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In Case You Missed It -- Numbers 1-2, Psalm 76

Since Exodus 19, Israel hasn’t moved from Sinai, but that will change in the book of Numbers. Before God leads Israel away, they need to be prepared to move and know how to move. Numbers 1 tells us Moses and Aaron are commanded to take a census in order to prepare Israel for the protection they will need. When they move as such a large nation, they will be in danger of attack by foreign peoples who feel threatened, just as Egypt felt threatened by Israel’s growing numbers while in slavery. Based on the number of able fighting bodies in Numbers 1, many think Israel had a total population exceeding two million at this time. They would be a large target, and God wants to prepare and equip soldiers for the dangers ahead through this census. At the same time, there is also the matter of moving this tabernacle Israel just built. God makes provisions for this in Numbers 2 by spelling out how Israel is to encamp by surrounding the tabernacle and to move from place to place in a similar formation. Notice that the tribes named after the older brothers stand east of the tabernacle, tasked with leading Israel out as a nation. The tribe of Levi, by contrast, will remain with the tabernacle and immediately surround it; anyone but the Levites will die from touching the tabernacle, so they protect Israel by serving as a buffer amid the tribes tallied in the census. While in one sense the numbered tribes of Israel are to surround and protect the tabernacle, make no mistake—in the truest sense, it is God who shields Israel, the Levites, and the tabernacle as they move towards the land of promise.

Jeremiah Vaught