This is the first time Israel sets out on their journey since the construction of the Tabernacle and receiving God’s laws. It is not a long journey this time.
Before we jump into this traveling band I want to point out one thing. God waited until AFTER the second observance of the Passover was completed. There were a few men who couldn’t partake on the official day so God allowed for a second opportunity. He kept the camp in place until they were able to celebrate His rescue.
When we looked at how the camp was set up and the marching orders earlier we missed a couple of things. Not for lack of inattention to God’s word but because He hadn’t shown it to us yet. Today He sets out the exact order of departure from camp.
He divided the Levites! I was shocked to see this but then His reasoning later on made great sense. When the Tabernacle was taken down, the furnishings were removed first and safely set aside. I don’t know if they were put into another tent to await transport or kept on the shoulders of their carriers until time to leave. I’m thinking probably option number one but we aren’t told for sure. Then the physical building and courtyard pieces were disassembled and packed onto carts for travel.
Judah and his side of the camp set out first. Then came the Levites transporting the structures. Reuben and his wing set of next, followed by the Levites carrying the furnishings. They left far enough after the first group of Levites that the Tabernacle would already be assembled before they got to their destination. The next group who set out were the sons of Rachel’s descendants. The final group to set out was led by the tribe of Dan.
I have a couple of questions here. First question is how far apart in time did each group set out? Was there time to set up the Tabernacle before the furnishing arrived because of the sheer numbers of people who were between them or was there a delay and separation between the groups? Thinking these possibilities over leads me to lean more to the first explanation than the second. The Tabernacle and the people would be better protected if they stayed together.
How many abreast was the procession of the tribes? Were they a swarming mass moving along or was there order to their movements? The width of the procession would have a HUGE impact on the length of it.
When they stopped at the end of each day, did they stop in their broken down groups or did the end catch up to the front and camp in one large group? Moses asked for God’s presence to return to them each night with the ark in whatever state their camp was in. I’m sure they didn’t set up all their tents on these moving nights but they had to bring out enough for dinner and sleeping.
How is it that “the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them” (verse 33b). Was the ark taken from the tent of meeting and moved forward in front of Judah’s group? Did the ark travel with the rest of the furnishings? Did the ark advance through the procession as they walked? Moses prayed each day that God’s presence would keep their enemies at bay as they walked each day, spreading God’s protection over the whole company. Did Moses, Aaron, and those bearing the ark blaze the way ahead of the others? I know that the ark went in front of the people at the walls of Jericho but how about on the road there?
The last thing I noticed and have a question about is Moses’ family on his wife’s side. I’m not sure if they are referencing Moses’ brother in law or his father in law. My bible helps seems to put it as his brother in law. The name Jethro is not mentioned here at all so I suspect that it was a more formal name or one in another language. Anyway, I’ wondering if Moses was successful in persuading his relative to join in on the journey. He was told “No” but he didn’t take no for an answer. Instead he came up with incentives to convince him to go.
Father God, thank You for filling my imagination with wonder. Thank You for inspiring me to ask questions, even if I won’t get the answer this side of Heaven. I like pondering the things I find hidden away. I wonder how long that body of people was that moved across the wilderness. Thanks for answering some of my earlier questions with today’s reading. I look forward to seeing what other answers await ahead.