The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 33: From Sinai to Kadesh
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The building of the tabernacle was not begun for some time
after Israel arrived at Sinai; and the sacred structure was
first set up at the opening of the second year from the Exodus.
This was followed by the consecration of the priests, the celebration
of the Passover, the numbering of the people, and the completion
of various arrangements essential to their civil or religious
system, so that nearly a year was spent in the encampment at
Sinai. Here their worship had taken a more definite form, the
laws had been given for the government of the nation, and a
more efficient organization had been effected preparatory to their
entrance into the land of Canaan.
The government of Israel was characterized by the most thorough
organization, wonderful alike for its completeness and its
simplicity. The order so strikingly displayed in the perfection
and arrangement of all God's created works was manifest in the
Hebrew economy. God was the center of authority and government,
the sovereign of Israel. Moses stood as their visible leader,
by God's appointment, to administer the laws in His name. From
the elders of the tribes a council of seventy was afterward chosen
to assist Moses in the general affairs of the nation. Next came
the priests, who consulted the Lord in the sanctuary. Chiefs, or
princes, ruled over the tribes. Under these were "captains over
thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties,
and captains over tens," and, lastly, officers who might be
employed for special duties. Deuteronomy 1:15.
The Hebrew camp was arranged in exact order. It was
separated into three great divisions, each having its appointed
position in the encampment. In the center was the tabernacle, the
abiding place of the invisible King. Around it were stationed [p. 375] the priests and Levites. Beyond these were encamped all the other
To the Levites was committed the charge of the tabernacle
and all that pertained thereto, both in the camp and on the
journey. When the camp set forward they were to strike the
sacred tent; when a halting place was reached they were to set it
up. No person of another tribe was allowed to come near, on pain
of death. The Levites were separated into three divisions, the
descendants of the three sons of Levi, and each was assigned its
special position and work. In front of the tabernacle, and nearest
to it, were the tents of Moses and Aaron. On the south were
the Kohathites, whose duty it was to care for the ark and the
other furniture; on the north Merarites, who were placed in
charge of the pillars, sockets, boards, etc.; in the rear the
Gershonites, to whom the care of the curtains and hangings was
The position of each tribe also was specified. Each was to
march and to encamp beside its own standard, as the Lord had
commanded: "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."
"As they encamp, so shall they set forward, every man in his
place by their standards." Numbers 2:2, 17. The mixed multitude
that had accompanied Israel from Egypt were not permitted
to occupy the same quarters with the tribes, but were to abide
upon the outskirts of the camp; and their offspring were to
be excluded from the community until the third generation.
Deuteronomy 23:7, 8.
Scrupulous cleanliness as well as strict order throughout the
encampment and its environs was enjoined. Through sanitary
regulations were enforced. Every person who was unclean from
any cause was forbidden to enter the camp. These measures were
indispensable to the preservation of health among so vast a multitude;
and it was necessary also that perfect order and purity be
maintained, that Israel might enjoy the presence of a holy God.
Thus He declared: "The Lord thy God walketh in the midst of
thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before
thee; therefore shall thy camp he holy."
In all the journeyings of Israel, "the ark of the covenant of
the Lord went before them, . . . to search out a resting place [p. 376] for them." Numbers 10:33. Borne by the sons of Kohath, the
sacred chest containing God's holy law was to lead the van. Before
it went Moses and Aaron; and the priests, bearing silver
trumpets, were stationed near. These priests received directions
from Moses, which they communicated to the people by the
trumpets. It was the duty of the leaders of each company to give
definite directions concerning all the movements to be made, as
indicated by the trumpets. Whoever neglected to comply with the
directions given was punished with death.
God is a God of order. Everything connected with heaven is
in perfect order; subjection and thorough discipline mark the
movements of the angelic host. Success can only attend order
and harmonious action. God requires order and system in His
work now no less than in the days of Israel. All who are working
for Him are to labor intelligently, not in a careless, haphazard
manner. He would have his work done with faith and exactness,
that He may place the seal of His approval upon it.
God Himself directed the Israelites in all their travels. The
place of their encampment was indicated by the descent of the
pillar of cloud; and so long as they were to remain in camp, the
cloud rested over the tabernacle. When they were to continue
their journey it was lifted high above the sacred tent. A solemn
invocation marked both the halt and the departure. "It came to
pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Rise up, Lord,
and let Thine enemies be scattered; and let them that late Thee
flee before Thee. And when it rested, he said, Return, O Lord,
unto the many thousands of Israel." Numbers 10:35, 36.
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