The book of Numbers is so named in the Greek, Arithmoi, because of the census numbers of the tribes of Israel. But the Hebrew title of the book means “in the wilderness of”, since this book covers 39 years of wilderness dwelling for the sons of Israel. It takes up the narrative, written by Moses and inspired by God (as are all five of the first Old Testament books), one month after the close of Leviticus (which finished up exactly one year after they left Egypt).
“So Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name, and they assembled all the congregation together on the first of the second month. Then they registered by ancestry in their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, head by head, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. So he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.” ~ Numbers 1:17-19
The total came to 603,550 men who were of fighting age, from eleven of the tribes. The twelfth tribe, the tribe of Levi, was designated as the priestly tribe, charged with the care of the tabernacle. They were not only responsible for the sacrifices and offerings before the LORD, but they also kept everything in order, took the tent of meeting down when the camp moved, and set it back up at the next camp site. Their assigned camping spot was around the tabernacle, which implies the Levites were also in charge of protecting it in case of attack.
I took special notice of this next verse:
“‘And the sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own standard, according to their armies.'” ~ Numbers 1:52
Each tribe had their own standard, a banner or flag. How cool is that?! Movie scenes with armies carrying their flags and meeting each other on the battlefield come to mind.
It also immediately reminded me of the song we used to sing in grade school~ His Banner Over Me Is Love. I looked up the verse for that:
“He has brought me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.” ~ Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) 2:4
The same Hebrew word from Numbers 1:52 is found in this verse- degel, which means “standard or banner”. Though the Song of Solomon is written by Solomon to his young bride, it also represents God’s love for us, the Church, the Bride of Christ. And as part of the Church, we walk under God’s banner, His standard, which is love. We belong to Him, covered by His love and protection!
And I just read ahead in Pastor Chuck Smith’s commentary on this passage, and what he has to say about the standards of the tribes is SO interesting and exciting… But I’m going to leave that for next time. 🙂