As noted above, we are told on 80 occasions in Numbers that God spoke to Moses ‘face to face’. This was unique: others would receive God’s Word through visions when they were awake or dreams when they were asleep. The people would consult the priests’ urim (the equivalent of ‘drawing lots’) when they wished to discern God’s mind on a situation.
Moses first met with God on Mount Sinai, some distance from the rest of Israel, but now that the tabernacle was constructed God was dwelling with the people. The big danger now that God was ‘with them’, however, was that they might become overfamiliar, lose their sense of awe and respect, and forget his holiness. The laws in Numbers are not moral or social laws, but laws given to prevent the people from losing their reverence for God. The laws can be classified under three headings: carefulness, cleanliness and costliness.
They had to be very careful to camp in the right place Chapter 2). Each tribe was allotted a specific place in relation to the other tribes and the tabernacle in the center. The camp looked like a ‘hollow rectangle’ from above (see the chart below). The only other nation known to camp in this manner were the Egyptians – this was the preferred arrangement of Rameses II (the Pharaoh who may have been on the throne at the time).
The tabernacle in the center was surrounded by a fence and there was only one entrance. Two people camped outside the entrance – Moses and Aaron. The Levites camped around the other three sides, and their three clans had special responsibility – Merari, Gershon and Kohath. No one else could even touch the fence and there were orders to kill anyone who approached. God was holy and could not be approached lightly.
The other tribes were arranged around the tabernacle, each tribe with its own specific, allotted place in relation to God’s tent and the entrance to it. The most important place was right in front of the entrance, and this was occupied by the tribe of Judah. It was from the tribe of Judah that Jesus would later come.