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B'Midbar/Numbers 2:3 And those making camp eastwards, towards sunrise: the banner of the camp of Judah, according to their hosts;
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With only one verb in the whole verse (only the first part in our text above), this is a difficult portion of Hebrew to translate. The first word, , is a Qal mp participle from the root , here "to encamp or pitch one's tent", prefaced by the definite article and a simple vav conjunction 'and'; so, "and those making camp". The second word, , is the noun - from the root to go before, precede, prevent, anticipate - which is only found with a directive hay suffix, 'to', meaning "eastwards". The third word, , comes from the root - "to rise", often with the sun - has a mem prefix to denote the place where the verb action happens and a directive hay suffix; the result to-the-place-of-rising, "towards sunrise".
This duplication attracts the attention of the commentators, who try to combine the various meanings to gain extra insight from the text.Hirsch, the most recent of the commentators, simply says, " means the front of the general camp. The entrance to the Tent of Meeting also faced east. There in the east, Judah with his associated tribes had his camp and he was always the first to break camp and start the journey forward". Rashi seems to agree: " - to the front, to the face which is called 'front'. And which direction is this? The eastern side". Similarly, Ibn Ezra, although he stretches the grammar to get there: "on the front or east side - rather, 'on the front', the beginning, 'of the east side'; that is east north-east. How do they decide that the entrance to the Tent of Meeting faced east? Maimonides, as might be expected, provides the most rational explanation: that "the entrance to the Tabernacle was in the east and the Holy of Holies in the west to differentiate the Tabernacle from pagan temples, which placed their holy areas in the east, where the sun rises, because they worshipped the sun".
That leaves us with the question of why Judah was placed first. TheRamban says that the standard of Judah was put in the east "because he was the first to start travelling as he was the prince" and quotes David's words: "Yet the L-RD G-d of Israel chose me from all my father's house to be king over Israel forever. For He chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father's house, and among my father's sons He took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel" (1 Chronicles 28:4, ESV). The Rabbis of the Midrash imagined this conversation: "The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: 'Moshe! On the eastern side, from which light goes forth unto the world, shall be Judah from whom will issue royalty, as it is said, "Now those that pitch on the east side toward the sunrising shall be they of the camp of Judah", etc. And next to him the tribe of Issachar who was the custodian of the Torah, as it is said, "And of the children of Issachar, men that had understanding of the times" (1 Chronicles 12:32)'. Therefore Scripture says, 'and those that pitch next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar' (B'Midbar 2:5), etc. 'Next to him Zebulun who was the possessor of wealth, as it is written, "Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea" (B'resheet 49:13)', and so Scripture says, 'and the tribe of Zebulun'. Scripture also says, 'And their king is passed on before them, and the L-rd at the head of them' (Micah 2:13)" (B'Midbar Rabbah 2:10). The Bechor Schor comments that "It was appropriate that Judah be in the east, since it was the most important tribe, and it is to honour the King (G-d) that this tribe stands and marches at 'the King's gate', which is the entrance to the Tent of Meeting in the east", while the Gur Aryeh1 explains, "It was because it is the front; the tribe from which kings were to come forth was given the honour of encamping in the lead".
While martial themes are not currently considered popular among believers and certainly cause problems in the Jewish world because of the massacres of Jewish people by the Crusaders - in their white surcoats emblazoned with huge red crosses - in Jerusalem at the time of the Crusades, the Scriptures themselves have many references to the armies of heaven, led by G-d Himself, warfare between the angelic and demonic forces in the heavenly or spiritual realms, and the return of Yeshua as a warrior king, leading His people to rule the world from Jerusalem. The prophets, for example, have a clear vision: "Who is this who comes from Edom, with garments of glowing colours from Bozrah, this One who is majestic in His apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength? 'It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.' Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press? 'I have trodden the wine trough alone, and from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger, and trampled them in My wrath; and their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, and I stained all My raiment'" (Isaiah 63:1-3, NASB). John's apocalypse paints a very similar picture: "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but Himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty" (Revelation 19:11-15, ESV). Common themes of blood, G-d's wrath and fury, the wine press, repeat in these passages.
Yeshua spoke of His return in glory with the angels of heaven, "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne" (Matthew 25:31, ESV). Three things will then happen. First, all the nations and peoples will be gathered: "Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats" (v. 32, ESV). Secondly, there will be a settling of accounts: "For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done" (Matthew 16:27, ESV). Thirdly, there will be a presentation before the Father: "For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:26, ESV), or as Matthew reports it: "So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33, ESV).
We know that when Yeshua returns, "in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11, NASB) from the Mount of Olives, He will come not directly to Jerusalem, but to the east of the city: "On that day His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east2" (Zechariah 14:4, ESV). Jewish tradition, based upon Ezekiel's vision of the Temple, maintains that the glory of G-d entered the Temple by the eastern gate: "And there, coming from the east with a roar like the roar of mighty waters, was the Presence of the G-d of Israel, and the earth was lit up by His Presence ... The Presence of the L-RD entered the Temple by the gate that faced eastward" (Ezekiel 43:2-4, JPS) - and that Messiah, fulfilling the words of Zechariah, "Lo, your king is coming to you. He is victorious, triumphant, yet humble, riding on an ass, on a donkey foaled by a she-ass" (Zechariah 9:9, JPS), will enter the city that way when Jerusalem is redeemed. That eastern gate is now sealed shut, fulfilling the words that Ezekiel heard: "And the L-RD said to me: This gate is to be kept shut and is not to be opened! No one shall enter by it because the L-RD, the G-d of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut" (Ezekiel 44:2, JPS), but the prince - assumed to be Messiah - will be allowed to enter: "Only the prince may sit in it and eat bread before the L-RD, since he is a prince; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate" (v. 3, JPS).
We wait for Yeshua's return and, as we wait, we "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6, GWT), lift up our eyes to the hills (Psalm 121:1) - the mountains around Jerusalem - and look to the east, to the rising of the Son (Malachi 4:2), listening for the roar of "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David" (Revelation 5:5, ESV), preparing to welcome and acknowledge the King.
1. - The Gur Aryeh (lit. 'Young Lion') is a super-commentary on Rashi's Torah Commentary, written by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1520-1609), widely known as the Maharal of Prague.
2. - Notice the similarity of the phrasing, "before Jerusalem on the east" and that of our text, "eastwards, towards the sunrise". In the Zechariah verse, the Hebrew word is still used for 'east', but 'before' is , literally "on the faces of".
Further Study: Joel 3:12-16; Isaiah 11:1-9; Revelation 1:7
Application: Are you ready to welcome King Yeshua back to Jerusalem? Are you waiting, with one eye on the horizon to see Him when he comes, while you work with your hands to put bread on the table and extend the kingdom of G-d?
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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