There was a time in my life, a time which lasted for quite a duration, in which I didn’t just doubt the Bible, I refused to acknowledge that it held any truth at all. Now, as a follower of Christ, a true believer in His power, and goodness, and mercy, and unending sovereignty, I am utterly amazed by the intricacy of His Word. As compelling as the narrative is, spanning generations as lifetimes are documented all the way from the beginning of time until the years following the resurrection of Jesus, what is truly remarkable is how many remarkable details go unnoticed in our reading of the Good Book. This week we will look at one of those details.
In the past we have talked about how certain passages, indeed whole chapters, of the Bible appear so redundant or tedious that we tend to fly through them without much thought. Consider of course our study on The Patriarchs’ Message, based on Genesis chapter 5. Hidden within the painfully redundant verses of that genealogical chapter, concealed within the names of the patriarchs, is a very specific message that should mean much to anyone who grasps the implications. Over the course of my own studies, and those I am pursuing through the wonderful Koinonia Institute, I have come to trust that everything in the Bible is there for a reason. Nothing is disposable. Nothing is useless. Everything within the pages of our Holy Scriptures belongs there, even if we cannot at first see the point.
Let’s look to the book of Numbers this week, specifically Chapter 2.Jumping right in, we find in the first two verses that Moses was given instructions to have the tribes (assembled into four separate camps) pitch their tents away from the Tabernacle. As the scripture continues on in detail from verse 3 to 32, we read how each of these camps were to be assembled.
The camp of Judah, situated to the East of the Tabernacle, was to gather under the standard of the tribe Judah (an ensign featuring a lion) and was composed of the tribes of Judah (numbering 74,600), Issachar (numbering 4,400), and Zebulon (numbering 57,400). All told, the Eastern camp of Judah totaled approximately 186,400 men.
The camp of Reuben, situated to the South of the Tabernacle, was to gather under the standard of the tribe of Reuben (an ensign featuring the figure of a man), and was composed of the Tribes of Reuben (numbering 46,5000), Simeon (numbering 59,300), and Gad (numbering 45,600). All together, the Southern camp of Reuben totaled approximately 151,400 men.
The camp of Ephraim, situated to the West of the Tabernacle, was assembled under the standard of the tribe of Ephraim (an ensign featuring the sign of a bull or ox), and was composed of the Tribes of Ephraim (numbering 40,500), Manasseh (numbering 32,200), and Benjamin (numbering 35,400). Totaled, the Western camp of Ephraim summed approximately 108,100 men.
And finally there was the camp of Dan which situated to the North of the Tabernacle, and was assembled under the standard of the tribe of Dan (an ensign featuring an Eagle). It was composed of the tribes of Dan (numbering 62,600), Asher (numbering 41,500), and Naphtali (numbering 53,400). All together, the Northern camp of Dan totaled approximately 157,600 men.
Now, as verse 33 informs us, central to all of these outlying camps was the tribe of the Levites, the priests of the Israelites. Their tribe alone was encamped around the Tabernacle, with all the remaining children of Israel stretching away from their camp in roughly straight assemblages (lest they break the positioning instructions given them by God) toward the four cardinal directions, North, East, South, and West.
How many times have we read through this tedious chapter, filled to the brim with details that, by and large, could be considered a tad excessive? How many times have we missed the big picture here?
Allow me to pull it all together for you. Imagine yourself standing on a mountain ridge high above the Israelite encampments. You clearly see from your vantage the Tabernacle at the center of a sea of tents, the Levitical tribe. Outward from this central hub however shoot four legs. To the South and North are the camps of Reuben and Dan, and each of these, possessing similar populations of Israelites, stretch out to roughly the same distance. To the West is the camp of Ephraim, the least populous camp of the four and thus stretching the shortest away from the Tabernacle. Finally, to the East is the longest of the legs, the camp of Judah. Putting it all together, when we consider all that God has provided us in this chapter, we can see that as the Israelites established the orientation of their camps into the appropriate shape of a cross! The two similarly-sized arms, a shorter top, and the long base all culminate into the unmistakable image of a cross!
Going a step further, if we recall that the presence of God resided within the Tabernacle, then we can also see how God was at the center of the cross, figuratively speaking, even before the physical advent of Christ!
Oh, but there is more…
Recall how each of the camps was to assemble under a particular standard? The camp of Judah rallied under the sign of a lion, the camp of Reuben under the sign of a man, the camp of Ephraim under the sign of an ox, and the camp of Dan under the sign of an eagle? Well, when we again consider God’s centralized presence in the Tabernacle and how it was surrounded by these standards, another image comes to mind.
In numerous passages throughout the scriptures, most notably in Ezekiel Chapters 1 and 10 and in Revelation 10, there is outlined a certain spatial orientation to the throne of God, whereby the almighty is surrounded by four cherubim, a high ranking form of celestial creature.
So, what exactly is the connection? Well, both passages in Ezekiel describe these strange angels as possessing, among other notable features, four distinct faces, with one on each side of their head. One face was like that of a man, one of a lion, one of an ox, and one of an eagle.
-An illustration of a Cherub (the most infamous of them all, in fact, based on the Books of Ezekiel & Isaiah) I did a while back as part of a larger, full-color piece–
Further, we find that in Revelation these same Cherubim apparently take on a form distinct to each of these aspects, with one appearing as a winged man, one a winged lion-like creature, one as a winged ox, and one as a multi-winged eagle! So, again, just as we saw in Numbers, where the presence of God was surrounded by a “man, lion, ox, and eagle,” the same carries on as a transcendental theme spanning not only the Old Testament but continuing on all the way to the last book of the Bible, Revelation!
When we give the scriptures the attention they deserve, holding them in high regard and searching them deeply and continually, there is absolutely no end to the treasures that we can find buried within, waiting on the dedicated to find them. God bless.
- “Wilderness Wanderings: Book of Numbers, ” Dr. Chuck Missler, February 2006 Personal Update News Journal
- “Did You See That???,” One Passion One Devotion
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Thank you very much, and God bless!