We are going to continue to examine the how and why behind the way the tribes were grouped around the Tabernacle.
Remember, they were arranged according to the compass directions starting from the East and moving clockwise to the South, then to the West and finally to the North.
Let’s take a look at the first grouping of three tribes on the East side.
ON THE EAST SIDE
The three tribes to be grouped together on the eastern side of the Tabernacle could also aptly be titled the “Leah Tribes” simply for the reason that the biological mother of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun was Leah.
ON THE SOUTH SIDE
The tribes grouped together on the south side could also be aptly titled the “Leah Tribes” because both Reuben and Simeon were the biological sons of Leah.
But hold on a minute, Gad was NOT the biological son of Leah, so what’s he doing in this group?
This actually gives us an interesting peek into how family structure operated in the ancient Middle East.
Although Gad wasn’t the biological son of Leah, he WAS the son of her handmaiden Zilpah (the concubine).
As Leah’s handmaiden, Zilpah served as a surrogate mother Leah.
Hence, although not of equal status, Gad was considered to be one of the sons of Leah.
Next, let’s take a real quick detour and have a look at verse 17.
“Then the tent of meeting, with the camp of the Levites, will set out, with the other camps in front and behind. They will go in the same order as their camps are set up — each man will go forward in his position, under his banner.”
Understand that how the 3-tribe groupings were placed according to compass directions also determined the marching order.
The battalion of Judah followed by Reuben would be leading the column and after that in the center came the WILDERNESS TABERNACLE followed by the battalions respectively led by Ephraim (on the west side) and Dan (on the North Side).
That was a mouthful, wasn’t it?
To put it simply, the Tabernacle was sandwiched between the North/South tribal groupings and the West/North tribal groupings.
Let’s move on.
ON THE WEST SIDE
The tribal grouping on the west side could mostly aptly be titled the “Rachel Tribes“.
Now I know what you’re thinking.
You’re probably thinking ‘I know Benjamin was Rachel’s biological son but Ephraim and Manasseh weren’t born from Rachel! They’re Joseph’s sons!’
Now you would be right, so let me do a little explaining here.
While it’s true that Ephraim and Manasseh were Joseph’s sons, Joseph himself was the biological son of Rachel.
Remember that mysterious cross-handed blessing that occurred in Genesis chapter 48?
Once Jacob did that cross-handed blessing, Ephraim and Manasseh instantly transformed from being grandsons of Rachel to actually being her sons!
To put it simply, Ephraim and Manasseh are now carrying the torch of authority for Joseph.
ON THE NORTH SIDE
Okay, in terms of tribal pecking order, the north side contains the LOWEST of the three remaining tribes.
Why do I say the lowest?
Because Dan, Asher, and Naphtali are all son’s of Jacob’s concubines.
Asher was born from Zilpah and Dan and Naphtali were born from Bilah.
So we could just as aptly title this grouping the “Concubine Tribes”.
Judah was considered to be the top dog tribe and Dan was the lowest.
Now this is the brutal reality of tribalism that exists in the Scriptures which we have to accept no matter how unfair it may seem.
Tribalism still exists today primarily in the Muslim nations and is absolutely vicious in its quest for rank and power.
A lot of violence in the Muslim world that we hear about in the media is simply tribalism, nothing less and nothing more.
Although tribal societies don’t really exist in modern Israel today, it was the cultural reality of ancient Israel.
If you’re going to understand the Scriptures properly as we walk through the Torah, you’re going to have understand tribalism.
In a tribal society, the only way for a lower status tribe to elevate itself was to marry into a tribe of higher status, or somehow become more powerful than the other tribe and this usually involved violence.
Finally, another important thing you need to understand and I’ve said this before many times.
East is considered to be the preeminent direction in the Bible.
That’s why Judah, the leading battalion, was situated on the East side of the Tabernacle.
NEXT TIME WE BEGIN NUMBERS CHAPTER THREE