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Israel’s Camping and Marching Plans


The first motorcycle ride across America was completed by champion racer, George Wyman, who rode his motorcycle—basically a bicycle with a 1.25-horsepower motor—eastward from San Francisco to New York City in 1903. When roads weren’t available, he rode on railroad tracks. The trip took him about 50 days. His bike broke down often, and he had to pedal the last 150 miles, but he made it!

The Exodus and wilderness wanderings of Israel were also an amazing journey. As Numbers 2 makes clear, a group of two million people had to be well organized for both camping and marching. Many study Bibles include a diagram of both formations, including the fact that the Levites formed a buffer between the tabernacle and the other tribes. When they marched, each tribe followed its own flag. According to tradition, the flags’ colors matched those of the twelve stones in the high priest’s breastpiece (see Ex. 28:15–21).

Judah, the tribe from which the Messiah would come, led the marching order. (Genesis 49:3–12 explains why he took precedence over his older brothers.) The tabernacle was always carried in the middle of the marching order (v. 17), reminding the people of God’s holy and loving presence in their midst. East was the primary or honored direction, where the tribe of Judah, Moses, and Aaron camped (2:3; 3:38).

Moody Theological Seminary professor James Coakley observed in the The Moody Bible Commentary (v. 34): “The posture of the people presented at this point is one of order and obedience. Here there was universal harmony and submission to both the Lord and Moses. This early obedience contrasts, however, with the people’s later rebellions.”

Apply the Word

Scholars think the tribal flags likely featured emblems—for example, a lion for the tribe of Judah and an eagle for the tribe of Dan—that symbolized the character of the group. If your family or small group were to design its own flag or banner following the same idea, what would it show? What Bible verse might be your motto?

BY Brad Baurain

Dr. Brad Baurain has worked as a writer or editor for Today in the Word since 1993. Currently, he serves as associate professor and TESOL program head at Moody Bible Institute. Brad has the unique privilege of holding a degree from four different universities (including Moody). He has also taught in China, Vietnam, the United States, and Canada. Brad and his wife, Julia, have four children and reside in Munster, Indiana.

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