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Camping with Christ
“And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch…These are those which were numbered of the children of Israel by the house of their fathers: all those that were numbered of the camps throughout their hosts were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty. But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel; as the LORD commanded Moses. And the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses: so they pitched by their standards, and so they set forward, everyone after their families, according to the house of their fathers.” (Numbers 2:1-34)
When Balaam looked down upon the outstretched camp of Israel, he was greatly moved by what he saw. The beauty of the camp was captivating. Its order was magnificent. This was no common camp. These were not common nomads. Balaam said of Israel, “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign aloes which the LORD hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters” (Numbers 24:5-6). We read about what he saw in Numbers 2:1-34.
May God the Holy Ghost be our Teacher; may he enlighten our minds, and with the light of heaven, as we observe with the mind of Christ that which Balaam beheld with carnal mind and carnal eyes. As Israel camped around the tabernacle in the wilderness, so God’s saints, his elect, the church of God, camps with Christ in this wilderness of time and space we call earth.
The first thing that catches my attention in reading these 34 verses of Inspiration is the standard of the camp. Every man in Israel was required to pitch his tent “by his own standard with the ensign of his father’s house” (v. 2). Much speculation has been made about the standards and ensigns of Israel’s encampment, but they are nowhere described for us in the Book of God, and that with good reason. — These banners and ensigns all point us to the Lord Jesus Christ, Jehovah-nissi, the Lord our Banner (Exodus 17:15; Isaiah 11:10-12; 49:22; 59:19). The church of God is described as a great army with banners (Song of Solomon 6:4, 10).
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Banner, the Standard, of our Father’s house. By this Banner we march. Beneath this Banner we rest. Christ is the Banner to be lifted up by us. He is the Banner that draws the family together, our Rallying point, the Banner that unites. Our Savor is himself our Banner of love.
The banner is a pledge of safety. True, mighty foes hate and assail us. True, night and day they plot and rage, and draw the bow, and lay the snare. But all must fail. All shall fall! The fight may be both fierce and long; but in Christ’s camp there is no defeat.
Beneath our Banner, Christ Jesus, we find sweet repose (Matthew 11:28-30). Here weary sinners find rest. Here believing souls lay down and rest (Psalm 4:8; Isaiah 27:3). Beneath this Banner, Christ Jesus, victory is sure. — “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).
I once read a story about a group of men who met at a local high school every Saturday night to play basketball. While they played, the school janitor usually sat off in a corner reading his Bible, trying to prepare for the worship of God the next day. Normally, he read until they were done. Then he would lock up and go home. One night, one of the men asked, "What are you reading?" The old man replied, "The Book of Revelation." The younger man asked, with a bit of a snicker, "Do you understand it?" The old man said, "I sure do. — It says, 'Jesus is gonna’ win.'"
That is just about as good an explanation of the Book of Revelation as I ever read, or heard. — The Lord Jesus Christ is going to win! That message is delightful and comforting to the believing heart. Happy the camp over which Christ is the Banner! Christ crucified is Salvation’s Captain. — His cross is our glory. — His heaven our rest.
“Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah. That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me” (Psalm 60:4-5). — Christ crucified is the Banner the Lord God has given to them that fear him. He is Jehovah-nissi, the Lord our Banner (Exodus 17:15). Christ is the Ensign to whom God gathers his people and in whom we find sweet rest. (Isaiah 11-12) Those with a God-given fear of the Lord display Christ (and only Christ) in our preaching because of the truth. Christ said that all his disciples shall be known by the love they have for one another. Therefore, those with God-given love for brethren preach Christ so that his beloved, which are our beloved, may be delivered. We preach Christ alone, constantly begging God to save by his right hand.
Let us ever glory in our Banner and be steadfast. — “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). — “Christ is All” (Colossians 3:11).
The next thing that catches my mind is the position of the tents in Israel’s encampment. All the tents of Israel share one grand privilege. — They were all pitched around the tabernacle (v. 2). They all have common focus. As the planets circle the sun, so these surround the sanctuary. God is the center. Christ and his salvation stands constantly before their eyes. They form the wide circle. And from each tent door one thing was seen — the holy tent — the tabernacle. Every time one in the camp opened his tent door, he was immediately confronted with the altar of sacrifice portraying Christ’s sacrifice of himself for our sins, the cleansing laver showing the necessity of God’s regenerating grace, God’s priest typifying Christ our great High Priest, the veil representing Christ the Way, the Door of access to God, and the mercy-seat portraying Christ our Propitiation.
God in Christ Jesus is the center, the heart, the life, the strength, the shield, the joy of his people. In their midst he dwells. He is our glory and our delight. When we go forth in the morning, let our eyes be fixed on him. When we return in the evening, let it be to nestle round him, in his presence. Be wise and pitch your tent toward the tabernacle, not toward Sodom! The Israelites of old pitched their tents “far off” from the tabernacle. Blessed be God, things are far better in this Gospel Age. We are now brought nigh by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).
In Revelation 4 and 5 we see the mercy-seat as the throne of God. That is how Isaiah saw it (Isaiah 6). It is called a “glorious high throne from the beginning” (Jeremiah 17:12). The throne is surrounded by spiritual Israelites, twenty-four elders, double the number of the tribes. They are all “clothed in white raiment” (Revelation 4:4), the righteousness of God in Christ. And the banner over them is love, the everlasting love of the eternal God! But we are not ordered, as they were, to pitch afar off. Oh, no! We are invited to draw near and come boldly (Hebrews 4:16). The saints of the Most High are said to be “round about him,” bringing “presents unto him that ought to be feared” (Psalm 76:11). God, by his grace, making us one with his own dear Son, keeps us close to him. Blessed, blessed position!
Third, please observe that these chosen, redeemed people, as long as they walked through the wilderness dwelt in tents, not in palaces, not in stately houses, not in well-constructed buildings, not on splendid estates, but in tents. The contrast with all the people around them is unavoidably obvious. They live in tents. Tents that stand today. Tomorrow sees the cords relaxed, the fastenings removed, and a vacant place. They are the pilgrim-dwellings of a pilgrim troop, the short-lived homes of short-lived sojourners.
Such is our present state of mortality. What is our body? It is nothing but clay. These frames have one origin — the dust. The vilest reptile and the proudest prince come from the same mire. Is it not folly, then, to pamper and admire this flesh? At best these bodies of flesh are tent, just tents, that must soon be removed (2 Corinthians 4:17 - 5:11).
How soon these tents crumble! No care, no thought, no art can lengthen out our days! The countless families of foregone ages, where are they now? Dust they were. To dust they have returned. The many families of this our day, where do they speed? Dust they are, to dust they must return. The tents must fall. But when? — Perhaps today or tomorrow. — Perhaps in a few hours. — Perhaps at your next step. — Perhaps with your next breath. — At God’s appointed time, each tent will fall (Job 7:1; 14:5, 14).
My soul, from Israel’s tents, learn how fleeting life’s little day is! — When I go hence, is an abiding mansion mine? There is a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. Is it for me? Christ lives to prepare everlasting mansions for his people. Are they for me? — Yes, they are. I know that because I believe on the Son of God. — Do you?
Flesh is what we are, no more, just fallen, sinful, dying flesh. But that fact itself commends the grace of God in Christ Jesus. He scorned not to assume our flesh. He took on him the seed of Abraham. — Amazing fact! He took our clothing, as his own. Beneath these rags he hid the glories of his glorious Deity. No man was ever man more thoroughly than the man Christ Jesus. He tabernacled here in manhood’s baseness, as truly as he showed forth the Godhead’s brightness. He thus descended, that he might endure, that he might suffer, that he might bleed, that he might die, that he might bear the curse, that he might hang upon the cross bearing our sin in his own body on the tree!
This none but man could do. Therefore his tent was pitched, as man, among the sons of men (John 1:14). He was made man, that he might be made sin. He was made sin, that he might take it away. He sought a lowly tent (body) to do a God-like work.
But soon the degradation passed. Humiliation’s valley was left. The cross was his chariot of triumph. And now in heaven, at God’s right hand, on Glory’s high throne, the God-man sits. Manhood now shines in him arrayed in light of Deity! And all who are joined to him, made one with him, will soon behold and possess that glory. Our vile bodies shall be changed. Weakness and frailty shall put on unfading freshness and strength. The lowly bud shall bloom into a glorious flower. The glorious Head will leave no member in decay.
Blessed are they, whose faith discerns him nailed as their Surety on the tree. He comes, he quickly comes to gild mortality with life. Happy the inhabitant of this crumbling frame. I am Christ’s! I am now the vilest dust. But I will soon shine more brightly than ten thousand suns in the glory of the Sun of Righteousness, the Son of God, my Savior!
Now, think about the order of the camp. What perfect regularity appears! Rule draws each line. Arrangement is complete. These streets of tents are uniformity’s perfection. One truth is here distinctly written. Our God delights in order. Where he presides, confusion vanishes. His providence is ordered by his hand. Every believer’s life is held in order by his rule. In his church order prevails.
With the unbeliever, things are different. His life is an upset hive. Everything is ajar. His movements all jostle. His life is a jumbled chaos of desire, attempt, plans, and failure. Motives conflict with motives, thoughts with thought, and plans with plans. Why is it so? God is not in all his thoughts! There is no order in this world, except in the Camp of God.
In Israel’s camp each tribe and every person has his place. The family of Aaron guard the tabernacle’s door. The sons of Levi encircle the holy tent. The other tribes occupy their specifically appointed ground. God fixes all the bounds; and all the bounds are gladly kept. Each one has his place. Each is prepared for his place. Each does what he was created to do.
Each enters on the stage of life, as God is pleased to call. Each runs a pre-ordained course. Each disappears when his allotted task is done. We see this clear arrangement throughout the church’s history. At the set time the sun of Moses sets, the star of Joshua dawns, the judges rule, the several kings ascend the throne. In the right season Paul labors, apostles preach, martyrs seal the truth with blood, each devoted teacher toils, and each disciple aids the gospel cause. God orders each one’s station in the Gospel Camp. As we humbly bow before God’s ordering throne, discontentment flees, murmurings cease, and Christ is honored. — God’s order for me, God’s place for me, God’s will for me, God’s time for me is best. The same is true for you.
Observe this fact, too — The Levites were not numbered with the children of Israel. — “But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel; as the LORD commanded Moses” (v. 33). — “The priesthood of the Lord is their inheritance” (Joshua 18:7).
The Levitical family represented Christ our High Priest, though he sprang from the tribe of Judah. Though they were part of Israel, they were always held in distinction from their brethren. And though the Lord Jesus Christ is one of us and one with us, he is infinitely distinct from us. — “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:9-10). — “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18).
The Levites who served the tabernacle also represent God’s servants in all ages. Like the Levites, God’s servants, gospel preachers, are men who live to serve the house of God. Like the Levites, those who preach the gospel are to live by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14). Like the Levites of old, gospel preachers are not to be engaged in mundane affairs (2 Timothy 2:4; Hebrews 11:13-16). — That is what it is to camp with Christ. Oh, blessed, happy camping!