Bible Commentaries
Numbers 2

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 2

Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch.

Every man ... shall pitch by his own standard. Standards were visible signs of a certain recognized form for directing the movements of large bodies of people. Since the Israelites were commanded to encamp each "by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house, the direction has been considered as implying that they possessed three varieties:

(1) The great tribal standards, which served as rallying points for the twelve large clans of the people;

(2) The standards of the subdivided portions; and,

(3) Those of families or houses.

The latter must have been absolutely necessary, as one ensign only for a tribe would not have been visible at the extremities of so large a body. We possess no authentic information as to their form, material, colours, and devices. But it is probable that they might bear some resemblance to those of Egypt, only stripped of any idolatrous symbols. These were of an umbrella or a fan-like form, made of ostrich feathers, shawls, etc., lifted on the points of long poles, which were borne, either like the sacred central one, on a car, or on men's shoulders, while others might be like the beacon lights which are set on poles by Eastern pilgrims at night.

Jewish writers say that the standards of the Hebrew tribes were symbols borrowed from the prophetic blessing of Jacob-Judah's being a lion, Benjamin's a wolf, etc.; and that the ensigns or banners were distinguished by their colours-the colours of each tribe being the same as that of the precious stone representing that tribe in the breastplate of the high priest.

Far off about the tabernacle ..., [ mineged (H5048)] - over against at a reverential distance [Septuagint, enantioi]. A large space of unoccupied ground was to be left between the tabernacle and the encampments of the various tribes (see the note at Leviticus 9:24). The place of every tribe is successively and specifically described, because each had a certain part assigned both in the order of march and the disposition of the encampment.

Verse 3

And on the east side toward the rising of the sun shall they of the standard of the camp of Judah pitch throughout their armies: and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall be captain of the children of Judah.

On the east side ... Judah was placed at the head of a camp composed of three tribes rallying under its standard, said to have combined the united colours in the high priest's breastplate, but called by the name of Judah. They were appointed to occupy the east side; and to take the lead in the march, which, for the most part, was an easterly direction.

Nahshon (or Naasson, Matthew 1:4 ) ... shall be captain. It appears that the twelve men who were called to superintend the census were also appointed to be the captains wed probably to the circumstances, formerly noticed, of their holding the hereditary office of head or "prince."

Verse 4

And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 5

And those that do pitch next unto him shall be the tribe of Issachar: and Nethaneel the son of Zuar shall be captain of the children of Issachar.

Those that do pitch next unto him - i:e., on the one side.

Verse 6

And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were fifty and four thousand and four hundred.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 7

Then the tribe of Zebulun: and Eliab the son of Helon shall be captain of the children of Zebulun.

Then the tribe of Zebulun - on the other side. While Judah's tribe was the most numerous, those of Isaachar and Zebulun were also very numerous; so that the association of those three tribes formed a strong and imposing van.

Verses 8-9

And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were fifty and seven thousand and four hundred.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 10-31

On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Reuben according to their armies: and the captain of the children of Reuben shall be Elizur the son of Shedeur.

On the south side ... the standard of the camp of Reuben. The description given of the position of Reuben and his attendant tribes on the south, of Ephraim and his associates on the west, of Dan and his confederates on the north, with that of Judah on the east, suggests the idea of a square or quadrangle, which, allowing one square cubit to each soldier while remaining close in the ranks, has been computed to extend over an area of somewhat more than 12 square miles. But into our calculations of the occupied space must be taken not only the fighting men, whose numbers are here given, but also the families, tents, and baggage. The tabernacle or sacred tent of their Divine King, with the camp of the Levites around it (see the note at Numbers 3:38), formed the center, as does the chief's in the encampments of all nomad people.

In marching, this order was adhered to, with some necessary variations. Judah led the way, followed, it is most probable, by Issachar and Zebulun. Reuben, Simeon, and Gad formed the second great division. They were followed by the central company, composed of the Levites, bearing the tabernacle. Then the third and posterior squadron consisted of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin; while the hindmost place was assigned to Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. Thus Judah's, which was the most numerous, formed the van; and Dan's, which was the next in force, brought up the rear; while Reuben's, and Ephraim's, with the tribes associated with them respectively, being the smallest and weakest, were placed in the center. (See the note at Numbers 10:14.)

Verse 22. Then the tribe of Benjamin. This tribe appears at this early period associated with the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. This was natural, considering the full consanguinity of their ancestors, Joseph and Benjamin, and this association continued in the early period of the occupation of Canaan (cf. Judges 5:14; 2 Samuel 2:9; Psalms 80:2).

Verse 23. His host, and those that were numbered of them, were thirty and five thousand and four hundred. Dr. Colenso ridicules this statement by saying that the offspring of Benjamin's ten sons was not equal to that of Dan's single son. But we have only to suppose this-that some of Benjamin's sons had no families, that their children died young, or that there was a preponderance of daughters in the one line over that in the other, to account in a very natural way for the result.

Verse 26. And his (Dan's) host, and those that were numbered of them, were threescore and two thousand and seven hundred. Dr. Colenso considers this a fictitious number, on the ground that Dan at the emigration into Egypt had only one son, Hushim (Genesis 46:23), or Shusham (Numbers 26:42). But it is quite evident that in these chapters none are mentioned but heads of families; and consequently, supposing that Dan may have had sons born to him in Egypt, they would all be reckoned as included in the family of Hushim. Even on the hypothesis that Hushim was the only son of Dan, it does not follow that there is anything incredible in the numerical increase of his tribe at the date of the census. Dr. Colenso, indeed, who supposes Hushim to have had three sons, each of these to have had three sons, and each of these grandsons to have had three sons also, makes out in the fourth generation only 27 warriors descended from him, instead of 62,700. But this is altogether a gratuitous assumption; and assuming the undoubted existence of polygamy among the Hebrews, as well as considering the immense number of sons whom some fathers in those ages had (cf. Judges 8:30; Judges 10:3-4; Judges 12:8-9; Judges 12:14; 2 Kings 10:1), we are quite prepared to receive this record of the vast increase of Dan's tribe as neither an exaggerated nor unnatural account.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 2". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.