers 3 and 4. So, today is the first part of a two part series – The Tabernacle, the Priests, and the Men of War.

At the conclusion of part two, I hope to show that the tabernacle is a picture of Jesus, the priests are a picture of spiritual believers, and the men of war are a picture of carnal believers. But, today’s post is going to focus on the tabernacle and the men of war.

THE TABERNACLE = JESUS

That the tabernacle is a picture of Jesus is likely not a surprise to anyone. The first time the word tabernacle is used is in Exodus 25:9, which says, “Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” The earthly tabernacle that Moses built in the wilderness was a pattern of a heavenly reality.

Hebrews 8:5 tells us that the tabernacle was a copy or shadow of a heavenly thing. It says, “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.'”

What was the tabernacle a copy or shadow of? Jesus, of course.

The tabernacle was the place of God’s presence. And, the tabernacle was always in the midst of Israel and the camp. John 1:14 tells us that Jesus, the Word of God, had glory, a glory as of the only Son from the Father. His glory was full of grace and truth. Jesus, the Word of God, carried in him the presence of God. Jesus, the Word of God, became flesh – a heavenly reality embodied on the earth, just like the tabernacle. John says the Word of God made flesh “dwelt among us.” However, the Greek word dwelt literally means tabernacle. John is saying that Jesus is the heavenly reality that was the pattern for the tabernacle that Moses built.

Throughout the first four chapters of Numbers we see the tabernacle in the midst of the men of war and the priests.

THE NAMES OF THE TRIBES

The names of the sons and the tribes of Israel are very important. Throughout the Old Testament, the names of tribes are presented in different orders that convey some meaning to story at hand. You can read more about this in my post The Story of Jesus and Israel through the 12 Tribes.

In addition to the meaning of the names of the sons of Israel being significant, there was a sentence spoken over each son at their birth. These sentences are important because they help tell the story of Israel. In addition to the 12 tribes, a sentence was spoken over Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. We need these sentences to tell the stories because at various times they are included in the 12 tribes. You can read about that in my post The Story of Jesus and Israel Is Incomplete without Manasseh and Ephraim.

So, here are the sentences spoken at each son’s birth.

  • Reuben – Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction, my husband will love me.
  • Simeon – Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.
  • Levi – This time my husband will be attached to me.
  • Judah – I will praise the Lord.
  • Dan – God has judged me and heard my voice.
  • Naphtali – With many wrestlings I have wrestled and prevailed.
  • Gad – Good fortune has come.
  • Asher – Happy am I for women have called me happy.
  • Issachar – God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.
  • Zebulun – God has endowed me with a good endowment and now my husband will honor me.
  • Joesph – God has taken away my reproach. May the Lord add to me another son.
  • Benjamin – This the son of my right hand, the highly regarded son.
  • Manasseh – For God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.
  • Ephraim – For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.
ORDERING THE TRIBES TO ASSIST IN THE CENSUS

In Numbers 1:1-3, Moses is told by God to conduct a census of the people of Israel.  According to the clans, fathers’ houses, and number of names, Moses is to count every male that is 20 years old or older. These men were all the men in Israel that were able to go to war.

We should really pay attention to this phrase “able to go to war”. It is used 14 times in Numbers 1. Every tribe except one, which is really important, is counted to see how many men they have that are able to go to war.

In order to conduct the census, God tells Moses to get a man from each tribe to assist him. The men that were chosen were listed according to their tribe in the following order:

  1. Reuben
  2. Simeon
  3. Judah
  4. Issachar
  5. Zebulun
  6. Ephraim
  7. Manasseh
  8. Benjamin
  9. Dan
  10. Asher
  11. Gad
  12. Naphtali

Notice that Joseph and Levi, two of the 12 sons of Israel, are not listed. They are replaced by Manasseh and Ephraim. (But, throughout the Old Testament, Ephraim is often synonymous with Joseph in the listing of the tribes.)

So, if we took the sentences spoken over each son at their birth, then we would get a story like the following.

The Lord has looked upon my affliction and heard that I am hated. I will praise the Lord. God has given me my wages because I gave my servant. God has endowed me with a good endowment. He has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction for he has made me forget all my hardship in my father’s house. The son of the right hand has judged me and heard my voice. I am happy. Good fortune has come. With many wrestlings I have wrestled and prevailed.

The census was taken one year and one month after God brought Israel out of Egypt. God has heard how they were afflicted and hated, therefore Israel will praise God. One could think that Israel was being blessed because they had given their servant Joseph, who died in Egypt. Israel was given an endowment and made fruitful in the land of their affliction. The population of Israel exploded in the land of Egypt despite their oppression. And, when they left Egypt they plundered them of gold, silver, etc. just by asking. They have been judged by the son of God’s right hand and they are happy for it. At last good fortune has come to them for they have wrestled and prevailed.

One gets the sense that Israel is feeling confident that God has delivered them from Egypt and given them what they need to conquer the promised land. I get this sense from the ordering of the 12 tribes as they are to assist Moses in taking the census of all the men able to go to war.

ORDERING THE TRIBES TO REGISTER THE MEN ABLE TO GO TO WAR

Having found the men who were to assist him in taking the census, Moses begins to register the entire congregation of Israel. But, the order that the tribes were registered is different than the order of the tribes when Moses found men to assist him.

Now, the order of the tribes is:

  1. Reuben
  2. Simeon
  3. Gad
  4. Judah
  5. Issachar
  6. Zebulun
  7. Ephraim
  8. Manasseh
  9. Benjamin
  10. Dan
  11. Asher
  12. Napthali

So, if we took the sentences spoken over each son at their birth, then we would get a story like the following.

The Lord has looked upon my affliction and heard that I am hated. However, good fortune has come and I will praise the Lord. God has given me my wages because I gave my servant. God has endowed me with a good endowment. He has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction for he has made me forget all my hardship in my father’s house. The son of the right hand has judged me and heard my voice. I am happy. With many wrestlings I have wrestled and prevailed.

There are some subtle changes to the ordering of the tribe and the details of the story. The story of Israel still starts with them acknowledging that God has looked on their affliction and heard they were hated. But, now the acknowledgement of good fortune comes right after this instead of at the end. What is their good fortune? God has given them a good endowment and made them fruitful in the land of their affliction. All the men able to go to war have been counted and they number more than 600,000. Therefore, Israel has forgotten their hardship. The son of God’s right hand has judged them and they are happy because of their vast army. They wrestled with the world and prevailed.

ORDERING THE TRIBES IN THE CAMP AROUND THE TABERNACLE

Having found men to assist in the census and registering all the men able to go to war, God tells Moses in Numbers 2:2, “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side.”

Every time except one, the Hebrew word for standard appears in the book of Numbers in regards to the people of Israel camping around the tabernacle. The word can also mean banner. This standard was a pole for identification on which a sign was placed to identify the tribes. The Hebrew word for banner is only translated banner in this one verse. It is also translated testimony one time and mark two times. But, 75 other times it is translated sign. We will get to this more later.

Therefore, the people of Israel camped around the tabernacle according to the signs of their fathers’ houses that were raised up on poles. And, it’s important to notice that all the tribes camped facing the tent of meeting. Their focus was on the tabernacle. When all the men able to go to war focused on the tabernacle, the ordering of the tribes tells a different story.

God then gives Moses the order of their camping around the tabernacle by direction, moving from east to south to west to north. This was the order of the tribes following those directions.

  1. Judah
  2. Issachar
  3. Zebulun
  4. Reuben
  5. Simeon
  6. Gad
  7. Ephraim
  8. Manasseh
  9. Benjamin
  10. Dan
  11. Asher
  12. Napthali

So, if we took the sentences spoken over each son at their birth, then we would get a story like the following.

I will praise the Lord. God has given me my wages because I gave my servant. God has endowed me with a good endowment. The Lord has looked upon my affliction and heard that I am hated. Good fortune has come because he has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction and made me forget all my hardship in my father’s house by the son of the right hand who was judged. I am happy because I have wrestled and prevailed.

Now that the all the men of war are camped around the tabernacle with everyone facing the tabernacle the story has changed. This is because everyone’s eyes are on Jesus. Instead of the story starting with their affliction and how they were hated, the story now starts with Israel praising the Lord for the wages and endowment God has given them. Only then does Israel acknowledge they were afflicted and hated. But, now good fortune has come because they were made fruitful in the land of their affliction by the son of God’s right hand, Jesus, who was judged for them. I believe that the focus of the story has shifted from Israel’s sufferings to the gospel of Jesus as they are now camped around the tabernacle with everyone facing it. All eyes are on Jesus.

You may think I am reading too much into things. Or, you may see the story somewhat differently. But, I believe as we meditate on the order and the sentences of each tribe, the Holy Spirit will reveal a meaningful truth about Jesus to us.

THE FOUR FACES OF JESUS CHRIST

But, the ordering of the tribes around the tabernacle gets even more interesting. The ordering is not a simple one through 12. The ordering of the tribes was given by direction – east then south then west then north. So, the ordering of the tribes within these directions is important.

Let’s pay particular attention to the lead tribe in each direction – Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan.

Judah

I suspect the first thing almost all of us associate with Judah is a lion. In Genesis 49:9, Jacob prophesies of Judah that “Judah is a lion’s cub.” And, in Revelation 5:5, one of the elders said to John, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered.” The lion is a symbol of the king.

Reuben

In Genesis 49:3, Jacob prophesied of Reuben, “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.”

Proverbs 14:4 says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” A fruitful harvest is a result of the strength of the ox.

In Job 39:9, God asks Job, “Is the wild ox willing to serve you?” The ox was an animal that served.

Numbers 32:1 says, “Now the people of Reuben and the people of Gad had a very great number of livestock.” It was because of all their livestock that Reuben and Gad settled in the land before crossing the Jordan.

There is no record of a judge, prophet, ruler, or prince coming from the tribe of Reuben. I’m not entirely sure, but Reuben may be the only tribe that did not produce a ruler of Israel. Therefore, Reuben was a servant. And, the ox is a symbol of the servant.

Ephraim

Recall the sentence spoken over Ephraim at his birth – For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.

Joseph brought Ephraim and Manasseh before his father Jacob as he was dying. In Genesis 48:5, Jacob said, “Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.” Even though Ephraim was the younger brother, Jacob likened him to Reuben, his first born. According to verse 14, Israel knew exactly what he was doing in putting the right hand of blessing on the younger brother Ephraim. He had learned the lesson that the older would serve the younger. Joseph protested. But, in verse 19, Israel said, “Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.”

Joshua the son of Nun was from the tribe of Eprhaim and is a type of Jesus, leading Israel into the promised land. One possible translation of “the son of Nun” is “the son of life”. Nun is a Hebrew letter and word, which means to propagate or increase. The pictograph, the symbol, for the letter nun is a sprouting seed.

All this brings to mind what Jesus said in John 12:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Jesus was the man that became a grain of wheat, going down into the earth and dying, laying down his life for us, to bear much fruit. Jesus was the second Adam, in a sense the younger, the spiritual, that would rule over the older, the natural. Even though he was the second man, he was God’s only begotten son, his firstborn. Ephraim, the sprouting seed, is the symbol of the man.

Dan

Recall that the sentence spoken over Dan at his birth was “God has judged me and heard my voice.”

In Genesis 49:16-17, Jacob prophesied of Dan, “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel, Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path.”

While, Jacob’s prophecy involves a serpent, which of course represents Satan, history shows that the tribe of Dan adopted as its sign an eagle with a dragon in its talons. The eagle was the enemy of the serpent.

This is picture of Jesus judging Satan. In John 5:22-23, 27, Jesus says, “For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father…And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” On his way to the cross, in John 12:31, Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” But, James 4:12 says “there is only one lawgiver and judge”, whom Isaiah 33:22 declares to be the Lord, God. Jesus is the judge.

So, the eagle is a symbol of the son of God who has been given authority to judge.

So, the heads of these four directions, these four groups of tribes, are pictured in order as the lion, the ox, the man, and the eagle. Have you ever seen that in scripture before?

In Ezekiel’s vision of the throne of God, he says, “And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness…As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle.” (Ezekiel 1:5, 10)

John picks up on this vision in Revelation 4:6-7, “And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight.”

Did you notice that Ezekiel and John list the four creatures around the throne, the four faces of Jesus Christ, in the exact same order as Moses was told to have the tribes of Israel, with their representative signs, camp around the tabernacle, the dwelling place of God in the earth?

Not only that, but these four faces of Jesus Christ are presented in the four gospels. Matthew is the gospel of Jesus as the king, the lion of Judah. Mark is the gospel of Jesus as the servant, the ox. Luke is the gospel of Jesus as the man, the seed that was sown to bear fruit. John is the gospel of Jesus as the son of God, the eagle, that judges Satan on the cross. Is it mere coincidence that the four gospels are ordered in the Bible in exactly the same order as God told the tribes to camp under their signs around the tabernacle and the same order as the living creatures Ezekiel and John saw around the throne? I think not.

All the men of war, all Israel, camping around the tabernacle, with everyone facing the tabernacle, is a picture of all the people of God around the throne bowing down in worship to Jesus!

THE MAZZAROTH

It gets even deeper. I have not studied this, but I bring it up for you to look into. You probably have never heard of the Mazzaroth. It is the Hebrew version of the Zodiac. Remember when I said that each tribe of Israel camped around the tabernacle according to their banners, but the Hebrew word was most often translated signs? On the fourth day of creation, God created the sun, moon, and stars as signs.

Psalm 19:1-6 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its.”

There is a belief that the Mazzaroth, the arrangement of the stars, preached the gospel. Could this be how Abraham had the gospel preached to him beforehand? And, if you follow all the tribes around the tabernacle and their signs, then you will see that they line up with the order of constellations. And, the names of the stars in each constellation tell the story of the gospel. They pour forth speech, or preach the gospel.

WHERE’S LEVI?

But, there has been one tribe missing from everything above – Levi.

After Moses found his assistants for the numbering of the tribes and registering all the men of war but before the tribes were given their order of camping around the tabernacle, we are told about the tribe of Levi. Numbers 1:47-48 says, “But the Levites were not listed along with them by their ancestral tribe. For the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Only the tribe of Levi you shall not list, and you shall not take a census of them among the people of Israel.'”

Then, in the midst of ordering the tribes in their camps around the tabernacle, we are told about the tribe of Levi a second time. Numbers 2:17 says, “Then the tent of meeting shall set out, with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; as they camp, so shall they set out, each in position, standard by standard.”

Tomorrow, in part 2, we will pick up with why the tribe of Levi was left out of the census and the order of camping around the tabernacle.

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