The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side. Those to camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah by their companies, the chief of the people of Judah being Nahshon the son of Amminadab, his company as listed being 74,600. Those to camp next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar, the chief of the people of Issachar being Nethanel the son of Zuar, etc.
These are the people of Israel as listed by their fathers’ houses. All those listed in the camps by their companies were 603,550. But the Levites were not listed among the people of Israel, as the LORD commanded Moses.
Thus did the people of Israel. According to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, each one in his clan, according to his fathers’ house. (Numbers 2:1-34 ESV)
Yahweh, Israel’s God, commands how the tribes are to camp around the tabernacle (tent of meeting with God) and the order of their marching out when the time to move comes. If one were to graph the tribes by their numbers and locations surrounding the tabernacle as viewed from the air above, the shape would roughly resemble a cross. Perhaps this is God’s hint.
But what this does otherwise is show again the centrality of God’s presence among the people and reminds them that how things are done matters to God. The biggest temptation of the human race is to think we can determine what is right and wrong (see Genesis 3:1-7). God must help us see that we are not capable of doing that and so He instructs through object lessons like this one.
The tribes were to camp facing the Tabernacle. The first thing they were to see when they came out of their tents was the pillar of fire or the cloud pillar over the Tabernacle. What is the first thing you see when you start your day? How can you acknowledge that God’s presence is your essential and necessary focus? How will you fix your gaze on Jesus?
A church I worked in for many years had a stain glass picture of Jesus leading a flock of sheep and carrying one of them. Every time I walked by it I decided to glance at it and use it as a call to dependence on Jesus to lead me or at times as a recognition that He was carrying me. And without a doubt, beginning my day, when I was able, by spending time in God’s Word and talking to Him about Him and about my day was crucial for seeing Him as my necessary focus.