And so they set out
Numbers 2 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Now the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 “The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance. 3 Now those who camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah, by their armies, and the leader of the sons of Judah: Nahshon the son of Amminadab, 4 and his army, even their numbered men, 74,600. 5 Those who camp next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar, and the leader of the sons of Issachar: Nethanel the son of Zuar, 6 and his army, even their numbered men, 54,400. 7 Then comes the tribe of Zebulun, and the leader of the sons of Zebulun: Eliab the son of Helon, 8 and his army, even his numbered men, 57,400. 9 The total of the numbered men of the camp of Judah: 186,400, by their armies. They shall set out first.
10 “On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Reuben by their armies, and the leader of the sons of Reuben: Elizur the son of Shedeur, 11 and his army, even their numbered men, 46,500. 12 Those who camp next to him shall be the tribe of Simeon, and the leader of the sons of Simeon: Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai, 13 and his army, even their numbered men, 59,300. 14 Then comesthe tribe of Gad, and the leader of the sons of Gad: Eliasaph the son of Deuel,15 and his army, even their numbered men, 45,650. 16 The total of the numbered men of the camp of Reuben: 151,450 by their armies. And they shall set out second.
17 “Then the tent of meeting shall set out with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; just as they camp, so they shall set out, every man in his place by their standards.
18 “On the west side shall be the standard of the camp of Ephraim by their armies, and the leader of the sons of Ephraim shall be Elishama the son of Ammihud,19 and his army, even their numbered men, 40,500. 20 Next to him shall be the tribe of Manasseh, and the leader of the sons of Manasseh: Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur, 21 and his army, even their numbered men, 32,200. 22 Then comes the tribe of Benjamin, and the leader of the sons of Benjamin: Abidan the son of Gideoni, 23 and his army, even their numbered men, 35,400. 24 The total of the numbered men of the camp of Ephraim: 108,100, by their armies. And they shall set out third.
25 “On the north side shall be the standard of the camp of Dan by their armies, and the leader of the sons of Dan: Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai, 26 and his army, even their numbered men, 62,700. 27 Those who camp next to him shall bethe tribe of Asher, and the leader of the sons of Asher: Pagiel the son of Ochran,28 and his army, even their numbered men, 41,500. 29 Then comes the tribe of Naphtali, and the leader of the sons of Naphtali: Ahira the son of Enan, 30 and his army, even their numbered men, 53,400. 31 The total of the numbered men of the camp of Dan was 157,600. They shall set out last by their standards.”
32 These are the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households; the total of the numbered men of the camps by their armies, 603,550. 33 The Levites, however, were not numbered among the sons of Israel, just as the Lordhad commanded Moses. 34 Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, every one by his family according to his father’s household.
As I meditated on today’s text, I thought about how divided we are, both in our society and in the church today. In society, it seems that we are polarized, divided as far as east from west, on most issues. Part of the reason for that is that we have been made to believe the lie that unity can only be achieved if we are all the same; if we all believe the same. We are made to focus on the differences we have in how we believe and what we do. Believing that unity comes from conformity we cannot or will not accept other ways of thinking. Many today say that we need to accept diversity, yet they themselves require conformity from those who believe differently. To achieve unity we need to focus on things we agree on. The word community is the combination of the words common and unity. To have community we must seek to find common unity. In today’s text it says: Now the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance. So we see that in God’s instruction there was both unity and an acknowledgment of diversity. The people were identified both as the sons of Israel and also by the individual banners of their fathers. They held to the individuality of their tribe or clan, while together identifying as Isarelites. In many ways our national identity is now portrayed as a bad thing. The forces that seek to divide our society promote ethnic separation. They have elevated the parts above the whole. They pit one against the other. Jesus taught us to pray: Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We are to seek to make the things of earth become aligned with heaven. God shows us that it is okay to have individual identity but that we should also have common identity or community. God’s instruction says: They shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance. The tent of meeting was not the place that they met with each other, but rather the place that they collectively met with God. God was at the center. In our society and culture, we no longer have community because God is no longer at the center.
The model that we see in today’s text is also applicable to the church today. Like society, the culture of the church has also become divided. We tend to identify more by our denominations or our doctrines than we do as disciples of Christ. This is not a new problem. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 Paul says: Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? In God’s plan and order for the Israelites, each clan was given particular place and purpose. They were not all the same, but they were all important. It is okay that churches have differing missions according to the gifts and strengths of the people. It is okay if some are more focused on outreach and evangelism, some on service and missions and still others on teaching. We should not though become divided around these things but rather we should be united around Christ. In Matthew 16:13-19 Jesus speaks of building His church. He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Jesus says that His church is built on the revelation that He is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Lord and Savior; the Son of the living God. There is an old hymn which says: On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. If the church today is to stand, even against the gates of Hell as Jesus said we would, we must be built on and united around Christ.
The text today ends saying: Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, every one by his family according to his father’s household. For both the church and our nation it is important that if we want to walk in the blessings of God, that we would follow His instruction. It is okay that we have cultural or ethnic differences. We can camp together with those who are like us. But we need to become a community. We need to have a common unity. The founders of this nation established it as “One nation under God.” Tolerance is one of the buzz words used by many people today who say they want unity. But in truth tolerance promotes disunity. We tolerate things that we don’t like or even things that we despise. As long as we focus on tolerance, we will focus on the things we don’t like about others. That breeds division, prejudice and hatred. We need as people to see and believe that each individual has one thing in common with every other person; that they are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26); that even before they were formed in the womb, God knew them. (Jeremiah 1:5) We need to celebrate the uniqueness of each individual rather than tolerating the things we despise.
Today is March 4th. May we today begin to set out as a community. May we march forth in unity as One nation under God. Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ and precious Holy Spirit, may we begin to celebrate our uniqueness rather than tolerate our differences. May we become the community You desire. Jesus You died once for all, that all could come to the Father through You. Thank You for the common unity we have in You. May we become one nation and Your church built on the revelation that You are the Christ. Amen.