Bible Commentaries
Numbers 2

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-34

The Order for the Camp and for the March

Numbers 2:1-34

1And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, 1 2Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their 2father’s house: 3far off about the 4tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch.

53And on the east side toward the rising of the sun shall they of the standard of the camp of Judah pitch 6throughout their armies: and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall be 7captain of the children of Judah. 4And his host, and those that were 8numbered of them, were threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred. 5And those that do pitch next unto him shall be the tribe of Issachar: and Nethaneel the son of Zuar shall be fcaptain of the children of Issachar. 6And his host, and those that were xnumbered thereof, were fifty and four thousand and four hundred. 7Then the tribe of Zebulun: and Eliab the son of Helon shall be fcaptain of the children of Zebulun. 8And his host, and those that were xnumbered thereof, were fifty and seven thousand and four hundred. 9All that were xnumbered 9in the camp of Judah were a hundred thousand and fourscore thousand and six thousand and four hundred, ethroughout their armies: these shall first set forth.

10On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Reuben eaccording to their armies: and the fcaptain of the children of Reuben shall be Elizur the son of Shedeur. 11And his host, and those that were xnumbered thereof, were forty and six 12thousand and five hundred. And those 10which pitch by him shall be the tribe of Simeon: and the fcaptain of the children of Simeon shall be Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai. 13And his host, and those that were xnumbered of them, were fifty and nine thousand and three hundred. 1114Then the tribe of Gad: and the fcaptain of the sons of Gad shall be Eliasaph the son of 12Reuel. 15And his host, and those that were xnumbered of them, were forty and five thousand and six hundred and fifty. 16All that were xnumbered in the camp of Reuben were a hundred thousand and fifty and one thousand and four hundred and fifty, ethroughout their armies: and they shall set forth 13in the second rank.

17mThen the ctabernacle of the congregation shall set forward 14with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the 15camp: as they encamp, so shall they set forward, every man in his place by their standards.

18On the west side shall be the standard of the camp of Ephraim eaccording to their armies: and the fcaptain of the sons of Ephraim shall be Elishama the son of Ammihud. 19And his host, and those that were xnumbered of them, were forty thousand 20and five hundred. And 16by him shall be the tribe of Manasseh: and the fcaptain of the children of Manasseh shall be Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur. 21And his host, and those that were xnumbered of them, were thirty and two thousand and two hundred. m22Then the tribe of Benjamin: and the fcaptain of the sons of Benjamin shall be Abidan the son of Gideoni. 23And his host, and those that were xnumbered of them, were thirty and five thousand and four hundred. 24All that were xnumbered of the camp of Ephraim were a hundred thousand and eight thousand and a hundred, ethroughout their armies: and they shall 17go forward in the third rank.

25The standard of the camp of Dan shall be on the north side eby their armies: and the fcaptain of the children of Dan shall be Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai. 26And his host, and those that were xnumbered of them, were threescore and two thousand 27and seven hundred. And those hthat encamp by him shall be the tribe of Asher: and the fcaptain of the children of Asher shall be Pagiel the Son of Ocran. 28And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were forty and one thousand and five hundred.

m29Then the tribe of Naphtali: and the fcaptain of the children of Naphtali shall be Ahira the son of Enan. 30And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were fifty and three thousand and four hundred. 31All they that were xnumbered in the camp of Dan were a hundred thousand and fifty and seven thousand and six hundred: they shall go hindmost 18with their standards.

32These are those which were xnumbered of the children of Israel by bthe house of their fathers: all those that were xnumbered of the camps ethroughout their hosts were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty. 33But the Levites were not xnumbered among the children of Israel; as the Lord commanded Moses. 34And the children of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses: so they pitched by their standards, and so they set forward, every one after their families, according to bthe house of their fathers.


[Numbers 2:2. מנֶּגֻד סָבִיב. The A. V. gives מנגד the false rendering, “far off,” suggested, perhaps, by Joshua 3:4, but corrects it in the marg reading. It has its common meaning here of confronting, thus used in a hostile sense, Joshua 5:13. The double term means “fronting and surrounding.” Thus all faced the common centre. The notion of distance is unexpressed, yet necessarily suggested by the magnitude of the bodies to be located. Comp. Psalms 38:12 (11), where the notion of distance is suggested by the “stroke” of adversity, though not expressed by מנגד, and then, in the following clause, is expressed by מֵרָחֹק.

Numbers 2:3. קֵדְמָה מִזְרָחָה. Comp. Numbers 34:15; Joshua 19:12; Exodus 37:13. The apparent redundancy seems to be for the purpose of expressing direction and excluding the notion of distance: comp. Ezekiel 45:17. מִקֶּדֶם and קֵדְמָה are used for the remote east.

Numbers 2:5. יִשָּׁשכָר. This singular orthography is in order to conform to the current pronunciation of the name, which dropped the second s. All authorities invariably give the consonants as here. See Fuerst and Smith’s Bib. Dict. sub. voc.

Numbers 2:18. יָמָּה—“westward,” or more exactly “seaward.” This is one of the expressions that opponents to the genuineness of the Pentateuch have seized on, alleging that it betrays a writer actually in Palestine. But in fact it only shows that the writer used a language whose idiom was indigenous to the region east of the Mediterranean sea. And this and similar traits are corroborative proof that the people had their ancestry and language from the East. See Macdonald, Introd. to Pentateuch, I. 268.—Tr.]


Numbers 2:1 sqq. (a) The order of encampment.—The twelve Tribes are divided into four corps, which encamp about the centre of the Levitical sanctuary, and that in the order of East, South, West, and North. The four leading tribes are Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan. To Judah, the first leader-tribe, with its camp in the East, are joined Issachar and Zebulun, who also were song of Leah; a very strong chief force at the Tan of the army. To the south was the camp of Reuben in conjunction with the tribes of Simeon and Gad. It should be noted in this connection, that the tribe of Simeon at this time numbered many more warriors than Reuben. On the west Ephraim was encamped, at the head of Manasseh and Benjamin. Here then all the children of Rachel are united. To the north Asher and Naphtali are encamped under the leadership of the tribe of Dan. Here with Dan the adopted son of Rachel, are associated his brother Naphtali and his half-brother Asher.

(b) The order of march.—This was determined by the order of encampment. In front of the camp of the Levites and of the tabernacle marched six tribes, first the corps of Judah, next the corps of Reuben. The march was covered by the six tribes in the divisions of Ephraim and Dan. [See below.—Tr.]

“דֶּגֶל, ‘standard, banner, flag,’ denotes the larger military ensign which each of the corps composed of three tribes had, and which at the same time was the banner of that tribe that headed the division; then, in a more extended signification, the army as united under one banner, similar to σημεία, vexillum, and the old German Fæhnlein, etc. According to rabbinical tradition, the banner of Judah bore the image of a lion; that of Reuben the picture of a man or of a human head; that of Ephraim the image of an ox; that of Dan the emblem of an eagle; so that on these four standards the four creatures which are united in the cherubic figures given by Ezekiel, are said to have been represented” (Keil, p. 200). A more minute rabbinical account of the colors of the flags, according to Jerome Prado, is given in a note by Keil, p. 200 [Eng. Tr., Vol. I. 17]. Judah is therefore the champion of his brethren according to Genesis 49:10. Yet we must understand the position of Ephraim in covering the march, not as subordinate, but as a sort of parallel one. The name Reuel, Numbers 2:14, is the error of a copyist for Deuel As they encamp so shall they set forward, Numbers 2:17; therefore, with Levi in the midst of the tribes, every man on his own side by their standards, i. e., upon the side where he was encamped; not as it is generally translated: each at his place, since יָד, ‘hand,’ does indeed signify latus, ‘side,’ but not place” (Keil).

It would certainly have been a very difficult and frequently impracticable order of march, if the three divisions, Reuben on the one side, Dan on the other, and Levi with the Tabernacle in the middle, had been compelled to march abreast. Moreover it says very emphatically that Judah and Reuben precede the Tabernacle (Numbers 2:17)—consequently the like would obtain as to the marching order of the succeeding corps, Ephraim and Dan. As to the more common meaning of יָד see Genesis.

Besides the military camp we must distinguish two particular camps—the camp of the pure congregation, composed of women and children, and the encampment of the levitically unclean on the outside of the camp. The children of the Levites appear to have been in the camp from their youth up; probably also in time of peace the families dwelt with their defenders. A distinction between the warriors and the people is indicated in Numbers 20:1.

[It appears from Numbers 10:17, that on the march the position of the Tabernacle and the attendant Gershonites and Merarites was immediately after the division of three tribes headed by Judah. Then followed Reuben’s division. After that, and in the middle of the line, the Kohathites with the sacred things. Then came the division under Ephraim, followed by that of Dan, which brought up the rear. The only reason assigned for the position of Tent of Meeting next after Judah’s division, is that it might be set up by the time the sacred things that were to be put into it (Numbers 10:21) should arrive at camp.

The foregoing plan represents the arrangement of the encampment as gathered from chaps. 2, 3. Such is the ideal disposition. The actual disposition of the multitudes, even when order was maintained, must often have presented only an imperfect approach to it, owing to topographical irregularities.—Tr.]


[See under Numbers 1:0.

“The ideal form of the encampment was reproduced in the square court with which the Temple was eventually surrounded, and in the vision of the heavenly city as seen by Ezekiel 48:20; and by St. John, Revelation 21:16; comp. Revelation 20:9. Thus the camp of God’s earthly people was divinely ordered, so as to set forth the completeness of His Church; and to illustrate by its whole arrangement, which was determined by the Tabernacle in the centre, both the dependence of all on God, and the access which all enjoyed to God.” The Bible Comm. in loc.

In the plains of Moab, and in the immediate prospect of conquering the promised land, the ideal plan of the encampment might be conformed to. Perhaps such was the sight that greeted Balaam’s eyes and made him exclaim: “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob,” Numbers 24:5. “Thus the gospel-church, called the camp of saints, ought to be compact according to the Scripture model, every one knowing and keeping his place, and then all that wish well to the church rejoice, beholding their order, Colossians 2:5.” M. Henry.

The comments of M. Henry on this chapter are in his best vein of happy suggestion. The following thoughts are reproduced from him.

Those of a tribe were to pitch together. Note, it is the will of God that mutual love and affection, converse and communion should be kept up among relations. The bonds of nature should be improved for the strengthening of the bonds of Christian communion.
Every one must know his place and keep it. Note, it is God that appoints us the bounds of our habitation, and to Him we must refer ourselves. God is the God of order and not of confusion. The standards made this mighty army seem more beautiful to its friends, and more formidable to its enemies. The Church of Christ is said to be terrible as an army with banners, Song of Solomon 6:10.

The Tabernacle and sacred things were in the middle of the camp and of the line of march. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved, Psalms 46:5. Their camp had reason to be hearty when thus they had God in the heart of them. Note, if God undertake the protection of our comforts, we ought in our plans to undertake the protection of His institutions, and stand up in the defence of His honor, and interest and ministers.

Every tribe had a captain, a prince, or commander-in-chief, whom God Himself had nominated, the same that had been appointed to number them (Numbers 1:5). Our being all the children of one Adam is so far from justifying the levellers and taking away the distinction of place and honor, that even among the children of the same Abraham, the same Jacob, the same Judah, God Himself appointed that one should be captain of all the rest. There are powers ordained of God, and those to whom honor and fear are due, and must be paid.

Some observe the significancy of the names of these princes, at least in general, and how much God was in the thoughts of those that gave them their names, for most of them have El, God, at one end or other of their names. (See above, Introd., § 6). By which it appears that the Israelites in Egypt did not quite forget the name of their God, but when they wanted other memorials, preserved the rememblance of it in the names of their children, and therefore comforted themselves in their affliction.

Nahshon is reckoned among the ancestors of Christ (Matthew 1:4). So that when he went before them, Christ Himself went before them in effect, as their Leader.—Tr.]


The regulation of the host. The camp of God’s army. The sacredness of number. The sanctifying and the distribution of the number. Arithmetic and geometry, and book-keeping and mensuration brought into the service of the Holy One. The tribes of the army of God, and their significance for the organization of the church, of the state, especially with reference to its means of defence. The standards. The significance of the Tabernacle in the midst of the camp. Jehovah as King and Commander-in-Chief in the midst of His warriors. So Christ is the Captain of salvation. The New Testament army of God: the Apostolic spirit in twelvefold gifts and forms. The Church of God in relation to war in the world. The war of light (of self-defence for right of conscience and freedom) and the war of darkness.


[1]The children of Israel shall pitch every man by his, etc.

[2]their father’s-houses.

[3]Heb. over against.

[4]Tent of meeting.

[5]And those that camp eastward, toward the rising, etc.

[6]according to their hosts.




[10]that do pitch next unto.




[14]comma, omit with.


[16]next to.

[17]set forth third.


Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 2". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.