Camping

Based primarily on the early chapters in the Book of Numbers

This is not a Bible Study. Well, maybe it could be regarded as a Bible Study, but more likely, after you have read this, you will probably come up with another descriptor. The basis for our topic is the early chapters in the Book of Numbers. Perhaps you remember these chapters of Scripture as "not too exciting" or just plain boring. Perhaps you just skimmed them in your reading. But our goal here is to look more carefully, and investigate a few coincidences. Oh, with God, there are no coincidences! I know, I know, but you can decide for yourself later. But first, we will examine God's plan for the Israelites to camp on the way to the Promised Land. No cheating by looking at the ending. But if you are getting bored, perhaps you can take a look at the ending, and it will motivate you to come back and read the development. The best approach, however is to just follow along, and see if the end is justified by our examination of the verses.

Let's begin: After the Israelites left Egypt, they were given detailed plans on how they were to camp while traveling to the Promised Land. These details are given in Numbers - lots of details. We won't look at them all, but we will spend more time than you might have on your own.

Note Numbers 2:2: God said that the Israelites were to camp around the "Tent of Meeting" at a distance.

The Tent of Meeting contained the ark and the mercy seat, separated by the veil from other articles in the tent - the altar of incense, the lampstand and the table for the bread. The tent of meeting was contained in the Court of the Tabernacle. The Court of the Tabernacle also held the laver and the brazen altar. The Court of the Tabernacle was rectangular in shape, and approximately 75 feet by 150 feet. Details are given in Exodus 25 through 27.

Still reading? Good. From this point on, we will be concentrating on the 75' by 150' Court of the Tabernacle. With North at the top, and East on the right, we have our focus, the "Court of the Tabernacle":

North

150 feet

West 75 feet 75 feet East

150 feet

South

Now, we read in Numbers 2:2 that the Israelites were to camp at a distance from our focus. What did this mean? If we examine the word for "at a distance", we can see it first used in Genesis 21:16. There, it is described as "about a bow-shot" which gives us some perspective. I don't know how far a "bow-shot" is, but with that perspective, perhaps we can pick a distance. Our study results will not be greatly affected by our choice. So let's pick a quarter mile as a good distance from the Tabernacle.

Now we start on the really fun stuff: We can read in Numbers 2:3-30 details of how the Israelites were to camp around the Tabernacle. But first, note in Numbers 3:23 - 39 that the Levites were to camp first around the Tabernacle. This makes sense because the Levites were to break down the Tabernacle when the nation moved, and they were to reassemble the Tabernacle when the Israelites set up camp again. The Levites set up camp first, and then the Israelites moved in. So our next move is to lay out the camp of the Levites.

The Levites were broken into four groups per Numbers 3:17:

Numbers 3 provides the details on the numbers associated with each of these families. We will want to try to lay out their camps based on the numbers of families. That will require a little estimating. We are told how many men from a month old and upward are in each family. We are also told how many men are age from 30 to 50 in Numbers 4. A possible guess on the number of families might split the difference between the total number of men, and the number of men from 30 to 50. Lets see how that works for the Gershonites:

Males over one month

Men 30 to 50

Number of Families

Num 3:22

Num 4:39-40

 

7500

2630

5065

Why would we care how many families are in each group? Well, we will want to be able to estimate how much space will be required for them to camp around the Tabernacle. The amount of space is somewhat arbitrary, but some have suggested that a family could set up a tent and be reasonably comfortable in a space about 20' by 20'. Seems reasonable. So here is a possible space requirement for the three major groups. Moses and Aaron and Aaron's sons will have a relatively insignificant space requirement.

Tribe

Males over one month

Men 30 to 50

Families

Space Required

Gershon

7500

2630

5065

2,027,200 sq. ft

Kohath

8600

2750

5675

2,270,000 sq. ft

Merari

6200

3200

4700

1,880,000 sq. ft

Remember God's instructions:

For convenience, we will start looking at dimensions in miles, rather than feet. It is important to recognize that we are laying out camping arrangements for approximately 3,000,000 people!

Family

Space required - sq. miles

Camp Dimensions - miles

Gershon

0.073

0.15 x 0.5

Kohath

0.081

0.5 x 0.18

Merari

0.067

0.5 x 0.13

Using these dimensions, the camp, with the Levites camped "at a distance" might look like the following:

Merari (North)

Gershon (West) Moses and Aaron
and Aaron's sons

Kohath (South)

Now we will take a look at the camps of the other tribes of Israel. The table below contains the data from Numbers 2 for each tribe, with the space requirements. Again, space is allocated at 20' by 20' for each of the numbered men. This presumes one family for each numbered man in the army.

Tribe

Camp Location

Number of men

Space required sq. ft.

Camp Dimensions miles

(Width x Height)

Judah

East

74,600

29,840,000

0.5 x 2.14

Issachar

East

54,400

21,760,000

0.5 x 1.56

Zebulun

East

57,400

22,960,000

0.5 x 1.65

Reuben

South

46,500

18,600,000

1.33 x 0.5

Simeon

South

59,300

23,720,000

1.70 x 0.5

Gad

South

45,650

18,260,000

1.31 x 0.5

Ephraim

West

40,500

16,200,000

0.5 x 1.16

Manasseh

West

32,200

12,880,000

0.5 x 0.92

Benjamin

West

35,400

14,160,000

0.5 x 1.02

Dan

North

62,700

25,080,000

1.80 x 0.5

Asher

North

41,500

16,600,000

1.19 x 0.5

Naphtali

North

53,400

21,360,000

1.53 x 0.5

So where do we go from here? Well, let's watch the Israelites set up camp. Each tribe will show up on our view from above, as the Lord would see it. (Exodus 14:24 is only one of many verses that lets us know that the Lord looks down.) We will have North on the top, but later will view the camp with East at the bottom. Why? Because we know that someday, Jesus will return from the East. This is the direction that displays the camp, even as it would have been seen if the Lord had approached from the East. "For just as the lightning comes from the East, and flashes even to the West, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. Matthew 24:17, NASB. Also, remember that the entrance to the Tent of the Tabernacle is on the east. So we will eventually look at the camp as approaching from the east.

One more thing: When an Israelite was to told to camp on the East, he would walk East and camp to the East. He would not go North of East, or South of East, he would go "East" and only East. So we will see the camp begin with all of Judah East of the "No camping Area".

Animated GIF files do not accommodate text well, so you might want to be aware that those smudges that are supposed to be typed words will be as follows:

No Camping Area

1/2 x 1/2 miles

Tabernacle at center

Then we will see the three camps of the Levites around the "No Camping Area": Merari on the North, Gershon on the West, and Kohath on the South.

Then watch for the camps of the twelve tribes in the order listed in Numbers:

Judah, Issachar and Zebulun, all on the East

Reuben, Simeon, and Gad, all on the South

Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin, all on the West

Dan, Asher and Naphtali, all on the North

Isn't that interesting. Now look at the camp, approaching from the East with West at the top.

Does that look like a cross to you? Could God have intended it that way? Or is it a coincidence?

The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us to do what is right.
2 Timothy 3:16 (The Living Bible)

Thanks to Randy Casados for his insights on "archery" and camping space requirements.

Thanks to Chuck Missler for his inspirational Briefing Pack, "Signs in the Heavens" KHouse.org

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