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Tribal Standards

Numbers 2:1-2
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.”

Get a sense of the enormity of this spectacle, friend. Numbers 1 calculated just the fighting men, ages twenty and up, and here’s the tally: 46,500 from Reuben, 59,300 from Simeon, 45,650 from Gad, 74,600 from Judah, 54,400 from Issachar, 57,400 from Zebulun, 40,500 from Joseph, 32,200 from Manasseh, 35,400 from Benjamin, 41,500 from Asher, and 53,400 from Naphtali, for a total of 603,550 men! That’s not including the women, children, Levites, and I assume the non-Jewish sojourners travelling as well. Which means that each tribe in this commonwealth is a city it its own right, with its own flag, its own demographic, its own culture and heritage, its own dialect, and its own norms. Each has its own patriarchal story to tell, each its own genesis to recount, each its own heirlooms and trades to pass on, each its own lore and legends from generations past, each its own unique banner to represent its distinctiveness, each serving as a vivid reminder that God’s immaculate vision of unity is not one of uniformity. No, the shepherds stand as shepherds, and the masons as masons, and the bakers as bakers, and the carpenters as carpenters, and the hunters as hunters, and the Benjamites as Benjamites, and the Zebulunites as Zebulunites, because this commonwealth is a coat of many colors on the back of God.

But what keeps these tribes from warring with each other? What keeps them rooted and grounded in unity if they’re all so different? What else but the presence of the LORD at their center! Here, by the hallowed banner of the tabernacle, all are sons and daughters of Abraham. Here, they are one body, one church, one people, one holy nation. And as long as they keep their eyes fixed on the tent of meeting, on that superlative banner of God’s favor hovering over their commonwealth, they’ll be united in love evermore.

Christian, hold high your banners in this ecclesia of tribes, tongues, and nations, but hail most of all that rugged cross at the center, that flag of divine redemption under which we are all made brothers and sisters by grace through faith!