After leaving Egypt, God commanded that Israel’s tabernacles be arranged in a particular way (Num. 2). The Lord’s Tabernacle was in the center of the camp. Three tribes of Israel camped to the east of the Tent of Meeting (the most populous); three to the west (the least populous); three to the north and south (nearly equal populations) (Num. 2; 26:1-51). Below is a crude illustration of Israel’s camp:
In the Lord’s Tabernacle, sacrifices of animals, oil, bread, and incense were made continually. The people brought many of the things to be sacrificed; the priests offered these things on their behalf. To camp with the Lord meant participating in the sacrifices offered in His Tabernacle. For this reason, the camp was arranged as a massive cross. It pointed to the “camp” of Christ to come. With one voice, this camp says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Christ gave Himself for us because He loved us. To tabernacle with Him is to embody the love of the cross in our relationships. By sharing each other’s burdens, we fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). Christ’s forgiveness shines through as we are kind, compassionate, and quick to let go of offenses (Eph. 4:32). We are considerate of each other’s weaknesses and struggles (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8). Food, money, and other necessaries are shared as needed (1 John 3:17, 18). If a brother or sister persecutes us, we pray for them instead of gossiping about them (Matt. 5:44).
A man named Balaam saw Israel’s camp from a high place once. When he saw the great cross in the desert, the Spirit of God came over him. Balaam said his eyes were opened to see a vision of the Almighty, and his ears were opened to hear the word of God (Num. 24:2-4). Those that come in contact with us as we express the spirit of the cross can be powerfully impacted in the same way. Living out the love of the cross can allow them to see and hear God: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).
The Hope of Glory
Sacrifice wasn’t the only feature of the Lord’s Tabernacle or of Israel’s camp. In the Most Holy Place, overshadowing the ark, was the glory of God (Ex. 25:22). To camp with the Lord meant participating in His glory as well as His sacrifices.
Paul tells us, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rom. 8:17). The camp of Israel is a picture of the heirs of God—those who share the sufferings and glory of Christ. In the context of Romans 8, glory speaks of all things being made new in Christ. Christ in us is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). His glory is transforming us from fatally-flawed creatures into Christ-like children (2 Cor. 3:18). Glory’s newness flowers in the soil of suffering and sacrifice (1 Cor. 15:43).
But glory’s renewal isn’t limited to individuals or the church. Paul’s thoughts continue in Romans chapter 8:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:18-21).
The renewal now at work in us—the heirs and children of God—will one day manifest and permeate the universe. Sin and decay will be eradicated by freedom and glory. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). The camp of Israel doesn’t show the realization of this universal renewal; it shows the community where God has hidden Christ—the hope of glory, the expectation that all things are being made new.