"Each tribe will be assigned its own area in the camp,
and the various groups will camp beneath their family banners. The
Tabernacle will be located at the center of these tribal compounds."
When Balaam looks down upon the outstretched Camp of
Israel, his very soul expands. It must break forth in praise. The beauty
captivates. The order charms. The evidence is clear--no common people there
reside. He rapturously exclaims, "How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob,
your dwelling places, O Israel!" He paints a landscape of delights. "They
spread before me like groves of palms, like fruitful gardens by the
riverside. They are like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the
waters." Numb. 24:5, 6. Images of choice fruits--elaborate
arrangement--luxuriance--verdure--stateliness--fragrance--lend colors to
depict the scene.
Reader, let us, too, mount the heights of godly
meditation, and in spirit view this favored Camp. And as we gaze, may rays
from heaven illumine every part!
The points rich in instruction are--the tents
1. THE TENTS. Abodes present themselves. They are not
splendid palaces, and golden columns, and sparkling capitals, and giant
pyramids. They are not constructed, as lasting monuments to future times.
The simple contrast meets the eye. They are poor tents.
They 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.
This first view instantly reminds of mortal state. What
is our body? It is nothing but clay. These frames have one origin--the dust.
The vilest reptile and the proudest prince are composites of one poor mire.
Is it not folly, then, to pamper and admire this flesh? At best these bodies
are a tent--than which creation knows no humbler thing.
How soon they crumble! No care--no thought--no art can
lengthen out continuance. The countless families of foregone ages--where are
they now? Dust they were. To dust they are gone back. The many families of
this our day--where do they speed? Dust they are--to dust they hasten. The
tents must fall. But when? Perchance this very hour. Is he not then the fool
of fools, who boasts him of to-morrow's dawn!
My soul, from Israel's tents, you learn, how fleeting
is life's day! Press then the question, '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 homes. Are they for me?
Oh! turn not from this Camp, until faith clearly reads its title to the
Flesh is a lowly abode. This thought commends the
grace of Jesus. He scorned not to assume it. Amazing fact! He took this
clothing, as His own. Beneath these rags He hid the glories of His
glorious Deity. No man was ever man more thoroughly than Jesus. He
tabernacled in manhood's baseness, as truly as He shone in Godhead's
brightness. He thus descended, that He might
endure--suffer--bleed--die--might bear the curse--and hang upon the cross.
This none but man could do, therefore His tent was
pitched, as man, among the sons of men. He was made man, that He
might be made sin. He was made sin, that He might take it thoroughly
away. He sought a lowly tent (body) to do a godlike work.
But soon the degradation passed. Humiliation's valley was
left. The cross was triumph's chariot. And now in heaven--at God's right
hand--on glory's throne--the God-man sits. Manhood now shines in Him arrayed
in light of Deity. And all, whom faith makes one with Him, will soon behold
and share this luster. Their vile bodies shall be changed. Weakness and
frailty shall put on unfading freshness. 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 inhabitants of these crumbling frames, if only they are
Christ's! They now are vilest dust. They soon will shine more brightly than
ten thousand suns.
2. THE ORDER. Let Israel's Camp be now more closely
scanned. 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.
Is it not so in every Christian heart? When Jesus takes
the throne, wise rule prevails. Disturbing lusts lie down. Perplexing doubts
flee far. Gusts of sinful desire are lulled. The soul is like the well-set
garden, in which method plants each shrub and flower.
Is it not so in Christian life? Each duty occupies its
stated post. There is no tangled labyrinth of plans--no misspent
diligence--no toil without a purpose. God's worship has its sacred
place--and no intruder interferes. The Scripture claims appointed study--and
then the door is barred against disturbing entrance. The family demands due
care--due care is given. The home--the closet--the public--the world, in
turn have claims--in turn are served. Each morning dawns--each evening
closes, on a well-ordered scheme of work.
How different is the worldling's day! It seems an upset
hive. The notes all jar--movements all jostle. It is a jumbled chaos of
desire--attempt--design. Motives conflict with motives--thoughts with
thoughts--plans with plans. Why is it so? God rules not. Wisdom holds not
the rudder. Therefore the ship is sport to every wind and wave. There is no
order, but in the Camp of God.
But in Israel's Camp each tribe has its place. The family
of Aaron guard the tabernacle's door. The sons of Levi encircle the holy
tent. The other tribes occupy appointed ground. God fixes all the bounds,
and all the bounds are gladly kept.
The same all-ruling mind disposes now each member of
Christ's body. Each enters on the stage of life, as God is pleased to call.
Each runs a pre-ordained course. Each disappears, when the 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
several Judges rule--the several kings ascend the throne. In
the right season Paul labors--and apostles preach--and martyrs
seal the truth with blood--and each devoted teacher toils--and each
disciple aids the Gospel-cause. God plans each champion's station in the
Reader, bow humbly before this ordering mind. Then
discontent will not arise. No murmurings will mourn an obscure lot--a
grievous burden--a lengthened pilgrimage--or an early grave. The time--the
task--the place--will be regarded, as most wisely fixed. What if self-will
could make a change? Would it not mar the work on earth, and tarnish the
eternal crown? The foot should not desire the hand's employ--or the eye's
higher seat. Ephraim is pleased, that Judah leads. Judah would not take
Ephraim's rear place.
3. THE POSITION. But all these tents share one grand
privilege. "Around the Tent of Meeting shall they camp." They all
have common focus. As the planets circle the sun, so these surround the
sanctuary. God is the center. They form the wide circumference. And
from each door one sight--the holy tent--is visible.
Is there no meaning here? There is!--and it is
precious. God in Christ Jesus is the center--the heart--the life--the
strength--the shield--the joy of His believing flock. In their midst He
dwells--their glory and delight. When they go forth, their eyes are fixed on
Him. When they return, it is to nestle round His presence.
Is there no warning here? There is!--and it is
wise. Let Christians ponder this Camp's plan, when called to fix their
dwellings upon earth. When weighing the advantages of the right place to
settle, the foremost thought should be, 'Is God known here? Are His pure
truths here clearly taught?' There may be rites and forms. But an external
rituals are not grace. A heaven-directed church spire leads not infallibly
to heaven. 'Ichabod' is the name, if God in Christ be not proclaimed.
Soul-profit is real profit. And soul-profit cannot be
apart from Christ. Soul-loss is saddest loss--and the soul loses, when not
led to Christ. Our children, too, and all who form our household, claim,
that their first good be first considered. Was Lot a gainer, when his eye
only coveted the fertile plains? How David's pious spirit mourns, when
exiled from the house of God! Can fairer fields, or sweeter temporal
prospects, make amends for a cold blank within? Can healthful air repay for
inward sickness and a spiritual decline? What, if any tribe should have
receded to spots, from which the cloud could not be seen! The end would have
been sure. It was cut off from Israel. So all, who willingly abide far from
the Gospel's light, choose present darkness leading to far darker night.
4. THE BANNER. A banner floats above each tribe.
Beneath the well-known sign they rest. And by its side they march.
Believers have a banner too. The banner over them is
Jesus's love. Song 2:4. Enlightened eyes can ever catch these waving flag
folds, and read therein the great Commander's heart.
The banner is a pledge of safety. True, mighty
foes hate and assail. True, night and day they plot and rage, and draw the
bow, and lay the snare. But they must fail. The fight may be both fierce and
long, but in Christ's Camp no follower can finally expire.
Beneath it there is sweet repose. The weary spirit
and the worn-out flesh can often watch no more. Unless the vigilance of
heavenly love defend, surprise will overpower the fainting bands. But as is
the vineyard of the Lord, so is His Camp. "I, the Lord, will watch over it
and tend its fruitful vines. Each day I will water them; day and night I
will watch to keep enemies away." Isaiah 27:3
Beside it there is victory. Many have fought
beneath the Gospel-banner, and all have triumphed. They, who go boldly
forward, looking unto Jesus, assuredly prevail. Paul lifts aloud the happy
cry--"Thanks be to God, who always makes us to triumph in Christ." 2 Cor.
2:14. What is the one testimony of the saints in light? We strove and
conquered "by the blood of the Lamb." We waved His banner and now we wave
these palms. We clung to it, and now we wear these crowns. Happy Camp, where
Jesus is Salvation's Captain--His cross salvation's banner--His heaven
Believer, glory in your banner, and be steadfast. Alas!
Sometimes shame, and timidities, and fears, have caused ignoble tremblings,
and flights, and falls. Peter denied his noble flag. Deep was his wound, and
bitter his repenting sighs. His warning cries, "Be courageous. Be strong."
Demas was allured, and left the ranks. Was he recovered from the world's
embrace? The all-revealing day alone can tell. But that dread time will show
a cowardly troop bewailing the hour, when they deserted Christ. Cling, then,
cling boldly, constantly, to Him. Let every company--moment--place--witness
your firm resolves. Wave now and ever the glorious banner--"Christ is all."
Thus dwell within the Camp, and you will reign upon the